|Mary: How did the Natural Child Project come to
Jan: In 1996, I asked my son, Jason, who was 15 at the time, if
we should start a website. Because he had unschooled from the beginning
and learns everything he needs to know on his own, he taught himself how
to design a website by looking at other sites' source pages. We started
the website in December of 1996 with a few of my parenting columns from
Natural Life Magazine. At that point, we had no plans to add anything more
to the site. We would have been very surprised then to learn how large our
website would become!
Back in 1989, Dr. Elliott Barker invited me to be the assistant editor
for the journal Empathic Parenting, and a board member of the Canadian
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He also published my
article “Ten Reasons Not to Hit Your Kids” in a 1989 issue, which
happened to reach Alice Miller. She added my article to her next book, Breaking
Down The Wall of Silence. When Jason and I started our website, Alice
gave us permission to post some of her articles and book excerpts, and our
website started to grow. We have since added more articles by Alice and
many other leading writers.
In the spring of 1997 Jason realized that the website was all about
children, but there was nothing by them or for them, so he started the
Global Children’s Art Gallery. In the beginning there were only a few
pictures from friends' children, but CNN Headline News and Yahoo! both
suddenly promoted it. Since then the gallery has had many submissions, and
has become the largest collection of children's art on the Internet, with
over 1000 images from 67 countries. We offer prints, posters, greeting
cards and clothing using images from the Gallery as a fundraiser.
Mary: Can you share a bit about the philosophy of attachment
Jan: It's interesting - some years ago, I wrote an article
called "What is Attachment Parenting?" and showed it to a close
fiend. She liked the article, but was surprised that I hadn't included a
"laundry list" such as carrying, cosleeping and natural weaning.
But attachment parenting is so much more than these specific choices. Its
essence is loving and trusting our children - believing that they are
doing the best they can at every given moment. It all comes down to trust.
John Holt said it best in just two words: "Trust children".
Mary: It seems as if many families who enjoy attachment
parenting also go on to homeschool or unschool. Do you feel that it's
easier for those who do understand attachment parenting to understand
Jan: If I were to write a laundry list for attachment parenting,
unschooling would be on the list. It's the most consistent educational
choice for attachment parents. In unschooling, we trust that the child
knows what he wants to learn and how to go about learning it, and his
natural curiosity is left intact. Unschooling children take joy in the
intrinsic values of whatever they are learning. The structure of school
(required attendance, school-selected topics and books, and constant
checking of the child’s progress) assumes that children are not natural
learners, but must be compelled to learn through coercion, intimidation,
and fear. Because school approaches are based on mistrust, they represent
in many ways the polar opposite of attachment parenting.
Mary: How did you get started in unschooling?
We learned about unschooling when were living in Ontario. Jason was a
baby and a free monthly magazine was delivered to our door. I was usually
too busy to read it, but one day I noticed there was an article on
homeschooling. Looking back, I can see that it was one of the best
articles I have read on the subject. Before I was a parent, I thought that
homeschooling was wonderful if someone could manage it, but I thought I
wasn't organized or energetic enough to create a school in my home!
Fortunately, my thinking was completely turned around when I read that
We moved to BC when Jason was 2, and found a homeschooling support
group based on John Holt's books. We loved being with these families -
their children were friendly, content, curious and active. We knew right
away that this was what we wanted for our son. But I've noticed that even
the most structured homeschooling families tend to become more like
unschoolers over time - they can’t help but notice that less structure
is better, and that teaching can in fact interfere with learning. They
begin to trust their child's natural curiosity and enjoyment, which they
can't help but observe every day.
In a sense, every parent is an unschooling parent until the child
reaches so-called "school age". If their child is interested in
trains, they get books on trains, toy trains, or go on train rides. Then
their child turns 5 or 6, and the assumption seems to be that learning is
now suddenly difficult and complicated - as though children that age are
no longer natural learners.
Beyond the false assumptions about learning, no school can provide the
close attention and compassion available from caring parents. It doesn’t
matter if it's a public school in a high crime area, or an expensive
private school in a beautiful setting - both separate the child from their
parents and siblings, and are not equipped to provide the kind of close
attention and trusting acceptance available from a loving parent - who
knows her child so much better than any teacher could.
Mary: While visiting your site, I read many of your articles,
but one that I keep returning to is Subjective Vs. Objective Labels: A
Plea for Occam’s Razor. Can you explain the difference between
subjective and objective labels?
Jan: Cancer is objective. You can take a biopsy, and see the
cells. The diagnosis is open to evaluation - it can be proved or
disproved. A subjective label is the opposite - it's arbitrary and
unprovable - an opinion, not a fact. The existence of ADD/ADHD has never
been proven in any scientific way. This is what Brian Beaumont of the
Citizens Commission on Human Rights wrote: "The fact is, there is
nothing in any medical or scientific literature that confirms the
existence of ADHD. It was invented by a handful of psychiatrists by a show
of hands at an American Psychiatric Association meeting in the 80's. Thus,
psychiatrists are labeling and drugging a non-existent malady."
When parents call to say their child has been diagnosed with ADD or
ADHD, I ask “What lab results were you shown?” There weren't any,
because there is no scientific test - just a short, subjective
questionnaire, with such vague behavioral descriptions that virtually any
child could receive this label. Yet psychiatrists confidently conclude
from this deceptive questionnaire that a child has a serious
"disorder", and needs dangerous medication - Ritalin is a form
of speed. Such drugs often cause negative reactions. How do they treat
those reactions? They increase the dosage or give another dangerous
medication. It can be very difficult for a child to break free from this
cycle. And of course, the danger isn't just physical, but emotional,
because medicalized labels can't help but affect a child's self-image and
Mary: What is Occam’s Razor?
Jan: Wikipedia defines it this way: "The explanation of any
phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those
that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory
hypothesis or theory." A child in school may be bored by a dull
teaching approach, may be reacting to teasing from other children,
responding to family stress, or - most likely - is simply a healthy,
active child who finds it difficult to sit still for unnaturally long
periods of time. Any of those explanations are simpler and more logical
than an unproven, hypothetical "disorder".
Mary: It appears that ADHD and other learning disabilities are
being over-diagnosed. Why do you feel this trend is continuing?
Jan: One factor is money - every school district gets more money
for every child with a mental health or special education
"diagnosis". And parents may welcome a pseudoscientific label if
they are intimidated by doctors or if they're not well informed. Circular
thinking is inherent in the process. If a teacher sends a child for an
ADHD evaluation, the evaluators assume the teacher knows there is a
disorder. They see their job not as determining the existence or
non-existence of a disorder, but rather of determining which label and
which drugs to give. Once a child is sent to an evaluator, he is well on
his way to being permanently labeled instead of being understood. In some
states, children can be required to see an evaluator and required to take
drugs to stay in school. And these are the same people who tell children
to "just say no to drugs"! But in some areas, things are
improving. Dr. John Breeding, author of The Wildest Colts Make the Best
Horses, helped to change the law in Texas. Parents there can now
refuse to have their child tested and they can refuse to have their child
put on medication.
Mary: Do you have any tips for helping folks identify some of
these causes or needs that might be confused as ADHD or for those who have
been labeled as ADHD?
Jan: If the child is in school, boredom and frustration from
being forced to endure this unnatural environment are the most likely
causes. Many children are temporarily "cured" of this so-called
disorder during summer vacation, or are permanently "cured" by
being taken out of school.
Restlessness and aggression can be related to such things as food
allergy, poor nutrition, emotional stress, or punishment. Instead of using
an unhelpful label like "ADD" or "ADHD", attention to
more realistic and specific factors can be much more constructive.
Mary: Before we close, what do you feel is the most important
information that you share with unschoolers?
Jan: To enhance learning, see yourself as a "reference
librarian". Be alert to interests that develop naturally, and help
your child to find the resources that can answer her questions. Remember
that everyone learns best by asking questions, not by answering them.
Trust your child's unique timetable, and trust what your heart tells you.
Mary: Thank you for your excellent work and for sharing your
time with us.
Jan: Thank you for the opportunity!