My Unschooling Fears

When I first began this path of living consciously with children, I figured there would be a time in our future where I would have dismantled all the barriers I needed to dismantle but instead I am feeling increasingly less certainty that society is moving in this direction with me. You see what I failed to consider was that as my children age, societies expectations grow for them and no, they don’t seem ready to give them up at all. In fact I keep seeing evidence that they instead want to increase them.

A 5 year old person who cannot independently read is generally acceptable. Even at 7 there are many who are “educated about Finland” as I call it and are still comfortable enough with the situation. And then support speedily falls into concern as we move out of the realms of at least somewhere, in some school there would be a lot of children who have yet to learn to read too. Eventually it becomes so confronting, people start demanding you address it, they feel it their civic duty in fact to do so.

I do not care when or even if my children learn to read. If you can learn it at 5 or 7, you can learn it at any age IF you want to. And if you don’t, what’s the point knowing anyway? There are people who say I’m missing out never sky diving but you don’t miss something you don’t want. What I care about is that they, as all children deserve, have the space and support to make their own discoveries, in their own time from their own desires and needs. And how they personally feel about it all, nobody else.

But the time for this to be naturally protected by even the most progressive areas of society is running thin. It’s not fair to children, it completely stinks that people think it their place to interject in ways that compromises a child’s personal process and ownership of learning all for their own comfort and ego. I cannot allow this to happen.

The hilarious thing is that another person’s concern does not alter our reality, my children will not suddenly read because somebody deems that they “should” and I’m not about to disrespect my child for the comfort of others so it is pointless… what it can change is the child’s perception of the situation and really, how can it be care at all to inspire somebody to feel shame? I expressed as much when we were breastfeeding longer than people expected and there came concerns about my child being an obvious target for bullying if we did not wrap it up soon.

But to concern with such and in fact, to stop based on such is to perpetuate the perception that drives the entire concept. There is nothing shameful about breastfeeding and a child doesn’t grow into shame unless those they care about project it, a child does not think to shame another unless they have been socialised to do so. It is not the circumstance, it is the culture. And this is true of academics also, of everything. There is no inherent shame in not knowing something regardless of age and the current expectations other’s might have for you, and I will fight tooth and nail to live that truth louder than whatever anybody else tries to suggest. But how many pitchforks can our bubble withstand?

And the hardest part is that some don’t even realise that they are contributing. They will read this and dismiss it as not relevant because they’re simply encouraging! But it’s undermining a child’s confidence in their own capabilities and setting them up for learning dependence to suggest with opinion or behaviour that they are not able to do something without overt external involvement and assessment. It completely robs them of the one opportunity they have to do this themselves. They will never have this moment again.

So I am scared. Not of my child’s capacity to learn that which they desire or need, not of being judged for it says more of their circumstances and fears than our own reality, not of our ability to navigate negativity together because of the relationship and openness we have. I am scared of people who care more about a skill than the child, of a society where that cares more about a skill than a child, I am scared that the world continues to lean into such rather than pull away from it.

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  1. We experience a similar issue with our kids having their shoes on the ‘correct feet.’ Just about every other month, a ‘concerned’ adult alerts me to the fact. The more hilarious ones wait with bated breath for me to tell the kids to change their shoes over, (which I of course don’t.) Some of them then try to save face for both of us by backing up, looking at the shoes again, telling me they might be wrong, looking again, and then saying, no, now they’re certain those shoes are on the wrong feet. To which I reply, “Hunh, would you look at that,” as they once again wait for the inevitable shoe changing, that once again doesn’t happen 🙂

    I don’t have the time, or the patience to explain to them that I now have two kids aged five and four who can reliably get their own shoes on without me messing with it. Not to mention that both of them can easily walk a mile without getting winded. Plus, I don’t figure they’d appreciate all my bragging 😉

    1. Oh that’s hilarious! Aubrey was wearing her shoes on the “wrong” feet today and it confronted so many people. I asked her before we left if she was comfortable, she said yes and mentioned if that changed, I could help her swap them over, just let me know but she was fine the whole trip 🙂

  2. Our daughter is 15 yrs old. She’s been unschooled since she was 9 yrs old. She didn’t learn to read until just before she was 12 yrs old. Hmmm…I was just about to write about what she reads now…but that would be me going into some kind of justification of the age she stared to read and I’ve had an enough of justify anything to anyone anymore, espeically my children’s natural learning process. Our son is 9yrs and not interested in learning to read. We get a lot of shit from his grandmother, luckily we don’t see her much.

  3. Our children didn’t learn to read until around the age of 12, and they love reading now, I made it a ‘thing’ for a while and then they told me to stop it, so I learnt from them and thankfully they are now happy avid readers, who LOVE books. I think that you are making the space for them and for the learning to unfold, so how wonderful is that!! What a joy for them to have you have faith in them and their reading journey! May you confidently know deep inside the gift you are giving them and let the rest fall away.

  4. :(:(:( I am so with you on this one!!! My newly 11yo still has little to no interest in reading. Although she can. It’s just far below “school standard level”. It’s sad that so many people are so blind to recognizing the intelligence of each individual child as an individual!

  5. Thanks for sharing…..
    My daughter left school two weeks into 4th grade. After being humiliated by her teacher for not being able to read as well as the other children in her class.
    Setting up “special” testing and looking for something “wrong” with her.
    We have now been unschooling for 3 years. My daughter reads all the time! She found her way naturally. With no stress or comparisons to any one.

    It took me a few years to de/ unschooling myself, trying to loose the preconditions of school. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night worried that she is missing something by not being in school.
    Now I wake up….thankful that I get to spend so much time with such an amazing person!!!

  6. You seem like a lovely mum and are a wonderful writer. I agree that it does not matter when children learn to read but surely it is ESSENTIAL that they do read fluently and competently by the time they are adults. By the way Finland is one of the most literate societies in the world. We live in a literate society and reading is the gateway to knowledge and independence. Without reading, you cannot enjoy the wonders of a novel, imagine new and exciting worlds and possibilities in the novels you read, devour knowledge on your own by reading an encyclopaedia or Wikipedia, complete a job application, complete a form on Centrelink, drive, write letters to your loved one, shop with confidence, work in anything other than a menial job, read your mother’s blog etc etc. Reading is absolutely vital to a full life. Regards xxx

    1. I’m sorry but that is an incredibly ableist perspective. Reading is not essential to a worthwhile existence. Text is not the only way that information can be transferred from one human to another; shows, documentaries, movies, performances, audio books, podcasts, conversations, pictures, imagination.. text is just one form.

      Please consider how your perspective would sound to somebody who experiences the world differently. Reading is not essential, acceptance is.

      1. If the choice is about reading a novel or watching a movie for the purpose of entertainment, then I’m sure reading is not essential. But there is plenty of information on a daily basis that does come solely in text. Fliers about lots and lots sort of things. Instruction manuals. Any sort of formal documents you need to read before signing. Booking events and receiving confirmation emails. Any letters you receive. Etc, etc, etc.
        Sure, in many cases, these things have their equivalents for people with sight impairment/loss, but didn’t they learned how to read in Braille in the end?

        1. Reading is not essential. Breathing is essential. Reading is not essential. A person can exist (and in a satisfying way) having never personally read a single thing.

          All the things you described are not of absolute necessity (essential).

          If a person is uninterested in reading and what it can provide, that is a valid way to live a content life.

          If a person is interested but unable to read personally (and there are far more varied reasons for this than you have acknowledged), then what they need is accessibility and this is available.

        2. Hi Jessica, Thanks for replying to my message. I find your perspective very interesting but fundamentally flawed. Of course there are many children who may never read. Those with impaired cognitive functions or visual problems etc. But I maintain that reading is absolutely ESSENTIAL. We live in a literate world and reading is a necessity. You are severely limiting your child’s future if you do not encourage them to read. It is a life skill. Otherwise they will be dependent on others to fill in medical forms, passport applications etc. You will leave your child adrift, dependent and powerless. . Applying for Medicare does not come in a documentary form or a podcast I am sorry to say. It is just a practical necessity. Reading is FREEDOM> Of course there are many aspects of learning that are not essential but reading is not one of them.

          1. I also find it interesting that you think I would NEED to encourage reading for them to find value in it. As you said, it is a useful skill that they are going to encounter in many ways; they find their own motivations to explore it, they do not need me to introduce any externally.

    2. I think all of the reasons you gave…all of the things we need to do that requires the ability to read, are sort of the reasons they will want to learn. If it’s important to the child, a need or a want, they’ll go for it. Just in their own time, when all of those things matter to them…

  7. Of course reading is not essential in the way that breathing is essential. That is a false equivalence. Of course it is not essential for a person to read books or magazines on a daily basis. A person can never read anything and live a happy life. BUT the ability to read is essential. There are hundreds of ways in which reading is essential to a productive life. being able to read a bus timetable, instructions for how to dispense medicine, being able to sign a legal document. Surely you can’t call this ableism . It is common sense! Illiteracy in an adult is humiliating.

    1. Of course. You are right. All in good time. But for the writer to compare skydiving (completely irrelevant to daily life) and reading (essential to many tasks ) is ridiculous. To assert that you don’t care if your child ever learns to read is baffling.

  8. Finally, you were given a great gift, Miss Jitterberry, the beautiful gift of reading and writing (eloquently) and it is your duty to pass it on to your children – when they are ready of course.

    1. I’m not invested in my child’s life choices or outcomes, I understand that that is difficult for you to imagine. I am here to support them, not to impose expectations on them. I do not care if they read, I care how they feel about it; if they are comfortable with that decision than so am I.

      1. You are right. Your extreme ideology is inconceivable to me. As an adult, I can see foresee the long term consequences of illiteracy. It would lead my children to a life of humiliation and poverty (not to mention poverty of the mind) I love lots of your posts on respectful parenting but on this issue we will have to agree to differ. Your ideology has blinkered you to what is good common sense. Regards x

        1. If they came to want to read, what would prevent them from doing so? You’re saying they might not see the long term value and that could be true but if they do come to see value in it in the future, why could that not be pursued then? There is no expiry on learning. I’m not saying I would discourage reading or prevent reading, only that it is their choice whether t is something they wish to pursue and I’m happy with whatever answer they are.

          1. I understand your position but cannot agree with it. My kids must learn to read at some point- I don’t care when , irrespective of their desires. As a responsible adult, it my duty to ensure they are able to function in society and to be able to financially support themselves, something that is extremely difficult to do if you are illiterate (and innumerate). Otherwise I have failed in my duty of care. I would have made life infinitely more difficult for them in the long run. Anyway I will continue to enjoy your articles on respectful parenting. x

  9. Reading is super helpful, if you want to know what is written. Reading is helpful if you need to fill in forms or read a menu or a bus timetable. Reading can be pleasant and enjoyable for those that want to read.

    For some it is not an achievable skill. There are text readers that can be used for printed words and on tech devices, my son uses them all the time. It’s possible to write whole stories without being able to write ( voice to text programs are awesome).

    It is convenient to be able to read but by no means essential. If the goal is an office based or government job where reading is required at the point when that goal is set by the individual reading can be learnt. If the goal is to live in the woods, be self reliant and that is your blissful goal and you don’t want to read well that is your personal choice.

    Most children if exposed to books, text and adults reading, discussing books and literate will want to learn. They will choose to when they are ready. I live with an adult who would rather sit on rusty nails than read a book and a younger person who would rather read about rusty nails than fairy stories and then there is me, who consumes books and reads everything! We exist together respecting each others abilities and preferences without enforcing our ideals on one another..happy… which is our collective goal.

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