Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Importance of Rules

I just heard about a new parenting fad called "Unschooling". These parents sign their kids up for homeschooling, but then they let the kids do whatever they want during the day. Several of these families let the kids make all their own decisions about every aspect of their lives and have no household chores or rules. There's no discipline and no punishment because there are no rules to break. (I wondered what they would do if one of their kids started hitting another one, but no one brought that up in the interview.) The alleged point is for the kids to identify and pursue their own interests. Instead of being provided with a curriculum and textbooks, they are expected to find information about topics of interest themselves. It's a do-it-yourself education with complete and total independence.

I would like to take this moment to reflect on how lucky I was to grow up in a home with rules and to attend a school with at least a basic curriculum. My school wasn't the very best, and I had to learn many things on my own. Still, at least I had someone to show me the basics of a wide variety of topics. I didn't enjoy everything I learned, and some of the rules and chores at school and at home were tedious. Back then I probably would have loved the freedom not to have to do those things, but today I see the value in learning to do things that weren't necessarily fun. Unschool parents say their kids will do necessary tasks because they will see the value in doing them. I disagree. I think that I learned certain things were important only after I was first forced to do them. When I was ignorant and immature, I needed someone to tell me what to do so that I could learn enough to eventually make intelligent decisions for myself.

This might sound like a social/educational rant up until now, so let's introduce a religious element: the law. Some Christians would have you believe that we don't need the law for any reason and that like unschool kids, we should have the freedom to do whatever we think best. I say that freedom should come with maturity. Adults have more freedom than children, and once we learn the basics we don't have to worry about rules quite so much. Paul compares the law to a child's tutor—it teaches us about God and keeps us in line when we are still too spiritually immature to really understand what God wants from us. Once we become mature in our faith, we don't necessarily need the law to tell us what to do anymore because we know God well enough to figure that out without being explicitly told. We become sons and heirs, as Paul puts it.

You can't treat children like adults and expect good results. Children need rules to help them build a foundation that will allow them to make good decisions as adults. First we must learn before we can be turned loose to act according to our own judgment. The same is true for my Christian life. When I don't know God well enough to know how He wants me to act in a certain situation, I still fall back on the law. I look for a guideline in Scripture that will help me figure out what to do. Because I am not subject to any human religious tutor, I must enforce self-discipline and subject myself to the rules when I think I need them. I do that because I recognize that it is wise—good rules exist because they help us learn, not to make us needlessly jump through hoops. I'm OK with being told what to do when I don't know any better myself. I like rules if they lead me in a good direction. I would hate to think what would happen if I had to figure out everything about life, God, and love all on my own with no rules to guide me.


~PakKaramu~ said...

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Mel Bowman said...

I think the real point of Unschooling is to expose your child to a wide variety of topics in whatever manner works best, and then give that child ample opportunity to pursue whatever he or she finds most interesting. The most popular example of this is the Grocery Store Trip. Parents have their kids go through the house and make a list of what is needed. Then, using a map, they direct the parent to the store. The parent provides the children with a budget, and they calculate the amount spent as they add items to the cart, and then make the change with the cashier at the end. Bag up the groceries, get home, put them away. Such an event teaches many elements with the added benefit of putting them in a real world context. For many kids (most especially boys) this works better than sitting in a desk doing addition and subtraction problems.

Real unschooling doesn't mean that there are no rules or chores to do. It's just a very different way of looking at education. When done well, I think it provides a well-rounded environment where many children can flourish. When done poorly, of course, it can be disastrous.

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