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Is Unschooling a Cult?

Despite the fact I formally, very consciously and officially gave up the “news” over three years ago, I have still become aware of the news media’s fascination with Tom Cruise and his, uh, third wife is it? Katie, or as he renamed her, Kate. I chose to read some of the hoopla and of course Scientology always plays a big part in Tom’s controversial life. Whenever Scientology is mentioned in the media it accompanies fear and the word ‘cult.’

I haven’t made up my mind on whether I think Scientology is a cult or not. As a voracious reader, I’ve read founder L. Ron Hubbard’s books and a fair amount of what goes on during their audits (therapy). I am always open to new information but Scientology seems more of a business to me than anything. Yes, there is a lot of dogma, which resonates with cult, a mandatory money requirement, also cultish, and for real believers a requirement that they give up everyone in their life who is not a Scientologist… also, uh, very cult like. OK, I just convinced myself they are a cult. I recently came across a quote from Hubbard that really struck me in way I’d not been struck before. He said, “The only way you can control people is to lie to them. You can write that down in great big letters.”

Hmmm. As I consider the nature of cults, money making and business, I see a lot of overlap. Charles Manson led a true cult: not based on money but beliefs only, he successfully convinced his followers of his worldview and to perform violent acts they otherwise probably never would have had they not had him in their lives. Listen to Charles Manson to get an idea of his worldview.

Jim Jones and his Jonestown and Guyana massacre were clearly a cult and business: he convinced folks to give them all their money AND adopt his worldview AND give up everyone in their lives that were not a part of Jonestown before convincing everyone to end their lives. Get a feel for Jim’s life.

What about other organizations that purport supreme worldviews, like religions, educational institutions, pharmaceutical companies, governments, big business? Aren’t they all doing their best to get us to believe that what they believe is the best thing to believe? And aren’t they all selling us something, whether through taxation, tithing, or sales of goods and services? If we believe in their supremacy, are they cults and we cult followers? I know many folks with traditional medical educations and careers who simply cannot, will not, consider alternatives to health and healing besides those the AMA approves of. Sounds cultish to me. I certainly know folks who follow religions that have them fearing any contact with those outside their faith. Weird yes, but also cultish. Do you know people who are certain, absolutely certain, that every child needs a standard education or a college education in order to get on in the world? I know I do! Would that fall under the cult of institutionalized education? I could go on and on, and I bet you can too.

All of the above is disturbing to me in a thoughtful way as I consider whether unschooling is a cult. As sensitive as I am to dogma of all kinds and the harmful or otherwise negative ramifications of dogmatic following, I have to admit that my worldview centers on my notion of unschooling. As I dissect all the dysfunction in the world, I can always (ok, almost always) find a solution in unschooling. Does this make me a cult leader?

Ok, wait a minute. Let’s dissect what unschooling is. Granted, there are lots of definitions of unschooling out there in the world, so my definition is only mine. Probably others too, but for the sake of this blog, the definition is mine. When asked often by neophytes what unschooling is, I am known to say that, in a nutshell, it means nobody does anything they don’t want to do. Or, in other, more positive words, everyone crafts a self-directed life doing the things they love to do.

Ok, so far there is nothing cultish about that at all! No dogmatic recipes for life, nothing to sell, no tithing, no business wheelings and dealings. Still, I believe that our world would be a supremely (yes! I will use the word!) better and more blissful place to live if each person had the freedom and power to craft their own self-designed life. My definition of unschooling never means a child cannot go to school if she wants to go or head to college if he thinks it will serve his purpose, for example. While I don’t think two people will or can or should follow the same path in life, I do believe they should set their own standards and goals, follow their own inherent interests and passions. Ahhh, I am feeling relief here. Even though I believe my definition of unschooling relates to a supreme way of living in the world (which sounds darn cultish to me), I am also completely conscious of the fact that there is no group to follow, no recipe for right livelihood, no dues to be paid or stuff to be bought, no dictates to follow… except the only one that matters: your own ….. heart? … inner being? … internal compass? … higher power? Ok, so I am a cult of one. And I am now thinking for the first time ever that perhaps each one of us, in our most confident, self-assured state, is capable of being a cult of one.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michele #

    Reading this made me smile. I don’t know how many times I have felt like people just don’t get my family. It baffles me that people are so comfortable living lives that aren’t there own, but lives dictated to them by society. I bet a lot of people in cults feel the same way. Never thought of it that way. I guess it is because we are our own little cult.

    July 27, 2012
  2. I so love your blogs, Barb. I was wondering why it was taking you so long to post another one. I don’t like the word ‘cult’ because it makes me think of darkness for some reason. Instead, I’ve always thought of ‘religion’. It is called Carmenism, it’s based on the belief in myself, it is mine and I am my own goddess. Me, me, me! Lol.

    July 27, 2012
    • I am not find of the word either but I think it serves it’s purpose, especially as we critically dissect our cultish everyday life. I like Carmenism!

      July 27, 2012
  3. Oh, I took some time off for a vacation! I also didn’t have any insight striking me and am uncomfortable just writing just to write. Glad you like the posts. Thanks for telling me!

    July 27, 2012
  4. Really enjoyed this, Barb. Thanks! Seems when any person, family or group steps outside of conventional thinking/being someone becomes frightened enough to create a negative label for them — cult, subversive, crazy, dangerous, threatening to our very well-being, blah blah. Love that you are pointing out the “cultish,” submissive nature of blindly bending to conventional thinking itself.

    August 13, 2012
  5. val #

    I think that having self-directed learning is a wonderful idea in theory. I DO feel there are some things that really should be learned by the time a child is..say 18. I think we do our children a disservice if we do not help them learn some of the tools that will help them in the world. Few children will choose to work on grammar on their own, and yet I feel that good grammar is an important tool for any path that individual will go on. In my opinion, a healthy balance of child-directed learning along with just enough sprinklings of some of the basics can help our children grow and have a nice foundation for life. Having said that, I want to echo what you said. You said it is *YOUR* definition of unschooling. My definition is that we don’t follow a specific curriculum, we go at the pace of the student, and we use lots of real world experiences, real books, games, etc. to reach our educational goals. We use workbooks and textbooks as well, but we only take tidbits we want and we leave the rest.

    September 23, 2012

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