Time to "Rethink" Radical Unschooling?
You know things have taken a strange turn when “Radical UNschooling” supports children attending school. You would think that would be reason enough to make you pause for a second and rethink this whole thing. I am thinking… perhaps that’s what Radical Unschooling needs, so let’s “Rethink” Radical Unschooling shall we?
Radical Unschooling is a topic that truly fascinates me. Slow down though, the fascination is not in a good way… more like… when you drive by a car crash scene… you can’t help but stare and even though you know you are accomplishing nothing, the morbid curiosity pulls on your leg and you can’t help but watch and stare in baffling awe of this puzzling but yet, amusing madness. Tragically though, I wish I could say the madness was harmless. But the truth is, instead of mangled cars in this crash scene, I see mangled parents. Parents sad, confused and conflicted over their perceived inability to meet the expectations of a parenting philosophy that I can tell you unequivocally, the Radical Unschool Gurus themselves contradict regularly ( in the privacy of their homes and away from FB eyes of course ) Trust me on that. I see a philosophy geared towards confusing parents and shaming them into debating the supposedly authoritarian and difficult decision involved in asking your child to brush his teeth. Seriously. Any philosophy that has you beating yourself with guilt and confusion because you asked your child to clean up his room, is not serving you OR your child. It is serving itself, it’s a sales pitch and you gotta stop buying it.
Long story short, there was Unschooling. Unschooling simply is living life without school. Woohoo!! I am all for that. It didn’t mean UnEducation and it did not assume to have some enlightening monopoly on proper parenting. It simply meant living life as if school did not exist. The schooling system was the problem, not the parents or brushing teeth for that matter. It trusted both child and parent to make the best decisions possible. A truly beautiful and liberating concept indeed. But, like any opinion or suggestion, like anything that us human beings can get our grubby fingers on… it devolved into a believe system, a new ‘ism, authorities on the topic arose and we had to take it to the next level and market it as some revolutionary act of freedom based entirely on narrow views, over-complications and semantics. Why oh why do we that? If I am going to apply my most optimistic of views, I am gonna say it began with good intentions. And to some extent I do believe that with the earlier Radical Unschool pioneers, that was true. But as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” and if I am to be cynically honest, I am gonna say that the newer faces simply saw the marketing potential for themselves and decided to invest in it and take everyone else on a reality TV ride. And while they sell books without an ounce of data to back up a single claim, charge for a SKYPE CHAT to try and convince parents that the parenting world is divided between some invented extreme “authoritarian paradigm” and the loving supportive one that only THEY have the monopoly on, and build a brand for themselves; parents are crying in emails and forums over-analyzing with guilt whether or not it is “authoritarian” of them to tell her child to please get in the car because it’s time to buy groceries. Just the other day once again, I read from yet another mother who got berated in an Unschooling forum because she dare express that she feels in her gut that her 7 year old is spending too much time on the computer. The advise? “I used to be afraid of my son spending too much time on the TV/Computer too. But he has learned so much.” First of all, ”Fear”? What fear? That is so insulting. Why are you calling this parent “afraid”? How about just LISTENING to this parent? How about trusting her observations of her child and her child’s behavior? I would argue that they are wise and in tune with their child’s need. When did good old instinct and common sense morph into fear? Or worse, abusive and authoritarian? Second, “he has learned so much” Learn? We can learn things at school too, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Heck, we can learn by tweedling our thumbs, staring into space, counting backwards, etc… we can learn all the time. That’s not up for debate. This is not what the parent is talking about. How did it come to this? Seriously. How did it come to this? And my personal favorite, Radical Unschooling is so “Radical” that if a child at age 6, 10, etc.. wants to go to school, what does Radical Unschooling and their gurus say? well mom and dad, hurry up and enroll them, because you see… the 6 year old child knows what is best for him, not YOU and if you think you do, mom and dad, YOU are “authoritarian” and imposing your views on the child. ( scratching head ) Okay, by that rationale then, didn’t the parent impose Unschooling on their family too? The 3 year old in the family certainly didn’t choose it. The “authoritarian” parent did. But I guess as long as the parent chooses all things Unschooling and more specifically, Radical Unschooling and adopts all it’s rules ( and yes there are rules ), than that’s not the parent imposing their belief on the child. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you turn a simple and helpful idea and turn it into a dogma.
I left the Radical Unschooling forums a while ago because well, my research was done and I couldn’t take this snake eating itself, and I also couldn’t witness the abuse of parents anymore. It also pained me to see so many parents conflicted and trying so hard against their better judgment, to try and fit into a philosophy that their better instinct clearly questioned. I think that bothered me most of all, the injured parents’ continuing attempt to fit in. Some would go as far as to apologize for “not getting it”. It was heartbreaking and disturbing to witness. To see parents unplugging from the School dogma… only to plug into some other dogma that was just as restrictive and inconsiderate of their role as a parent. Plus, not only is it hard to stomach seeing the same speakers who preach about “respect” and “freedom” for children, treating adults worse than you would treat a dog, it is also just plain confusing and hypocritical to me. The last straw came when parents were once again getting a whipping because of a question about Television or something ( oh dear ) and someone expressed how she had received emails supporting her view, however the parents dare not express that in the group lest they be scolded publicly ( yes, ADULTS are afraid of these gurus and talk about what goes on strictly in emails for fear of retribution) And I couldn’t believe it when the owner of this particular group actually told everyone in the group that #1 “that wasn’t allowed to do” and #2, to email her and let her know who is emailing off list so she can deal with it appropriately. That was it for me. It was time to go, so I left. However, the emails keep coming in and the abuse continues. And not just in that group, but countless others. The others are a little harder to describe because the attack is underhanded and deceitful. The guru there doesn’t beat you with a club, they instead lure you in with the rainbows and talk about the joy in their home and how wonderful things are! and you walk away feeling all warm and fuzzy.. until it all blows up later when you realize it was just a pretty box with nothing inside. It had the right words on the wrapper though, “Freedom! Joy! Respect! Trust! Love!” It’s called marketing 101. Then a question comes,
“I don’t know what to do. I have done everything and they still don’t help me clean. There’s mold on the counter. It’s just basic courtesy to clean up after yourself. There’s 4 of them and one of me and I can’t do it all. Please help.” The Guru’s answer: “Well in OUR home, our children’s happiness is MORE important to us than a clean house. WE respect our children and if they don’t want to do something, we don’t force them. “
See that slick move? Is that answer for real? Just what in the world is the parent supposed to do with that? Even more bizarre, the new gurus actually CHARGE new parents for such advice! So basically mom and dad, you are on your own. If it’s not working out for you, well you are just not doing Radical Unschooling right and YOU are the problem, because you are “afraid” of “losing control”. My family rocks! sorry yours doesn’t. Don’t forget to sign up for my conference and buy my book!” That is what unschooling has become. Check the contents of pretty and easy-to-buy packages my friends. Check the contents.
Why is this important? Why do I care that parents are left bloddied up and mangled in some highway of mistruths, abuse and misinformation? Please let me share this with you as it perfectly captures the damage that Radical Unschooling does to its subjects ( ahem, parents ) and the mangling mess this dogma leaves in its path. This is from a mother of 2, soon to be 3. Please read…
“I have a 5 and a 2 year old and preg with number 3. (5 year old would have started 1st grade in september had he been in school – think thats right anyway i’m in the uk so grades are labelled differently here).
Anyway, I got into the radical unschooling (RU) method almost 2 years ago – I was very intrigued and attracted to it and decided to give it my best shot – it just has such an attraction to me the lack of coercion etc and with ds1 being extremely strong willed it cut a lot of the stress out initially over lots of things cos I wasnt kinda battling with him any more. Up till that point i had stuck strictly to a 1 hour of TV each day rule and plenty of days we didnt watch any, and he was still eating meals with us and although always an extremely choosy eater he still had a fairly healthy diet that included fruit and veg and some family meals. He also loved books and would always be asking me to read to him. I took the tv and food restrictions away when he was about 3 and a half, about 6mths after ds2 was born.
I have immersed myself in RU philosophy, joined the yahoo groups, thought pondered and philosophized over it. After nearly 2 years i’m stressed out by it because i just doesnt seem to be working here despite all my best efforts to create an interesting and extremely parentally involved life – if that makes sense. I havent unparented, i have been very ‘present’ but I havent imposed my agenda on them for how they occupy their time or what they choose to eat whilst at the same time offering lots of options. However, despite this ds1 chooses to spend most of his time either watching tv or playing on the playstation and eats a diet that involves enormous quantities of chocolate, biscuits and crisps (cookies and chips). He has no interest in books or me reading to him and rarely wants to leave the house. It all stresses me out and upsets me to watch him. No matter how much i read and use unschooling arguments on myself i cant feel comfortable with him making these choices. I also worry about being inspected and having no ‘work’ to show an education officer.
When I try and google search to try and find other people who are, or have been, in a similar situation to me, all i seem to come across is either people talking about how wonderful RU has been for them (and it does work wonderfully for some people), or people who dont really understand RU talking about how it is child neglect and unparenting etc. There is loads more i can say about my upset and frustrations with our RU experiment and the type of advice and responses i have got to my questions from people in the movement but this is long enough. Can anyone relate to what i am saying? And if so how did you transition back to taking a bit more control over your life and the lives of your children? I dont want to be a control freak but at the same time i cant carry on the way things are. I want to start cutting back the tv again and somehow encouraging more healthy eating habits. I feel a bit lost and daunted when i think about how to do this and feel guilt and sorrow as i feel if i had stuck to my limits on the tv he may well have been starting to read himself by now.
I also feel very alone as I realise this post and my feelings are very offensive to people immersed in RU – there is a whole culture of – if its not working for you its because you’re doing it wrong – and that makes me very reluctant to post about this anywhere – i’m hoping this can be a bit of a safer place to post than others.”
When is this madness going to stop? When will these Gurus start taking some responsibility over what they are doing to parents and to the sacred bond and trust between child and parent? This is but one of the many emails and posts I come across as I travel in this Home Ed world. So I ask myself, has the time not come to Rethink the “Radical” in Radical Unschooling? It’s a strangling conflicting mess and it’s taking every parent who subscribes to it with it. So, while they are having conferences asking us to “Rethink Everything”, well I couldn’t agree more! and I say let’s add Radical Unschooling in the list of ideas to REthink. And if it so happens that it is too far gone that it cannot be rethought, the least we can do is provide a safe supportive place for the poor families who manage to survive it.
In the meantime, Dear overwhelmed confused mom and dad out there who is trying to do the right thing, please know this; regardless of what these gurus try to convince you of, YOU are a good, decent parent. Yes, it is a challenging to be a parent, but not a complication. And you are not an abusing Tiger Mom who doesn’t respect her children and is abusing them because she is realizing that her children are spending too much time in front of the tv. It’s called maternal instinct mom, don’t lose it! As your children grow and so does your confidence, you will look back and laugh at some of the insane things you believed and you will be thankful for some of the tough choices you made. You will draw from your experiences as a child, your relationship with your parents, You and your partner’s values, your support from friends and most importantly… you will draw from your instinct. I have never heard of a grown adult child resenting his mother and father over being made to brush his teeth or told to shower. Have you? Let’s be real. This is not what sends adults to therapy mom and dad. You are not “imposing your agenda”. Your agenda IS to be their full and present parent, completely aware of every need they have. Even the ones they are unaware of. And you know why you worry about too much TV? or free reign of sweets? or free access to the computer? Because you are good parent and you know instinctively, that it isn’t healthy. Hell, an unrestricted diet of those things would not be healthy for a grown adult, let a lone a child!. And your concern, doesn’t mean that you are controlling or fearful and don’t let anyone twist you into believing that. You understand that freedom is more than just the freedom to watch TV all day or not do math. Freedom demands so much more than that. Freedom demands thought, discernment, character, reasoning, self-knowing. Don’t abdicate that gift and responsibility to anyone and for anything. Least of all for a Parenting Philosophy. You don’t need the label “Radical Unschooling” to be in tuned with your children or of ”Peaceful Parent” to be peaceful. Skip the labels, Be YOUR child’s parent. You, more than anyone else in this world, know what your child needs. You know it, in your gut. Don’t let anyone reinvent your relationship with your child, or reinvent language while we are it ( wants are not “needs” by the way!) So Relax. You are doing good. Trust your instinct. That child was entrusted upon YOU, not a guru or an ‘ism. It’s enough to just be “mom” and “dad”, dogma, label, method- free. Really. Trust yourself. You are doing okay, evolve when you must, adjust when needed, trust yourself and remember, parenting can be challenging but it is not a complication and if your role as a parent is not respected or trusted by some philosophy, than it is time to Rethink it’s Guru and her message.