Here is one of the questions I felt is a common question about unschooling and I didn't really get to do it the justice it deserves:
How will my child learn to be responsible if he only does what he wants all the time? What happens when she gets a job and then decides, oh, I'm not going to show up because I don't feel like doing it?
I think this question is very similar to the classic question homeschoolers get about socialization: How do homeschoolers learn to socialize? The answer is basically: By now, enough homeschoolers have grown up and clearly have lovely social skills that it's not a concern. Likewise, a generation of unschoolers has grown up to be responsible and productive citizens.
However, the question still remains: HOW do unschoolers learn to be responsible?
I can't remember where I read this, but one thing to note is that although unschoolers do grow up to hold down jobs, they are significantly happier in their life choices. They tend to choose jobs that are more unconventional, less full time, for less money but for higher quality of life.
So it is true that being unschooled affects the choices your child will make in life. Your child will learn to value being excited and motivated in his or her work. Your child will tend to make choices that reflect that value, probably prioritizing it over wealth accumulation.
However, I would be shocked to find a grown unschooler make a commitment and then just decide to slack off because it's not interesting anymore.
As I was musing about this question, my son begged me this morning to make sugar cookies with him. Somebody gave us cookie cutters and he wanted to try them out. I asked him what kind of recipe he was looking for, found one, and we assembled it. Then i left him to shape his cookies. He kept having trouble making a person shape. When he tried to pick it up, it crumpled. His next try, he got it all up except for the leg. On his next try, something else happened. I heard him screeching in frustration over and over again. And yet, he kept trying. Eventually, he screamed delightedly that he got it! With its arms and legs AND head! He placed it on the cookie sheet and made a few more.
Did he learn from this incident that he has to persist and keep trying and stick with it and persevere if he wants to succeed? I'm sure he did. Did he learn it more efficiently and more rewardingly than any situation I could have come up with? Yes.
I would say that these types of situations come up numerous times a week. Frequently, one of my children has a desire to do something. Frequently, they spend a lot of time and effort and perseverence making something happen and following it through.
Sometimes, something turns out to be not what they thought it would be or too hard or too much and they drop it. But very frequently, they stick with something until they get the result they want.
It was HIS choice to stick with this. It was HIS desire to succeed. He saw the value and he had the desire and he was perfectly willing and motivated to put in the time and energy and practice to get it right.
In an unschooled situation, the child has thought of the idea herself and is so fired up and motivated, she spends as many hours as it takes to learn it.
In other situations, we spend time trying to motivate the child or convince them that it is useful or desirable so that they will be motivated. No matter how convincing we are, we will probably never be as convincing as if they themselves had thought of it.
In situations other than that, the child is not convinced, and we force them to do it anyway, "so that they learn responsibility and learn that they have to do things they don't want to do."
As I mentioned in my talk, there are many, many opportunities for children to learn to do things they don't want to do. If you live in a home with more than just yourself, then you are contending with opinions and desires and ways of doing things that are not the same as yours. Living amicably is a constant negotiation and compromise. Surely parents have ample opportunities where their children don't just get to do what they want. I am probably one of the most relaxed parents who imposes the fewest restrictions on her children, and yet STILL I would estimate that each child has about 20 opportunities a day to have to do something s/he doesn't want to do or stop doing something s/he does want to do.
I consider a sense of responsibility and the ability to follow through on commitment part of character development, and I take that very seriously. As I think all unschoolers do.
As a final point, I think there is also something to be said in the comparison to attachment parenting. Science is discovering that extra attachment to parents during the early years leads to greater independence and confidence in adults, not greater dependence and attachment, as one might think. Similarly, allowing younger children the flexibility to choose activities and to persevere with the ones that they find most gratifying, as opposed to forcing them to stick with ones they find least gratifying, can have the effect of a positive feedback loop. In other words, the child desperately wants to succeed. The child perseveres. It feels great. This motivates the child to work harder next time there is frustration in an area where the child very much wants it to work, because it felt so good last time. And indeed it does. Which motivates the child to work hard next time.
I believe positive feedback loops lead to unschoolers putting in astonishingly tremendous efforts at mastery when they are motivated. There are many incidents of unschoolers putting in hours and practice that are difficult to comprehend.
I have seen this myself with Chana. Her creativity in finding resources to help her learn what she wants to learn, the amount of hours she spends perfecting her technique, and her efforts of practicing and working on what she is interested in, are things I would not have believed possible. Until you see it in action, it is difficult to comprehend just how much more pleasant and efficient the learning actually is.