Sep 8, 2021
I’m a mama + unschooler from Austin Tx - kiddos are 10, 12 &15 i parent from the heart, and unschool just the same. the liberation of all people is the reason, for me - once I understood how oppressive school was, there was no stopping what came next. sometimes I podcast about it :)
Hi Everyone and welcome back to the Rogue Learner podcast, I’m Jenna Reich. Every other week, I interview researchers, educators, entrepreneurs and families about their experiences with self directed learning. The off-weeks, I co host my show with a listener and we focus our attention on the previous podcast episode and share our biggest takeaways from it.
This week, I have a very special guest co host joining me on the show. Meghan is an unschooling mother of three and the podcast host of The Unschool Files. She has interviewed a number of amazing guests too and I’ve had the pleasure to get to know her and talk with her over Zoom. Go ahead and stop listening right now to subscribe to her show. I’ll wait right here!
We’ll be talking about our takeaways from last week’s episode with Summer, a grown unschooler who shared how her life without school was fulfilling and how her relationships were strong. If you subscribe to conventional thinking (which I’m guessing you don’t if you’re listening to this show), you’ll find yourself questioning everything! She challenges those ideas and provides us with some incredible ways to reflect and process our thoughts about life. If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, it was number 25. FYI, I always share the links and resources mentioned during the episode in the show notes so no need to write anything down.
Before we get started, I have a couple of announcements to share. Firstly, this podcast is being listened to in 17 countries at the time of recording and I just want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to tune in. I value your time and I hope I am doing a good job of bringing you content that’s informative, relevant, and concise. Also, we had our first book winner this week! For every 5 reviews I get on Apple podcasts, I give away 1 free book. In order to enter the giveaway, all you need to do is send me a quick email saying what screen name you left the review under. It was a great pleasure to send off a copy of Changing Our Minds by Naomi Fisher to a listener this week!
Last thing before we begin today’s show, please subscribe to the Rogue Leaner YouTube channel. I’ll be uploading all of the episodes there and am preparing to add a variety of content there that will not be on the podcast. If you’re interested in getting a more in-depth look at our unschooling lifestyle, you’ll want to head over there!
Okay, let’s get on with the show shall we. Enjoy!
Jenna asks Meghan to share a bit about her journey into unschooling and how she got into podcasting. Meghan says she’s a mama of three, 10, 12 and 15. Her 10 year old has never been to school but she pulled her oldest out of school when he was in 3rd grade. She describes their unschooling as an ever-evolving emergent practice. She dabbles in podcasting over at The Unschool Files as and when she has the time.
Jenna says she knows the difficulty in balancing podcasting and unschooling because they both take up a lot of time. Meghan reminisces a bit on how unschooling can take up many days at a time as you’re living life with community - the days sort of blend together. Jenna explains how her and her family haven’t actually experienced that side of unschooling yet due to the constraints of lockdowns and the pandemic. She had initially wanted to take the kids on a trip around Europe, but they found themselves isolated instead. Meghan reassures her that the days will come and they aren’t too far away, at least she hopes.
Jenna asks Meghan to kick off the show with her first take away from Episode 25 with Summer. Meghan says for her, what really stood out was that there are so many interpretations of unschooling and the idea that the word ‘unschooling’ is sort of on trial - people want to scrap the word altogether.
Jenna adds that unschooling is based on each family’s personal values, so there is no playbook. There is no guide to tell you exactly how it should look in your home. It’s going to vary wildly depending on the individuals in your home. You don’t choose unschooling if you want precise guidelines or something to follow. Jenna says she’s considered mentoring or coaching in the future, but she doesn’t really know how that would work because what works for her family may not work for another family.
Meghan agrees, she sees many parents looking for that support. She knows not everyone gains enough confidence by just researching it on the internet. But she is curious to know how a mentor or coach could guide a family since you’d really have to have a deep understanding of the complexities of the relationships within the family.
Jenna says she could see it being useful as an accountability check in or just overall support when you’ve had a lousy day or your confidence is waning. You could get ideas on ways to fix problems and have someone there to reassure you when you inevitably make mistakes. Meghan adds they could certainly encourage and cheer you on. She still wonders what is being taken away from those kinds of mentorships. Are parents being asked to examine the balance of power in their homes? Sharing power is so critical to unschooling and self-directed learning. Parents would need to have an intersectional look at what unschooling can do so we can get rid of some of these problems in our society that could go away by liberating everyone.
Jenna adds that Summer talked about some questions parents can ask themselves which are helpful when you’re challenging your thoughts. She said, “What response was I trying to elicit? When fear comes up, where did I get the idea? Where did it come up? Why do I believe it? Is it true for me? Jenna says she uses these questions all day long, even though she admits that she isn’t perfect and there are still times where she makes mistakes and has to go back and apologize.
She shares an example of when she really needed to ask herself whether she was operating from fear or power over when she noticed her son wasn’t leaving his room and getting any exercise. She thought about it for 24 hours before deciding that she truly does have a concern about his health and that she needed to approach him about her concerns. They are considering karate, but Jenna also had to stop herself from demanding a solution right away. Her son wants to take it slower and try one thing out at a time before making a decision.
Meghan says the pandemic has brought on really special circumstances when it comes to health and safety. They’re finding it more challenging and are forced to occasionally play the parent power card when it comes to things that could be dangerous. The conversation has to be really honest. Meghan says you can tell your kids that you don’t want to have control over this and you want them to make these decisions for themself. You want them to be sovereign in their decision making, however if you’re noticing that there is a health or safety concern you can make suggestions.
Power is rooted in colonialism, says Meghan. It’s rooted in systemic racism and spreading American Puritan beliefs. And we’ve been convinced that this is the only way to live. It’s a lie and there’s another way to live. Meghan adds that we’re all holding ourselves hostage within this paradigm and we can walk away.
Jenna adds that Summer pointed out how all of our beliefs and societal norms are just made up. The curriculum, the American dream, the 9-5 is all just made up. We could have been following completely different norms and we just go along with it because we’ve always done it. We could have included anything in the curriculum and we would have just accepted it and learned it because that’s what we’re meant to do.
Meghan says, yeah, we’d just be going along. It has so many angles. She says she knows that there are people who can’t walk away from the schooled path though, due to the fact that they have special needs they rely on from the school system. For example, students who are neurodiverse, deaf, blind, etc. Jenna points out that there are also people who don’t have any problems in the school system, and therefore they have a degree of privilege in being able to use public education without being negatively impacted.
Meghan shares that a listener she often talks with has a child with hearing and wants to be referred to a school for the deaf, but the local public school says she can manage just fine there (even though that isn’t the case) and won’t give her the referral - they are essentially acting as a gatekeeper. People then feel lost and unsupported. Meghan says she tries to be careful when talking about unschooling and all the things it can do for us because she knows there are people out there that just don’t have the access to it or can’t for whatever reason.
Jenna points out that living an unschooling lifestyle still has enormous benefits, even if you’re forced to choose a public education. Having respectful, democratic, power balance in the home percolates down and changes the way kids interact in the world. Jenna says she notices the difference in how her children perceive the world from before unschooling and after. She says for her, unschooling goes beyond academics and is more of a lifestyle.
Meghan defines unschooling as living without oppressive relationships, ideally without forced academics but she thinks that’s negotiable. Parents can talk with their kids about the oppressive systems we are subjected to and learn how to advocate for themselves and ask good questions.
Jenna agrees and adds that parents can also advocate for their children within those oppressive systems too. Jenna adds that with her own daughter, she was able to talk very openly and honestly with the teacher to ensure that her daughter’s wellbeing is the priority. In her experience, the teacher was really receptive.
Meghan points out that there will be challenges, having to maneuver dynamics that are not similar to your own family’s mutually consensual relationships vs. the top-down hierarchical place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go into an hierarchical place and meet the moment there if it’s desired by the individual.
Jenna shares how her daughter noticed a sexist remark in her first week of school from one of the teachers, and it’s good to see that she is noticing those things and forming opinions about that at such a young age. Meghan laughs and says she thinks Jenna’s daughter is going to do just fine!
Meghan’s second take away from the episode with Summer was that she was raised to always trust herself. Meghan says she tried to imagine if she felt like her children felt the same way, and she thinks they do. Summer talked about how she was never explicitly told that she could trust herself, it was more in the way she was treated - she was in charge, she was a sovereign person, she could make choices for herself.
A quote that stood out to Jenna was when Summer said that “a ‘good education’ doesn’t have anything to do with joy, passion, love, health, wellness, and happiness.” Meghan and Jenna ask in unison, “what is the point?” Why even be in this world if there aren’t any of those things. Meghan takes it further by asking what is the point in wealth if you can’t ever spend it, what’s the point in climbing the corporate ladder if you can’t have a family if you want one or travel or start a side business, or have a stand at the farmer’s market on the weekend? We’re supposed to be living, not just working. Productivity is not the natural state of a human being. She says she thinks we’ve learned to be productive in order to survive, and she doesn’t discount the very real realities of being productive in order to pay the bills and travel. We have to be careful not to slip into “bourgeoisie” unschooling where you think you’re in an elite club and ‘above’ school. It can be a slippery slope.
Jenna shares how she didn’t want to box herself in when she created this podcast. She knew that SDE would be much more inclusive and she never wanted to sound high and mighty or dogmatic. She laughs about how she now has a daughter in public school so it’s probably best she didn’t do a podcast dedicated solely to unschooling.
Meghan says that she thinks where Summer was coming from is, if relationship and partnership come first, even if it’s outside of the parent child relationship, if the space the children are raised in is not oppressive, it can still be unschooling.
Jenna says that people who claim that unschooling doesn’t work for them may truly be struggling with trust, because unschooling can’t not work since it’s principles are defined by everyone getting their needs met. Those parents may just need more time deschooling in order to fully trust the process. They may be operating from fear. Meghan adds that power is really hard to let go of.
Jenna admits that she was a control-seeking person before she started her unschooling journey and it caused her to feel anger when someone would cancel plans or anything happened that was out of her control. With the unschooling lens, she is able to recognize those situations of control-seeking and be empathetic to the needs of others. Her daughter recently objected to a snuggle and Jenna (although somewhat saddened by it) felt proud of her daughter’s ability to set boundaries with someone she loves and cares about. Jenna says she still struggles to set boundaries with people as an adult.
Meghan points out that on the flip-side of that boundary discussion, some absolutists in unschooling may use their boundaries as an excuse to be unkind. I think you start to lose some control over those boundaries when they become so inconvenient to everyone else around you. You may notice that fewer people will want to hang out with you.
Jenna quotes Summer, “Any time someone’s freedoms are being sacrificed for another person’s freedom, then it’s not true freedom. She says she's all for boundaries but we need to be respectful of where they overlap with other people’s freedom.
Meghan brings up the part in Summer’s interview where she talked about her mom not wanting to buy factory-farmed meat for her kids and not having a television. She says this can be a really tricky subject. Jenna adds that her family is vegan and in her family they’ve had to make a few boundaries when it comes to meat, like she won’t prepare it, but she doesn’t mind buying her son a burger. It’s really up to the family and the individuals to decide what their boundaries are and how they can meet everyone’s needs.
Meghan talks about her experiences with food. They had food issues in the family. Her family moved to Japan though and she remembers before that move, she was able to be very selective about what her family would eat, particularly no fast food. It was much more difficult to eat that way in a foreign country. She even remembers a time, which she is ashamed about now, where she got super frustrated when someone fed her kids fast food. At the time, she was very righteous in what she felt about food. Living in a foreign country changed her perspective for many reasons and she found herself in line at McDonalds one day with her kids. Her daughter looked up at her and asked if it’s okay that they eat it now. It was a really pivotal moment for her because she realized just how much control she had over the types of foods her kids had access to and the types of people they met up with. It was an explosive moment for her where she realized she had been controlling things for so long. She said at the time she had been listening to Akilah’s podcast and she felt like her unschooling was fake because she was controlling all of the inputs.
Jenna says that in her episode with Naomi Fisher she talked about the inability of parents to release control of everything in their children’s lives because in some small way, we are always controlling their environments. Jenna says she thinks the best way to navigate that is to be aware of it and limit it as much as possible. Meghan says everyone has different levels of comfort in what they’re willing to let go of control in. Meghan adds a point Summer talked about; we all need to keep asking why - why am I doing that? Who am I leaving out? Who doesn’t have access to this? What is being left behind when I reject this idea and move onto this other idea. It’s challenging.
Jenna reiterates, this is your own. Everyone’s needs! Meghan says it’s an emergent practice. Our lives change, people change, our circumstances change. We need to continue evolving in unschooling. Meghan says she loved the point Summer made about how hard it is to unlearn the beliefs we’ve developed about yourself compared to learning math, for example. Summer had said, if you take care of the relationship and the connection and your child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, the academic learning will take care of itself - it doesn’t need you to manage it.
Most of us learn negative things about ourselves, Jenna says. It’s an accumulation of negative experiences throughout childhood. We try to limit that with unschooling. Meghan adds that those stories about ourselves are pretty solid by the time we’re adults. The goal then is to surround your children with people who are invested in them and whom your children are also invested in. You can do that when you break away from oppressive relationships because when that’s not there anymore, we don’t have this need to hold power over and control over, you’re all free. And when everyone’s free and everyone’s needs are being met, there’s really not a lot that can go wrong there.
Jenna says that her giving up control really elevated her relationship with her husband. They both feel supported in their interests and hobbies and feel free to pursue their passions. It makes everyone much happier. It’s a byproduct she hadn’t originally thought about when deciding to unschool since her focus was more on her children and the impact it would have on their lives.
Deschooling is where it’s at, says Meghan. We are the real problem, us parents. Jenna says that it’s becoming so apparent to her that trust, respect and connection are the foundation of unschooling. Everything else just seems to work out. It’s such a simple concept, but one of the hardest hurdles to overcome without continual deschooling.
Meghan agrees saying all other things are a byproduct of the deschooling process. Deschooling is for everyone. The colonial mindset is perverted and we have the opportunity to change that through our relationships with our partners and our kids.
Meghan asks Jenna what she meant by wanting to deschool longer before taking her kids out of school - what would that have looked like for her? Jenna says that’s a really good question and basically, she thinks she pulled them out before she really trusted the process which made the transition turbulent and confusing. She wishes she would have waited until she could handle her fear and completely throw out the academic learning for a while. She rushed things and ended up trying to recreate school at home.
Meghan thinks it’s better to pull kids out right away, so they aren’t continually subjected to the oppressive system. She says the deschooling can happen together and parents can be really honest with their kids about what they are doing and why. They can tell them that they don’t know exactly what they are doing! Kids are really receptive to honesty. Jenna thinks it would be impossible to have that experience though, if the parent is still having major doubts about whether it’s going to work for them.
Jenna asks Meghan as a wrap-up question; what does deschooling mean to you and do you think there’s a point when you feel prepared for unschooling? Meghan says she doesn’t think there is ever a time when you are prepared for unschooling - you can’t deschool ‘enough’ to prepare. It's kind of like coming up with a perfect time to have kids. There’s always something that could be done more. Unschooling will crack you wide open. The idea of letting go of this entire formula for life and saying, not only am I going to reject that formula but I’m gonna trust that this process that is not laid out, has no rubrik or framework other than just being in non-oppressive relationships with other people and non-forced and coerced academics and just hold on for the ride, it’s hard work to lean into that trust. If you wait, the stories your kids are developing about themselves are still carrying on. She thinks pulling them away from that and deschooling together is a great way to start. Be honest with your kids, because honest parenting leads to freedom. We need to liberate ourselves from these oppressive ways of thinking and realize there’s not just one way to live. There’s a lot of ways to live.
Jenna pushes back on that a little because in her experience, she thinks because her kids were doing okay in the system, it would have been really advantageous for her to wait until she really trusted in the process. She would have been able to completely disregard all academic learning. Meghan says that parents need to be prepared for that - they need to be okay taking a long break from any academics. She encourages parents to sit down with their kids and pick a time frame on the calendar of when they will not be doing any kind of schooled learning, where you’ll all just hang out and have fun.
Meghan says, when you mess up you can apologize and let your children present their grievances. They may need to let that out. It could help you settle any turbulent moments that have come up.
Jenna says she feels like they’re in a good place now. She tries to give herself a little credit, seeing how their entire unschooling time has been during a pandemic and the things she’d imagined they would do together have all been canceled. In fact, they’ve spent a good majority of their time in lockdowns.
Jenna thinks this might also depend on the family - when to pull the kids out of school. Perhaps this will depend on the circumstances, the family, and a whole slew of other variables.
Meghan adds that every parent has a different language they use with their children, but honesty is helpful when talking with kids because kids are so gracious. All they really want is a close, connected relationship. Accepting when you’re wrong is really important. If you can’t be told that you’re wrong, SDE won’t be very successful because kids will call you out when you are inconsistent, don’t make sense, or when something is not adding up.
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