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Jun 16, 2021



Lucy AitkenRead



IG @lulasticblog


Show Notes


Topics Discussed in Today’s Show:


Lucy is a mom of two, a 10 year old daughter and an 8 year old son. She is originally from London, but now lives in New Zealand. They moved there to bring out a little more of their wild. Her kids have never been to school. The moment her daughter was born, they began thinking about life without school. Her and her family took a year-long trip around Europe and one of the things they firmly decided on during that trip was that their kids were not going to attend school. Through her reading and experience in a German forest kindergarten, she was able to draw a map of how their lives could look and now they’re living it. 


Jenna mentions that many families seem to know right from the beginning that they want to unschool, however her progression to this lifestyle was a very gradual one. Jenna asks which book Lucy read during her travels that she picked up at a second-hand shop. Lucy said she read John Holt’s book How Children Learn and Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, which were both very influential. The Continuum Concept had a huge impact on Lucy’s mindset about childhood. 


Jenna reflected on her own paradigm shift and how moving away from her hometown may have  been a catalyst for her to be able to let go of influences and really dig into her own values, and essentially reinvent herself. 


Lucy adds that in one traditional culture, teenagers leave their town and change their name. Sometimes you need to physically move away from your heritage, reputation, beliefs and values in order to step into the new invitation in your life. It’s a grand gesture. It is important and significant and symbolically represents a whole new leaf that you’re turning. 


Jenna says that she thinks she wouldn’t have had the courage to leap into this lifestyle had she stayed in her hometown. She remembers seeing a documentary about a ritual in Africa, in which the community members who are approaching adulthood are taken away from the village for some time and while they’re away, the village builds them a house. When they return, they’re presented with the house and are now seen as adult members of society. It’s a really important moment in their lives.


Lucy adds, it feels so important to have these communal rituals. She says it’s no wonder our industrialized, capitalist society has so many problems when our culture is devoid of these rituals. It’s so obvious. 


Shifting gears, Jenna asks Lucy to describe Childism. Lucy says that childism is a form of prejudice, a manifestation of ageism. It’s a marginalisation of children. Jenna asks, how would it impact our society if children were respected and treated as humans? Lucy says it would be one of the most transformational things to happen to our society, because if you’re raised with a sense of your own rights and dignity you will then treat others with that same respect, worth, and value. It’s also really influential on home education because you can maybe be doing all of the right things in terms of learning and education, but if you don’t believe that children are worthy of rights and dignity, then that will leak out and affect how children learn and the classroom culture. Jenna adds that children’s rights are so fundamental to self-directed learning, and you can’t really have one without the other. Lucy says you’d just be undermining the child’s sense of direction and self-determination because you don’t actually believe that they have everything they need within them. 


There are simple things we do every day to undermine a child, Jenna asks if there are any examples Lucy can think of. Lucy says one that is really obvious is adults doing things to children; putting on clothes, picking them up, etc. Lucy says one way of respecting even an infant's autonom is by letting them know when you’re going to pick them up and giving them a chance to respond, either physically or verbally. When they’re toddlers, make sure they can see your face and hear your voice when engaging with them about getting their clothes on, picking them up or taking them somewhere. A good way to think about your actions is to ask yourself, “Would I like this done to me?”


Jenna mentions how comical it actually sounds when you think of another adult pulling you by the arm. It’s akin to a man telling a woman to smile when they’re walking down the street. Lucy says it’s another one of the hierarchies we have in our society, which is that men get to tell random female strangers in the street to cheer up or to smile. Sexism sits right alongside childism. 


Lucy’s advocacy for children really started to unfold when she was working for the NGO sector and noticed the total blindness to the very many ways that our society is infringing on children’s rights. Colleagues of hers would say these blanket statements like, “Oh, I just hate children.” Lucy realized that children really are one of the last groups of people in society where you can just come out and say, “I hate ….” “And until we recognize that and change it, all the charities in the world trying to work on human rights stuff are just peeing into the wind because this stuff has to begin on day one with our children. This has to be a generational shift that recognizes and honors children as valuable, worthy members of society. Otherwise we’re not going to see those shifts towards empathy and respect that will change everything.” 


Jenna states that Lucy makes such a great point. She’s never considered how people view children before. Jenna points out that teenagers are marginalized most. Lucy asks, “What if we lived in a paradigm based on connection, based on the idea that our wellness is wrapped up in the wellness of other people, that really we are one throbbing being; all of humankind. We can strip away the labels.” Teenagers play an important role in challenging society. They have a fire that can ignite the change we need to see. 


Jenna was thinking about how much is missed out on by keeping teens busy with things adults have decided for them. It’s such a shame, and it’s a missed opportunity for creativity, innovation, and contributions from this age group to our society. Lucy adds that it’s no wonder that so much self-combustion happens during the teenage years if that’s the only way we can honor their being. Jenna points out that by having teens in institutions all day, it strips away any opportunity for them to contribute to society in a meaningful way until they’re in their 20’s. 


Lucy was truant a lot in her teenage years, and for a long time she thought she was just naughty. Now, she realizes how her teenage self was right in removing herself from a toxic place. Jenna shares how her son, at age 13, has such a great awareness of what he can and can’t handle. He recognizes the need for rest, and is respectful of his own needs. She was very proud of him for that because it’s a skill that many people never really learn. Lucy says it’s so beautiful and how sad it is that he experienced physical pain from the stress of an institution. Lucy says she has shared a lot about the trauma of school. She gets a lot of comments on social media about how schools aren’t that way anymore and their school is a really positive experience for their children, but Lucy points out that on the whole, it’s still a system that’s problematic and it really hasn’t changed that much. She shares how a teacher friend of hers is expected to dole out detentions for his students who don’t wear their sports socks to P.E. The missing piece is still that children are worthy of rights and dignity. 


Jenna asks about the third wave of unschooling… is there one? How is unschooling changing? Lucy hopes that the audience will contribute to this conversation. Unschooling has been packaged up and named, yet it’s existed since the beginning of time. Children have always learned skills that were important to their culture, raising children without punishment and without a forced curriculum. This was the first wave of unschooling. Community wellbeing was at the forefront until industrialization. The second wave of unschooling happened in the 70’s and 80’s and originated from John Holt’s ideas about learning. Consent and autonomy were pulled out from that wave. There was a shift politically toward free markets and privatization. Neoliberalism pushed for individualism, as opposed to societal wellbeing. Lucy wonders if this influenced the unschooling movement in a way that led toward individual freedom at the cost of community wellbeing. The conversation now is centered around how freedom and equality are at work in our unschooling currently. She feels like we are possibly entering a new era that is trying to bring together the idea of autonomy and sovereignty being important, but also honoring the community and trying to create a self-determination that happens amidst community. She recommends the book, Raising Free People by Akilah Richards. Akilah Richards describes this concept in her book as compassionate autonomy. The book really sums up where we’re at now and what the invitations are for unschoolers. Lucy feels like it could be a third wave of unschooling. Lucy believes that so often conflict within the unschooling community stems from families not agreeing on what to expect from children and what they can manage.


Jenna shares that for her, she has a real conflict about autonomy vs. parental responsibility and she mentions how labels (like unschooling) can sometimes make people feel excluded if they aren’t abiding by all the principles of the group, and then create self-doubt on the side of the person not checking all the boxes within that label. For Jenna, it was difficult to find the balance between keeping her children safe and healthy, while still offering them autonomy. Lucy says it’s probably a really common experience. Lucy asks that when Jenna peered into unschooling, was there too much child-centeredness and too much forgetting of parent’s needs? Jenna says it’s not just the lack of emphasis on parent’s needs, but also the lack of a parental role in keeping them healthy and safe. An example is that if your child ate candy all day, it would mean that the parent is not protecting their child’s health. Jenna feels like she has a responsibility to her children to keep them healthy, as she would do for herself. In the second wave of unschooling, Lucy thinks that there is a really strong sense that there is only one way of unschooling, and it requires absolute autonomy even at great cost for some families. Lucy has experienced the power of abundant thinking in her home, where you're not creating a scarcity mindset. So, for example, if you have chocolate in all of the drawers in your home, the kids don’t want to eat chocolate all day because there are much yummier things that their bodies desire, but in some homes that would be a catastrophe. But that doesn’t mean that those families aren’t unschooling and doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t get to experience the support and inspiration that can come when you are within an unschooling movement. Lucy says it pains her to know that there are people out there who weren’t able to feel the cultural identity, love and respect that can be found within unschooling communities because they didn’t feel worthy of the label because they weren’t unschooling in the way that those online groups, forums and blogs seem to think is the only way to unschool.


Jenna describes an example from an interview she did with a grown unschooler where the mother made the decision to take away a specific video game from her brother because it was causing stress in the home and she didn’t like the aggression it brought about in her son. Lucy says, who are we to judge if it brought about more peace and deepened the connection and the honesty within the home, that is incredible. Jenna says that she wants to keep relationships at the forefront of her mind during the course of her unschooling journey. That may mean eliminating something from our home or altering it, but that’s sort of irrelevant. Lucy adds that if the foundation of your home is based on children’s rights, you won’t have a situation in which the adult is making authoritarian decisions because you’ll be leaning into each conflict, analyze your reaction and feelings, you’ll have honest and transparent dialog back and forth with your kids, and together you’ll muddle through it. Lucy would like to see in the third wave of unschooling that unschooling families embrace children’s rights that each family can be absolutely trusted to embody the principles of unschooling as best they can with the most shared power and respect of their children - a lot more trust and a lot less judgement.


An example Jenna shares is how her son articulated a goal of him not swearing while playing video games. After weeks of discussion back and forth about how to address this problem in their home, her son is making an effort to stop swearing because it affects everyone in the home. This is a good example of how community wellbeing is an essential part of unschooling life. She adds that conflict and friction are part of their home. She adds that everyone may handle the same situation differently and that’s okay if it feels like it’s working for them. One thing Jenna feels she has learned in the last seven years of traveling and living in different cultures from her own is that the human experience is unique. Every person has their own way of experiencing the world and a lot can be learned from each other because of it. Shaming people does not bring about change or evolution of any kind. 


Lucy shares how conflict and friction are not problems. It does not mean that it is all going wrong. Lucy focused on joy above everything at the beginning of her unschooling journey. And although she is still committed to joy, she embraces conflict and sees conflict and tension as an invitation to get more intimate with each other. Jenna feels like sometimes joy comes as a result of conflict. Lucy shares a quote from Walt Whitman, “We contain multitudes,” meaning we’re conflictual beings and we contain peace, joy, grief, frustration and peace all at the same time, as do our homes and children. There is a surrender that comes from knowing it’s all part of us, existing simultaneously. 


Jenna asks, “what piece of advice can you leave listeners with who are unschooling or beginning their journey but are dealing with fear in some capacity?”


Lucy says that fear is completely and utterly NORMAL. We are a school-fixated culture. School is the provider of almost all social relationships. So to do something outside of it, is an incredibly radical decision which takes a huge amount of courage. “Unschooling wobbles” as Lucy refers to them as, are completely normal.  A few techniques to deal with our fear is through affirmations, breathing, and self-kindness practices. Befriending fear is important too. Get curious about it. Give fear the respect it’s asking from you. Tap into support systems and watch inspiring content on YouTube. Fear is like conflict, if we get curious about it, it’s an incredible opportunity for self-learning and healing. There are so many layers to peel back and wounds that can be healed from getting to know it. 


Resources Mentioned in Today’s Show

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How Children Learn by John Holt

Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff

Raising Free People by Akilah Richards

Lucy’s YouTube Channel - Life Without School

Lucy’s Unschooling Course - Disco Learning


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