This past week, I learned of the family in Toronto deciding to keep their child's sex a secret from the world. Following the story also introduced me to the concept of Unschooling which, in turn, introduced me to the concept of Elimination Communication (or as I like to call it "Going Brown"). This little choose-your-own-adventure into the world of alternative parenting has left me both unsettled and wondering the cost of these decisions.
I will start by acknowledging that these parents undeniably love their children, and most likely believe they are doing what is right for them. However, while I am quite sure their hearts are in the right places, I cannot say the same for their heads. I am concerned that these parents are taking their one shot at raising their children and using it as an opportunity for social experiment. And I am not entirely convinced that they are doing it unselfishly.
Take the case of Kathy Witterick and her husband David Stocker. These are the parents of the child whose sex they are withholding from anyone but a handful of people. According to their Toronto Star interview, they got the idea after reading the book "X, a fabulous child's story", which Mr. Stocker found in the library of the school where he teaches. In this story, a child whose sex is kept hidden turns out to be the most exceptional well-adjusted child in the school. It's also a work of fiction in which the author controls the outcome - not controlled scientific research with a breakthrough discovery. Nevertheless, these parents have taken the idea literally and are using their four month old as the key at the end of their experimental kite. To make matters worse, they are not simply conducting this social experiment in the privacy of their own lives. Instead, they decided to hail a media taxi cab so that their experiment can take place on the world stage. They have traded their children's privacy for 15 minutes of fame, or in this case, parental righteousness. I should not even know this family exists.
I do not take issue with encouraging children of any gender to pursue whatever interests or preferences they may have. In fact, I applaud this. I was uplifted by last Halloween's article written about a little boy who wanted to dress up like Daphne from Scooby Doo. My concern with the Witterick/Stocker baby is that it does have a sex - its simple biology - but these parents are keeping it from everyone and encouraging their other children to participate. These parents have already been open to the preferences of their older boys, and it does not seem to have stifled them. So why they have decided to keep the sex of the third child a secret - like it is something to be ashamed of - is beyond me. In this blogger's humble opinion, they should not be making an issue where their is none with their older sons by asking them to keep something a secret. As with their other children, they should just let the new baby be whoever it is as a girl or a boy. They should also show a little more conviction with their choices and not shelter their children from the rest of the world by unschooling them.
Yes, unschooling. This is the methodology in which a parent keeps a child out of traditional schools and away from any structured curriculum, textbooks, or grading. In some cases, it seems that the parents also avoid any rules or chores for their children, instead allowing them to determine their own needs. The theory is that the child will simply learn through life experiences and that the parent will only facilitate the child's desire to learn when they show an interest in something. It matters not whether the child learns the things a child in a traditional school setting would learn, as these subjects are not deemed necessary to get along in life. Traditional school is seen as stifling, controlling, and at odds with the way a child should be raised. Of course, I am paraphrasing here as I am only a blogger writing one post and not an investigative journalist, though browsing through any unschooling website will confirm my assertions. At any rate, I am at odds with the unschooling movement on several fronts.
To begin, I must point out that in order to be unschooled, at least one parent must stay home and serve as the caretaker and facilitator for the children. This is so that the parent will be there to assist the children any time of the day their curiosity is piqued. In order to do this, I am assuming that another parent must be out making a decent enough living to support the family. And I am highly suspect that the parent who is making this decent living most certainly derived a great deal of benefit from curriculum, grades, or certification. I would even be so confident to say that this is how the breadwinner was able to land said job. I find it ironic that in most cases, the only way the unschooled can be unschooled is for someone else to be reaping the benefits of a formal education.
Secondly, while I am sure there are a handful of examples to prove me wrong, I would doubt the vast majority of unschoolers are given the background or skills needed to succeed in a job market that doesn't have time for ambiguous resumes or experience. I see curriculum and rules as a stepping stone to succeeding in the job market - I know I owe my many years of hard work to my current employment successes. The 'real world' isn't going to wait for someone who gets to make up all their own rules and all their own decisions. I fear that these are the items missing from the unschooler's experience.
And finally, as with many such 'alternative' methodologies, it appears to me that the 'experts' in the field are there to sell you something. When researching this topic I found that every purported expert was only a self-serving example of their own success. Two such example: Grace Llewelyn who wrote a book encouraging teenagers to drop out of school, and Sandra Dodd who also writes about unschooling are only too happy to take your money. For a fee, Dodd will send you the books she has written or come speak at your conference. Llewelyn has created a camp - the Not Back to School Camp - in which she will take your money to allow your child to participate in a structured week about how not to be structured (so reminiscent of my disdain for Burning Man, but I'll save my diatribe on that for September). At this camp you can also hear success stories of people who have been unschooled and then found careers teaching others how to be unschooled. I am curious as to why they do not feature speakers who were unschooled and now work in any other field.
This brings me to my final topic - Going Brown. I first read about this concept when reading the staff bios for the above-mentioned unschooling camp. It is such a minor point that it hardly bears mentioning. Though, while I am sure there is no harm to Elimination Communication, there certainly seems to be a lot of self-righteousness to go along with it. Apparently the children of parents who do not use diapers have a vast leg up over the children of parents who do. In fact, this is one of my last concerns with any of the parenting choices I've mentioned here tonight. All of them seem to have an underlying tones of "if you only truly cared about your child, you would be doing this". "Your bond with your child would be stronger...." "They would be more successful... " "I care for my child more because I visit my interesting ideologies on them. You are probably just screwing up your kids by giving them white sugar and allowing them to be totally mainstream".
As a parent, your job is to do your best to prepare your child for a happy successful life. You have one chance (albeit over several years) to get it right. Is any of that worth your fifteen minutes of fame... or your child's chance at an education... or your self-righteousness? Maybe. But what are you willing for your child to give up so that you can find out?