Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unradical Unschooling

  When we first decided to home educate, about 7 years ago, I did what I usually do upon gaining a new interest-I read. I read my way through every home ed book in the Tasmanian library system (there’s many, the wonderful place) and fell in love with unschooling. With a houseful of toddlers, it worked for us. Then, about 5 years ago I noticed more and more popping up online about radical unschoolers, so I investigated. Basically, it’s about removing all limits, rules and expectations. The child decides everything, and trust is the buzzword-just trust that your child is doing exactly what they need to do, right now, even if you don’t understand why (even if it’s killing related, completely clashes with your beliefs or involves 14 hours a day on the computer). That when you get in touch with yourself, and your true way of being, you would understand, that you would be free! Then the world will be a better place, populated with ‘free’ people.

  Well, call me a reject, abjectly out of touch with my true self, because I really don’t get it. Oh, I thought about trying it, but I never accepted the reasoning behind it. It sounds all lovely and wonderful, but it’s like every other extremist viewpoint-all dressed up in flowery language and sounding suspiciously religious (you just have to believe, to have faith, to let go, then you will be truly free). It doesn’t respect the family’s value systems. And of course, there’s lots of criticism of schools. While I don’t see many positives in the school system, I also tend to distrust beliefs that need to knock their opposites down for them to climb up-if it’s as good as you say it is, it’ll speak for itself.

  I finally realised that I really don’t like the philosophy because we’re technically not child-centred. We’re family-centred. There’s seven of us in this tribe, and we all need to get along, which means we all need to take everyone’s needs and wants into account. I’m happy to cater to every whim of a three month old, but as they get older they learn to compromise too.


  Old fuddy-duddy that I am, I believe in bedtimes, for their and my sanity. My kids eat what they are given. They contribute to the running of the household, the garden and the animals. Screen time for them is non-existent (and nearly non-existent for me, I practice what I preach).And sometimes i’ll make them do something, even if they think they won’t like it. Usually, after the initial push, they enjoy it. (A recent incident with Sparkles and handwriting practice comes to mind. She said she didn’t want to, I said it wasn’t optional. Fifteen minutes of copywork later she was ecstatic to see how much she’d already improved, and now happily does it regularly). Sometimes you need a kick to try something-and when the kick is given by someone who knows you well, it’s usually a kick in the right direction.

  RUers seem to believe that if a child must fit to some of the parent’s needs, that the parent is selfish and enforcing their will upon the child. It seems to me to be a sure recipe for stress, guilt, and the extension of extreme natural parenting philosophy (which also seems to be a sure recipe for stress and guilt). And if I have to honour every decision of my child, what is that saying about my knowledge and experience? I definitely don’t know it all, but surely nearly 30 years of life counts for something? The kids certainly seem to think so-they trust my judgement and respect my recommendations, and are generally happy and eager to see what I suggest. In return, if they have a go at something and hate it, I don’t force them to continue.


  Over the past couple of years, i’ve found myself adding a qualifier when asked which education method we use. ‘Unschooling…………but not radical.’ Unschooling seems to have gained more and more of a radical aura, to the point where most people who once would have called themselves unschoolers seem to be using the term ‘natural learners’ instead. Unfortunately, unschooling now seems to mean the extreme end of the scale-no rules, no schedule, no educational goals.That is completely not us, and to be honest I really wouldn’t like people to think that it was.

  However, after the initial raves, RUing seems to be losing popularity. I’ve started to read accounts of people who have tried it and found that their lives descended into chaos and their kids were unhappy (such as Owlet-there’s also good comments there). Most people seem to adore it when their children are young, then by the time they’re reached about 8 they’re looking to add a bit more structure (usually at the child’s request). I think it’s because toddlers can generally pick up what they need to know in their everyday life. But when they start wanting to learn more complex skills and knowledge, structure really helps. It also helps Shorty, who doesn’t pick up much intuitively, and requires more repetition and graded increase in difficulty to really master a skill.

  Anyhow, I don’t even know if we could call ourselves unschoolers anymore-I have a houseful of academics now! But i’ll save writing about those changes for another day.

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