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Intro to Radical Unschooling

Something that’s been new for me since I got onto the national unschooling conference scene two years ago is the term and philosophy of radical unschooling. It’s based on the idea that unschooling trusts children and gives them freedom in learning and education: radical unschooling gives them the same freedom in every other area of their lives.

Honestly, sometimes I have mixed feelings about both the term itself and the philosophy or at least how it’s implemented. I’ve been discussing this on my Twitter account (twitter.com/worldschooler) with some radical unschoolers. And I do actually enjoy the challenge of expressing clear, complex ideas in less than 140 characters!

But in this post I’ll give an overview of the philosophy and concentrate on what I really do like about radical unschooling.

The main thing is children are worthy of being trusted. Parents and the community can usually allow them to do exactly what they want and they will work out what works for them. Often when people worry their children are doing something wrong there is actually no problem at all.

Another big thing is that even if there is something wrong with the behavior if continued long term, it doesn’t mean it will last. If trusted to experiment themselves, often a child will discover that it doesn’t work after going through a stage. We almost always learn better when the lesson is a connection we’ve made from our own experience rather than simply being told something.

Not to mention a child may discover something does work long term for them even if a parent or “expert” thought otherwise.

Examples:

The big example radical unschoolers often use is video games. Kids love to play video games. Most parent’s assume this is mostly a waste of time, maybe even bad for the mind and body: video games are something that parents need to limit as much as possible or their child might never stop playing.

Radical unschoolers not only say that children can learn to regulate their own time playing video games when trusted to do so. But also video games are actually surprisingly good for you improving not only hand eye coordination but opening up al sorts of problem solving skills in ones mind.

I remember hearing an interview on the radio about a doctor who is an avid gamer and an award winning surgeon who really advocates playing video games. I can’t remember the doctor’s name and don’t have any links to the studies that confirm the positive effect video games have on the brain (I’m sure some radical unschoolers or other video game fans can leave some in the comments section). But I can definitely imagine it all being true.

Radical unschoolers also tend to think that TV is surprisingly good for the mind: exposing people to all sorts of stimuli and ideas. This is an idea of which I’m more skeptical. But it’s true that some of the most popular TV shows and comedians do have a high level of satire and sophistication when you look below the usually crass surface. Often they explore many new subjects, ideas, philosophies, and myths in an endless quest for new material to entertain people.

Some people may totally skeptical of this idea but this part I really like:

Being Radical: Going to the Root

Radical unschooling definitely doesn’t advocate any sort of punitive punishment, love withdrawal, manipulation, or arbitrary rules. Some say they don’t use any rules. Others say this is a misconception of radical unschooling: that they can use non arbitrary rules when needed and done respectfully.

What I love about radical unschooling is their desire to avoid having to use rules or punishment by looking at the underlying need behind the problem. This is when radical unschooling lives up to its name “radical”: meaning “to go to the root, the origin”.

An example I heard recently was children fighting and making so much noise during a long car ride that the parent got really upset at the kids. What’s the best way to deal with the situation? There are ways to address things right then but the best solution seemed to be to ask:

Why does the child feel the need to act up? Possibly because he or she feels the need for more attention, shown more love really. So the solution is really to make sure to take some time before getting in the car to wrestle around with the kid or do whatever they like. That way they feel they got their “love tank” filled up enough to feel okay during the long car ride!

Though not a radical unschooling parent I suppose, my mom would sometimes stop the car on the side of the road and tell all of us to run around it a bunch of times! And it worked I think! In that case it’s just unnatural and unhealthy to expect an energy filled child, let alone more than one, to quietly sit still for a long time.

So I really like those aspects of radical unschooling but in another post I’ll get into some of the things I don’t like or seem to be lacking sometimes that I wish were there.

26 Responses to “Intro to Radical Unschooling”

  1. Ronnie says:

    If you don’t mind, I’ll use this bigger space to respond to a couple of your tweets.

    “…personally I lose trust in someone if they ALWAYS let me do what I want.”
    I think you’re imagining that radical unschooling looks like kids running around doing whatever they want, without consequences. Not so. It’s a partnership. Kids lead, parents join in with trust that there is value in the kids’ choices, even if we can’t immediately see it. We brainstorm to avoid risks and consequences, and we handle inevitable risks and consequences together.

    As the kids get older and more independent, parents are less involved, both because the kids don’t need it (e.g., your worldschoolers) and because the parents *know* their kids can handle it, having seen their skills develop.
    “I think it’s part of being parent & child: one has authority and responsibility.”
    AND
    “I think it’s possible to insist in a way that assists: restrict WITH consideration.”
    As the homeowner and breadwinner, I have an unavoidable authority over our lifestyle that brings with it some built-in non-arbitrary restrictions (e.g., we have a certain income level, and we can’t take off to travel at a moment’s notice) and preferences (e.g., no smoking in the house). As someone with health-threatening allergies to animals, I restrict pet ownership in my home. Beyond that, I have no authority over my kids, just as I have no other authority over my husband. We are equals, partners, friends. We help each other.

    My posts to my blog about unschooling teens might better explain what this looks like:
    http://zombieprincess.blogspot.com/search/label/teens

    Thanks for the discussion! Love to talk about this stuff.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Happy to see the discussion expanded here: I do enjoy it on Twitter but good to have more space. 🙂

      I’ve hung out with radical unschooling families at conferences and at their homes: I know it’s not just chaos and running around. For the most part it is wonderful.

      I really like the value that’s placed on respect. I’m glad you acknowledge the unavoidable authority you do have.

      Again, I just feel that it’s often respectful to be at least honest and sometimes insist when you think there’s a real problem. Very often it is best to let someone work it for themselves.

      I just know that sometimes I really appreciate other people honestly letting me know when they think I’m not doing what I really want or need to be doing. It’s something only someone who knows you well can do well.

      And I think parents do have some responsibility for their kids. So if the child is doing something that harms themselves or others a parent may need to step in. In that way it’s not an equal partnership.

      The real big thing is I think it can be unequal in some ways, each does have a different role. AND still be a totally loving and respectful relationship.

      But I’ll write more in my next post about it all!

      • Cindy says:

        Hey Eli!

        I liked your list, and have a feeling I will agree with you on both ends when you publish your other side of things with radical unschooling.

        I especially liked your note about “the real big thing is I think it can be unequal in some ways, each does have a different role AND still be a totally loving and respectful relationship” YES! Radical Unschoolers often bring up the relationship with one’s partner as an example of what the relationship can be with a child. Your explanation does just that. My husband and I have different roles in our relationship, but we are totally loving and respectful with one another despite it, or maybe because of it!

        By having a division of roles, we typically get to pursue the things that are our assets and strengths, while the other picks up where we are more weak, usually. Thus, why partnering works so well! It is win-win 🙂 I see my role with my children as collaborative. Further, I believe relationships are interconnected, so each person in the relationship should have a voice. Often times, it seems when I listen to RUs, it appears all the voice goes to the child, and not to the parent, who is just as viable afterall 🙂 It seems a bit pendulum swingy to me, and that usually isn’t the best choice, either.

        So, for me, collaboration and interconnection is center in my relationship with my children.

        Thanks for your voice, Eli! I’m looking forward to possibly having more interconnection with you as my son moves forward with his plan to go to Japan with you next year (a viable job is now imminent!). Woohoo!

      • Ronnie says:

        “So if the child is doing something that harms themselves or others a parent may need to step in.”

        Yes, and we do. But we were talking about whether rules are necessary or not. And what we have found is that when we create rules–even rules that seem non-arbitrary–to avoid seemingly dangerous situations, we damage our relationship with our kids and create worse problems than we had hoped to avoid.

        Rules don’t allow for exceptions, or if they do, the rules themselves are so convoluted as to be, well, silly. For instance, the rule “no playing with matches” might seem non-arbitrary. After all, there are very real safety concerns there. But I had two little girls who went through a phase of being fascinated with fire. If we had had such a firm rule in place, they would have had NO CHOICE but to sneak about in order to satisfy their perfectly normal and even healthy curiosity about fire. Remembering my own clandestine fire building in the woods near my childhood home, I knew a rule was a bad idea. Instead, we created a safe-as-possible space for them to play with fire, literally.

        Fast forward a few years. We allow our teenagers to drink alcoholic beverages in our home. (To those who are now freaking out as they read this, you can stop. The result has been very tame. The girls have the occasional Mike’s or add a little Bailey’s to their hot cocoa. That’s it.) However, we had a **rule** that they were not to provide alcohol to their friends. It seemed non-arbitrary, since we had very real legal concerns in mind.

        But the result? It sucked. In order to share her mild exploration of alcohol with her dearest friend, one of my daughters had to sneak about. The **sneaking** led to a problem rather than the alcohol. It would have been much better if we had never had the rule. The risk we face in allowing, or turning a blind eye, to some perfectly safe but illegal activity in our home is much less than what those girls faced when they took their exploration outside of our home.

        I understand how foreign the concept of No Rules is to most people. But the reality of it–the reality that we and our radically unschooling friends are living–is healthy, calm, safe enough, and incredibly rewarding in terms of the relationships we share. I wouldn’t trade it for gold.

      • Ronnie says:

        Also, just a quick note about roles: Roles are different from authority. I hold the role of parent–and I’m a very active and involved and (heh) wordy parent–but I don’t claim any authority over my kids (and doubt I would have any even if I claimed it).

        Do I always like their choices? No. Do they hear about it when I don’t? Yes. Do I implement rules or otherwise attempt to inflict my authority on them because I don’t like their choice? No. Not even when I want to.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Merhia Madsen Wiese, Wendy Priesnitz, Eli Gerzon, Eli Gerzonand others. Eli Gerzon said: Intro to radical unschooling: trusting kids with everything not just learning: http://bit.ly/yjNi7 via http://twib.es/9V2 […]

  3. Carman says:

    I like the, ‘going to the root’ bit!

    Funny story about Carol having you guys run around on the side of the road to break up long car trips. I’d love to read more stories about “growing up Gerzon.” Say hi to everyone for me.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Thanks Carman! Will do. Sorry to miss you when you were in town. We should hang or at least talk soon. And I think I am going to share more stories from my own childhood directly in relation to this subject!

  4. Ren says:

    Hey Eli,

    Enjoyed reading your bit on RU…though I think there may be some misunderstanding about when parents step in. I think a “no” can be just as mindful as “yes” and RU parents DO step in and stop things. Children don’t have the years of experience or tools in problem solving and sometimes we can sit and buffer a situation while letting them come up with solutions. There are times I can see they just don’t have the tools to deal with intense emotions but there are so many ways that keep their process intact while also keeping another sibling safe and/or property safe.:) Anyway, should be an interesting discussion/post.

    • Milva says:

      Hey Eli,

      I like your post. I think families are complex entities and I wouldn’t presume to decide whether any parent’s rules were “arbitrary” or not. I don’t call myself a radical unschooler, and of late I’ve been shying away from the term unschooler as well because so much dogma has grown up around it. I find that very ironic but also very human. I love the story about your mom. It just demonstrates what is, I think, the most useful tool we have in parenting and by extension homeschooling, or unschooling, or whatever one wants to call it — common sense. To my mind, common sense is a combination of awareness, compassion, and practicality. As far as the TV and video games thing — at unschooling gatherings I’ve attended in the past, I sat and listened to people defend the usefulness of television and video games and essentially insult those parents who didn’t agree by telling them they are not unschoolers and worse. One woman was accused of abusing her child for setting rules. I think that’s a little over the top :). My husband and I don’t believe television is a completely benign entity so we just don’t have one. It’s the lifestyle we’ve chosen, and since our kids live in our house, they don’t get a television at home. They’ve never asked to have one. If they did, I can’t say what we’d answer. We’d have to deal with that question in the moment using the tools of discussion, negotiation, and common sense. In the end, in my house, the ultimate decision of how to handle the request would rest with my husband and I. I suppose that means we’re not radical unschoolers, and maybe not even unschoolers. That’s okay with me. For the record, I think a really productive discussion of radical unschooling could ensue if people agreed to talk about what the term/lifestyle/philosophy means to them, and refrain from telling others whether what they are doing qualifies or not.

      • Ronnie says:

        “In the end, in my house, the ultimate decision of how to handle the request would rest with my husband and I. I suppose that means we’re not radical unschoolers, and maybe not even unschoolers. That’s okay with me.”

        We can leave terminology out of it and just focus on the hypothetical situation you’ve outlined. If you walk through the possible outcomes here, what are the effects on your family?

        Let’s say in response to your kids’ (imaginary) request for a TV, you bring a TV into the home but you set up some rules around using it. Maybe they can only watch for an hour a day. What will they do? They’ll watch for an hour a day, and they’ll consider that hour precious. They’ll turn away from other things to make sure they get in their hour. They’ll begin to wrangle with you for extra time. TV will loom large in all your lives, and I would bet that, in the end, you would decide you had been wrong to bring the TV in at all.

        Alternatively, let’s say you refuse to have a TV. What message are you giving your kids then? That you care about them? Maybe, but I doubt it. What they will see is that you don’t trust them to handle it. TV becomes scary, forbidden fruit, or both. You will have turned what could be a fun and valuable learning device into a Big Deal, and you’ve given up an opportunity to watch TV with them and talk about those aspects that you find less than benign.

        When we stopped restricting TV in our house, one daughter watched it a lot for a few months (while the other ignored it). It was scary. I did a lot of tongue biting. And then she started sketching while she watched. And then she started doing things other than watching. And now she watches when she wants to watch, and my husband and I watch with her a lot. We’ve had some great conversations about what we see, and I’ve come to see that even the crappy content serves a purpose in her learning. Sometimes the crappy content is the most learning-rich! And our conversations about the commercials, well, wow! Those little ads make for some great fodder.

        The point is that whenever you draw a line in the sand, you invite your kids to step over it. Most kids will take you up on the invitation. If you take that as an *offense* instead of the natural behavior it is, the situation will invariably escalate into unpleasantness.

        To take the analogy a bit farther, if you avoid drawing lines, you and your kids get to play in the same sand. It’s much nicer that way.

  5. Eli Gerzon says:

    Wow thank you all so much for these comments! I’m really glad you all pretty much seem open to the discussion.

    @Ren I’ve enjoyed talking with you about radical unschooling so I’m glad joined in here! I’ve always been happy when you agree that it’s very important for a parent to step in and say “no” when there really is a problem. But as you’ve said to me yourself not all radical unschooling parents seem to do this. Some do use the philosophy as an excuse to be irresponsible.

    That doesn’t mean the whole philosophy is wrong. But I rarely hear enough OTHER radical unschooling parents speaking out against this type of irresponsible behavior. Jean did do a great post about it on her blog called about Unschooling vs. Unparenting at the Northeast Unschooling Conference: http://frecklesfilledwithlove.blogspot.com/2009/09/unschooling-vs-unparenting.html

    @Milva I’ve enjoyed talking with you about radical unschooling too and I’m really glad you shared your perspective here. I especially liked this:

    “I think, the most useful tool we have in parenting and by extension homeschooling, or unschooling, or whatever one wants to call it — common sense. To my mind, common sense is a combination of awareness, compassion, and practicality.”

    I would use the word “wisdom” actually where you say common sense. But exactly, and in relation to my point with Ren above: radical unschooling at its best uses this. But it doesn’t have a monopoly on this. So for me I’m trying to become clear on what exactly is uniquely valuable about radical unschooling. The points I make in this post above are what I’ve found: often trusting kids to work things out on their own, embracing some things often demonized, and desire to often go the root of the problem.

    Otherwise, with the really tough stuff: we’re all human. Parents, kids and everyone: we’re doing the best we can. But your other point about observing radical unschoolers being very judgmental towards others is the real problem I think. Radical unschoolers have a lot to offer but if they insist on judging and shaming other parents many are not going to want to listen to them. That’s what really bothers me.

    @Cindy! Great to hear from you after so long! I really like what you say about roles. I actually think that roles can make one freer. As you say, it allows us to use our best skills and assets and let others do the same. Doesn’t mean it’s set in stone but they can serve a great purpose.

    And I think you’re exactly right about the “pendulum swing” and RUs concentrating almost exclusively on the needs and voice of the child. This is a common complaint. But because it does seem like a pendulum swing to the other extreme I hope radical unschoolers will swing back more towards the center over time giving everyone a voice in a fair way.

    That includes DADS! The SSUDs and other unschooling dads seem very happy. But often the dynamic is mom and kids have lots of freedom which is supported by dad working in an office all day. Some find wonderful creative solutions but often it doesn’t seem balanced.

    And I really look forward to interacting more too Cindy! I hope the job and Eric coming on the Japan trip both work out!

    @Ronnie I agree about the alcohol issue: sounds like letting them drink a little is fine. I think it’s actually perfectly legal too: a child can drink in their own home with adult supervision. That might not be the case with the OTHER teen but anyway the issue is mainly if her parents have a problem.

    But again I am talking about instances where there’s actual harm involved or “clear and present danger”. There are many instances where a parent has to decide whether this is the case.

    You’ve decided even when you really don’t like a choice they’ve made you won’t use your authority to stop them. Often this is the best thing. Sometimes it may be best to try to step in and save a lot of heartache down the road.

    It’s hard to decide when this is the case. Sometimes you can’t use your authority anyway, like you said. But you can at least send a strong message that they look back on for guidance. And if you were right they will trust you MORE I think.

    My main point is that it is up to parents to decide for their family in each instance how they will respond. I’m hearing your hypothetical prediction for the future and it seems to me you can only imagine one reality and one solution: radical unschooling as you define it.

    Anyway, the point is Milva’s kids aren’t interested in having a TV in their home now. They are both actually very active kids in performing their OWN (musical) entertainment of their own and it’s quite possible they’ll never feel the need for it. That sure doesn’t sound like it’s a problem, regardless of radical unschooling.

    And that’s what I’m interested in: good parenting, regardless of specific philosophies and terms. Anyway, this has gotten long but I’ll write more in another post! So happy we’re all having this disucssion!

  6. Milva says:

    Ronnie,

    I found your response to my comment condescending, to say the least. I have no problem that you disagree with what I said, but creating imaginary scenarios of the harm that would be done if my husband and I happened to make the wrong choice — at least by your definition? It’s a little presumptuous. Your description of how you handled television in your family was great. Talking about what works for you can be helpful and inspiring to others, and create good food for thought. That’s what I was trying to convey when I said that I thought a productive discussion about radical unschooling could happen if people would just talk about what it means in their own lives. I’ve been homeschooling for 16 years and I have a pretty thick skin by now, but if I were a new homeschooler, or a new unschooler, I might be completely put off by your comments. In fact, I have met homeschoolers who were turned off to unschooling by the kind of judgment and tunnel vision your comments demonstrated.

    • Ronnie says:

      Hi Milva,

      One of the big problems with having these conversations online instead of in person is that our tones of voice often doesn’t come through. I was rushing some when I wrote my response to you, so reading back over it, I can see that (even in my wordiness) I was perhaps somewhat abrupt. But I can tell you that I intended no condescension. When I write about unschooling, my intent is *always* to help people discover the kinds of family relationships that are possible through radical unschooling. Also, my predictions about how things might turn out if you do x or y were (obviously) not based on any knowledge of *you* in particular but on my own experiences and those of parents in similar situations to yours.

      That your kids are currently happy without TV came through clearly in your post. It’s why I tried to emphasize that I was talking about imaginary situations. Their level of satisfaction with the status quo might continue. If so, great, no problem, and you won’t ever have to think about this again. But if they do express interest in TV, I would strongly encourage you to maintain a relaxed attitude about it. Bring one in, let them “fill up” on it, talk about what you see together. Let TV be just one more resource in their lives, neither good nor evil but, as with everything else, exactly what you make of it.

      • Milva says:

        Hi Ronnie,
        I appreciate that you did not intend to be condescending and that you really want to share a world view that you are enthusiastic about. I also agree that online conversations can be difficult. It’s great that radical unschooling — as you define it — is working for your family. Your enthusiasm for your parenting style is admirable. But some people are just not going to want to do what you’re doing. This isn’t about a “one true way” of raising children. Lots of different parenting and homeschooling styles work for lots of different people — as Eli has pointed out. Still, the ideas behind unschooling and radical unschooling can be wonderful for all parents to think and talk about. People sharing their personal experiences with giving kids freedom is a fascinating subject for parents. Parents are human, and are constantly trying to balance fears/emotions/principles the best they can. Even if a parent doesn’t go all the way “radical,” hearing stories from people like you about how you handled television, or whether to let your kid walk to the store alone, or whatever, can offer a new perspective that can really help someone on their parenting journey. In my opinion, that is way more effective than unsolicited advice.

        Caren, tunnel vision in this case means that a person can only see the validity in one world view, or one way of doing things. What I heard Ronnie saying was that my choice for handling a particular hypothetical situation would be detrimental to my family life, and that I should do it her way because it’s better. That’s why I used that term.

        I think I said in my original post that I realized I would not be classified as a radical unschooler, and that I was okay with that. I do find trying to define radical unschooling in narrow terms to be an unproductive exercise, though. For instance, you say that in order to be a radical unschooler, one cannot place “arbitarary” limits on one’s children. Who defines arbitrary? Ronnie said in an earlier post that she does have limits. She has decided they’re not arbitrary. I’m not going to argue with her about that — I believe her. By my own definition, I don’t have any arbitrary rules in my house. If my kids did ask for TV, and my husband and I said no, it wouldn’t be for arbitrary reasons (at least in our minds). So by your definition, I could be a radical unschooler. Except that you might not agree that my reasons aren’t arbitrary. See how thorny it gets?

        Eli, I appreciate your willingness to throw this subject out there, and your open mindedness. Thanks for all your work.

    • Caren says:

      How can it be tunnel vision if the point is being made for a more wide-open world view? They aren’t imaginary scenarios of harm – kids every day ARE being harmed by rules and “no’s” created by fearful parents. It may be that your kids never would be. We’ve talked on lists about more compliant kids, and that they don’t seem harmed by restrictions – but then, often they do go on to enforce arbitrary restrictions for their own kids.

      It’s not harming anyone to say, “Saying ‘no’ to TV means you are NOT a radical unschooler”. Judgmental? Maybe in the sense of judgment meaning, “forming an opinion objectively, authoritatively and wisely”. Not that you’re wrong for making that choice (and I understand you haven’t yet made that choice, this is all hypothetical), but you wouldn’t be a radical unschooler. There needs to be a definition, for the term to have any meaning at all. It’s not closing anyone out, it’s not right vs. wrong. It’s saying, “If you want to be a radical unschooler, you cannot place arbitrary limits on what your kids are interested in.”

      And Eli, it’s not exactly that TV is good for the mind – it’s that trusting kids’ own judgment and discernment is good for unschooling. I can’t quantify what my kids learn from TV – it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of stuff being shown. They might be learning how to write dialogue (or how not to!), how to use color and shading to get a mood across. The point is, I cannot judge for another person the value they receive from doing what they wish to do. When I start to do that, AND use my parental power to limit them to what *I* find valuable, true learning is hindered. That’s why the drawing of lines.

      You absolutely can be a loving, caring parent and set those parent-enforced boundaries. But you will not be a radical unschooler.

  7. Kyle Mawer says:

    There are plenty of anecdotes on video games having beneficial effects and below are just a few of them. I’ve provided the title and links here:

    Studies: Video games can make better students, surgeons
    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/2008-08-18-video-games-learning_N.htm

    Video games do no harm to children, insists Sims creator
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/oct/26/games.childrens

    Video games ‘stimulate learning’
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/1879019.stm

    Video games are good for children – EU report
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/feb/12/computer-games-eu-study

    If we deny children access to all computer games, we deprive them of a rich and magical experience
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/10/games.childprotection

    and there are more posted on my wikispace.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Thanks so much for posting this Kyle! And your Wikispace does have a lot more. I’m interested in the “simulations for language learning” one.

      For anyone who doesn’t know you can often see the website or blog of a commenter by clicking on their name (if they have one).

  8. […] in regards to the post I made about radical unschooling and the lively discussion going on in the comments section: there are many ways to unschool. There are many ways to give your child freedom, expose […]

  9. Deanne says:

    This is an interesting conversation. This really stood out for me:

    “Some do use the philosophy as an excuse to be irresponsible.” (Eli)

    I’ve heard this before, and I think part of the misunderstanding stems from the ideas of what exactly are a parent’s responsibilities to his/her child. That is quite subjective and varied. But I think you may also be alluding to the parent’s responsibility to society too, the responsibility to assure that a child is able to behave in socially acceptable ways.

    I’ve heard people say that homeschooling is irresponsible, that is not preparing children for “the real world”. Some homeschoolers have said that sending your kids to school is irresponsible, that it is giving away your parental responsibility to the schools. Some parents think it is their responsibility to spank/paddle/physically punish their children to obtain obedience. Some think it is their responsibility to meet every desire of their children to keep them “happy”. So, how a person parents is obviously largely determined by his/her subjective view of what their responsibility is to that child and to society at large, and their view of which responsibility takes precedence in each instant.

    One thing I’ve learned from being part of the unschooling community, is that unschoolers stongly value the opportunity for their child to be self-determining. This often means not blindly accepting what many(or most) people consider “normal”, or the way it SHOULD be. It means frequently asking “Why?” and the complementary “Why not?” I will often say, “Just because that’s the way it’s always been doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever. Maybe there’s another way.” I think that’s part of what puts the “radical” in radical unschooling. We don’t accept the status quo at face value, or try to maintain it through unschooling. Through unschooling we hope to make things even better for our child, for our own family, and ultimately for the community at large. If the choices we make do not support the “way it’s always been”, I see how some can view that as irresponsible. Obviously, unschooling is frequently misunderstood and judged negatively by others.

    However, it is also clear that there are truly irresponsible/neglectful parents in many settings. These are parents who expect children to fend for themselves and/or to figure out how to successfully navigate in this world on their own. These parents could be homeschoolers, unschoolers, or parents who send their children to school.

    (BTW, I attended your talk at the last Live & Learn Conference and enjoyed it very much. Thank you for sharing your experience(s) and promoting such thought-provoking discussion.)

  10. Eli Gerzon says:

    @Deanne and @Caren thanks for your comments. I’m happy to hear you liked my talk at Live and Learn Deanne! And I’m glad this thought-provoking discussion is going on too.

    I think you make a good point Deanne: “there are truly irresponsible/neglectful parents in many settings… homeschoolers, unschoolers, or parents who send their children to school.”

    Also in reference to what Caren said: “You absolutely can be a loving, caring parent and set those parent-enforced boundaries. But you will not be a radical unschooler.”

    So in other words you can be a great parent or not whether you are radical unschooling, unschooling, homeschooling, or sending your child to school.

    That’s where the narrow mindedness seems to come in. There are other wonderful ways to parent besides radical unschooling by whoever’s definition.

    Usually radical unschoolers are dealing with people unfamiliar with the philosophy. But it’s possible for someone to be familiar with and understand radical unschooling and like some of it and not like other parts. And they might question radical unschooling.

    To me it’s also understandable that radical unschoolers might have some strong reactions to that. Still I’m glad people have been mostly interested in discussing while being respectful.

    It’s also understandable to me that Milva, you’d be bothered by Ronnie’s imagined scenario for your family. I don’t think I need to get into whether it was judgmental or condescending. Ronnie you yourself said you were rushing when you wrote that so I try not to read too much into it.

    Again, I’d just say it’s wonderful how well radical unschooling has worked for you. I think when you share those experiences people will naturally be drawn to considering some of the same approaches. I hear that that’s your goal.

    But as Milva pointed out telling people how they should raise their kids, assuming you know better than them is going to turn some people off. But I know many people who started out strictly homeschooling, slowly or quickly discovered how well unschooling can work.

    I don’t think rushing those people would have helped them.

    And again, many people have been involved in unschooling longer than most and have discovered some other approaches that work well for them.

    Let’s welcome it all!

  11. Ronnie says:

    “I don’t think rushing those people would have helped them.”

    Childhood is short. If people are to have the chance to try a different way, they need to get started, and the sooner the better. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life that I didn’t find this lifestyle sooner.

    That said, my posts weren’t about rushing anybody. I was trying to encourage people reading this to stop reacting for a minute and really think through a scenario that represents one of the most common objections to radical unschooling. (TV and food choices and video games. These come up over and over and over again.)

    I think it’s vital for parents to consider the likely consequences of their own choices.

    “But as Milva pointed out telling people how they should raise their kids, assuming you know better than them is going to turn some people off.”

    I’m a radical unschooler who used to be a traditional parent. I have lived both ways. Some people are interested in the perspective I offer, some people aren’t. Some people attack me for it, and sometimes their darts get through. My skin is not terribly thick. But really, there doesn’t have to be a lot of drama around this. It’s all just words. Get from them what you can, forget the rest.

  12. Idzie says:

    I was away at NBTSC, and then sick, so I didn’t comment earlier. However, I do have a couple of thoughts I’d like to add now, despite how long it is since this post wass published…

    I am really in favour of radical unschooling. I don’t think there are really absolutes to anything, every situation is different and each person is different so should be evaluated separately. I do think that some radical unschoolers can be too dogmatic about the One Right Way of doing things, without accounting for all those differences (and this is not aimed at anyone in this conversation AT ALL, just my general observances)! That said, my basic keywords to life are freedom and respect, and I see radical unschooling as being the philosophy most inline with that. Where the problem arises sometimes in radical unschooling, I believe, is when people start focusing entirely on their children, on respecting their children and giving them tons of freedom, without looking at the community around them, and making sure that EVERYONE is afforded as much freedom and respect as possible… Anyway, like I said, I’m pretty tired, and this was only partly thought out, so I hope I make sense! 🙂

  13. Eli Gerzon says:

    Thanks for posting your comment Idzie and it does make sense to me! That’s the main thing for me: making sure to take into account respect for others as well.

    There’s also taking into account respect and freedom for your wants below the surface. Like I talked about in another post, freedom is about doing what you truly want, not just what you want to do in the moment.

    Ideally, I think a parent or anyone close to you can help you realize or remember what you truly want.

    And travel and worldschooling, learning through experiences that push you beyond your comfort zone, seems to help both taking others into account (because you see how they live) and looking below the surface.

    Again, thanks for posting your thoughts about the subject Idzie!

    • Idzie says:

      Yes, that is important… But I don’t really see how radical unschooling in any way makes it harder to take into account our deeper needs and wants…?

      I think (or so it seems from what you’ve said) that you have a bit of a block in the way you’re looking at radical unschooling, in the sense you seem to think parents play less of a role than I think they usually do (wow, talk about a run on, rather convoluted sentence!). A radically unschooling parent can still give suggestions, can still say “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to do that”, or “are you sure that’s what you really want, or what will really be good for you right now?”. I think it’s the job of anyone close to someone to try and support them, and supporting often means giving advice, offering opinions, etc. I think it’s just very important, whether you choose to say something or not, that you’re coming from a place of love and respect. If you’re attempting to *force* someone to do something you think is right for them, that respect is then lost, and the person whom you’re attempting to force will most likely then become resentful, and it will damage the relationship. I know that that has most definitely been my experience, from being both on the forced, and the forcing side of things (you’ll notice I’m thinking of this whole issue in a larger than just parent-child way, because I think it’s really the same principle no matter what relationship you’re talking about!).

      Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts on this. 🙂

  14. […] ago, I wrote a blog post called Intro to Radical Unschooling. In it, I described some of the things I like about radical unschooling. I said I’d write […]

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