Unschooling is About a Shift in Perspective

I recently became a translator. It’s not something I set out to do. It just kind of happened. An acquaintance asked me if I would translate a twenty-page document for her from French to English and without even thinking about it, I said , “sure, why not?” I agreed so readily, in fact, that I surprised myself. I’ve never translated anything in my life, and although I speak both languages, writing in French is not my strong point. But I tackled the project, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. Then my friend recommended me to someone else and I took that job as well, which led to others: a study on tourism in Myanmar, a marketing study for an eco- hotel in Senegal, a warehouse fire investigation in Cameroon. And so without ever really meaning to, I find myself picking apart, rearranging and transforming other people’s words into another language and learning about different problems and solutions offered by people from diverse parts of the world in the process. And I love it.

Me. Who a few short years ago was terrified of taking personal risks–of failing or succeeding–in anything new; who would have emphatically turned down that translation job because it was outside my comfort zone; who would have insisted that I couldn’t possibly accept such a task because I wasn’t qualified. I had no training. No diploma. No degree in that particular field of work.

I once held tight to the notion that a formal education was the only way to learn; that the goal of an education was a diploma; that a diploma was a golden ticket to success; that success was quantifiable by the number of zeros on your paycheck; that the loss of that paycheck, or  job, or business was a mark of failure; and that failure was in some way a reflection, not of circumstances, but of our efforts. I once defined myself according to these narrow parameters and relied on them for much of my adult life. Luckily, at some point, they began to crumble and fall away under the contrary evidence of my life. And I have my children to thank for that.

I thought about why I had said yes this time. What had changed? And that’s when I realized that something important had subtly but steadily shifted in me. In the process of giving my children the freedom to create and learn from experience, I had witnessed genuine inspiration. While I was helping them to erase “should” and embrace “can,” I had broken down old barriers. While I had observed them fail repeatedly without shame or discouragement, driven to find a different solution or try something new, my fear of failure had lost its power. And I had come out on the other side with a whole new perspective. I had unschooled myself.

I’m not sure we ever stop evolving as unschooling parents, particularly if we are in the process of shedding old belief systems that no longer serve who we are or how we look at the world. We are all works in progress. If we choose to, we have the fortune to learn so much when we accompany our children on their individual life learning path. But perhaps more importantly, we have the opportunity to unlearn false perceptions and negative ideas about ourselves, our beliefs and our capacities.

When we look at life and learning the way our children do, as limitless and attainable, we have the rare chance to redefine ourselves as well. When we are not bound by others definitions or desires, we can take two steps forward and one step backward and still see it as progress. Loosely translated . . . even if we occasionally trip in life, shift happens.

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14 thoughts on “Unschooling is About a Shift in Perspective

  1. Hi Ellen: In the middle of my own “madness” (of searching for a new place to land) I took a few minutes to read your blog. I think this process has something to do with your entry– falling backward and trusting that we will be caught, provided for. I have never believed that those who went to school and got their degrees were the ones with the greatest wing spans. If we follow our hearts it is an act of courage. This process on this end has been a daily exercise in “faith” and observation, being mindful, trusting in a “higher order.” xo Kim

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    • Thanks Kim, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately and wondering how your search is going. I’m really excited for you guys because I can feel that something wonderful awaits you. I’ve got lots to say, so when I get a few minutes (or an hour) I’ll send you a long note. XO Ellen

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  2. So much of this resonates for me. As a first year homeschooling mom, I’m still unraveling threads of convention. I’m sure I will be for a long time. But, I’m saying very different yes’s and no’s than even a short year ago, and am so grateful for this experience.

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    • Hi jj! I’m so happy this spoke to you. I was so full of doubts and stuck in old ways of thinking those first couple of years and they still creep up now and again. However, I really believe they are a healthy part of the process. Good luck on your homeschooling journey and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Ellen

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  3. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    It is great to hear I am not alone. Unschooling my self is a daily challenge to ‘just surrender’!

    Soul hugs, Grace x

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    • Hi Grace, thanks for reading and commenting. You are definitely not alone. Unschooling or de-schooling is an important process for parents too, and not always an easy one. I got your email message and responded. So let me know if you have any other questions. Have a lovely day, Ellen

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  4. Exactly the “unlearning” process I have been going through for the past 10 years … “I once defined myself according to these narrow parameters and relied on them for much of my adult life. Luckily, at some point, they began to crumble and fall away under the contrary evidence of my life. And I have my children to thank for that.”

    When I am on my meditative walks, I meditate on unlearning everything I’ve learned about making money and being successful and for a shift of perspective. This past January I had a strong feeling, an intuitive knowing, that it was time for a shift in my son’s schooling. He’s in 4th grade this year in a Montessori school (and has been since 1st grade). After getting this feeling, I began to come across tons of information about unschooling and world schooling, etc …. without even looking for it. So … our journey will begin in about 4 weeks (as that’s when this school year ends and we say goodbye to the way “it’s supposed to be done”.)

    I’ve already been unschooling my 14 year old special needs daughter for a year and half. I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing!

    Oceans of love and blessings to you and thanks for writing this! 🙂 🙂

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    • Hi Camilla, thanks so much for your message. The exact same thing happened to me–my husband and I were deeply questioning the school mindset when I came across Life Learning Magazine and started reading all about unschooling, and then information seemed to scatter like seeds on my path. The universe tends to give us what we need when we are open to it! I think you are right, that when we listen to our instincts, they lead us in the right direction. It’s so hard to erase societal (and sometimes parental) messages about how we should define ourselves. It sounds like you’re happier for having asked the difficult questions. I’m glad you’re following a unique path with your children. Continue to trust yourself and your children in the process.

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  5. I couldn’t agree more. I am constantly realizing that unschooling, for us, is very much about shedding. And listening. And observing. And getting to know ourselves–as supporters of our children–outside of the layers we grew in order to become what we were being molded to be. I’m so grateful for this journey, and as much as parenting can leave me feeling confused, with unschooling, I feel so good about making this space for my children. And for myself. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Akilah, I’m so sorry, your comment slipped through the cracks! Thanks for your feedback and yes, shedding is a great word to describe the process of getting rid of all those layers that we accumulated over the years that no longer feel like our skin! Maybe “molting” is an even better way to think of it! Best to you and yours, I always enjoy your writing and thoughts on the unschooling journey, Ellen

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