In Part One Confessions of a Radical Unschooling Neophyte I shared where I feel I can most contribute to the RU movement, and why I am compelled to be involved. By explaining my intent and point of view I hoped to convince others I’m able and determined to make a meaningful contribution.
Here in Part Two I’ll describe a few specific areas where it appears to me that RU could use some clarity, especially when it comes to other neophytes. The movement needs more boots on the ground beyond practitioners and a targeted PR effort will help in recruitment.
A Rose By Any Other Name. I’ll use “RU” until the community determines whether it should be called something else. No matter which label, we need to develop a compelling narrative for RU for the uninformed general population. That’s the target, it’s the only realistic one for my level of influence and expertise.
To regular people, “radical” and “unschooling” together is a downright baffling, scary term. And people tend to avoid that which is scary. Speaking of “scary”…RU folks are a unique breed, and that’s meant in a positive way. They are visionary, insightful, committed, values-driven, strong-willed. But that can be an issue. It’s difficult for regular folks to understand much less support RU if we can’t relate to practitioners and feel we belong as a meaningful part of the movement. RU needs a broad base of support for it to be all that it is capable of, and practitioners need to reach out, be more inclusive.
Un is a state of mind where trust is key, fear is a liar, and compassion drives respect and acceptance. (Maggie at Process)
Embrace by Letting Go. Unschooling is getting out of the way, letting kids’ naturally inquisitive and creative nature take over, letting go of authoritarian, control-freak parenting and teaching. But silent and deep runs the Dark Side of the Force and this is a real challenge for newcomers and long-time practitioners alike. We need some serious de-schooling.
Elevate Big Un Principles (is “Attributes” Better?) to the social norms they could / should be. Some in the RU community seem to resist having clear cut principles that define RU. Would that be too close to “rules” which would be such an un-Un control freak restriction, contrary to “letting go”? Principles represent a solid potential values system, one of the essential elements of developing strong group identity. Values are a “must” for internal cohesiveness and external growth, especially critical for those debating whether it’s safe to jump on board.
There is actually an abundance of principles-looking attributes that drive Un. They’re just not yet formalized into one “official list”, again that would be so un-Un. The biggest challenge would be agreeing on which attributes to include in “the” list. Is there already a one-size-fits-all collection of Un Principles?
Do What’s Natural. Beyond letting go, the most important thing a parent must do is to better understand the basics of human nature and brain theory–how our minds process information, especially young minds. Then make sure kids attain a high state of emotional development and readiness to learn, something traditional schools largely ignore. Parents have a good deal to learn to fully embrace unschooling and it has nothing to do with reading, writing and arithmetic. But first, embrace by letting go. “Trust in the Force you must, Luke!” Interesting.
Nimowashe is a Japanese bansai gardening concept: prepare the tree for planting. It is essential to craft the right environment conducive to relaxation, learning, creativity: provide the most comfortable and stimulating surroundings possible–lighting, music / white noise, kinesthetic doodads and mind-stretching playthings. Can’t get enough.
Provide, or Facilitate, the Environment? RU is letting go, empowering the learner to explore their own path in the environments of their choosing. “Craft the right environment” above is a different level. It’s not directing the child’s thinking, but providing the surroundings that sharpen their vision and increase their thirst. Nimowashe: prepare the tree for planting so whatever the learner explores has a fully receptive, maximum capacity container. We can enhance self-directed learning effectiveness through scientifically validated methods. Not methods of instruction or specific content, but elements that enable maximum freedom, creative thinking and learning to take place.
Live Well and Prosper. This is so critical that it can and should still be “taught” and continuously reinforced–practices that keep the mind and body at maximum receptivity. Practices should be modeled with the young learner, a great way to connect by spending purposeful time together. Some adults have trouble with physical and mental / emotional / spiritual well-being: relaxation, mindfulness, basic yoga (call it “disciplined stretching”). Start young to develop good habits without pressure, a routine of fine-tuning the mind-body relationship. Not to prep for “doing something” like studying, but treating yourselves to a regular feel-good session practitioners learn to look forward to. “Good” chemicals are released and the body and mind learn to crave them. It’s an addiction but a positive one.
If a learner chooses at some point to really dive into the spiritual stuff it sure won’t hurt them or the world a bit. And isn’t that the way this unschooling is supposed to work?
Can You Go Part Way? My paradigms are strong. I’m aware that being unable to let go of every shred of ingrained authoritarian thinking is a personal barrier. This “environment” question is a prime example. Does RU necessitate total freedom to choose and explore whatever with no influence, or is it OK to provide the right environmental elements to fully empower the learner to choose and explore? (I know, I know…the answer is “yes!”). A bigger question: is it possible for home-schoolers to ease into RU, learning and applying a few of the principles for starters to get comfortable? OR even more challenging, how does a parent make the Grand Canyon leap from traditional to RU? Isn’t a little bit better than none? Practitioners weigh in, please!
Maximum potential cannot be reached in a bricks and mortar classroom where administrators and traditionally educated teachers must pay homage to The Holy Curriculum and Pedagogy.
Well-Centered. Unschooling is an individual thing, no bricks and mortar needed. Buildings can even be artificial barriers…”you must go to school to learn.” Still, I can’t shake the notion of a “center”, an infatuation I’ll admit is selfish. It would allow non-practitioners a chance to support unschooling in a meaningful way even though, like me, they are past parenting.
Maybe a center is an unschooling-friendly location with all the right environmental elements for explorers, a resource center for those who can’t provide it on their own. Or an information source for people wanting to learn more or who need a little passive guidance. An Un Center could host informal peer coaching or information-sharing events. DANGER! The moment there is too much structure, too many programs, we cross over to the Dark Side! A fine line.
One objection to RU is that it doesn’t provide enough socializing opportunities. How about hosting group gatherings? Not planned or structured activities, simply provide the place and a reason for un learners to come together and let whatever happens happen. (Socializing Sidebar: “socializing” in the traditional school setting typically comes with heavy baggage– bullying among peers and rampant competitiveness, making alternative education even more attractive.
These are just a few RU talking points that I feel should be developed into the right narrative for neophytes. Now I need insights from the community. Where can I be best used for the greater RU good? Keeping the target in mind, what should the narrative be? Oh….forgot to mention: I have no interest in becoming “the” messenger. I’m happy with being part of crafting the message. But if I get the chance to be directly involved in delivery, I sure wouldn’t turn it down!
There’s so much deschooling we need, so much new to learn…a little help? I recently wrote a couple of blogs on all the above and more:
These are work-in-process, on a low-traffic site I use to collect my thoughts and share with just a few people. If you get a chance, check them out. I do need your insights—thanks!