Just Not Radical Enough

Ha! I keep thinking I have it figured it out but then I keep mulling it over and I come to new conclusions. Here is what I have so far:
From certain Radical Unschooling forums, one could very well come to the conclusion that Radical Unschoolers seem to believe:
1. Raising free children means there is no place for passing on a parents ideals outside of unschooling
2. Its okay to be mean to adults while espousing the virtue of kindness to their children
3. Community isn’t all that supportive or communal
4. Raising free children to the Extreme Radicalness means there is no place for parental control

There’s a divide in the Unschooliverse and I think I figured it out. Well I at least figured out why I feel the divide. Just maybe I’m not Unschooley enough.  At least not for the Radical kind. I’m thinking of maybe coming up with a new name, a hybrid -does that imply better because that’s not my intention?  I’ve already established that Unschooling has more to do with a way of life then anything really to do with school. It goes beyond school and has evolved the way I function day to day, how I interact with my kids (from birth, not just school aged), and the way I think. Life learner, world school, natural learning, child-led learning, and a few other terms have been adopted by people. But I’m looking for something else, something that better describes our way of life and not just how we educate ourselves. More on that later.

First I want to talk about why I must not be a Radical Unschooler. It has to do with core beliefs. It took me awhile but I think I’ve discovered that my core beliefs don’t quite jive with that of a Radial Unschooler. I believe children are autonomous but not to the extreme degree that Radical Unschoolers do. I believe children are individuals who have a RIGHT to their own bodies, their own emotions, their own thoughts, their own possessions. and they need to respect that right in others. I do believe that people benefit from having community and that children need to learn to function in a beneficial society-this means from a society as small as a two person family to society in a global sense. I don’t think I own my children but I do feel I have a right to raise them as I see fit. I do feel they can and should make decisions for themselves-to a limit. And that limit is one of the biggest contentions I have with  Radical Unschoolers. I’ve come to realize that what I term “guidance” they term as “control”.

It was over the course of a few days that brought me to that conclusion. I’ve been a member of a couple forums, one of them for several years. They are forums for Radical Unschoolers moderated by well-known figures in the Unchooliverse. I haven’t posted to the groups and I rarely check them. Why? Because every single thread I’ve followed on the forums have left my gut feeling heavy. They’ve rarely sat right with me. For one, the people giving advice seem rude. I understand  they try to maintain a standard of Radical Unschooling Ideal. I get that they push people to question every area of their lives in order to help people with allowing their children the kind of freedoms they think is ideal. I get that. I think there is a lot of value in their words-those on the forums who have websites and books have been a great resource for me and countless others to learn and apply unschooling to our lives. However, and this is a big however… they are mean. They bully and gang up on people. They take things out of context, attack grammar and semantics, and they always tell people to stop writing and just listen. I’ve never known anyone personally who’s been the victim of their criticizing. I don’t idolize the so called experts or get giddy if one happens to notice me. I do have friends who personally know  a few of the moderators and contributors and I am FB friends with a few members of the forums. But basically I have been an unbiased observer of this behaviour and have found it do be horribly rude. I discovered I’m not the only one.

I’d recently FB friended a new member of the Natural Learning Network of SD of which I co-moderate. It’s a site for SD locals to build community, meet one another, find support, and post events. I noticed one person because she found our site through another site I belong to The Libertarian Homeschooler. Her comments on Radical Unschooler showed up in FB feed so I started following the thread. It quickly turned into the same old stuff I’d seen before. Someone posts a question-some good responses-some accusations-some deeper explanations from the original poster-some taking words out of context and more accusations-some criticizing the grammar and the semantics -some twisting words-some telling questioners to stop getting defensive and quit posting-some copying and pasting on other sites in order to make fun of posters (she admitted it)-some blaming the poster for wasting HER time. Basically what I saw was bullying and since I happened to be a FB friend of one of the victims,I happened to see her post that she did indeed feel bullied and it had gone beyond what I could see on the thread. It left me feeling so disgusted that I left that group and unfriended a moderator. I didn’t want to be associated with such mean people and I didn’t want to be exposed to that toxicity. I could fully understand now why some of my real-life friends have chosen to not be a part of online communities.

Not everyone who feels attacked is a newbie to Unschooling. But a lot are. Unschooling is still pretty fringe. Its a difficult concept to wrap ones head around. In order to fully understand it and live it they need to see it up close and personal. People get online and try to find others like them. They want information but they also want the community. They want to be assured that they are doing best for their family because the majority of people in their lives do not support it. So they seek out the people who’ve been doing this awhile. Certain names get brought up and of course newbies go to them. But these particular forums aren’t there to build friendships or play tour guide to newbies. They are militant boot camps meant to push and break. Some  newbies feel so hurt they leave, some fortunately find support from, well from more SUPPORTIVE groups. Some stay and a community is built but its based on abuse and control-the very thing the Radicals promote not instilling in their children.

I’d been mulling the threads around in my head. It really bothered me that the bullys were trying to silence people from explaining details any further. As if circumstances don’t matter. They would insist that the parent was trying to impose her own beliefs onto the child and therefore controlling the child. And there I had it. The Unschoolers were not only being mean, they were attacking people for what seemed to me perfectly reasonable beliefs. These Radicals have a set of ideals they think applies to every situation. Not only did I have a problem with the delivery of their message but I decided I have a problem with the message itself. The very core belief of Unschooling is freedom for kids to follow their own passions and interests when it comes to learning. Sounds great! I believe that. But Radicals tacked on “Radical” I think to take that freedom to a whole level that is beyond me. Not simply, as they claim, to apply it to life outside of education, but also to areas outside of parenting. They want their child to be able to make choices, discover circumstances, and come to conclusions completely on their own. Sounds Radical right? To me it does and here’s why.

Kids’ brains, bodies, and experiences are still developing. They absorb information. They model behavior they see. They believe, often without question, what they are told. They react to their feelings without understanding them. They trust their caregiver to be  right whether their caregiver is worthy or not. I believe they are not yet in a position developmentally to make every single decision themselves. I believe children do need some guidance, some limits, some encouraging. (I think even adults need these things when learning something new.) It doesn’t have to be strict or authoritarian. It is possible to have both limits and plenty of freedoms and choices and to offer them kindly. I think it all can be highly individualized for differing personalities and situations. But its not a one size fits all rule of learning or living. And beliefs do play a part in parenting. Beliefs are going to be passed down, whether its a homeschooling family or not. One reason I chose to Homeschool is because (at least in their younger years) my beliefs are the predominant ones they are exposed to. I prefer those of myself and my circle of friends as opposed to the media and the state run schools.

I would like my children’s developing brain and body  not be exposed to the dangers until they can navigate them. That means after they’ve learned to question and reason, after they’ve acquired the tools to research, after they’ve experienced and  practiced using their own intuition. I can be there to hold there hand literally or metaphorically. I can be there to show them how to do some things and direct them where to learn other things. I can be there to share my own passions and discuss my own beliefs. I can introduce them to mentors that respect children and their developmental stages.  And I can do it while allowing them freedoms to draw their own conclusions. I believe that children need some guidance-not control, not overly sheltering, not void of discovery. I believe that an environment has the potential to affect a developing person both positively and negatively. I don’t wish my child to be exposed to violence, acts of control (physical or psychological) government bias, media bias(socialist and otherwise), strict religious dogma, humor that makes it normal to degrade. And I don’t want to sabotage my child’s physical health with food that does harm.

So if I believe kids will learn what they are exposed to, why would I expose them to danger beyond their comprehension. Its no secret that marketing plays a part in convincing us to be wasteful consumers. Its coming to light that food companies are basically spiking their foods with addictive and harmful ingredients and convincing us its nutritious. The media continuously pushes the messages that I don’t agree with. These are dangerous enough to adult minds- I especially want to avoid it for developing brains and bodies of my children-to start them off not brainwashed to comply. As they get older and can see the correlation between food and feeling icky they can make some choices about what they consume. When they are old enough mentally to talk about marketing and media bias then I will expose them to more of it. Is that control? Yes, I suppose one could call it control and I’m okay with that. I think a certain amount  of control is paramount for the safety of my children.

I don’t think all Radical Unschoolers (or whatever they choose to call themselves) are the same. I have very good friends who identify with that spectrum of Unschooling. What I am referring to is the based on the behavior I see on the Radical Unschooling forums. Do I think these Radicals should change? No. I do think there is a place for it all. I think many appreciate the advice and like the way it is delivered. But maybe those places should be more upfront with what they are about. I know some have info and rules posted but obviously they are not clear enough about it because I’ve been seeing more and more people who’ve felt hurt and bullied after seeking guidance on those sites. I get that different forums are for different things. I personally like Unschooling plus Libertarian because those are some of my interests and I like to see how they connect and how people make it work. But those sites make it pretty clear what they stand for. I’ve left some groups (not just unschooling ones) because I’ve been disgusted by the treatment of others. While I believe there is value to those sites for a certain type of person,  I think it can be really discouraging to people especially those new to Unschooling. Those who are looking for community, information, or just trying to wrap their heads around the concept do not need to be treated as ignorant. Those who practice Unschooling but are not Radical about it should not be treated as inferior.  The internet can be a strange place to navigate social networking but sometimes its the only thing a person has-not everyone is as fortunate as I was to be introduced to Unschooling by real-life non-judgmental and kind Unschoolers.  I’m thankful for all the Unschoolers because it means we’re raising more and more kids who are more connected, free thinking, respected, and with the potential to find their own happiness. I just wish there was more acceptance for the various ideals on the spectrum of Unschooling.


Comments Closed

9 Responses to Just Not Radical Enough

  1. Kelly says:

    I think everything you wrote Amy was well spoken. I don’t partake in the same groups as you, so I’m commenting from outside that framework.

    My journey with parenting and homeschooling as been somewhat influenced by this question….

    I was once asked if I lived on a deserted island what would I believe and how would I live my life. This is an interesting scenario to put oneself into on occasion. It helps me realize to shut out the noise of the outside world and look inward to find my own answers for living. Some parents choose unschooling in part because they want their children to use and enhance their intuitive sense, however, ironically, as parents we don’t know how to do this ourselves. We look too much to others. It’s understandable, because we were taught to be that way. It’s a catch 22. (Where did that saying come from? Curious.)

    As to partaking in forums, online groups or even local groups….
    It’s good to seek out information and new ideas, however at some point, I believe it’s beneficial to pull back from them sometimes and just live for ourselves. If we lived on a deserted island, where would the information come from? (My belief says we’d hear Divine Spirit more.) We would just live, and we wouldn’t worry about being this or that for anyone else. I understand that we don’t live on deserted islands, but my point is that we don’t trust ourselves (and Divine guidance) enough. We don’t trust our innate abilities or just the beauty of being.

    I like to be exposed to new ideas and thoughts, but I also get tired of being over exposed to the opinions and ideas of others. Even though I say that, I did enjoy your comments and insights, so this is a point in time that I took to appreciate an outside perspective.

    After seeing the habits of my homeschooled, unschooled child, I realize that I still don’t know how to sit with myself enough. I’m still too influenced by the outside world. I see how she doesn’t feel guilty about the time she takes for herself and how she blocks out the outside world when she needs to and finds her own answers. Perhaps part of this is that as a teenager she still has that freedom, and as adults, we are forced to concern ourselves with the world. I don’t believe in being an ostrich with our head in the sand either. What I’m trying to convey is that I see people looking and or wanting others to give them the answers too much. I’ve been there myself and still fall into it.

    I agree with your comments on “control” versus “guidance”. As for the bullying on forums, I’d say people need to ground themselves in their own beliefs and then such things won’t sway them as much. As I’ve strengthened my own convictions and beliefs, my skin is tougher, and I don’t care as much what anyone says about how we live our lives in our home. My experience from when my feelings are hurt is that I need to seek inside myself and my faith more. I don’t believe anyone is totally beyond having hurt feelings, and I also believe we need to take responsibility for our own emotions.

    Are the moderators in the groups you mentioned really being mean, or are they just to a point where they just tell it like they see it? Just playing devils advocate a bit. Some people aren’t as eloquent of speakers as others, and you either connect with them and or you don’t. If someone doesn’t connect, then I say they should move on. We can’t always concern ourselves with others feelings. It’s just impossible to make everyone happy. Even when we try, someone will still take things the way that they want to. There is also a wide gap in understanding and potential for misinterpretation when typing to people via email or online.

    My main reason for responding is to say “kudos” for a well written perspective, and to also just encourage people who rely too heavily on the input of others in parenting and educating their children (been there done that), especially on the input of people they don’t know, to think about if the info they are taking in is really serving them and their children. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to live up to certain ideals, especially if we don’t remember that life is about balance.

  2. Amy says:

    Yes, I totally get what you are saying Kelly, I even referred to you (though not by name) in my post. I really like the idea of making decisions as if on a desert island. I totally get the value of trusting instincts and connecting with self and Divine when traveling your path.
    I do actually like some input, advice, and perspectives once in awhile. Even if I don’t follow it -or do and decide it doesn’t work- I like learning about how others live.
    I like to find a balance. One reason I do partake in a lot of groups and books by others is because I do think people can be programmed to think in a way that goes against instinct. It can be hard to just trust your gut when your gut reacts in anger or frustration because you’ve been trained to hide your true self. So I keep positive works from others on hand and fresh in my head to keep pushing myself to be better. its partially how I unschool myself. And I like the community.

    As far as if those moderators/commentators are actually mean. I can’t speak for in real life but online many certainly seem so (from my perspective anyway-you’d have to lurk there yourself to decide for yourself). Like I said I do get they are trying to push people, and maintain a certain standard. But a lot of people do feel bullied and those feelings are valid whether or not that was the intention.

    ps-the groups I added you too and asked you to join aren’t these groups. They are the ones for SD locals. The public one is basically for meeting new people and posting events and inviting others to join. The private ones are for the deeper questions but I know many of the people on them and have they always had positive and friendly discussion and mutual respect. That’s partially why its so shocking to learn about bullying being so widespread on these other groups-y experience with unschoolers at the beginning both online and in person has always been positive but it mostly started out with those same people on the groups I invited you to join.

  3. Kelly says:

    When any concept is new to us, it’s natural to reach out and learn more. That’s a good thing. Now that I’m older, I just have a more critical eye with what I read, and I take the info I receive with a little more salt and not so much sugar. When I was younger I was more of a blind idealist. So, I didn’t mean to say not to read stuff or to seek support once in a while, I was just saying from experience that sometimes it’s easy to get too caught up in what the world has to say.

    Ya, I’d really have to see the “bullying” for my own eyes to respond more specifically and intelligently. I will say that I have noticed that in some “alternative” living spheres (not sure how else to describe them), I’ve noticed that there seems to be this “kumbaya” type mentality, where people just seem to be living in the clouds trying not to acknowledge any of the hardships of life. They act like this world is all “love” and “peace”. In reality, this 3-D world has dualities of positive/negative, good/bad, yin/yang…however one wishes to explain the polar opposites. I believe this life is meant to help us achieve a greater enlightenment, but I don’t think this world will ever change from its duality. This plane of existence is this way for a reason. So in saying all of that, my point is that many people have this unrealistic expectation that everyone is going to get along, and they struggle with friction and don’t know how to find their grounding in the presence of it. So, if someone is coming from this kumbaya perspective, they might feel bullied if they meet with some strong words or resistance. In my opinion, again without seeing it for myself, it might not really be meanness or bullying, but just different ideologies clashing.

    When I was a teenager, because I was such a sensitive soul, my dad use to tell me he wanted me to toughen up. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned why he said that. Life isn’t all smiles and giggles and where would our personal growth and spiritual evolution come from if it were. So from my outside perspective on this whole online group meanness issue, I think you’ll find friction anywhere there are strong ideas and convictions. In all honesty, there might be a positive side to these differences, and one might be that people actually get to express what they feel and what they believe. I’m definitely not saying stay around people that don’t resonate with your beliefs, I’m just saying that I think many of us, myself included, could stand to toughen up a little bit and to go even further have a stronger back bone. I think a little resistance once in a while forces us to look closer at what we truly believe and why…..like trees that need a little wind to have deeper roots and a stronger trunk. ;0)

    My aunt once told me (she gave me a lot of great insights) that when you go against the grain expect to be treated differently. My mom always said…”life’s not fair”. Too many people think that life should be fair, and they don’t have a strong enough foundation to withstand a little or a lot of wind. So, no matter what group of people you find yourself in (and I say “you” generically as a group reference), if you’re going to say or do something different than the status quo, be prepared that there will be a reaction, and the reaction might not be what you wanted or expected, but perhaps there’s opportunity and lessons in it none the less.

  4. Lori says:

    there’s a real disconnect when people champion one thing for children and something else entirely for their parents.

    everyone should make their own path. it’s unfortunate that instead of helping people find their *own* way, so many try to browbeat them into doing things *their* way — even while espousing respect for children and their individuality, their need to learn at their own pace, and so on.

    if the outside behavior doesn’t match the inside philosophy, run away.

    and thank you for this brave post! i know people who’ve had the same experience and were traumatized but silent. shining a light on this is a very good thing.

  5. Heather says:

    This post really resonates with me. I was recently discussing with my husband that I have stopped following a couple of the major Facebook and Yahoo groups in particular (probably some of the same ones you are talking about) because they are soooo negative, almost attacking or bullying at times, and very focused on the dogma of Radical Unschooling as opposed to helping people and extending kindness. (I must say though, I recently joined the Whole Life Unschooling group on Facebook, and so far the discussion there is so much more positive, useful and welcoming of newcomers. The difference is striking!)

    My DH and I are also “controlling” our son’s diet, limiting it to only vegan foods, in line with our core beliefs. I don’t care what the RU community thinks on that particular issue, as we’re doing what works best for us at this point in time.

  6. Amy says:

    I’m glad you found a group where you feel welcome. I joined the Whole Life Unschooling a few days ago and have found the tone more in tune with me. However, other than a few check ins-I’m still avoiding most groups at the moment. Especially since I just checked the Always Learning Yahoo group to see what they had to say about the subject. They were actually copying and pasting a FB thread I was following and picking it apart. I find that petty -and once again taking things out of context. I prefer my real life FB friends and family. Keep doing what works best for you-that’s where it counts!

  7. Amy says:

    Also I found some of the regular ol’ unschooling groups to be more welcoming to variations of unschooling. Its worth it to take some time to find groups where you fit.

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