Sunday, January 22, 2012

What I mean when I say "Radical Unschooling"

I've recently blogged about how even though we are radical unschoolers, I still make plans, and that I even have a schedule.  I've even mentioned workbooks and flashcards!  My intent was to address the idea that radical unschooling is complete chaos or totally "child-led."  On the flip side of that notion is the idea that unschooling is just anything in the world.  Some people claim they are unschooling their children during the summer break from school!  If that were, true than the word would be completely meaningless.

So for the sake of clarity, this is what I am talking about when I say we are radical unschoolers:

First of all, by the technical definition, I recognize that we may or may not be considered to be *really* unschooling yet.  Unschooling is a form of homeschooling and one is not homeschooling until they have made the choice to not put their child in school.  That choice can only be made once the child is "school aged" and my oldest child's birthday missed the cut off date for our state's compulsory attendance laws by one day.  This September, we will have to make the choice to either go through the process to legally homeschool, put her in school or be breaking the law.  Obviously, we have every intention of homeschooling, but we aren't, technically, there yet.  One could say, however, that "school aged" is when their child is expected to be in school by the cultural standard, which would be between ages 3 and 5 depending on the prevailing attitude of the sub-culture in which one lives.  By that definition, we are definitely homeschooling and therefore I could say we are technically unschooling as at least one of my children has passed that age.  As Sandra Dodd has said, there are no unschooling police who are going to come to your house and say you are doing it wrong or not really doing it.  But I like to be clear.

On the other hand, radical unschooling philosophy has immensely and directly impacted how I have parented my children.  Because it is as much a parenting philosophy and a way of life as it is an educational choice, I have used it to guide how I raise my children as toddlers and preschoolers.

I could say that because we are radical unschoolers, we don't have bedtimes, don't control food choices, don't control media, and don't use curriculum.  But unschooling isn't like converting to a religion that has a list of tenets you must follow.  There is no rule that says "Thou shalt not limit thy child's tv time."

Unschooling is about recognizing that children are always learning, and trusting that they know their own bodies and minds better than we ever can.  It is about trusting that given the opportunity and through some trial and error, they will learn what works best for them as individuals.  It's about supporting their interests and facilitating their exploration.  It's about doing the things that build relationships.  It's about living by principles of love, respect, and safety, rather than by rules.   

So on the one hand, unschooling is not a list of rules to follow.  On the other hand, it has to follow some philosophy as part of its definition, otherwise the word is meaningless and useless.  

I make choices in our lives that reflect that philosophy.  That extends to every part of our lives- sleep, food, media, and chores being the hotly debated and easily categorized ones.  It also extends to the things that I mentioned in the beginning like making plans, having a schedule, and using workbooks and flashcards.  Those things can *easily* be detrimental to unschooling if the parent is using them to control or because she is afraid her children won't learn without them.

For us, making plans are about doing things and going places as a part of creating a rich environment from which I trust my kids will learn.  These things are *optional* for my kids, not required.

Having a schedule is about ME moving through my days in a way that helps me accomplish the things I want to accomplish.  It's not about moving my kids through their days or controlling what they do.

I've mentioned workbooks and flashcards, but they are just games to my kids.  The flashcards are with the Monopoly, Uno, puzzles and other games and we *treat them the same way.*  The workbooks are with the coloring books and we treat those the same way.  Each one is one option among many of things to do.

If a person is unclear about their principles and their philosophy, than they can get confused thinking that either things like schedules and bed times are bad and should be avoided at all costs, OR that they can do them in a parent controlled way that is disrespectful to their children and still call it unschooling.

I don't claim to have the one and only undisputed definition of radical unschooling.  I think that should be left to the person who most likely coined the term and those who have grown unschooled kids.
I wanted to be clear, however, about what I am referring to when I refer to radical unschooling on this blog. 


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