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Summer Reading - books for all ages.
Featured Resource

Unprocessed Child, The: Living Without School


Unprocessed Child, The: Living Without School

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Publisher: Unbounded Publications

Author: Valerie Fitzenreiter

List Price: $14.95

Ages: Adult

Reviewed By: Robin McDonald

Most of us were raised in a traditional sense, more than likely in a public school environment, before we made the decision to homeschool. After The Big Decision, we then discovered that we had even more choices to make such as what method we should use in homeschooling - the more rigorous methods of traditional school; a tried method, such as Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf; or should we delve deeper into the psyche of children by giving total Unschooling a try?

The Unprocessed Child by Valerie Fitzenreiter goes beyond the realm of what most of us consider Unschooling into Alexander Sutherland Neill's Summerhill movement. Fitzenreiter read the 1960's classic The Summerhill School, in which Neill (1884-1973) touted a radical unschooling theory he initiated in Suffolk, England over 75 years ago. She acknowledges that this book changed her life and was the impetus she needed to begin her untraditional unschooling journey. His theories, along with the Summerhill movement, have since moved into the United States, and include the same types of ideas popular in Raymond and Dorothy Moore's book Better Late than Early, and John Holt's magazine Growing Without Schooling (also compiled as a book).

Naming Neill as one of her mentors, Fitzenreiter decided to raise her only child, Laurie, using most, if not all, of Neill's methods and theories. His methods basically encourage complete non-intervention and freedom in a child's education and lifestyle, allowing the child to drive whether or not she wants to learn, and allowing her to choose her own standards of self-governance, with little or no parent/teacher intervention.

In fact, on the Summerhill web site at, the school's own words say it best:
There are two features of the school which people usually single out as being particularly unusual. The first is that all lessons are optional. Teachers and classes are available at timetabled times, but the children can decide whether to attend or not. This gives them the freedom to make choices about their own lives and means that those children attending lessons are motivated to learn.
Fitzenreiter spins an unschooling yarn, using an anecdotal and autobiographical tone, reminiscing about her many years as an unschooler and attachment parent even in the midst of scrutiny by more traditional parents and public schoolers. She not only tells of her successes, but also humbly shares her failures in certain areas in hopes of helping other parents who want to delve into this style of parenting and homeschooling. Her days as a homeschooling parent are complete, now that her daughter has attended college (along with mom, I might add), and graduated college summa cum laude.

Fitzenreiter's topics meander in a personable way, in chapters such as Parental Responsibility, Daily Life, Deprogramming, Discipline, Respect, Honesty and Guilt, Religion and Spirituality, Adult Interaction, Sex and Dating, and Drugs and Alcohol. Some topics offer practical common sense advice while others share extreme opinions based on Fitzenreiter's beliefs about unschooling and attachment parenting.

On a personal level, I agreed with about 80 percent of Fitzenreiter's topics regarding a child's ability to school themselves and a parent's responsibility to let them learn to choose their own wardrobe (even in the midst of school photos). There was, however, that extreme 20 percent, particularly concerning a child's ability to maintain self-control in the face of situations that bring about imitative behaviors, that didn't fit my personal standards of Christian parenting or homeschooling.

I wholeheartedly agreed with her comments such as, "I didn't need freedom from mothering; mothering was my freedom." I also enjoyed the story about her daughter wearing "a worn-out pink skirt with gum stuck on the front" for a professional portrait (my own son wore a clip-on tie with an old faded t-shirt during school picture day and it's still my favorite photo). I also tended to agree with her statements regarding too rigid or too much discipline in a child's life:
By not disciplining a child she learns to discipline herself ... I am not saying that an adult should sit slumped on the couch while bowls of food fly overhead, but in a home where discipline is at a minimum bowls of food do not fly.
On the other hand, some of the chapters were written very humbly, and even seemed a bit self-deprecating on Fitzenreiter's part. In the chapters discussing respect, chores, and manners, for example, Fitzenreiter came across as more of a friend to her daughter, thereby giving full license to her child to misbehave or act rudely to others or to her parents if she so desired. In her own words, she speaks about manners:
Forcing him to do things that do not interest him, to perform chores that are mindless and seem to have no value to him, insisting that he hug someone that he does not want to hug, or demanding that he be well-behaved and tidy are just a few of the many painful dilemmas in many a child's life.
Giving the argument that compelling a child to behave in certain ways only encourages them to rebel, Fitzenreiter discusses some controversial topics in a manner that may surprise some. Throughout the book, she implies that children are born with an innate comprehension to know instinctively how to control themselves; hence, children should have the freedom to explore sexuality and drinking within the protective confines of a home environment. While I do agree with her viewpoint that parents should and could discuss sexuality openly with their children, the tacit approach allowing exploration beyond certain boundaries goes against many developmental theories, and also the Biblical admonishment to parents in Proverbs to "train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it." On the contrary, Fitzenreiter notes:
Parents make morality an issue hoping that a child will choose the 'right' path when making decisions. Children do not understand moral obligations that adults try to force on them. They need to do what comes naturally to them and form their own opinions about what they have done.
Fair warning to readers - the chapter on spirituality discusses Christianity from a negative viewpoint, although Fitzenreiter does admit she has struggled with the hypocrisy in churches, a valid concern. At the end of the chapter, she states:
Your child will discover his own spirituality when the time is right for him or he will decide not to have any spiritual affiliation at all. That does not mean that you should not attend church if that is what you have decided is right for you, but that forcing your child to attend because of your beliefs is contrary to what is natural.
All in all, however, this was a great read about one person's adventure through unschooling, along with her trials and tribulations. Fitzenreiter raised an only daughter who seemed to have a great deal of self-motivation, with no learning challenges to speak of.

Since there are other factors involved in every family (blended families, adopted/foster families, children withdrawn from public school, children with learning differences), I don't believe every idea espoused in this book would work across the board in every situation. In some instances, Fitzenreiter's anecdotal stories fly in the face of more empirical studies regarding cognitive and developmental psychology, particularly studies regarding learning differences. In those cases, some developmental intervention may be required to assist a child in learning, since there are some children who struggle to learn despite their desire.

The book piqued my curiosity enough to look into the Summerhill movement again, and had an encouraging tone for the most part. To those who may feel like they are not doing "enough" schooling with their children, books like these remind us that sometimes relaxing and letting our children play is enough.
More Information
Available From: Unbounded Publications
Address: P.O. Box 1050, Lake Charles, Louisiana 70602
Other Notes:
Purchase Now From the Eclectic Homeschool Resource Center
Robin McDonald
Robin McDonald is a mom who actually does Windows, since she used to work at Microsoft! Robin resigned from her full-time writing job to homeschool her children. She freelances, and teaches art and writing classes.
Copyright © 2003 Eclectic Homeschool Association
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