Saturday, May 02, 2009

Faux unschooling

Recently there was a thread on the SSUDs ng which captivated me. One participant there was so bizarre that I sat in open-mouthed amazement reading the shit he spewed in an UNSCHOOLING ng. Even more incredible was his self-delusion that he was (is) an unschooler.

Any philosophy will inevitably have a broad spectrum of followers. There are the orthodox, the unorthodox, the heterodox, the heretics, and those who are simply creating their own version of the thing. But, until now, I hadn't realized that there were Pharisees coopting the term "unschooling" for their own nefarious use. It irritates me. I wanna tear open the whitewashed facade of their sepulcher of claimed unschooling and reveal the putrefying corpse which is their true epistemology.

One of my earliest long, unschooling-related posts on this blog was my three-part Math Rant which was inspired by a pompous prick of a meretriciously tedious mathematics teacher. It wasn't specifically an unschooling post, it was more an indictment of our educational and societal relationship to math. My only actual unschooling post was the essay I wrote for Jon Gold and posted here. Therefore, this is only the second time I've written specifically about unschooling.

Obviously, this guy really pissed me off. He bothered me so much that I felt compelled to compose a response to his commentary here where I can be blunt.

For the sake of anonymity (kind of), let's call him Soi-disant Selfish Unschooling Dad Shithead #1, acronymed to SSUDS1 and pronounced "asshole." Hey! It's English. Well, it's American English. If you can pronounce G-H-O-T-I as "fish" then you can pronounce S-S-U-D-S-1 as "asshole." I'm the Chubby Checker of written-to-spoken American, baby.

As background, conceptual info, I probably should tell you that he's an Ayn Rand "objectivist." If you're unfamiliar with this (Lucky you!), it's just Any Rand's sophomoric attempt to turn selfishness plus unrestrained Capitalism into an actual (utopian) philosophy. Yes, they truly do believe that selfishness is a virtue. Think of this "philosophy" as the country cousin of fortune cookie philosophy and you're close to the mark. Just remember, selfishness is a virtue. Really.

Let us begin. His comments are directly quoted and they're green.

SSUDS1's declared definition of his variant of unschooling sounds not unreasonable.

Unschooling is a means for childrearing in which the parent recognizes a child’s free will, thereby allowing the child to choose her own values, decide upon her own virtues, and acquire her life-knowledge on her own timeline, free of any parental coercion.

But speaking of cognitive dissonance, let's look at his behavior. After all, actions speak louder than words.

By the age of 4.5, ALL kids know what’s right and wrong. Some are better at pretending they don’t. By that age, you can essentially treat them like adults, mutatis mutandis, because they can engage their rational minds equally, allowing for a lack of many facts and an ease of reasoning that comes from practice through the years.

I believe he accurately chooses mutatis mutandis over ceteris paribus here because he assumes the parent has been working on the child since birth to mold/change the child into a creature the parent wants the child to be. To harken all the way back to Piaget, SSUDS1 is a firm believer in "social transmission" rather than "reconstruction of knowledge." That is, a relationship in which one partner is dominant (the parent, obviously) and the other is… not. Beliefs, including both knowledge and mores, are transmitted one way, rigidly, despite the fact that children develop their own concepts of ethics from observing the world independent of parentally-imposed concepts and often in opposition to them. The alternative method, which Piaget calls "reconstruction of knowledge," is where the partners are more equal, mutually examining their universe, and knowledge is derived openly and flexibly, rather than by edict of the authority figure. Which one of these sounds more like unschooling to you? Right. And yet SSUDS1 adamantly embraces social transmission. He is the Pope, always speaking ex cathedra to his congregation of one.

Just as mutatis mutandis is the accurately-chosen description for his process, my Pope photo is also precisely chosen. It's Pius XII, the original Nazi Pope, as opposed to the current Nazi Pope, Joey Ratzinger.

…unschooling does not mean un-informing or un-judging or even un-dictating in certain circumstances. And, most importantly, it does not mean moral relativism (or absenteeism) on the parent's part, including a complete laissez-faire approach to child-rearing. That is just as destructive as public schooling on a child's brain. They must hear from us what is good and bad, and we must be confident of what we know to be right and wrong, so that we can explain those things well. I highly recommend Ayn Rand's Objectivism to gain that confidence. The foundation of a good life is rational absolutes.
Right and wrong are black and white in every single situation of life, so the parent's primary duties are to create a non-coercive environment and to help foster the child's rationality, which includes pointing out right and wrong, helping to piece things together, helping make moral decisions upon the character of those we know, helping understand the importance of good health and eating habits, determining the best way to treat others, making conclusions on religion, welfare, public schooling, theft, laziness, lying, obesity, beauty, evolution, Gang Green (environmentalists), work, friendship, charity, conditional love (which is the only kind of love), integrity, etc.
There is no such thing as unconditional love. It is an oxymoron because we put conditions on the moral character of each person we know. If we did not, then we could just as easily marry a prostitute as a seamstress. And we could love a drug-addict thieving child as much as a child of great humanity, benevolence and learning. The phrase "unconditional love" is, unfortunately, one of the most prominent and heinous in our society. My child will be my friend and confident throughout our lives together only if she makes the decision to be moral, including honesty, integrity, productivity, justice, etc. I expect that to happen, so I look forward very much to our long lives together.

Gosh! Where to begin? Dictating an absolute hierarchy of right and wrong. Gee, I forgot that was a requirement for being an unschooler. Must've missed that handout at the big unschooling meeting. And I think the word he was looking for was "pernicious" when he described the OBVIOUSLY ABSOLUTELY WRONG concept of "unconditional love." (Brief aside: His example of marrying a prostitute vs. a seamstress is fascinating to us Seattleites because in the early days of the city all the prostitutes listed their occupation as "seamstress." That'd probably confuse the shit out of poor old SSUDS1. Who can you marry if the prostitutes are seamstresses? Oh, dear Odin! Confused... Mind spinning… Must regain control. Must impose (my) logical absolutes on reality. Phew! Better now. Back to my main line of invective.) Not to mention those damned Gang Green environmentalists. (Shun the unbeliever! Shun! Nasty global climate change hoaxers.) Oh yeah, and fatties ("obesity" which follows "lying" in his nonexhaustive, and probably inexhaustible, list). I hafta remember to point out to my kids the ABSOLUTE WRONG of being fat and I guess I'd better lose some weight cuz I'm pretty sure hypocrisy is an ABSOLUTE WRONG. And those fucking welfare recipients. How do I hate them? Let me count the ways. Blah, blah, blah. Like SSUDS1, I highly recommend Ayn Rand's writings… if you're having trouble falling asleep. Personal disclaimer: Yes, I am a MORAL RELATIVIST and my opinion is that Ayn Rand was an idiot and, worse, a bad writer. I guarantee I'd put that on my list of ABSOLUTE WRONGS. Should I kill myself now or can I wait til I finish composing this philippic?

To believe that there is no black and white is actually schoolish. That's exactly the kind of moral relativism that is taught at every high school and university in America and it leaves children only with cognitive dissonance. There is no contradiction between wanting a child to have her free will and self-determination and my absolutism and judgmental philosophy in life and child-rearing.

Again with absolutism's superiority to relativism, calling it "schoolish." Ouch! A hit, a very palpable hit. Not! [In relative colors, not black and white. Get it? Boy, I'm so witty sometimes.] Show me someone who claims to be an absolutist and I'll show you a self-deluded person. Ooooh, and here's some fabulous cognitive dissonance! Your child is allowed by you, the authority, to have free will within the confines of your absolutes. Is this another of those "killing for peace" or "fucking for virginity" types of American Zen koans? Define "oxymoron." Hell, for this guy, forget the "oxy" part.

Once a child gets to be about 4.5 or 5, there can be an expectation on the parent’s part that the child understands rules and can be held accountable for those rules (which are based upon solid principles). Such young children will sometimes honestly forget or stray a bit, and in those occasions, a simple talk or reminder is all that is needed. But children have their moods, as adults do, and when that mood becomes a catalyst for obstinance and irrationality, then discussion in some cases simply won’t do the trick. That’s when the adult has little choice but to say, “OK, you’re not wanting to listen, so I’m going about my business, and you can take care of yourself --until you’re ready to talk.”

Rules. Oh, but they're based on principles. That's ok, then, isn't it? Of course, if the child is "obstinate" and "irrational," well, that's when it's necessary to escalate the DefCon status. Reluctantly, of course. More in sorrow than in anger, ya know? But how often is a two-year-old irrational, anyway? I mean, it probably doesn't come up all that often, right? I remember when our kids were two and… Oh shit! Fuck me!

But I'm not ready to fully comment on this quite yet. Read the next sentence, then I'll put on Jeremiah's cloak and ream this SSUDS1 a new 1.

If the child refuses to see his own bad acts for what they are, I choose to withdraw my loving until I see a change in behavior.

Yeah, you read that right. The unschooling, free-will, noncoercive (All of these are his own actual labels for his actions.) method he uses with his child is withdrawal of himself and his love from his child until she learns her (more accurately, SSUDS1's) lesson.

That's so vile, so abysmally disgusting, lemme repeat it so it can sink in. It's not something we wanna simply read as a single sentence and zoom on past. When his child does something he doesn’t like, he withdraws his physical presence AND HIS LOVE until she learns her lesson. This has been his methodology all her short life. Not only is that not unschooling, it's not even reasonable in the context of traditional parenting. Or human psychobiology, for that matter. Here's a kid who's gonna need a whole team of shrinks for a coupla decades after she leaves home. Of course, in the context of operant conditioning, this is an absolute, sure-fire, utterly nuclear-level negative punishment. And it certainly works. It works like a sunnavabitch. Guaranteed to produce the desired result: an obedient, compliant, eager-to-please subject, I mean, child. A subject (sorry, child) who knows that she'd better toe the line and anticipate il Papa's wants or she will be (once again) declared unworthy of her parent's love. Is there anything a parent can do to a child that's worse than withdrawing their love? Despicable.

Is that behavior modification? Certainly. That is, after all, exactly what we are attempting to achieve in our children…

Do I really need to comment on this sentence? I thought not. Who gives a fuck whether you call it behavior modification or operant conditioning or just some pencil-dick brute emotionally abusing his little girl? It's simply evil with a capital E. And vile, too, cuz that's just rearranging the letters in evil, after all. This guy probably used a Skinner box, I mean, an air crib when his daughter was an infant.

Reality is stark and real, and I think parenting should be the same.

Thine own mouth condemns thee. "Parenting should be stark." Wow! Yep, that sounds pretty much like most of the unschoolers I know. Y'all would agree with that, wouldn't you? Maybe even bleak, huh? I sincerely want my kids to grow up in an environment (Oh shit! I forgot, "environmentalism" is one of the BAD things. Oh well, continuing anyway…) which is as dark and cold as infinite, crepuscular, Helium-liquefying interstellar space smothering a tortured plain whose surface is constantly scoured by the shrieking twins, Boreas and Aquilo, and dotted with sickly, glowing fungi of contorted shapes and configurations repellent to the human eye and disturbing to the psyche. A place where the blasted landscape is occasionally punctuated by foetid fens of stygian gloom and mephitic effluvium, gathering darkness to themselves like a cloak in a seemingly purposeful attempt to conceal the awful purity of their flagitious existence.

Yeah, that's a pretty accurate depiction of how life is and I wanna be sure the kids learn that stark, but real, lesson early and well. I mean, I wanna be a good dad, ya know? I can be Boreal if I hafta. It's for the kids' own good.

What should kids be like?
I wanted to say in my previous email that my daughter cleans up all her own messes and has done so since she was 3.5. She’s been pouring her own drinks since the day she turned two (with my help in opening some containers). She’s been making coffee for the household since she was 3.5 (she asked to do it and sometimes gets up before I do so she can do it). She’s been dressing herself since she was 3. She cleans up the kitchen dishes about a quarter of the time (and would do more if I asked, but I’m much faster at it and just go ahead and do it most of the time). My ex-wife (who is extraordinary with Livy also) and I have never told Livy no on any of the above and make ourselves readily available for help in most cases.
My daughter and I will go days or even weeks without a disagreement or a confab on what is right or wrong. She rarely leaves anything lying around (dirty dishes included) because she knows that we honor others’ existence by honoring our own and taking care of our own messes. She knows she is free to make her room look as if a category 4 tornado just went through, but that common areas are to be cleaned after play.
She likes to cook her own food, including microwaving and stovetop work. She knows that simply taking the last slice of cheesecake without asking me if I’d like to have a couple of bites isn’t fair, and so she asks with the loveliest voice if I would like to have some.
She likes to help other kids do stuff. She likes to do stuff for me, like making my coffee and giving me pieces of her desserts. She plays hard with the neighborhood boys and girls. Though all of the kids occasionally bicker over something, they all usually work out things without parental involvement.
All of this is not to say that everything is always halcyon. We’ve had our three-hour standoffs in the past, wherein she would simply not admit to having lied (ownership of thoughts takes time in kids) or would not acknowledge that my time is my time or something else. She has even proven me wrong a couple of times on what I promised. I didn’t think I was wrong, but her recounting of what I said proved that I was. Her strong will and adamant remarks got my attention and made me respect her even more.
She is a delightful sprite with an iron core. She knows that right is right and wrong is wrong – and that everything else is simply play time. I think the reason she is this way (and that every child should be this way) is because she has found that my ex-wife’s moral character and my moral character are as hard as the rocks in our front yard. They will not break. This comforts children. It gives the lovely, benevolent feeling that as long as they themselves abide by the proper rules of respect for oneself and others, then the mind is utterly free to explore this wild, amazing world – and that parents won’t get in the way of the exploration, and will in fact want to join them many times in the journey.

I feel so abyssally sad for this poor little girl. Here's what I posted on the SSUDs ng after reading that.

Ack! What should kids be like? They "should be" just who they are; that's what.

The one thing they should absolutely NOT be is Skinnerized automatons, molded
into obedient little Stepford children.

Your daughter knows that taking the last slice of cheesecake without checking
with her deity is a sin and is punishable in extremis. Her god is clearly a
selfish god. Then again, in your universe, selfishness is a virtue, isn't it?

This is unschooling? Hell no! It ain't even close.

Think about her life. Here's a kid who's known since age 3.5, and probably even before that, that she'd better clean up after herself or daddy wouldn't love her. Who, at 3.5, knew that she'd better get up before daddy to make his coffee or he wouldn't love her. Who cleans the kitchen whenever she can before daddy does it because she worries that if daddy hasta do it, he might will find her unlovable. Who, as I said in my ng post, knows that taking the last slice of cheesecake without checking with her deity is a sin and is punishable in extremis. When you fail to anticipate god's wants, god ceases to love you.

Yeah, that sounds like unschooling to me.

To wrap this up, I'm gonna bastardize Martial, substituting adeo for nec and atque for hoc, changing his original concept to fit my feelings: [Explained in P.S. below.]

Non amo te, SSUDS1.
Adeo possum dicere quare
Atque tantum possum dicere:
Non amo te.

And now I'm gonna go hug my daughters, kiss them all over their radiant faces, and love them unconditionally. If loving them (unconditionally) is wrong, I don't wanna be right. (wink and a nod to Percy Sledge)

You can call me heinous, or you can call me RJ, or you can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay; but ya doesn't hasta call me… Well, if you're an SSUDS1 (Remember my preferred pronunciation of this word from the beginning of this diatribe.), ya doesn't hasta call me at all. I'd prefer that.

Unconditionally yours,


P.S. It has been gently suggested to me that I should give a brief explanation of Martial's poem and my variation. The original is:

Non amo te, Sabadi.
Nec possum dicere quare
Hoc tantum possum dicere:
Non amo te.

I do not like you, Sabadi.
I am not able to say why
I am only able to say this:
I do not like you.

By substituting adeo for nec and atque for hoc, I changed it to:

I do not like you, SSUDS1.
I am able to say precisely why
And I am able to say just this:
I do not like you.


  1. Hallelujah to my deity named Frank!
    Now I see why your goat was got mine too. Bahhhh. Wow. Struck by the shell shock! Speechless. I now see why it took you a while to pen that reply....
    Asshole is the kindest pronounciation I can think of for that combo...


  2. Worth waiting for. I got lots of chuckles and had to look up some words...teeheehee.
    This man would drive me bananas....
    You were pretty nice ;-)
    Some people are unbelievable.

  3. Gee I wonder why he's not married anymore?

  4. Right On Frank! Wow, you were so right on I don't even have much to say. Except to call that asshole one more Abusive Narcissist!!

  5. "Gee I wonder why he's not married anymore?"

    Me too! LOL

    Holy cow. No wonder you were upset by him, Frank. Alas for the poor girl who has to live with that kind of screwed up thinking.

  6. From now on when somebody asks me about unschooling I'll just use this line:

    My child will be my friend and confident throughout our lives together only if ...

    I think that sums up the philosophy so well, ya know?

    Poor little girl.

  7. This is the wolf in sheep's clothing on our local list. He has never outed himself like this on our list but has said enough to rile us up. He sure hasn't portrayed this picture before.

    Thanks for letting us in on him. I won't pass this info. along. I know (actually hope) he'll give me, and the others on the list, an opportunity to speak back to this our my own at some point. Really scary.

  8. Oh wow. That's really sad. Really sad. I am mightily impressed by you, Frank. What a vocabulary...I'm kinda speechless.

    Oh, and I thought it was that guy Madeline. Hmmm....

  9. "We’ve had our three-hour standoffs in the past, wherein she would simply not admit to having lied (ownership of thoughts takes time in kids) or would not acknowledge that my time is my time or something else."

    Oh. My. God. Poor little girl.

  10. Wonderfully stated Frank!

    I was somehow able to follow the thread last week without getting too angry. Maybe it's choosing to deal with reality comfortably wrapped in a cloak of denial. Actually, I found extra motivation( not really needed) to shower my lovely little girl with my unconditional love. Great post Frank!

  11. *sigh* It's even worse hearing about it all the second time around.

    This man is so articulate and proud of his twisted, authoritative parenting.

    I feel terribly sorry for his little girl. I wish she knew she could do and be so much more than a 5 year old 50's housewife.

  12. Those kind of parenting ideas pull out all my emotions at once in a hurl... in a hurry.

    This is not the first time I've heard stuff like this called love. It *is* one of the most delusional. Sadly. Kinda like "Coach," as he calls himself, on Survivor.

    Totally cool writing, Frank. I enjoyed it right up there with the best I've seen. Made this sad story worth reading.

  13. Frank, I bow to your articulate dissection of this guy's (ha!) logic. Take that, you sorry excuse for a dad.

    When I read about his daughter's "domesticity," it kinda creeped me out. She sounded like a wife, not a daughter. Well, at least how he'd describe a perfect wife. Ewww. That poor little girl.

    Think I'll go take a shower....

  14. I am way late on this one, but wow! Thanks for taking this one on, and so eloquently at that. It's so sad to see the philosophy of unschooling distorted, and used to mistreat or neglect a child. Your response is important and thoughtful.

  15. Just for the record, if my daughter becomes a drug-addicted thief tomorrow (or a prostitute - or even a seamstress for that matter) I will still love her every single bit as much as I do now.
    What an asshole!