Someone once told me that unschoolers are pedophiles. She’s a private school principal with a Master’s degree in education, so she’s probably right. When I first heard her say this, I thought my ears were playing tricks on me. Surely this woman I’d known for over 20 years wouldn’t accuse me of being a pedophile, right? But she was. Because I said “Are you seriously saying that you think we’re pedophiles?” (We referring to my ex husband and myself)
Yep, she said. And those unschooling conventions we go to every year, like the Rethinking Everything Conference and Life is Good and Life Rocks are apparently secret meeting places for pedophiles who like to get together and victimize children on an annual basis.
I was horrified. Imagine, those nasty pedophiles tricking me into bringing my kids under the lure of peaceful parenting workshops and seminars in developmental psychology and nonviolent communication. That takes some nerve.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and investigate the accusation, since my kids’ safety depends on it. I wouldn’t want to unwittingly put them into a dangerous situation.
Most importantly, I interviewed my kids. I asked if there was anyone at the conference who they felt uncomfortable with. Yes, there were a few people that some of my kids weren’t comfortable with. One daughter, in particular, felt uncomfortable with a specific attendee’s hug. Another child of mine proclaimed that same person as “the best hugger ever.” So it’s clear that this person has a powerful hug, I myself pulled away from this person’s hug because I felt like I was about to cry. Long hugs weren’t a part of my life at that time. Is this person a pedophile? Who knows. I had an Uncle I didn’t like hugging as a child. Did that make him a pedophile? Luckily my mother wasn’t big on forcing us to share physical affection with people we found creepy and neither am I. If this person IS a pedophile, he has yet to be prosecuted and, as far as I know, has not been accused. He is a father of three and even though his partner looks young, she’s actually a year older than I am.
So, acknowledging my own kids’ discomfort with this adult is one thing. I empower them to make sure they don’t feel pressured into being alone with him (none ever have) and I explain that it’s important to listen to their gut when they get the feeling that something isn’t right. None of this means that there’s anything pedophilish about the man in question, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to have this discussion with my girls.
I realized that if my investigation is to be thorough, I’d have to look beyond my own children’s experiences. Just because none of us had been victimized at a conference, that doesn’t mean we’re out of danger. I entered every single name in the directory for every conference I had been to into the National Sex Offender Registry and not a single person that was in the directories is listed as a registered sex offender.
But what does that prove? That maybe no one has been caught yet. Surely, in the nearly 20 year history of the Rethinking Everything conference (formerly called Rethinking Education) there would be a record of some kind of sex scandal, right? Except this is the US and all of these things are publicly searchable and as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been one. Just to be sure, I checked the Dallas Police Department’s website for police reports at the hotel. The records go back to 2005 and I checked all three of the hotels where the conference has been held during those years. There were no incidents of pedophilia reported during those times, so apparently, if the conference is a meeting place for pedophiles, they must be very sneaky.
Or maybe she’s wrong.
Maybe unschoolers aren’t pedophiles.
Maybe she’s just a nut, accusing decent people of heinous crimes she hasn’t witnessed. Former RE organizer Barb Lundgren has written a post titled Sexual Beings whereby she outlines a different thought process surrounding the development of personal boundaries. In it, she says:
I’ve had this conversation with lots of folks over the years and the concern about abuse always comes up: how do we protect our children from the abuse and exploitation of others, especially if raised to be “sexually free?” A child nurtured to enjoy the easy and natural feel-good in life understands what love, respect and trust feel and look like. They have learned to follow their intuition, question, and make decisions that adults support. As a result, and this is critical, they have learned they have a voice that’s respected, they trust their intuition and can speak authoritatively on it, they can act according to what they feel is right and trust that adults are in partnership with them. Such children are not easily lured or swayed or coerced to do things that don’t FEEL GOOD.
In contrast, kids who grow up in a schooled environment (even the prestigious private school where this nut-job is employed) learn to surrender their will to authority figures. They learn that their gut reaction to creepy grown-ups can be superseded by the will of the adults (parents, teachers and administrators) who have the power to decide where the child should be, when they should be there and what the child will be doing.
Experts on pedophilia state that 50% of sexual abusers are actual relatives of the children, that means parents and extended family. Another 40% are trusted family friends, like coaches, teachers and neighbors. The final 10% are strangers.
We all know that teaching kids “stranger danger” is antisocial, creates unnecessary fear and just plain doesn’t work. My kids aren’t afraid of strangers and I don’t want them to be. I went to see Kenneth Wooden speak once; ironically, I was attending the seminar WITH the school principal who accused unschoolers of being pedophiles. Wooden’s book,Child Lures: What Every Parent and Child Should Know About Preventing Sexual Abuse and Abduction explains how to lure-proof your child and have intelligent conversations about personal safety and to communicate from an empowered perspective, rather than teaching kids to be afraid of everyone. His most important point, in my opinion, is to follow your gut. I think that’s so important that it deserves to be highlighted and bolded:
Follow Your Gut
That’s right. In his workshop, he gave several examples of times when a parent had said that the abuser “seemed a little creepy” but they ignored that gut feeling because no one else seemed to be bothered by him. Victims who had grown up told stories of feeling that the abuser was creepy, but they ignored the feeling because he was so nice, or because their parents seemed to trust him.
Time after time, abusers were allowed to continue because no one followed their gut instinct. In fact, in the years since attending this workshop, I have met so many families that don’t discuss this gut feeling. In my house, we do discuss it, and I do my best to honor it as quickly as if it was a hurricane warning. Our lifestyle does not place the needs of any institution ahead of our kids’ well-being.
I’m not saying that unschoolers are pedophile-proof. I’m not saying that no pedophile has ever attended an unschooling conference. The truth is, they probably also visit the same restaurants we visit, the same parks and playgrounds, the same libraries and festivals and other events. My kids have spent time in public schools and I can only assume that some of their classmates were abused, maybe even by parents who volunteered in the classroom. I can assume that when they’re selling lemonade at their dad’s house, some of the customers who put money in their hands will also be living some sort of perversion, since there are 81 offenders within a 2 mile radius of his house. I can only assume that they’re everywhere and I don’t want my kids victimized. I can also probably safely assume that my kids don’t want to be victimized.
In her book Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, And Other Sex Offenders, Dr Anna Salter has the following to say:
Pedophiles want a child who is easy to “groom” or “court”. The easiest targets are kids who need attention, who need love, who need to feel wanted, who feel they do not get that at home.
But when you take interest in your child’s life, you become a deterrent.
When parents are watching, pedophiles are on their best behavior. Your mere presence is a turn-off to them. While you are there, your child won’t be getting the extra attention or affection.
Why? Simple really. Your kid doesn’t need it. The predator’s power is gone.
Predators need more than your child’s trust (a good cover-up). They also need the opportunity (a time and place) to molest.
As Dr. Salter said, “No opportunity, no abuse.”
Show up to the extra curricular activities. Be there at ballet or soccer practice. Help supervise the slumber parties and school dances.
Not every parent has time for that. But if you give your child the attention he or she needs, chances are the predator will turn elsewhere.
You virtually make your child invulnerable to pedophiles.
And there’s yet ANOTHER reason why unschooling conferences pose no threat of pedophilia for my children. When I was married, visiting conferences gave me a rare break from my kids. My husband was there with me and we’d take turns being mindful of where the children were. There were play rooms for the younger kids and the older ones attended workshops. We’d tag-team the kid-monitoring so I could attend workshops and in the evening, we’d take turns at Mom’s night out or Dad’s night out. One of us (whichever of us was agreed upon in conversation) was always aware of where the kids were, and the older ones were instructed to check in periodically. All of the parents who attend these conferences get to know all of the kids and it’s not uncommon for someone to say “I just saw your oldest by the pool, she’s with Suzy and Sam” and the community-like environment creates a safer haven than any neighborhood watch program.
Now that I’m single, I tend to station myself in a prominent location and stay put. I team up with parents who know my kids well and if I ever leave my post, I know I have a girlfriend who will see my kids looking for me if I’ve stepped away. Next year, we plan to bring walkie-talkies for the kids who don’t have cell phones. I find that overall, unschooling parents are the most mindful and attentive parents I’ve ever met.
Is it logical to assume that unscooling conventions are breeding grounds for pedophilia? Oh hell, no.
Is it logical to assume that any parent who attends an unschooling conference is a pedophile? For goodness sakes, no way.
Is it logical to assume that an educated person who makes such an unfounded and over-arching accusation against people she’s never met simply because their pedagogical philosophies are different perhaps has some mental issue that need to be resolved. Yes, I think so.