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.