Appearing to hang around and do nothing at all is dangerous – whether you’re a teenager in a public place, an adult at work, or a child in school (or even in some homeschool settings). Inactivity is perhaps one of the most frowned upon states in our culture. And certainly, many parents get nervous when their kids don’t seem to be accomplishing anything – especially something that the parents have organized or mandated. Adults are “supposed” to organize, and kids partake…at least until they turn a certain age (18 maybe), at which point they’re supposed to miraculously know how to take control of their own lives. In fact, the danger of allowing kids to control their own minds and activities may be one of the main concerns many people have about unschooling.
I can recall sitting at my desk in school as a child, pretending to read a text book as a cover for thinking (or “daydreaming” as it was derisively called), or practicing looking attentive while the teacher was talking and my mind was somewhere else entirely. I knew that she wasn’t in charge of my mind or my life, but I had internalized the message that such realizations were subversive, and that it would be disruptive for me not to hide that knowledge. Nevertheless, unlike some of my peers – most often boys – I got away with going my own way in school because I was an otherwise well-behaved girl who got good marks.
And now, because I’m a well-dressed and groomed adult, I get away with “loitering” in public places listening to music, observing the passersby (because that’s what writers do!), or scribbling in my journal.
Years ago, my unschooling daughters weren’t always so lucky when they spent time in public seeming to be nonproductive, and found themselves being looked upon distrustfully by many adults. But their freedom to direct their own childhood thoughts, time, activity, and learning helped them become the productive, balanced, happy, inquisitive, aware, free-thinking adults they are today.
Not all kids are so lucky. As I was loitering this morning at my favorite sidewalk café, I listened to a couple of moms feverishly programming their children’s upcoming activities, apparently unwilling to leave a single minute unorganized and dangerously nonproductive. Not for those kids any time to watch ants crawl along the sidewalk, to play in the snow, ride their bikes, or skate aimlessly around the rink, just for the sake of enjoying skating; no time to consolidate or expand upon any bit of information they might remember from the whirlwind of facts jammed into their brains at school, no time to think or to daydream. No, they might miss an opportunity to “learn,” to advance their school careers, to compete in an organized, skill-building activity. No time to learn how to think for themselves. That would threaten adults’ erroneous belief that they are in change of their children’s minds and their learning.
Now that is dangerous, as I knew so well as a child in school. But just think what a world it would be if we could embrace that danger and any risk why might think it entailed…if all adults respected children’s ability to think for themselves and trusted that they could learn what they need to know. What if adults could put aside their doubts about kids and their need to control them and, instead, could partner with them in everybody’s best interest? What a world it would be, indeed.