Then I spend an hour on a radical unschooling site, and I'm ready to embrace unschooling wholeheartedly. Sigh.
Obviously, unschooling resonates with me. It is the natural extension of my parenting philosophy (AP/GBD: Grace-based-discipline), and it fits in well with my political leanings (libertarian). Just like GBD, the principles behind unschooling are universal and applicable to far more than just learning. I am really drawn to it, but I am uncertain if it is philosophically compatible with Christianity (of the Lutheran variety).
Certainly the majority of unschooling advocates profess many beliefs that are incompatible with Lutheran Christianity (or Christianity in general, or a belief in absolute truth, for that matter), but that doesn't mean that unschooling itself is necessarily likewise incompatible.
I see the main philosophy underlying unschooling as the principle that I don't have the right to force anyone to do something against their will. It doesn't matter if I think it is important or necessary, or I don't want to do it, or I feel I shouldn't have to do it, or I feel that the other person should have to, or anything - there is no reason sufficient for me to impose my will on another. I can encourage, persuade, set a good example, invite them to join me, etc., but they have to be free to say no.
This goes hand-in-hand with the unschooling tenet that forcing someone to do something against their will is a bad way to win hearts and minds anyway, and is thus generally counterproductive. If the end goal is that they freely choose to do 'x', because that is the right thing, or the best thing, or the most rational thing, then you should start how you plan to end up - allowing them to freely choose to do 'x', even if at first they don't choose 'x' nearly as often as you'd like.
Forcing them to do 'x' just teaches them that a) 'x' must be no fun, because otherwise you wouldn't have to force it, and thus, b) there is no reason to do 'x' unless you are forced to. The end result is, of course, that they never learn the value of 'x', nor do they learn the habit of freely choosing to do 'x', but instead learn the habit of doing 'x' only when forced to. If doing 'x' has worth - and you, yourself, are demonstrating that by example, so they are exposed to the idea of doing 'x' and its benefits - then its inherent value should win converts without having to resort to force.
By and large, I agree with that position. God has ultimate authority over all humans, and outside of the spheres where He has specifically delegated His authority (to parents over their children, and to governments over their citizens, both of which are subject to the constraint that they not use their power to compel actions that are against God's Word), no human has the right to force another human to do anything against their will, no matter how virtuous the compelled action. As well, God's designation of some things as right and others as wrong is more than just an arbitrary list, it is a description of reality: ignore it to your peril.
However, many unschoolers argue that, in addition to respect for persons, we have no right to forcibly compel others' actions because there is no reason our view of the "best"/"right" thing to do is any better than someone else' view of the "best"/"right" thing to do. In other words, they believe there is no absolute truth and no objective standards. Obviously, if there is no objective or higher reason to do 'x' over 'y', there can be no legitimate reason to force someone to do 'x' over 'y' - only selfishness.
Of course I strongly disagree here. I believe in absolute right and wrong, and also I believe that some things have more worth than others. I also believe, unlike many (but certainly not all unschoolers), that there is a qualitative difference between the parent-child relationship and every other human relationship.
As parents, we have been given a sacred and awesome responsibility: the right to override another human being's autonomy. God instructs parents to not abuse this right - "parents, do not exasperate your children", but neither are we to abdicate it - we are to "train up a child in the way he should go". I believe that proper use of our authority means that we are obligated to use the minimal force required (infringe upon our child's autonomy as minimally as possible) in our efforts to discipline - i.e. teach - them where needed. As well, we are obligated to never use our authority in a selfish manner, but only in our child's genuine best interests. We should use much prayerful discernment to ensure we are doing the best job we are capable of doing.
(As an aside, I believe the same principles apply when it comes to government's exercise of its authority - thus my libertarian leanings - as well as to humanity's authority over Creation. Thus why, amongst other things, I need to ensure that my treatment of my dog reflects his best interests, not my convenience; I am really struggling with this right now.)
So where I philosophically differ from "mainstream" unschoolers (and how weird is to see 'unschoolers' and 'mainstream' in a sentence without the connector 'are not', lol) is that:
- I believe in absolute truth, and thus some things are right and some things are wrong.
- I believe in objective standards, and thus some things are objectively better than other things.
- I believe that the parent-child relationship is qualitatively different, and thus the parent does have the right to override their child's autonomy in circumstances where the child's best interest requires it.
So, is the core of unschooling respect for persons, in which case I believe it is thoroughly compatible with Christianity, or does unschooling necessitate a rejection of absolute standards?