Although the words of Lao Tzu resonate with me deeply, I am not going to write an essay deconstructing the Tao Te Ching. What I want to explore is balance as it relates to an interest-driven lifestyle. My family has been creating our own interest-driven blueprint for 6 years now; letting life lead us on this journey coined unschooling.
Taoism imparts the wisdom of yin yang as not exactly opposites, but more like counter-parts – light/dark, hot/cold, soft/ hard. We can’t have one without the other. The balance in the unschooling context is – free choice/parental mandates.
Actually, I prefer to call the other side of free choice, nudges.
Balancing the two has been a real struggle for me as a parent of two independent offspring. In my ideal world I have visions of my children always making all of their own choices related to how they spend their days, knowing, as I do, that learning is happening all of the time. But there doesn’t seem to be balance in their lives when they are calling all the shots.
So, let’s look at those gentle nudges and ask the question, “How much do I impose?” It is the area in which I most often find myself questioning my own judgment. If unschooling is based on respecting that each individual has the hard-wired desire to learn, and will learn what he, or she, needs to learn when the time is right, then shouldn’t the choices related to education be based on the child’s agenda, and not mine? Some unschoolers respond to this question with a resounding “Yes!”, while others feel fine enforcing some parental requirements in relation to educational matters.
Reflection brings me to my own personal conclusion. Free choice and parental mandates (nudges) can coexist in the lifestyle we have chosen. Allowing for both provides the balance that the Lao Tzu speaks of.
The first glimmer of this insight was when I signed my children up to volunteer at an animal shelter. I thought it would be a perfect fit. My oldest son complained that he didn’t want to go. He put up quite a fuss. I questioned my decision. Well, he doesn’t want go. Should I make him? Am I in line with the unschooling handbook!? Shouldn’t I be letting him make his own decisions? But I persevered. When we left the animal shelter later that day, he said, “That was the best day of my life!” Who would have guessed? He had carted around a beagle puppy for two hours and fell in love. The next time he didn’t hesitate when I said it was our day to volunteer.
We all need some nudging to balance out our free choice. I know I would exercise even more if I had someone prodding me. I step up the housework when I have external motivation (ie someone coming to visit). The photos get framed a lot quicker when the deadline for a new show is looming, and, I am thankful for writing deadlines. (Here I am with another one just a day away!) It is hard to always push yourself to do – - – whatever. That is why we have couches, counselors, teachers, and … Oh yeah, parents!
I love the story my son told me about Douglas Adams, the author of the cult classic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Apparently his agent locked him in a hotel room so he would finish an article he was suppose to be writing. Gentle nudges help us all. They push us out of our comfort zones, out of complacency, and help us push past procrastination. The mamma bird has to give that baby bird a little shove out of the nest so he will learn how to fly.
I have the honor of being that mamma bird!