Confessions of a Radical Unschooling Neophyte

I’m an Un uninitiate, a non-expert, non-practitioner but I’m more than an interested bystander. That’s got to change, because the radical unschooling movement mirrors what I’ve been searching for in the private sector: a creative, fun, exploration-intensive environment built on relationships of trust, honesty, respect, compassion and mutual respect. Workers deserve it and perform incredibly better under those conditions. So do kids. Data on job and academic performance, and on peoples’ overall happiness and satisfaction with life is plentiful.

Radical Unschooling (RU) is too extreme for some, or if they’re interested they may not know where to start. But traditional education is failing in so many well-documented ways that more parents are seeking alternatives. Mine field! Fads and hucksters sprinkled among genuine principles and real practitioners. Isolated local education systems are putting on “progressive” window dressings while staying mostly traditional, still bound to executing their marching orders. Limited changes = limited success, barely scratching the surface of what could be.

My outsider perspective can be useful to the unschooling movement. I’ve studied RU and have lots of neophyte questions. And my misperceptions are surely typical of other non-practitioners looking for education alternatives, or who may be Un supporters if they knew more.

This turned into a two-parter when I wasn’t looking:

  1. Where I feel I can most contribute to the RU movement, and why I am compelled to be involved. The latter will help readers understand my point of view and why I am so intent on making a meaningful contribution;
  2. A few specific areas where it appears to me the movement could use some clarity, a compelling narrative for other neophytes, an identity for the practitioner community.

Go Large. Un is a State of Mind, a Way of Life.  I’ve always been a Blue Sky Big Picture guy. What has really grabbed me is the growing school of thought that “The Big Un” references a whole lot more than unschooling. It’s a social movement and unschooling is just one element. The sweeping potential of Big Un needs clarity, and it needs to become more concrete for myself and for others. It’s the most personally compelling part of this mission.

More and more Un Believers are aware they’re making the world a better place. That bigness may scare some people off, but the significance cannot be ignored. Just for starters, if an adult is to fully understand unschooling as a practitioner, they must fully live it. And Big Un applies to big kids at work, in politics (hell, yeah) and for what ails us socially as well. Un offers the best shot we have at salvaging a better life in a more sustainable society.

Worth repeating: Big Un is humanity’s best shot at recapturing our humanity. It’s survival of the species. Practitioner parents—all of us—need prep work. And NOT in academics and pedagogy!

Looking Outward. PR for unschooling specifically and Big Un must build mainstream acceptance and support by targeting non-practitioners, everyday people. I am committed to growing awareness among others at the same beginner level of understanding as I, bridging a gap from the RU community to the general public, building broad grassroots support, possibly growing the practice of unschooling and broad adoption of Big Un principles. That is overwhelmingly compelling in its bigness. And it’s admittedly tough for me to focus in on RU only…for now.

For me to pursue this mission I first need to grow my own awareness and understanding of what’s right, what’s wrong. Maybe there’s no such thing as right or wrong, just “is”?

All of this has all been thoroughly dissected within the RU community already, and it would not only be delusional but rude to propose changes or offer grand new improvements. The goal is simpler: to promote awareness, greater understanding of, and support for RU–not within the community but among the everyday population, people like me.

We All Need a Little Good Press Now and Then

There needs to be a target adjustment for a PR awareness campaign. Why preach to practitioners and professionals? Hit the non-practitioners. Where I may provide value:

Break down the more baffling elements of Un to a basic, everyday people level:

  1. RU in general, including hefty doses of benefits selling. Short pieces for local media, presentations to local civic groups. Replicate, make readily available to others;
  2. Interpret scientific stuff that may scare potential practitioners away: brain and learning theory, early childhood development, environmental support elements. So much of that is gobble de gook to most folks, no wonder they don’t want to take the plunge.

I speak the private sector’s language and understand their thinking. Employers will more fully embrace and even come to prefer unschooled candidates when they understand what and who they will be getting. Employer WIIFM is clear: RU improves the quality and depth of the future talent pool, providing candidates with what the new work environment demands: highly adaptive critical thinkers who are creative and thirsty for new knowledge, and are more emotionally connected to their sense of purpose. No bricks in the wall here.

Make a non-threatening case for RU for the traditional education community. Our shared Mission One should target the most critical common denominator—our kids. This may be akin to juggling lit dynamite, but there are good people being held hostage by a bad system. I’m guessing some would be powerful allies, potential deep-cover operatives hidden among the hostages. Some have already managed to escape that authoritarian dictatorship and are part of the RU practitioner population. How do you converts feel about connecting with your ex-peers?

LIGHTNING BOLT….I hate internal arguments, they are not winnable. A real-time epiphany: is there such a thing as working within the system, is there value in trying to win over traditional educators? I’ve been plenty critical of the establishment, and rightly so. Is RU an all-or-none, revolutionary replacement of the current, broken system? Is coexistence at all possible?

The most compelling high-impact goal is to connect the dots: identify common themes, goals and needs among sectors. RU community > traditional education > government > community / society > private sector / business…we’re all in this together. With a systemic, all-stakeholder effort so much more would be possible. It’s more than parenting and child development. It’s a way of life and state of mind, a social transformation. But only if all understand and embrace The Big Un.

Why Do I Want to Be Involved?

We can and must do better for the kids, ourselves, society. Top personal drivers:

  • The traditional education system is doing irreparable harm to our young people. A top cause of the alarming increase in middle school suicide rate is academic pressure to perform. And to conform. Add peer bullying to the mix. America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate
  • Young people who do survive the education system are ill-equipped for college or the workplace, unprepared emotionally for life. It’s well-documented: the traditional system isn’t delivering the goods, and the system can’t or won’t respond to pressures to adapt.
  • US youth’s level of creativity and critical thinking is plummeting. Peter Gray examines this in As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity, first posted Sep 17, 2012. It’s even more relevant today with the situation arguably worsening considerably. 
  • Kids cannot perform outside of standard, canned responses, memorized answers. The US is not doing so well there either by global standards. Creativity and critical thinking are the two most essential new workplace skills, and we’ve lost our edge. Our talent pool is shallow and muddy, and our ability to compete globally is in serious danger. The private sector guy in me says that’s unacceptable, it can be resolved.
  • I love my grandkids. If I live long enough to meet them, I’m sure I’d feel the same about their kids. I want to do all I can to ensure they all have a decent place to live, a fulfilling life. We cannot get there going down the path we’re on. It’s that simple.

The Biggie Closer. Our education system continues to fail our kids, we continue to lose them. RU is powerful in part because it allows kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the good, no the survival, of kids of all ages.

Too many good people are soured on life. You can see it in their eyes, the spirit is sucked out of them. Their body language screams “I hate my life!” We’re wandering through the desert and we’ve given up on ever reaching the Promised Land. No purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment, no closure. We’ve done it to our Selves from early childhood on. And that’s wrong. We must win  back our mojo. It starts with Big Un as a way of life, state of mind.

Is that being a totally drunk-on-the-koolaid idealist? I think not. We need whole-life “Un”. And I like it. That’s why I care.

*****************************

Expert practitioners, your patience in helping me grow in my understanding would be greatly appreciated. Besides parts one and two, I’ve written other blogs on the above and more. These are perpetual works-in-process, on a low-traffic site I use to collect my thoughts and share with a select audience. If you get a chance, check them out. Help me learn, please?

1.      Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

2.      (Part Two) Living Large With This “Un” Thing.

Part Two, Radical Unschooling Narrative for Neophytes is an overview of my neophyte perception of radical unschooling and the Big Un movement, and where my current understanding tells me we need more awareness and support by crafting a compelling narrative. I need your insights—thanks!

 

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