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Unschooling and Changing the World

Written by
Jenny Lantz

Jenny Lantz

Jenny is an unschooling, knitting, crocheting, reading, gardening, homemaking feminist activist, and mother of three living in the Baltic Sea archipelago. She keeps busy reading and learning new stuff with her boys, cooking, running the family business, volunteering at her local second-hand shop, and finding out what else can be made instead of bought to keep her ecological footprint as small as she can. She also blogs about her unschooling life at www.nattugglorokattguld.blogspot.fi and sells handmade products at www.etsy.com/shop/OfeliasPond.

Unschooling and Changing the WorldReally, it started so many years ago. I was seven years old. It was a hot day in the beginning of June. School was about to end; summer was coming. I wore a jumper, far too warm for the weather, and all around me the boys in my class took off their t-shirts to cool down. And well, I did too. Because I was warm. And because I didn´t really know about gender differences at the time. I thought we were all just...kids. My teacher was of another opinion and I learned that day that even though I was a little girl with a child’s body, very similar to the boys’ bodies around me, I had to keep my jumper on and stand the heat. This my friends, was my first meeting with gender injustice. This was the birth of a feminist. The birth of an activist.

I could write a whole article about stupid things I´ve been told as a young woman, a grown up, a mother, just because I am a woman. But I won´t. I want to write about the thing that started ticking inside me that very day in the warm classroom. About all the good stuff that it would lead me to. I want to write about activism. Being part of bigger changes. Being part of doing good things for other people, for the environment. Being the change I´d like to see in the world. And I want to write about how unschooling my kids is a great part of that change.

I think that the most important thing I have ever done to bring change to the world is deciding that my kids are actually people, that they´re humans with the right to be treated as persons, not as ”children.” I decided that only a short time after my first son´s birth. I felt his need for care, for being near me and his father, for being kept in our arms, to nurse on demand, and to spend the night close to one of us. And I knew that I had to listen to him, because if it was me lying all helpless and lonely I would like to be listened to, and cared for, and his need, a few hours old, was just as real and important as mine. Later on, I had to decide that my children’s bodies were theirs to decide about. So when they wanted to go outside without a jacket or raincoat, I would let them. And I brought the jackets with me, so that if (or mostly when...) they decided that they needed them, I´d give them to them without saying ”I told you so.” And when they wanted to cut their long, beautiful, shiny hair, I told them that I found their hair the most beautiful in the world. And helped them cut it (damning myself for doing it of course.)

”I think that the most important thing I have ever done to bring change to the world is deciding that my kids are actually people, that they´re humans with the right to be treated as persons, not as 'children.'”

There are times though, when a grown-up has to make the grown up decisions. About safety. (”I know you´re longing for a swim, but I won´t let you go swimming in the sea alone with your brothers until you swim really, really well.”) Health. (”I know you really love coffee, but actually it´s not very healthy to have coffee every morning. How about we buy some decaf next time we go shopping for food?”) Economy. (Well, if you want a new 3DS you have to save money and buy one yourself. We need to use our money for food and housing and all those things, you know.) And there´s really no conflict in honoring their integrity while making a decision they don´t like – if you do it respectfully, after having listened and contemplated their arguments.

So. The most important step in combining my activist life with my life as a parent, and as an unschooling mom must have been that decision. And by respecting my children only for their right to be respected, I encourage them to respect others. Sharing the thought that every human is worth respect, only for being human, that even though people live different lives, think differently, have less (or more) money or whatever, they have their right to integrity. This goes true for the lady in the street asking for money as well. And although we rarely have a lot of money to give, I always say hallo and share a smile. And If I have got a fruit, or maybe a cup of tea to share in my bag, I give it to her. The thing is, I know that this small act won´t change her situation, nor will it solve the world poverty problems. But I think that small things can lead to bigger changes. A little love and humanity makes the world a better place and it spreads. As Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, said, ”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Actually, I see unschooling as an activist act. It is about wanting freedom for our kids, giving them a voice and a possibility to grow outside of the classroom, in their own pace. Learning for their own reasons. Our unschooled kids can decide for themselves how to spend their time; what to learn, when and how (and if), with their parents’ guidance and help. If that isn´t activism, then I don´t know what is. And hey, the choice to unschool is another small act of love and freedom that spreads like ripples on water. The thought that children actually have a voice and that it is to be taken seriously is quite radical to many people in the society in which I live.

Being an activist unschooling feminist mother of three boys in the Baltic Sea archipelago is of course somewhat different from growing up as a young activist teenager in a lower middle class neighborhood in a medium-sized Swedish town. I used to be in a lot of political associations and activist groups. I loved demonstrations, and I took part organizing several political music events, theater events, and other political actions. I took part in an imaginary nuclear accident in the shopping streets of our town, decorated porn shops with mutilated Barbie dolls, and stopped motor traffic from entering the town square in a wish for a pedestrian friendly town center. Everything was done with humor and a great deal of fun. Those were the days... We would spend hours and hours preparing our act, learning, and discussing, hanging around in someone’s home, having tea, chatting, laughing about things that went wrong, enjoying things we had achieved. We dealt with some quite serious subjects and having fun doing it was what kept us going. Many times, doing activism together led to close friendship that lasted for longer than the activist group itself. But as time has gone by, we´ve split up, going our own ways to adult lives.

"I see unschooling as an activist act. It is about wanting freedom for our kids, giving them a voice and a possibility to grow outside of the classroom, in their own pace."

Although my kids have been to some demonstrations and manifestations, nowadays I do more of other kinds of political acts. We really have a lot of opportunities to make changes happen in our private lives! Our family grows some of our own non-toxic, sustainable food. We volunteer at the local charity shop, watch a lot of documentaries about world politics and social change, discuss and question, spread the word about important stuff, and try to be kind to people around us. We help out when help is needed. We buy the things we need mostly second hand, fix things that break, and make a lot of things ourselves (YouTube is such a treasury for the DIYer!)

We live well on less and the reasons for this are: One; we want to spend more time together at home than out wage working and keeping costs down makes that possible without big savings in the bank. Two; we only have one planet, and we want to live sustainable lives to keep our ecological footprint smaller. Three: I want to give my kids the gift of finding happiness within, not in the colorful plastic bag of a random sweat shop. Things breaks and gets lost; inner peace can last forever.

Furthermore, this simple living gives us a sense of having the power in our own hands. There is power that comes with fulfilling our inner beings instead of our outer non-needs. It is the power of knowing that in a crisis we are less vulnerable if we know how to grow our own food, and don´t really need very much to keep us well fed and happy.

As with most things, living this kind of activist life starts with ourselves, with our own family. Spending our days in ways that makes us all happy. Lazy mornings having breakfast together. Endless reading in the sofa on rainy days. Board games in front of the living room fireplace. Movie nights with Doctor Who and popcorn. Fantasy play with picnic in the forest. Baking cakes together for a midweek life celebration. Staying happy together in the ways we know best. Enjoying this unschooling life in a simple everyday way.

If we´re not happy ourselves, if we can´t make the life we want to live, how can we change the world? 

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