Living Large With This “Un” Thing

(July 24 REVISION NOTE) Maggie blogs about unschooling from a practitioner’s perspective and more at Process. She and I have batted definitions and concepts around online, in both public and private conversations. I’m a newcomer. She has become my go-to practitioner and sounding board, so I asked Maggie to reflect on an almost-final draft of this article. The result: a synthesis of her reactions, and my re-reflections on her input. Whose is whose? A lesson. Must be “ours”. This is all Maggie’s fault…thanks, Maggie. I mean that, seriously.

Defining “It”…A Snipe Hunt?

Deming said we must operationally define something before we can truly understand it. Same meaning for everyone every time. So, what the heck IS “radical unschooling”? Is it a subset of alternative education? Some form of extreme homeschooling? I’ve learned that saying stuff like that is likely to put a radical unschooling practitioner on the offensive right off the bat, simply by expecting them to clarify and define what “it” is. Doing so is evidently so…. un Un. Maybe you need to really live “it” to really understand “it”?

The philosophical counter is “the question isn’t ‘what IS it? The answer is what it ISN’T”. OK…do we even need a definition? This is a whopper of a dilemma: terms drive perception, perception drives acceptance, acceptance leads to action which triggers change. To which my friend Maggie observed: “Terms are innocent little beings. Conditioning about the terms drives perception.”

One of Maggie’s recent posts was a quote from Beverley Paine, a practitioner in Australia, used with permission: “Radical unschoolers take the principles of unschooling and apply it holistically across all areas of life, not just to the ‘education’ of their children. It’s not simply living without school and the whole school paradigm of education, and it’s way more than living without ‘boundaries’ and ‘rules’ – it’s living with trust and respect, relationships and connections as the drivers of all actions.”

My first response:  Nice! So it IS a social-cultural evolution (revolution?), and it is truly a radical one. Can you imagine a “traditional” business going Un? Politicians “living with trust and respect, relationships and connections as the drivers of all actions”?? An un-society?! Maybe the holdup with broad acceptance is how do you “do it?” (dammit, there I am needing a roadmap again…) Waiting for the instruction manual, a cookie cutter recipe. But then, you don’t “do Un” do you?

Maggie’s reply: In the early days, I’d say, “Instead of rules, we have principles.” It starts with raising babies with responsiveness (instead of reacting to the baby) and compassion (instead of “training”). The longer you do it, the more you realize that if everyone in society did this, government would transform or not be needed at all. Enter voluntaryism, (a mindset not an action) that mindful living with respect that softens the harsh stereotype that follows misunderstood anarchy around!

There is no cookie cutter recipe, dear society, you know why?? Because it requires going within, deschooling internally and accepting one’s own self healing from patriarchy, and then spiraling out as the gifts we give to the world. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. But, as individuals not matching cookies.

Seems the RU community struggles with definitions too, although many just say “defining it is so un-Un!” Maggie has been “…trying to evolve towards new terminology.” One descriptive phrase is “whole life evolution without school.” And another: “…unschooling is really unconditioning (breaking away, deprogramming) from the authoritarian paradigm…to apply it to all of life for me and for (son) Sean, I am choosing the term evolution. For now. That’s the thing about RU, the process IS continuously evolving. The mold cannot be static.”

I’m well aware I am in full-tilt-boogie unconditioning (deprogramming?) mode, and that my personal evolution is bound to continue. Evolution…maybe that’s what this is all about?

When a practitioner talks about why unschooling works…the “principles” if you will, it always strikes me. These are a mirror of principles of effective leadership, building strong relationships, creating a society that’s vibrant and alive. There’s a whole lot more than “radical unschooling” here.

What attributes and knowledge might hasten humanity’s collective evolution? These are pertinent areas where I feel we need a whole lot more understanding. Add yours, please!

  • Exploring the human condition, understanding human behavior on both the “me” and “us” level: what makes me who I am, what makes us who we are? Where do I want to go on my journey, how we can take the journey as a tribe? Because humans are naturally social creatures, and it’s a lot more fun when you’re in good company too!
  • “Diversity” on Steroids. Inclusion, individuality, valuing differences….each person is a sovereign individual with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…do we really buy into those words? If so, why is the notion of following our intrinsic motivators, of identifying and exploring our own unique path so objectionable?
  • The social sciences, as opposed to stuff-in-a-beeker science only;
  • Understanding how humans really learn and promoting the right methods and learning conditions that allow each individual to grow and thrive rather than being so intent on restricting our natural state and stuffing ourselves into standard compartments;
  • Civil discourse. Advocacy helps to get your point of view recognized…but how much? Senge, Bohm and others have explored the roles of inquiry and advocacy in meaningful dialog. Without getting too conceptual, fact is we’re lousy conversationalists and even worse at effective group decision-making. And isn’t that what makes democracy and society go around? Passive, aggressive, or assertive: which is ideal? In middle school, it’s taught that door #3 is the grand prize. But the school environment produces passive kids and is teeming with aggressive teachers. Physician heal thyself)
  • Re-awakening, re-connecting, becoming fully aware individually and collectively;
  • Civics, government (used to be “social studies”)…what it means to be an informed, involved citizen in a democratic society. Learning how awake and aware people can and must work within the system to change the world. Know the ropes, make a difference.

Sidebar: it says above that “people can and must work within the system to change the world”. To which Maggie replied “But I’m working outside of the system right now, and making a difference!” I think what I’m thinking is driven by impatience to see something of substance take hold and move mountains. Individual practitioners are fiercely independent, as they should be. It takes personal commitment and action, no cookie cutters allowed! But is there such a thing as influencing others’ evolutionary process, of influencing society? If so, would it be more feasible working from within?

We’re sadly ignoring the above crucial learnings for the most part, swimming upstream against our human nature. And it’s sapping our strength. That cluster of esoterica enables explorers to fully embrace the three R’s with a purpose. Why not go with the flow, let the game come to us? Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic must take a back seat. We’ll more completely master the three R’s only if and when it serves our purpose to do so. Otherwise it’s non value-adding noise, and force-feeding begets stress, burnout, failure. This is really tough for traditionals to come to terms with; it flies against the winds of authoritarian education, relationships, society.

Un doesn’t just apply to kids and unschooling. What are the impacts of un un behavior (read that carefully) on the workplace, government, society? Un-un leads to stress, burnout, failure, dysfunctional relationships, and toxic, me-first competitive and confrontational environments. Sounds familiar?

We need a serious dose of unadulting.

Sidebar Two: the term “the three r’s” is obsolete as all get-out, and I’m dating myself. Traditional education’s methods and curriculum are obsolete too. We may as well still be doing the three r’s.

Back to Defining The Big “It”

  • “It” is basic stuff—leadership attributes, engagement and motivation theory;
  • “It” is science and research-based: brain research, learning theory, music therapy;
  • “It” is spiritual–mindfulness, flow, yoga, meditation;
  • “It” is personal–social-emotional development / emotional intelligence.

“It” is a virus, we’re all carriers. “It” is leveraging what we know about all that stuff to illuminate the path toward sustainable fulfillment, first for ourselves then for our kids and anyone around us. “It” is sharing firsthand accounts of how Un has truly made a difference in our lives, “it” is drinking up our human nature, because it tastes amazing. “It” is helping others to more fully understand because we need them. Individuals can accomplish things, but only when we reach critical mass will we enable the continuing evolution of human consciousness on a grand scale. Just my opinion!

I’ve been soap-boxing this over and over forever, because I truly believe it’s a species survival issue. We have a desperate need to reconnect with our self-worth and our humanity, with our Self, with others, with the world around us. Once connections start growing, the healing begins and the good spreads. Crossover kicks in once the Self is well-connected. Like a brain’s pathways healing after a stroke, other connections come so much easier. It’s natural, it’s the way we’re wired.

Big Bucks Questions….

So you can’t “do” radical unschooling without first changing your Self and your little corner of the world. Makes sense. But, how can you further the cause with others? How can you help fence-sitters and non-believers see the light and, better yet, engage? Go back to the para after the bullets.

Why stop at “unschooling”? Un is a state of mind and a way of life–a movement. It may sounds a little crazy, but let your latent creative Self connect with that grand notion and envision what it would be like to step up to the all-you-can-un, no time limit buffet. You may not want to leave.

It Starts With Me. I’ll take one big honkin’ plate…just one at a time.

Part One connects rising youth suicides and the workplace skills gap, here.

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