The Teenage Liberation Handbook

The Note to Parents

Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

AGAINST THE ADVICE of lots of people, I didn't write this book for you. I wrote it for teenagers. I wrote it for teenagers because I wished that when I was a teenager someone had written it for me. I wrote it for teenagers because my memory and experience insist that teenagers are as fully human as adults. I wrote it for teenagers because I found an appalling dearth of respectful, serious nonfiction for them. In short, I wrote it for teenagers because they are the experts on their own lives.

No, I have not forgotten your child's "place." I know that if you want to, you can probably prevent him from leaving school. I have written this book anyway, in the hope that after careful thought, you will see fit to honor the choice he makes.

Yes, if your son or daughter leaves school, it will change your life. If the experiences of pioneering homeschoolers can predict your future, you will see family relationships deepen; a teenager without eight hours of school and homework has time to make friends with her parents. You will see family relationships heal, uncomplicated by displaced anger about school. You will feel less harshly evaluated according to teenage fashion magazine standards. Depending on your own background and schooling, you may undergo a period of depression, anger, and bitterness. You went to school, after all, and in contrast to your children's unexpected freedom you may feel overwhelmed by a sense of loss—all the things you could have done with that time, all the choices you never thought you had, all the labels that stuck when schoolpeople put them on you. This funk, if you get it, will eventually give way to a new sense of freedom—at least mine did. You can't change the past, but you can change the present. You can peel the labels off, you can start making real choices, you have the rest of your life to live.

Homeschooling parents of teenagers are rarely teachers, in the school sense of the word, and this book never suggests that you forsake your own career or interests in order to learn calculus (etc.) fast enough to "teach" it Healthy kids can teach themselves what they need to know, through books, various people, thinking, and other means. (A freshly unschooled person may at first be a lousy learner, like cigarettes, school-style passivity can be a slow habit to kick.)

Nevertheless, you will probably find yourself more involved than before with your son's or daughter's education. If you have helped with or supervised your children's homework, or stayed in close touch with their teachers, homeschooling need not drain your energy any more than that. Your role will change, however. No longer is it your job to nag or lecture; instead, you answer questions and help find people or resources to answer the questions that you can't answer. Instead, when your daughter starts sketching castles, you introduce her to the architect you know or tell her about the lecture on medieval life that you saw advertised in the paper.

If an unschooled teenager doesn't need teaching from you, what does he need from you? Parenthood, of course, and all the love and stability therein.

Also, help with logistics, as implied in the castle example above. Few people can immediately take complete responsibility for their educations after being forcefully spoonfed for years. Please be willing to make some phone calls to set up meetings or lessons, to tell your kid about events or resources he might not otherwise know about, to draw a map to the planetarium or explain how to use the university library. Also, you will need to accompany your son or daughter through your state's homeschooling legal requirements. Fortunately, every state has support groups to help you make sense of this process.

Also, trust. When you tell your daughter about that upcoming lecture on medieval life, make it clear that you are simply passing along information, not giving an assignment. If you don't believe in her, it won't work. If you give up on her, snoop, push, or frequently anxiously inquire into the status of her algebraic knowledge, you will destroy any chance you had for a healthy family relationship, and you will send her right back to school, where there is so much less to lose.

Part of trusting means respecting your teenager's need for transition time. As Chapter 12 points out, new unschoolers often need time to work through a flood of feelings about school and life, before they can start attending to things "intellectual" or "academic." Ride out the storm with your child. Offer your support, your ideas, your arms. Don't rush him.

Do I expect you to swallow all this? Not now; not by reading this short note. Later, yes. I expect you to change your mind in favor of unschooling by 1) reading John Holt's books, Freedom and Beyond, Instead of Education, Teach Your Own, and Escape From Childhood, 2) reading literature by parents who have homeschooled their teenagers—especially Micki and David Colfax's Homeschooling for Excellence, Cafi Cohen's And What About College?, and Nancy Wallace's Child's Work, and 3) getting to know homeschoolers near you (like people, they come in all varieties; don't give up if you're put off at first), 4) reading Growing Without Schooling magazine, 5) reviewing your own adolescence and your present life, and 6) humbly observing your teenaged child, allowing for the possibility that he might be a person... like you.

As for the rest of this book, you are a welcome guest. From time to time, you will find the words of other parents and adults, some of which may reassure you. Depending on your perspective, you may detect an overall tone of intoxicating hope or dangerous insubordination. Mostly, you will find piles of information you do not need: stuff that is common knowledge to adults but not so familiar to teenagers who have spent most of their lives secluded from the world and its array of wonders.

Finally, on a different note: if you are already disillusioned by your child's "education," or even sympathetic to the cause of unschooling, and if you live with a Stuck or Depressed teenager, I hope this book can be your ally in offering her or him some vision for healthy, self-directed change.

Best wishes.

 

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I am 44 years old. I live in Pune with my daughter, Gourika, and son, Ishaan, my parents and our dog, Goldy.