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4.15.2013

Watch the Wife Swap episode, Concerns about unschooling media portrayal

I recently reported that I was seeing more positive articles about unschooling, especially as it relates to higher ed and the accomplishments of young adults who grew up unschooling. Nevertheless, public response to unschooling families portrayed on tv remains less enthusiastic.
"It’s not really about what Unschooling IS," says Laurette Lynn in response to the latest 4/11 Wife Swap episode, "but what the mainstream culture THINKS IT IS, and judging by their reaction, it’s not positive."
Watch the unschooling Wife Swap episode.

Home education advocate Laurette Lynn, who doesn't believe that a positive portrayal is possible with sensationalist media, shared her Unschooler Wifeswap: Response and Concerns on her blog The Living Free Project. Laurette Lynn is the author of Don't Do Drugs: Stay Out of School.

I think a positive portrayal could be possible, but it's unlikely. If anyone could do it, it's the Martins. Dayna Martin, the unschooling mother featured in the Wife Swap episode is the author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun.

My thoughts about the Martin/Avery-Lamb Wife Swap episode

To me, the show was less about unschooling and more about the contrast between actively being loving to your family, and losing sight of your children as feeling people, withholding love in exchange for control over their lives.

The authoritarian Avery-Lamb family had a certain kind of logic that isn't going to make sense to an unschooling family, i.e., "Discipline is missing in this house," because Devin can say "damn" without getting smacked in the mouth or "That's not how the world is," regarding putting love and connection before rules and obedience.

(What does discipline mean in an unschooling family?)

I was a little shocked at Cindy Avery-Lamb's anger and rudeness. She introduced herself by publicly disrespecting the Martins, refusing to stay in their home, probably as an excuse for her fear over loss of the level of control to which she's accustomed. I'm sure she was terrified, but I doubt it was really regarding the level of cleanliness in the Martin's home.

Plus, she demonstrated that she could be as rude as she wanted to children and adults, but expected quiet obedience from the kids.

I was reminded of the common advice given to moms to choose your battles and consider what's ultimately most important, i.e., an immaculate home or a happy family. Think top deathbed regrets. Avery-Lamb didn't appear to see beyond her grasp on control to the reality of her relationship with her kids, their happiness, their self-esteem, their experience of life.

It was interesting to contrast Cindy Avery-Lamb's affect on Joe Martin, provoking hostility, as compared to Dayna's affect on the other father, drawing out the love and affection he feels for his kids.

As Laurette Lynn mentioned in her post, the "auto-audience of unschoolers was of course, favorable." I thought the Martins did well portraying unschooling principles and I'm glad they didn't hold back much in their responses to Avery-Lambs' presentation of the authoritarian model.

I do share some concerns with Lynn regarding reality tv as a means of sharing unschooling. People will draw generalized conclusions. If one of the Martin kids isn't reading, for example, then people may think lots of unschoolers aren't reading, etc. When the Martin kids responded in kind to Avery-Lamb's rudeness and disrespect, people may say unschoolers are ill-mannered or disrespectful of adults.

I found it disturbing that caring about one's kids, deeply caring about how they feel and how they experience life, being loving and sensitive as the Martins are, was portrayed as radical or extreme.

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