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Erika Davis-Pitre lives in central Connecticut where she is the Legislative Vice President for Connecticut's Homeschool Network.
She enjoys travel, is an avid reader, a great cook and a local community activist. Erika loves to spread the news about unschooling to everyone she meets--especially to people of color.

Erika writes FUNgasa's Q & A column and maintains the Marafiki Networking Directory. She is the proud mother of 4 children:
One sixth year unschooled, great and curious 11 year old;
one high school graduate and former unschooler, today a smart and athletic 19 year old college freshman;
one creative, insightful and always schooled 21 year old college senior;
and one talented, thoughtful, all grown up and always schooled 25 year old.

Always learning and growing wife to her wonderful husband, Erika's personal mottos are --"You can't be ahead or behind yourself" and "I am learning all the time, the tombstone will be my diploma."




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In this issue, Erika answers the concerns of a homeschool mother who wonders if unschooling can benefit her son.  Erika's responses are in Bold.

I am a strong believer in delayed academics in theory. I am really big on following a young child's lead with academics and in taking the lead in terms of instilling character and self confidence. But now that my children are getting older (9 and 7), I worry about my choice.
In my experience with unschooling growing up, this philosophy(unschooling) was prevalent among homeschoolers who appeared to use it as an excuse to be self absorbed and let their children raise themselves. And in many cases in reality it amounted to intellectual neglect.
The example you sited above of childrearing while you were growing up has nothing to do with unschooling. This is child neglect and it would not have mattered where the children were being educated.
As an example, I went to private schools growing up and many of my classmates who came from very well off families had the same experiences growing up in their home lives as you described(parental neglect). Many of those past classmates as adults today have no work ethic, are always trying to get something for nothing, and some of them still live either with or are completely supported by their parents. All while and after being provided with a "world class education". So, although the families you grew up with used the word unschooling to describe how they were raising their children, in fact they were not unschooling at all.
The homeschoolers I was exposed to basically appeared to use the philosophy of unschooling as an excuse to be self absorbed and let their children raise themselves. Knowing some of these kids as  teenagers, I can say it was a hindrance.  The result was a lack  of ability to concentrate and follow through, lack of ability to  approach anything methodically, poor work ethic, and shaky belief in their dreams.
And we all know of schooled adults and teens who fit this same profile. Unschooling(or schooling) isn't going to be the cause of a good or a poor work ethic. I believe many things play a role in shaping how we navigate the world as adults. I unschool because I believe in the child being the greatest determiner of what they are ready to take on academically, but as the parent, I might have more insight on what kinds of experiences might help to spark curiosity in my child. To me, for child-led learning to work, it takes a lot more effort on the parents part than just sending children to school or ignoring them.
Now here I am with the trappings of those parents, the "natural living" lifestyle, homeschooling, radical political/social beliefs and making my own natural foods etc. But I want my kids to be capable, self motivated, self disciplined, confident, and, yes, to have sharp minds (which I believe comes from exercising the mind more than natural smarts).
Now this is where we may disagree. I believe that there is no difference between "natural smarts" and "learned smarts" Each for me are acquired and expanded upon by each person's own interest and motivation. And I believe that your early experiences in learning to trust yourself and being allowed to find out what motivates you to action can only help you achieve greater knowledge.
I try to remind myself that I am not sitting around smoking pot, philosophizing about turning my small community into a utopian  state, and collecting checks from the government I rail against, while my kids run around outside all day unattended.(I'm not saying this as a stereotype but as a description of actual people I grew up around.)
And you just proved my point. Even though that is the example that you grew up around, you still wanted something different for yourself and for your children. What would you attribute your desires to lead a different kind of family life to?


My kids have examples of hard work, we answer their questions thoughtfully and thoroughly, we are pursuing our own dreams, they are read to, they cook with me, they like to help me in everything that I do(even the taxes for heaven's sakes!).  Still, I fear that I may be neglecting something important. That by letting them meander academically, I may be limiting their future. Wow, actually writing that down, it sounds so conventional! But this is what I do, worry about giving my kids everything they need to carry with them through the rest of their lives.
You might not like this next statement, but here it goes: You will not be able to provide your children with everything they need to carry them though the rest of their lives. You are limiting their "present" choices and by doing that, you are making some things near impossible for them to achieve as adults.  But that does not mean that you are not doing the very best for your family. You are providing a wonderful foundation of love, trust, caring and learning in your home. It also seems that you are providing them with some academically sound experiences as well (how do you think that they are able to help you with the taxes and the cooking?). And I feel from that great beginning can only come great things. Is it a guarantee? As much as you can give, but the lion's share of your children's adult successes and failures lie with them. 

The following is best piece of advice anyone can ever give to aspiring unschoolers (and even to ones that have been unschooling for years):
     * Try not to worry too much. 

     * Try to concentrate on raising them now to be responsible and resourceful so hopefully when(or if) the time for academics (to me this is always a euphuism for college) comes they will have a good foundation in terms of character issues and common sense.
This last point is really my biggest reason for unschooling.