Unschooling and the Chinese Contrast: A Global Exploration of Parenting and Educational Values | Cecilie Conrad

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Global connections, friendship, wonder, and contrast

By the magic of the internet and friendship, I came across a Chinese contrast. My British friend, living in Argentina, is teaching English to Chinese children online, and in my kitchen in Denmark, I listen to his reflections via audio files on my phone. Imagine that! The tour around the globe alone, makes me wonder … But this reflection is more about the content of my friends’ worries. He is reaching out to me, an unschooling mother. Being no expert on Chinese culture, I might be wrong, but at least in my world of understanding, the lifestyle and choices about education couldn’t be more different.

Contrast can be a mirror

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The Chinese mothers in this story are being hard on their young children. Their ambition on behalf of their children, and their method of mothering, teaching, and helping their young into this complicated life, is probably fueled by the same love and understanding of responsibility I feel for my children. At the same time, the contrast is huge.

As much as possible?

We probably all know to some extent, how most Chinese children are taught as much as possible, as fast as possible, with a focus on competition, ambition, rules, and tests. The freedom of my children and the deliberate deschooling of myself is completely different.

I totally see the point of learning as much as possible. I see the idea of being good at everything, but I find it heartbreaking, that kids live their lives on the basis of parental ambition: being forced to learn all sorts of stuff, they never asked for and never see any point in – except the competition: being better and faster than your peers.

Being a miracle

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So, do they actually live a life where they feel they are valued only to the extent they are “better” than yesterday; that love is a prize, you win with great exams, that life is all about achieving another skill; and do they ever get into contact withwho they are? I am in no position to know, but what I do know is this:

Setting the frame of our children’s lives is inevitable. It is our responsibility to take care of them from the day they are born until the day they fly out to take care of their own life. Doing so, we affect their growing minds, and their feeling of place in the world, of place in the universe. The basic knowledge of being of great value, of being okay, of being a miracle, and of knowing what is important and feels right, is a core value to me and to my family, and the main reason we rarely demand anything from our children.

Personal freedom is not for sale

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When I listen to my friends' stories about Chinese mothers, I feel the face of ambition emerge from my not-yet-totally deschooled mind, and I want my children to be as “good” at everything as these well-taught children. But just for a moment – because there is no way I will let them pay the price. My children’s feeling of self, and their personal freedom is not for sale!

So, life is all about balance. Well – of course life is all about love, no doubt. Love is the key, the way, the reason, the goal, the fuel, the joy, the meaning, the purpose, the content, and the adventure. That said, finding the way in life is all about balance. I hardly ever come to a subject and conclude one way or another, it is almost always about the golden middle way, about the nuances, the details, and about finding balance, being ready to adjust this balance according to life unfolding in its ever-surprising ways.

Life is understood in reverse

As our famous philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard said: “Life is understood in reverse, but must be lived moving forward”. This part of the human condition, we all have to deal with it.

As I said earlier, I hardly ever demand anything from my children, and this is not true. I do. I do expect them to participate in the practical side of life, and I also encourage them to take steps to learn, whatever they say they want to learn, and I invite them to spend time looking for answers. The difference is first of all – they do this voluntarily, and if they want to do something else, it is totally okay, they know they are loved, whatever they want to do with their life. It is the kids who get to set the scene. The hours of the day are as much their time as mine, and living without a curriculum sets us totally free to do whatever feels right, whatever is of value.

It is a question of values

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It is clear to me, that unschooling sets free the last huge group of slaves: The children. The children live a life constructed by caretakers, their time is stolen and put into schools, lectures, “after-school activities”, and chores. They have no control, no power, no way of getting to know themselves, or even to know what they want and who they are.

It is a question of balance, yes. But it is mostly a question of values. My job is to fight the power of 23 years of schooling in my own mind, and I do, every time the face of ambition shows up. Freedom, happiness, the feeling of self, and the great power that follows being in charge of our own lives are (some of) what we get from unschooling. This is not for discussion.

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It is – at the end of the day – a question of values, of philosophy – you get to choose, it is your duty to choose, and your choices will have a huge impact on your children’s lives, whether you like it or not. Not choosing is not an option, it is just closing your eyes and walking in line.

May the sun shine on you!

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Cecilie Conrad

As I am not a native speaker, I am thankful to Liam Pilmore, my British friend, kind enough to proofread my English blog posts. Friendship is gold. It is a core value for me to share, be honest, and dare be vulnerable. I am grateful, you are reading my blog and I would be even more grateful if you comment, send me an email, or otherwise engage. I respond to all, just give it a bit of time. Thank you.


Comments for this article on my old website:

Diana Cossio

Loved your blog post! Totally agree with the base value of freedom where our children have the enough wisdom to choose when, how, what and how much they learn. It is imperative for our children to know that they have their own life in their hands and we as parents are going to be there to support their dreams and help in any possible without forcing on them our own fears, limiting beliefs or frustrations. Having the freedom to be and express oneself to the fullest of their own capabilities, I think is the greatest give a parent can give to their own child.

Livid Jenni

Well said!! Best line was "Personal Freedom is not for sale" this is so meaningful to me right now 💖

I love the pictures too!

Annemette Borg Valbjørn

Hej Cecilie.

Jeg vil gerne lade dig vide, at dine skriv, både på Speltmor og her, er super værdifulde for mig. Speltmor var en af grundene til, at jeg for 4 år siden valgte at tage min lille søn ud af vuggestue (et af mit livs bedste valg), og i dag ikke påtænker at sende ham i skole. Jeg føler mig altid beriget, når jeg har læst et af dine indlæg. Tak 🙏

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