Friday, June 22, 2012

Unschooling & Meat-Eating Vegetarians

We've all heard it before: "Labels are for soup cans, not people!"  People like to argue about labels and how terrible they are.  I agree to a certain point.  Labels like "goth" and "prep" are just obnoxious and have little use anywhere other than highschool...and even in highschool their existence is hardly beneficial.  It's usually just a way for one group of people to exclude and ridicule another group of people.  Once you reach adulthood, most of those labels start to fall away...but a few others rise up and take their place.  See the following:

I am an Attachment Parent.  I do not mind this label.  It's accurate and clues people in to how we live our lives without having to run off a list of all my beliefs.  Sure, not all Attachment Parents are the same...far from it!  The label is useful, however, because it lets us know immediately that the person it is applied to is probably at least supportive of things like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, natural birth, etc. even if they themselves don't do those things personally.

I am also a Geek.  I do not mind this label either.  It's accurate and clues people into what sort of interests I have without me having to list off each one.  Sure, not all Geeks are the same...far from it!  The label is useful, however, because it lets us know immediately that the person it is applied to is probably at least aware of franchises like Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Lord of The Rings, Zelda, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. even if they themselves aren't into them personally.

See my point?

Terms like Unschooling and Radical Unschooling are the same way.  When someone says they are an Unschooler, that is supposed to let me know a little bit about their views or at least what they are supportive and/or aware of.  The problem is, however, that so many people misuse the term that it makes that difficult.  Meanwhile people get angry and defensive whenever someone dares to say "that's not unschooling" and we get into fights about label-policing and such.  Why is this?  What is so wrong about defining unschooling and not being afraid to point out when someone is mistaken?

Consider the following:

Say you are a Vegetarian.  You live in an area where there aren't a lot of people like you, so you turn to the internet for support and information.  You find a Vegetarian discussion group online and join.  Finally!  Some like-minded people!  Recipes you can actually use!  People who don't behave like you have two-heads!

Now someone else joins this same group.  They introduce themselves as "Vegetarian...except I eat chicken".  Wait....what?  You're confused.  Maybe a little annoyed.  You wonder why this person seems to have misunderstood what a Vegetarian is.  Now, had this same person joined and introduced themselves at someone who "Only eats white-meat, but enjoys Vegetarian cooking", there would be no confusion.

If that person joined in on discussions about Vegetarian cooking, posted recipes that were or had instructions on how to make them meat-free, or asked for help with substituting meat-free proteins in their favorite chicken-salad, nobody would mind that person at all.

However, if that person is constantly talking about non-Vegetarian cooking, posting chicken recipes with no alternatives offered, or suggesting poultry when someone else is asking for protein options....well...that is not going to be okay!

Now imagine if the Vegetarian forum was overrun with lots of people who are confused about what Vegetarianism is while insisting that they are Vegetarian.  If half the posts are about eating meat would you even consider it a Vegetarian forum anymore?  Then you have to consider the inevitable drama.  Topics discussing the ethics of eating meat would just turn into fights.  You're either going to have to not discuss it at all, or constantly be trying to smooth over hurt feelings.  So much for support!

As an Unschooler, I see similar things happen in what are supposed to be Unschooling discussion groups.  I'm looking for support and understanding.  I assume other people are too.  When someone says they're an Unschooler and asks for advice, I offer Unschooling advice.  Seems simple enough.

On one such occasion I was involved in a discussion on a Facebook thread in a group for both Homeschoolers and Unschoolers.  The poster said they were an Unschooler and asked how to get their child to quit fighting his book-work. I'm a bit confused.  I suggest she forget the bookwork entirely.  The response I get is an angry statement of "I don't think it's too much to ask that he sit down and do this much written work each week!"  Thing is she didn't want Unschooling advice at all.  She said she did, but clearly missed the memo about what Unschooling my advice didn't suit what she wanted to hear.  Had she said she was a Relaxed-Homeschooler I wouldn't have even bothered to comment.  I would have left it to the other Relaxed-Homeschoolers or Homeschoolers in general to offer advice.  Nobody had to get angry or defensive had the correct label been applied.

In the Unschooling world you see it all the time: "We Unschooling....except for math/reading/science/whatever".  Well, in that case, you aren't Unschooling.  You're a Relaxed-Homeschooler.  There is nothing wrong with that!  I have no issue with it at all...but be honest about it.  There is no shame in being a Relaxed-Homeschooler....but a Relaxed-Homeschooler insisting they are something that they are not isn't helpful to me or anyone else.  It makes it difficult for others to interact with you, if confuses outsiders who don't understand the in-and-outs of the home-education world, and it makes it more difficult for Unschoolers to find actually like-minded people.

So here are some simple definitions for you:

Homeschoolers do school at home.
Relaxed-Homeschoolers do some school at home and follow their children's lead in some educational areas.
Unschoolers follow their children's lead in all educational areas.
Radical Unschoolers follow their children's lead in all areas of daily life.

Now go read Idzie's Unschooling Is Not Relaxed Homeschooling because she is awesome.  Fin.


  1. I love your post. It makes so much sense. I can see why it is important to at least realize who you are asking advice from and also important to let them know what kind of advice you are looking for. :-) I love your comparisons. They make it very clear.

    1. Thanks! I think so often we just jump into defensive mode without stopping to consider. Labels don't have to be about exclusion, but instead be tools to help everyone get what they need.