Friday, May 25, 2012

Critiquing the Radical Unschooling Critique: Real Negatives or Gross Generalizations?

I came across a post a couple weeks back that I'm sure many readers will react quite strongly to. For once, it's not from some big mainstream media source dissing unschooling, but instead from a member of the unschooling community who left school in his teens, and has spoken at a couple of unschooling conferences. In it, the author discusses radical unschooling, and all the faults he sees in it. You can go read it over here before continuing, if you want.

Done reading (or not)? Okay, let me continue.

I want to start by saying that I appreciate Eli's honestly, and had many interesting discussions with him several years back when we both attended the same conference. To some extent, I agree with some of his points. To some (larger) extent, I disagree. But I'd like to take things bit by bit, and break down just what I like and dislike about his post.

"My parents made me do it, and I'm GLAD they did!"

I find it odd that the first and main example given is that of an always schooled individual, the moral of the anecdote seemingly being that it's often good when parents make there kids do things (or so it seems to me). But one story of someone schooled who was grateful to her parents for making a large decision for her, doesn't really make sense to me when discussing unschooling. There's such a different framework of living, and most often such a different style of parenting, between unschooling and regular schooling families, that it really does feel like the author is comparing apples to oranges (not that I like calling anyone fruits, but it seemed the most apt expression to use!). Yeah, okay, this person was happy with that, but how does that have any real impact on the topic at hand? Where's the story of a grown unschooler wishing their parent had made different choices, or being grateful for a time their parents had pushed them into something? I know there are at least a few cases of that, and that would present a far more compelling argument for increased parental control, to me (not that I'd ultimately necessarily agree: just that I'd find it made a stronger case).

And that mention of "bad crowds"... Well, that just doesn't sit right with me at all. I don't believe in bad crowds as they're usually defined and discussed, though I do believe in teens who are really struggling, and coping with their struggles as best they can. Sometimes a teen (or a person of any age, really) is in a group with people who treat them really badly. That's wrong, and no one should have to put up with that. But at the same time, I still wouldn't say the hypothetical group in question is bad, it's just unhealthy, and filled with people who would greatly benefit from being given safe spaces to spend time in, and supportive older people to spend time with. "Bad crowd" is too often just a vicious value judgement that makes it even harder to live as a teen in this culture.

Continuing with the story of the schooled individual whose parents saved her from "bad crowds," Eli says: "Maybe some radical unschoolers would acknowledge this case of parents sending their child to a school of their choosing as an exception where the radical unschooling approach was not the best thing. Of course, they might insist the parents should have taken her out of school altogether (and I might disagree because maybe she’d still run with the same crowd in town)." And here... Well, here I come to something that frustrates me a lot: when people decide that some decision made, no matter who made it, was the only course of action that could have resulted in good outcomes. When really, we don't know. You don't know. I don't know. I genuinely think I'd be in a worse place had I been to school. But I'm not actually certain, because how can I be? Maybe the woman in question is better off because of the decision her parents made. But maybe she would be even better off now if she'd worked through the troubles she was having herself. I can't help but think that, if the same situation had come up in a radical unschooling family, she would have ended up just as good in the end, only perhaps with a better sense of personal power. To say that this was the only way things could have worked out seems short-sighted at the very least.

The Importance of Environment

Eli brings up an interesting point when he discusses environment, saying "When unschoolers, radical or otherwise, talk about people’s natural motivation to learn and do what’s ultimately best for themselves, they often don’t acknowledge the power of our environment. What I’m motivated  to do is affected by what’s available, what’s needed, what others are doing, what’s considered 'cool', etc." I agree that perhaps how much we're all effected by the culture around us isn't recognized as much as it could be. I like Daniel Quinn's characterization of "the voice of Mother Culture," and that's generally what I'm thinking of when I say that unschooling isn't enough. And what I mean by that, is that unschooling alone will not come anywhere close to solving the tremendous amount of problems with our ways of living and relating to each other on this Earth. We need to question a lot more than just the education system. But, I think unschooling is a very good start, and I question whether increased parental control is really going to have a positive impact on how children and teens learn to deal with all the various pressures and situations they're faced with on a day-to-day basis. As I've said in discussion about TV watching (a very common example that radical unschoolers bring up, as is noted in Eli's post), parents being very involved with their kids--discussing the problematic things we encounter every day--is, I believe, far more productive than simply trying to keep their kids away from everything they believe is harmful, which is completely impossible if you're trying to take in as much of the world as you can, as many unschoolers seek to do. Similarly, while I believe that it's important for parents to be an active part of their teens' lives and the decisions they make, important for parents to act as guides and mentors, I'm not so sure that parents making choices they believe are "best" for their children, without their consent, is a good thing. Parents regularly, with their children's best interests genuinely at heart, make decisions I'm inclined to think are really bad!

That said, absolutes are rarely true, and I'm very sure that parents making choices against their kids wishes sometimes works out really well. Sometimes the kids in question end up very happy with whatever decision(s) were made. I'm also really not a fan of people deciding exactly the "right" way for everyone to relate to each other and interact as a family. How people best communicate and make decisions, what makes individuals and families happy and healthy, will differ from person to person and family to family. I strongly believe that the more respected and trusted people are (regardless of age), the more open and genuine the communication happening, and the more collective/cooperative the decisions made, the better everyone tends to end up feeling. But... Ultimately each situation is unique, and everyone just has to do their best in doing whatever they truly feel is best! Here it seems Eli and I agree, as he says "Personally, I think the ideal is truly happy, healthy people who know themselves, and do their best to share their gifts with the world."

What Makes Radical Unschoolers Different

Eli says that "Almost all parents who are not radical unschoolers think [unrestricted access to] TV, bedtimes, junk food, and video games is ridiculous. By concentrating on these things radical unschoolers can differentiate themselves from other parents. Every group needs their own way of identifying themselves." Which, well, feels like it's selling radical unschooling more than a little short. I've never felt like the most important things to radical unschoolers is unrestricted access to candy! I think why those are often used as examples is not just because all radical unschoolers agree about it, but because those things provide easy examples when articulating the ways in which approaching parenting with a radical unschooling philosophy play out in everyday life, by comparing the way they might usually be handled to the way an RU parent might handle things. And it still seems to me that when radical unschooling is discussed, the focus remains squarely on trusting and respecting children, not sugar or Wii.

Ultimately, Eli comes to the conclusion that what truly differentiates radical unschoolers is their "concentration on not forcing their children to do anything or impose any rules." And here, well, here I really disagree with him that rules are ever necessary. I don't believe in "rules" (neither do I believe in "laws," though that's a whole different story). Rules are absolutes, and don't leave any room for context, for figuring out how to handle each different situation in the best way. You can have no rules, yet still physically stop your child from hitting someone, or pulling on the cat's tail, or walking into traffic. Rules aren't necessary to parent well, and I believe they are at least as likely to cause more of the "bad behavior" in response to such an authoritarian approach, as they are to actually stop the behavior! I don't think rules help make people decent human beings, but I do think that acting with kindness, and helping your children (and partner(s), friends, neighbors) to act with kindness (including holding those around you accountable for their less than kind actions), helps create people who are kind. Rules aren't necessary.
  
Dealing with Conflict

I agree that radical unschoolers often put a lot of focus on conflict, namely on avoiding it by minimizing situations likely to cause conflict between parents and children. I also agree with Eli that conflict is unavoidable. Where I differ greatly, though, is in the level of conflict I think is okay. Fights over who didn't change the toilet paper, political opinions, and similar things are an inevitable and not very major (well, depending on the political opinions, I suppose!) aspect of living with others. But when Eli states that "Sometimes a parent will have to make a decision the child really doesn’t like and the child may be angry at her/him for a long time"? My initial, gut reaction is just no. When someone is angry at someone else for a long time, it almost always means that an important trust was betrayed. If anger lasts for a long time, it means something wrong was done. So while I don't think the damage is necessarily irreparable (though it may well be), I definitely don't think it's okay to cause that much anger and hurt.

Arguments for more tightly controlling children, and by children I mean people who have not yet reached their teens, hold more weight than those advocating controlling teens, to me. Not that I agree with traditional parenting of young kids AT ALL, but that arguments for more control seem to have some sense to them, at least. Children really aren't capable of a lot of things that older people are, though they're a lot more capable then most people give them credit for, and should be treated with no less humanity and respect than every human should be entitled to. But teens? Teens are remarkably capable people. Teens regularly raise children, run households, work as activists, and a million other important and difficult things. Teenagers, in my mind, are deserving of ALL the rights and respect accorded to adults. No one should be able to make important decisions in the life of a teen against their will, never mind whether parents want to or not.

This is not to say that teens are exactly the same as adults, or that they don't usually need more support and assistance than older people. Just that with the capability they have, teens should be the ones ultimately making the important decisions in their lives, because, well, it's their life. It's pretty simple.

Keep Away from the Muggles!

Some people, Eli says, have been turned off by the judgement and intolerance they've met in dealings with radical unschoolers. And actually, yeah, that's been exactly my experience, as well. Not personally, but friends and even family have been told they're not "really" unschooling, and many people have said to me they've felt extremely unwelcome in radical unschooling (and even sometimes plain 'ol unschooling) spaces, both online and in person. Often people who are new to unschooling ideas quickly find out that certain questions and concerns are not treated kindly when expressed (and I'm not talking about people who come into unschooling spaces and aggressively start interrogating everyone there, but people who respectfully and worriedly ask questions about this philosophy that really draws them, yet is frightening at the same time). That's why I try very hard, while still expressing difficult ideas as plainly and honestly as I can, to make sure I never tell others that they're doing it wrong. While I do believe there are things that are not really unschooling, I respect and am friends with people who are homeschoolers, relaxed homeschoolers, and regular schoolers. I think more freedom is always better, in any context or way, and if a parent whose kids are in school gains some inspiration for creating a home environment that's more respectful, or a teacher tries to bring as much inspiration from unschooling into their classroom as they can, or a homeschooler convinces their parents to let them pursue some of their own projects during "school time," then I'll feel I've succeeded in sharing unschooling ideas. Any positive changes people make in their lives are good, even if they don't end up unschooling.

"Radical Unschooling" in (mis)Practice

I know Eli's criticism's stem in large part from what he's witnessed at conferences. 'Cause here's the thing: if you've been to unschooling conferences, it's almost guaranteed you've seen at least one instance (and probably more than one) of kids behaving in disrespectful and unkind ways to those around them, while their parents do nothing. Sometimes it seems that radical unschooling, with ideals of giving children great freedom in all areas of life, is interpreted as everything your children do, ever, is okay because they're just "expressing their freedom." When, well, there are lots of things that aren't okay. How each family and individual will deal with and react to each situation will be different, among people who identify as homeschoolers and unschoolers and radical unschoolers and everyone else, and there isn't really one right way of reacting to any situation, though I definitely think it's fair to say that there are better and worse ways, and ignoring unkind behavior, no matter what the age of the individual, isn't a very good strategy. I understand that this is what Eli, and plenty of others, have witnessed, and for some it's turned them off of unschooling altogether, which is a real shame. The unschooling community as a whole is often really loathe to self-critique, which lets a lot of problems within the community go unchecked and unmentioned by many (though not by the plenty of people I've had really great conversations with about the issues we see). There are often issues that do need to be addressed, but here we get to perhaps my main problem with Eli's post: it generalizes. So hugely and blatantly.

Those who call themselves radical unschoolers, or whole-life learners, or otherwise extend freedom to their children beyond just the academics or what could be considered traditionally "educational," are a large enough group that if you generalize, you're going to be wrong. I know too many really awesome people, and great parents, to feel even remotely comfortable when someone equates radical unschooling, and all radical unschoolers, with what some like to call "unparenting." Criticize the problems, but don't decide that those problems are shared with every radical unschooler out there. And please don't decide that the obvious solution is more control! People can hold those around them, their kids and friends, accountable for their actions, work with them to improve situations and responses, and recognize that children need lots of extra help navigating the world they're in, without resorting to authoritarianism.

Eli says near the end of his post that "We need to go to the root of ourselves and the problems around us if we want to create real change." But as I see it, reevaluating the way we treat children and teens as a culture, and realizing that authoritarian control is and never will be a way to create positive change, never lead to the creation of a culture that is truly cooperative and respectful (to humans, non-humans, and the Earth), is deeply important. You can't teach people to be respectful by treating them without respect. You can't teach people they're capable of making good decisions by making the decisions that you think are best for them. And you can't teach people to trust in themselves by telling them with your actions that they're untrustworthy.

I rather think radical is a good word here: getting to the root of things by questioning the very foundation of hierarchy and authoritarianism that puts the youngest of us at the very bottom. Treating children as capable human beings deserving of respect, not "unfinished" beings that have to be shaped and controlled? Yeah, I think that's pretty radical.

27 comments:

  1. Eli's post was discussing radical unschooling, and as such some generalizations were inevitable, but in fairness to him, he did point out that he was not writing about all radical unschoolers, just identifying patterns he'd observed. I think the comment thread under his post confirms that he is far from alone in having had bad experiences with intolerant unschoolers. Dismissing Eli's concerns as based on witnessing some parents at conferences letting their kids behave badly and doing nothing in response doesn't really cut it, because the leaders of the radical unschooling movement have been guilty of the kind of intolerance and dogma he describes (which is pretty ironic in and of itself when we're talking about freedom and unschooling, you have to admit). I saw one of the foremost spokespeople of the radical unschooling movement tell a parent at a conference who was limiting her child's use of video games that she was being "abusive." Criticize Eli's post all you want -- if it makes some of the leaders of the radical unschooling movement rethink how they present their philosophy to others, then it's all to the good.

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    1. I never said he was the only one to have issues with intolerant unschoolers. You'll notice in my post I even mentioned that people close to me have encountered such intolerance (in one case a family member of mine was told she wasn't a "real" unschooler by someone who is very prominent in the community). What I disagreed with was the generalization (and while you say Eli was clear he wasn't talking about *all* radical unschoolers, just some, I feel he wasn't so clear about that) that radical unschoolers in general are intolerant, which I don't agree with. There are way too many cases of intolerance and unkindness which really do need to be addressed in the community, but to me it's a problem with the *community*, not with *radical unschooling*, and is definitely not a reason to dismiss the whole philosophy.

      The whole tone of your comment seems really to be coming from a place of hurt and anger, and I want to say I'm really sorry that your experience with the radical unschooling community has been so negative.

      I find it unlikely that any of the biggest unschooling advocates will change their approach anytime soon, though, and personally I just listen to the voices of those I'm most drawn to, spend time with the people I connect with most, personally do my best to be welcoming and kind to people, and just don't read, listen to, or hang out with those I've found to be less than kind!

      I feel that while I'm really not impressed with how some proponents deal with people, I try to remember that all of them have been really helpful in a lot of peoples lives, so obviously their approach works for some!

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  2. Yes, yes, yes! There are some parents -- in my experience they are in the minority, but often the ones most desirous of being seen -- who largely fail to help their child navigate social situations, and allow them to engage in dangerous, unkind, hurtful behavior to other people.

    I've also seen people new to unschooling (and even some not so new, but less radical) turned away from radical unschooling by the more vocal advocates of unschooling. As a friend said to me, "for people who are all about not having rules, there sure are a lot of rules about who can call themselves unschoolers."

    Eli generalized and painted too many whole-life unschoolers (I don't use radical myself) with a very broad brush. Not having rules doesn't mean I don't tell my child it's not acceptable to hit other people, or be unkind to others, or to steal things. It means we talk about the principle behind why those actions are culturally unacceptable.

    Whole-life (radical) unschooling isn't synonymous with unparenting. I've seen plenty of parents who aren't unschoolers who unparent their children.

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    1. I really like this comment, thanks for writing it! :)

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  3. If I may ask a question and I hope it does not offend you or come off as anti-unschooling. I am new to unschooling and still have many doubts so please do not construe my naivety with disdain or something along those lines. In your post you state that while do not agree with, "traditional parenting of young kids AT ALL," you feel they need structure. Could you please expand on this structure more and what you feel they need that is not too stifling but gives them direction and focus while still retaining their freedom?

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    1. It's okay, I don't mind questions at all, and you don't sound even remotely anti-unschooling!! :)

      I do want to make it clear right away though that I have NEVER said that young kids need structure, and that's not something I would say. So I think you misinterpreted that comment a bit! What I was trying to say was very simply that I recognize that young children do not have the capabilities that older people have, and thus just need...more. More time, more help, etc.

      But when it comes to specifics... Honestly, I don't feel that I have any basis or right to give advice when it comes to young kids, because I don't have any myself, and it's too long ago for me to remember being such a young child myself! I feel comfortable speaking at length and in detail about respectful parenting and unachooling with teens, because I was a teen not long ago at all, and still have teenage friends. But I don't feel comfortable talking about the specifics of living with young children.

      I'd like to direct you to a friend though, who has younger kids and is incredibly kind and insightful. Her name is Kelly Hogaboom, and she has two blogs: http://kelly.hogaboom.org/ and
      http://underbellie.com/ and can be found on Twitter as well: https://twitter.com/#!/kellyhogaboom and https://twitter.com/#!/underbellie

      I hope you find the answers you're searching for! :)

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  4. Rules can but don't have to be absolutes -- like everything else, they can be good or bad, and they can also be flexible and evolving. On the other hand, saying all rules are always bad is an absolute (it's also a contradiction to your earlier statement that there are "lots of things that aren't okay.") If radical unschoolers take classes or go out into the community at all, they have to abide by rules. Their parents abide by rules all the time -- they stop at red lights, pay for their groceries, etc.etc., not to mention all the unspoken rules people follow all the time, such as social norms (even if unschoolers are eschewing mainstream social norms, they're creating their own). I think there may be an issue of semantics here, which I see as a big problem in many discussions about unschooling. When you say that there are some things that aren't okay, and people should be held accountable for unkind behavior, you might call those something else, but I and many others who don't think it's a bad word would call them rules (of course people may respond differently to violations of rules, so maybe what you're addressing isn't really the issue of rules, but rather consequences?). For example, based on what you've written, I think it's fair to say you agree with the tenet that hitting other people is unacceptable. So do I. In my house, "hitting others is not allowed" is a rule. It's not written down, or proclaimed or formalized in any way, but it's still a rule. I think approaching the subject of rules in an abstract and absolute way ("rules are always bad") detracts from the issues you're trying to address. I think that many parents who already embrace and actually would agree with whole life unschooling philosophies end up feeling aliented by them because of semantics.

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    1. Thank you for writing one of the most non-aggressive dissenting comments I've ever gotten! I was pondering your comment for quite a bit after I received it.

      We're always speaking or writing from our own personal experiences, what we've witnessed and felt, and I can honestly say that my experience with "rules" has not been positive. That doesn't remotely mean that everyone who has rules is a bad parent or something, it just means in my experience rules usually manifest as absolutes. And I do believe this is at least partly just an issue of semantics (I wouldn't really consider social norms and expected behavior to be rules). But... I don't know, I think there's more to the differences than just semantics. This quote by Deb Lewis really resonates with me:

      "A principle internally motivates you to do the things that seem good and right. People develop principles by living with people with principles and seeing the real benefits of such a life.

      A rule externally compels you, through force, threat or punishment, to do the things someone else has deemed good or right. People follow or break rules." (more here: http://sandradodd.com/rules)

      I'm not sure I'd choose the word "principles," but I think that perfectly sums up what I was imperfectly trying to get at. And I think the word choice DOES matter (though not as much as some unschooling discussions make out). The words we use shape how we think of things, and figuring out what words can best convey what we're trying to get at is important (though the words that different individuals choose as best to convey what amounts to the same thing might differ greatly).

      But... Even "hitting others is not allowed" as an absolute isn't good, to me. Not trying to nitpick, and it's probably because I have a sister very into self-defense, but NEVER hit anyone EVER can be a dangerous absolute to me. What if someone is trying to hurt you? then hitting could well be a very good response.

      I do have to agree with your last sentence, and I'm saddened by it (and definitely hope I haven't added to it!). Actions often say a lot more than words, and too often people are dismissed for using the "wrong" type of language.

      So ultimately, I'm not really sure how much of what you say I agree with, but I want to thank you again for such a thought provoking comment!

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    2. Thanks, Idzie. I think it's still boiling down to semantics. I understand the distinction you make between rules and principles and I basically agree with it, but I also don't think rules have to be defined that way. I agree that "hitting others is not allowed" as an absolute isn't good. As I said, I think rules can be flexible and evolving, and they should be, in fact. Flexibility is warranted when in any given situation, following the rule doesn't honor the intent of the rule. The intent of the rule "hitting others is not allowed" is not to make people unsafe -- in fact, it's just the opposite. Therefore, "breaking" it in self-defense wouldn't really be breaking it at all, because the intent of the rule is more important than practicing it literally all the time. As far as compelling people to do things through threat or punishment, I think that's akin to compelling people to do things for rewards -- i.e. both rely on extrinsic motivators, and I think intrinsic motivation is always better. So I do think we agree on a lot of things, I just don't have a problem with rules (or laws, for that matter). This doesn't mean I embrace all rules, or all laws -- kind of like you said with radical unschooling, specific incidences of "bad" radical unschooling doesn't necessarily negate the whole concept. I feel the same way about rules and laws.

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  5. I don't usually comment, but I read your section about "bad crowds" and literally said out loud, "Oh my goodness I LOVE you..." in a fairly exhasperated tone. I've been trying to word how I feel about that sort of stereotype to my friends and families for a while now, and that is the best verbiage use I've found so far.

    All that to say I plan on stealing this. A lot. Thanks!

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    1. Yay, I'm so glad that bit really resonated with you! :) Steal away. :-P

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  6. I think Milva has a great point. I think a good read on the subject of freedom is 'Freedom, License, and A.S. Neill' by Richard Barrett in the Oxford Review of Education, 7(2), pp157-164 (1981).

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    1. As I'm not part of any academic institutions and don't have access to any of their libraries, reading an academic article from a journal published in '81 isn't really something I can do!

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    2. I know I'm a year late, but this is the freedom, license article

      http://gyanpedia.in/Portals/0/Toys%20from%20Trash/Resources/books/Freeneillfinal.pdf

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  7. I hope to one day unschool the children I have, I like the freedom it gives them in their education, however I do work with young children and well most children want boundaries, that is why at times they misbehave they are testing the limits, and when I say young I mean 18 months to about 4 or 5. I'm not saying their are not ways to give them those boundaries and the freedom to chose what they want to do I really hope to find a way with my own children, but it does depend on the child's personality and other factors. Like my nephew he is 18 months and well he need boundaries and rules he is stuburn and his parents for the most part have just let him explore his world and he is hitting his mildstones however it is becoming more and more clear that he needs structure and lots of it, now not every child is like my nephew the girl I nanny for did not and dose not need the same level of structure I can let her play and explore with little to no limits, and maybe that is what you were teying to say that everyone is different and should not be put under one term and that I agree with, but like another commenter above I do wonder what type of strucutre with no rules looks like with young children?

    Sorry for any misspellings I am dyslexic and have no spell check at the moment.

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    1. I'm honestly really confused by what you mean by "structure"! And making more rules for someone stubborn just makes then dig in their heels and by MORE stubborn, in my experience. There are ways to live respectfully without rules, no matter what someone's personality is.

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    2. What I was getting at is that my nephew is rather young and while he understands a lot and can do a lot he just had a younger sister enter his life(I know I left that out of the previous comment) and well now he could hurt her if he decides to throw a toy, which he is very prone to do he loves to just chuck things across the room, or hit you, or steal the glasses off your face, all of these things are not okay for him to do and I guess when I say structure they generally try to redirect him rather then punish but his grandmother on his mother's side is more authoratative and that may be causing some of the behavior like you mentioned, but even with that he is still in general a good child and the more he is shown that those behaviors are not okay the less he does them.

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  8. In my own experience of parenting (27 years, most of them as a stay-at-home dad), children don't "want" boundaries. Boundaries are discovered as they explore the world. That's the optimum scenario in my view at least.

    I did read Eli Gerzon's article. I haven't, though, met enough unschoolers in real life to do more than surmise here about the problem of radical unschooling parents allowing their children to confirm society's worst fears ("You mark my words, it'll be just like Lord of the Flies!").

    I get the impression that what happens sometimes with radical unschoolers is they interpret the concept of freedom in ways that are perhaps not very sensible. Language can be vague at times and very susceptible to different interpretations.

    For example, during the nine years my now 16 year old son was "growing without school", he was free to do what he liked and to not do what he didn't like. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing special about that. I'm sure any sensible person would prefer to spend their time doing things that are pleasant rather than things that are unpleasant. But some people might imagine that I mean my son was free to swing from the chandeliers, eat two dozen marshmallows for breakfast, or throw my collection of Frank Sinatra LPs on the fire for the fascination of watching the vinyl melt. The fact is, when good manners are both modelled and anticipated, often what my son liked to do was to please his parents. It's been my experience that when a child can see how behaving in a certain way benefits them, they're happy to do what you suggest. Who wouldn't want to do something rewarding when it's brought to their attention?

    Living without rules is certainly possible. It requires an ability to think clearly about what you want to achieve at any given moment and to improvise an appropriate strategy. It's a skill. That is, it's something that can be learned and improved upon. If you watch the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" you'll see people who are very, very good at doing this. Parents who impose structure on their child's life and demand obedience from that child have no need of the skill; but parents who allow their child optimum freedom of choice and wait for structure to emerge naturally need to be using this skill every day in my view. I think there are radical unschoolers who don't have this skill and what happens is a child is causing problems because the person responsible for modelling and anticipating beneficial social behaviour hasn't realised the necessity of acquiring the skills that are specific to their new circumstances and can only think along the lines of responses that are simply the opposite of the conventional - "Radical unschoolers don't impose rules on their children." No they don't, but they ought to be doing something in place of that.

    My ten cents worth anyway.

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  9. Hi Idzie, I have continued to think about an issue, originally brought up by you and Eli, that's not specifically about radical unschooling but is about; Where do my kids and I belong, which homeschooling tribe? Does it matter? What do I do to allow us to belong? Is this OK? I would love your feedback, Idzie and any of your readers. I am really finding this a tricky problem! Very best wishes, Penny http://homeschoolingmiddleeast.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/does-hanging-out-with-other-homeschooling-tribes-and-enjoying-it-make-me-a-coward-a-terrible-role-model-for-my-children-or-worse-morally-bankrupt-month-4-of-learning-at-home/

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  10. My personal issue with the RU community has been what I consider their *extreme* loyalty to the RU "leaders" and the intense silencing and criticizing of anyone who tries to question the approach of said leaders. It's been sad and a little scary to see so many empowered parents shut off their critical thinking in deference to one or two gurus, and I decided to distance myself before I too was blindly loyal and attacking fellow parents for questioning. I have been practicing unschooling and respectful, connected parenting for over 20 years, and was also told (by many many of the RU community) that I wasn't a REAL unschooler if I didn't adhere to ALL the ideas of (and defend) the movement's leaders no matter what. When I publicly questioned that idea, I was told to go spend time with my kids instead of writing about unschooling. I saw this same pattern happen over and over again, right down to the "go spend time with your kids" line on the online groups and lists. I was specifically excluded from local gatherings, was the recipient of hate mail, and was harshly judged for all my life choices, even as I had been the one to start our local group and plan events and offer support and resources for many years. I stopped going to conferences, stopped getting online support, even stopped calling our family unschoolers, because I DID lump in all of the radical unschooling community with those I had encountered. I am glad to know that there are others who think it's OK to question, to explore what unschooling and parenting means for their life and family, over and over, in many different ways. There are many who ARE supporting newcomers (and anyone who is struggling) in kind and respectful ways, and that is the group I want to connect with, no matter what they call themselves.

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  11. I would agree with the last poster, and certainly understand his/her need to post anonymously. When a "leader" can have the gall to tell someone that 'they don't love their child enough' for being concerned over something like watching tv 24h/day & no one bats an eyelid, we've got a problem.

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  12. I'm pretty sure one has said anything even close to that to you or to anyone else, Arp. Having children who could watch tv if they wanted to, I have never seen one watch tV for 24 hours EVER, and have seen them go a week without turning it on.

    "...we've got a problem.." As the claim is false, the problem is straw-mannish, but "we" don't have a problem OR a solution. Each family does what each family wants to do.

    My kids are grown and happy. People ask me for ideas and I collect and share them back out.

    I think Eli's right that there are rude and too-wild kids at conferences (and elsewhere), whose parents are not coaching them well, who are not partnering with them about courtesy and etiquette. I wish they would. I wish no unschoolers chewed with their mouths open, or said the "F" word in any hotel lobby ever. I wish more unschoolers had manners at least as nice as my own children's are. They could. (Some are more mannerly than mine, too.) There's nothing on earth suggesting that when a parent helps a child learn about the world that the world shouldn't involve honesty, compassion and good manners.

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  13. Judging from the comment stream on this article and Eli's, Arp isn't the only one relating negative experiences. Are all the claims false, or is there a reason people feel alienated, judged, and in some cases attacked? I don't believe anyone has set out to hurt anyone else, but when people speak out about bad experiences, listening, hearing, and trying to understand how communication could be more successful in the future is one way to work for a positive outcome. If Eli's article was straw-mannish, I think it would have just died on the vine. Instead, several people felt empowered to speak out about their past issues, concerns, and experiences within the unschooling community, not just at conferences, but on e-lists and in support groups, which many homeschoolers and unschoolers rely on for their day-to-day lives and activities. Speaking for myself, what I would like to see in the RU movement and its leaders is an understanding that while sharing one's own beliefs about and experiences with education and child rearing is a wonderful thing, there is no one right way for everyone, and radical unschooling is not the only way to raise healthy, happy, thriving individuals. While I see the value of unschoolers gathering together at conferences and in groups to a certain extent, in the 20 years I've been involved in home education I've found much more value in groups that embrace diversity and include families with a wide range of approaches to homeschooling and child rearing.

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  14. I was an early member of the Unschooling community online nearly 20 years ago, and got to be fairly close friends--online and at conferences--with most of those who now are considered RU Leaders(until I got to know them better, and truly understand the depth of their unpleasantness). I have to tell you, sadly, that everything Eli says, and others here augment, was my experience, as well. A few extraordinarily egotistical, rude, intolerant and controlling people have nearly destroyed what was once a joyful and tolerant, open-minded ideology and community. Yes, most RU groups are now dominated by rabid Unparenting Fascists. Yes, the "gurus" are rude and insensitive and extraordinarily dismissive of any questioning and disagreement. I've watched this Cult of Sandra Dodd, in particular, grow and grow, in horror. I knew her VERY well years ago,and I saw her repeatedly, time and time again, absolutely GRIND kind and well-meaning people into the ground in her desperate need for control and to bolster her own ego (she herself was the harmed product of the sort of repressive and controlling parenting that Eli quite presciently points to as being the catalyst for many RU's eventual parenting choices) She does, indeed, have cult followers who dance all over the internet in their attempts to stamp out the fires of rebellion against Their Leader. It's been sad to watch these past 15 years, but I'm encouraged by the fact that more and more of her former "groupies" have seen the light and are appalled at the harm her nasty,overwhelming need to dominate and control the entire Unschooling conversation has done to the movement, and are speaking out.

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  15. I have seen so much change since the 'old days' of usenet support groups and can echo much of what I see voiced in the post above. The good news is there are some new groups out there who hold no leader up as a demigod.

    They have seen what happens when the newest curious community members are treated with so little respect the leader's words and websites about respect ring hollow (no matter how many times the link is posted).

    There are 'unparents' in every group, even when the behaviour is disguised as authoritarian parenting. That is not 'unschooling' behaviour.

    Find or form a group that honors each person's inner guru and their personal journey and is as respectful to new curious members as they claim to be to their children. The world will be a better place for your efforts.

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  16. i find it rather odd to talk about not making choices for our children and not "making" them do things. Unschooling IS a choice you are making for children, just as my parents made me go to church, and moved us according to my Dad's job issues. those were big life choices they made for us.we didnt control that. just as you make the unschooling choice for your own children, unless children are actually involved in an honest, comprehensive decision about which kind of school they might like, it is still the parental "whim" that controls how a child lives until they arent children and can decide for themselves. Radical unschooling criticisms aside...it is still the parent that makes the choice. having grown up in a religious home, overtime ive learned that most "dogma" is not to be trusted....and that people who spend all their time professing their beliefs do so at the expense of actually living their lives.

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