Exploring Unschooling

Exploring Unschooling

EU111 Flashback: Ten Questions with Jan Fortune

September 15, 2022

This week, I’m sharing a conversation I had with Jan Fortune back in 2018. Jan home educated her four children in the UK and wrote many articles and five books on unschooling and parenting. Her book Winning Parent, Winning Child, focuses on living with children in ways that respect their autonomy.

In our conversation, Jan shares some of her thoughts about autonomous learning and the important role of trust in unschooling. She describes how consent-based parenting is not about martyrdom, but problem solving and time spent communicating.

I enjoyed revisiting this wonderful conversation, which is full of inspiring gems!

Questions for Jan

1. Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?

2. What did your family’s move to unschooling look like?

3. One of the first paradigm shifts that happens as we move to unschooling is from the conventional idea that childhood is a preparation for life in the adult world to the idea that a child’s present life is intrinsically valuable. And yet, almost paradoxically, focusing on living well in the present moment and solving today’s problems ends up being a great way to prepare for life as an adult, doesn’t it?

4. In an article you wrote for Life Learning Magazine, you dive into the building blocks of an autonomous, or unschooling, learning environment. I love the point you made about how this lifestyle transcends boundaries. And not just academic subjects, but getting to the place where there are essentially no boundaries between learning and living. Can you share some of the boundaries that melted away for you? It’s a deeper level of trust we reach, isn’t it?

5. What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of moving to unschooling?

6. In your book, Winning Parent, Winning Child, you make a great point about how consent-based parenting is not a call for parental self-surrender and martyrdom. Rather, it’s a call for engagement with our children. You talk about how there may be times when a mutual solution escapes us and we choose to put our children first, but that’s not ideal. Even though sacrifice is often held up as a virtue in society, why is simply giving in not a good long-term solution?

7. I’d like to dig into this transition to consent-based parenting a bit more. In the book, you wrote, “Consent works best when everyone in the family, adults and children alike, see themselves as free, respected people who can live the life they prefer within the family group. When this happening, adults and children can all be open to changing their wishes without ever fearing that it will mean doing something they really don’t want to do. This releases an enormous flood of innovative thinking for solving problems.”

I think that’s something that can be hard to believe until you see it in action. Can you share some tips about this transition and how it cracks opens creative problem-solving?

8. Another aspect of the transition to consent-based parenting I’d like to touch on is moving beyond the conventional idea that children will tend toward bad choices if they aren’t controlled. As we move to unschooling, we discover that what our children really lack is just experience. Especially if we’ve been parenting with rules and control for years, our children have had little experience with understanding themselves and making reasoned choices, so at first, they may behave in ways that may seem, to us at least, irrational. Yet that’s still not a sufficient justification for falling back on control and compulsion, is it? How else can we look at those situations?

9. In another article you wrote for Life Learning Magazine, titled, ‘As If…On Not Turning Our Children Into Byproducts of Our Philosophy,’ you talk about something I think is really important. I want to read a short quote from it:

“There is a temptation to want to prove that our home-educated children, and especially those who have real control over their own learning are more successful, more polite, let’s face it, just more… than their school-going, coerced counterparts. There is a real danger of advertising our learning style, and the alternative life style that is often a byproduct of it, by pointing to the product. Children, however, are not products; they are real, autonomous, human people, making their own mistakes on their own learning adventures; living out their learning for their own sakes, and not to provide examples for their mother’s most recent workshop talk.”

Even for parents who don’t chose to share more publicly about their family’s unschooling adventures, it’s still so valuable to shift away from the conventional mindset that our children are products turned out at the “end of our job” as parents. I think breaking this invisible tether between us and our children as builder and product, is a crucial step in our ability to see them as separate and whole human beings. Has that been your experience as well?

10. Looking back, what has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling?

Links to things mentioned in the show

Jan’s book, Winning Parent, Winning Child

Jan’s article, ‘The Building Blocks of an Autonomous Learning Environment,’ published in Life Learning Magazine

Jan’s article, ‘As If… On Not Turning Our Children Into Byproducts of Our Philosophy,’ published in Life Learning Magazine

Jan’s blog on Medium

Episode Transcript

Read the episode transcript

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