Radical Unschoolers, Come Out of the Shadows. We Need You!

Request For Practitioner Input

I’m a radical unschooling non-expert, non-practitioner and so far I haven’t been much more than a highly interested bystander. That has to change, because radical unschooling mirrors what I’ve been searching for in the private sector, and in the traditional education system too: an exploration-intensive, creative, fun environment built on trust, honesty, respect, compassion and mutual respect. Workers deserve those things and perform at an incredibly higher level under those conditions (hey CEO’s…that means big bottom line impacts). Kids thrive in that environment too. Data on job and academic performance, and on peoples’ overall happiness and satisfaction with life is plentiful.


Proposed: RU needs a narrative, needs to go more mainstream. However, a practitioner warned me “…narrative might be hard to define – one reason it hasn’t been yet – many RU’ers are anarchists, and if they aren’t, they have been so jaded by the system that they are anti statists. Organization into narrative is almost antithetical. So how to get the buy in for that?”

How, indeed. I’m realistic enough to know I can’t expect to make an immediate impact. How does an outsider connect with the RU community? I need practitioners’ perspectives:

  • What can be done to strengthen the RU movement / community’s position?
  • Would a narrative (PR campaign, branding) help public perception, boost RU’s legitimacy?
  • Is it even feasible or desirable to “formalize” RU beyond a set of universal principles? How far to go? The general public is addicted to specifics, structure, process. But is all that “anti-un”?
  • Is there really a fear among practitioners that keeps them in the shadows? If true, why? How can that fear be eradicated, or at least minimized?
  • While among practitioners things may be “OK” and as they should be, does RU need a better public image, a little external PR?
  • Is RU positioned appropriately as-is, a fringe alternative to human development and to life? No need to go further?

In Senge’s terminology, I am elevating my assumptions to encourage open reflection and meaningful dialogue. In simpler terms, I need to know what practitioners think before I come to any conclusions. This is one outsider’s honest but uninformed questions and observations. What I’m thinking so far… RU needs a more cohesive identity, not within the community but externally with the general public. Understanding and acceptance of RU would lead to greater societal inclusion, and unlearners being able to practice openly, without fear. Maybe even recognition of the legitimacy of RU, and of the impact potential for significant contribution by unlearners to society and the workplace.

First, the bulleted questions above need answers from the RU community. Man, would I love to be a mouse in the corner at a panel discussion among practitioners on those questions! In the meantime, I hope the hands-on experts will help me understand.

It’s time for the kitty to escape the burlap…as an outsider non-practitioner, I’ve always viewed RU as a social movement, a world changer. I honestly think if we continue on this path humanity will  exterminate itself. And I’m not talking nukes, climate change, famines or epidemics alone. It will be extinction triggered by Terminal Lost Mojo, for lack of a better term for now.


How Did I Get Here?

I’m a hopeless idealist in search of the right way to make a meaningful contribution toward saving the world. Not asking for much, am I?(!). My long-time belief that took hold in the private sector is that you must tend to “people” needs or tasks won’t get done nearly as well as they could. So while social change and the environment are in the mix for causes, my real priority has been the social-emotional state of the species. We’re a mess.

My focus eventually shifted to kids’ social-emotional (s-e) well-being, working within the education system. But it became clear in a hurry that the roots of our social issues are much deeper. It’s bigger than kids and education. And traditional educators’ mindsets are far too deeply entrenched, so working within the system was next to impossible. So I looked outside.

End result: a casual dip in the pool became a cliff dive into human development, plunging head-long into whole-life learning–radical unschooling. Murky waters for a newcomer! In the meantime, my passion for changing the world intensified but project specifics remain an elusive, fast-moving target. I’m still looking for a clear narrative of my own, but I do know that RU plays a major role. I just don’t know what role I can play.

Apparently, fear forces some RU practitioners into the shadows where they keep a low profile and quietly go about their business. That dumbfounds me, because to me they are doing things the right way: focusing on learners and their needs first. RU deserves to go mainstream, it needs to be fully understood and supported by the public. I’ve stated it many times, I believe it deep in my soul….RU can become the world-changer that society desperately needs. By my book, it’s not just about lifelong learning and social-emotional well-being, but social and physical survival of the species. It’s a major piece to the radical transformation puzzle that humanity needs to figure out.

RU: Current State.

As these are my outsider observations, they should be fairly representative of other everyday people. No offense intended, but the RU practitioner community appears to be filled with big egos, infighting, fiercely guarded individuality, dueling experts, highly independent people. Is that a by-product of the environment of fear practitioners live within? Practitioner friends have agreed this is too often reality, but I need to learn more. I can’t imagine there is truly no mortar between all the high quality individual bricks. The building is unsteady and in danger of collapsing, no matter how strong and functional each brick may be. Lack of a cohesive, unified community is, in my opinion, a significant issue.

Refer back to the up-front bullets. I have yet to come across a shared narrative that says “here’s what we do and why it’s important”. There doesn’t seem to be an advocacy group in the political arena to represent the interests of practitioner parents and their partners. No community advocacy, no main street outreach to build support. No voice telling potential employers about the amazing quality of job candidates who are brought up in a highly-principled, creative, self-directed environment.

It’s likely I’m missing something, so I’ll ask…are these valid observations so far. And, are they important things to consider or shuld we just leave well enough alone?  I really don’t know.

Maybe I’m too hung up on this cohesiveness / community unity thing. I come by it honestly, from my experience in various sectors with diverse entities, including in education, struggling mightily with alignment and cultural issues, some going under as a direct result. How dangerous is it for RU to be misaligned and fragmented right now, given education’s current direction under this administration? It appears there are storm clouds brewing and RU must somehow come together with a strong community presence–a legitimate, established movement or it could get swept under the rug by that profit-driven, authoritarian regime.

Traditional education is failing in so many well-documented ways that more parents are seeking alternatives. This is a period of potential high growth for RU, but it’s a mine field for the uninformed. Fads and hucksters are well-hidden among genuine, principled practitioners. Radical unschooling is too extreme for some, others may not know where to start, and despite the uncertainties some are still desperate enough to try anything. RU needs consistency and community, needs an identity, needs a narrative to ensure safe passage out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Narrative…Anti-radicalization Wonder Vaccine?

I just saw an interview with ex neo Nazi skinhead Christian Picciolini, author of ‘Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.’ Christian noted young people are much more likely to radicalize into gangs when they have no other source for identity, community and purpose.

Déjà vu…three years ago I was trading notes on LinkedIn with an Iraqi terrorism expert (fast crowd, huh?) who noted that when those same things are lacking, it is a significant enough deficiency that it can make even ISIS appealing for young Muslims. Was it the same for people buying into Hitler? Is it the same for people buying into our current nationalism? (sorry… I swore this wouldn’t get political)

Identity, community and purpose are among the most powerful universal human needs, right up there with love, compassion and being connected. Those principles are, in my opinion, where society has fallen apart at the seams. They’re also high on the list of what makes RU work.

Here’s Christian’s FB page. Looks like a good deal of very interesting perspective.  Finding this is timely because I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of narrative to a community, to any group, way beyond a “mission statement “ (those morphed into such rubber stamp yawners…). Narrative, branding, image… a compelling and concise thumbnail of what the community stands for, why it exists…its purpose, its identity. Add shared values / social norms to the list. All in all, the essence of the group’s mojo. The US has lost its mojo.

Narrative Can Promote Awareness, Understanding, Acceptance

Again, target is the general public, the mainstream. But “acceptance” meaning what, by whom?

  • The establishment. We’re looking at a messed up political / education policy horizon with for-profit education and privatization. How can the RU community defend its rights and with what? Non-believers will want to see proof and the more airtight the case the better.
  • The masses. Educate to encourage more people to embrace alternative ed as practitioners, or at least as community supporters and advocates.
  • The law. Compliance is a nuisance at the very least and a deterrent to more widespread practice at the worst. Needed: strong advocacy with policy makers, and the backing of a solid grass roots movement. “They” won’t be as prone to bully something they can’t whup on.
  • They don’t know what they are missing…a talent pool stocked with creative, passionate, purposeful, principles-centered lifelong learners. Just the intrinsic qualities the new workplace most needs. This is my wheelhouse, the private sector can be an incredible ally if there’s greater profit involved.

Greater Good, Whole-life Learning…Yadda, Yadda, What Does It Matter?

My private sector responsibilities included studying human behavior, especially engagement and motivation theory. AHA! Employees (bad word!) perform better when their work is purposeful, there is a clear and compelling vision, and their values are met. My role included current workforce skills and future workforce preparation, so scope naturally grew into education. No surprise: kids are people too! The same drivers affect young people and adults alike, with the same performance-boosting results. It’s too simple: people are more satisfied and less stressed, and deliver better results, when their social-emotional needs are tended to. That’s been well-validated by decades of research. Still, we choose to ignore the obvious in education, the workplace, politics, society.

I have a hunch there are many others who have experienced this: it’s so easy to get caught up in all the political flotsam and major global threats that lately I’ve felt like I’m losing sight of what is truly important—the s-e, the spiritual. The beliefs system of my Native ancestors speaks to me… connecting with Mother Earth and everyone / everything around me.

My Vision Quest, my journey around the Medicine Wheel starts with connecting with my Self. Being mindful of who I am and what I am here for and living accordingly. Having something and or someone to believe in, that reason to get out of bed and put up with whatever shit the day will throw at me. Being centered and purposeful makes us Teflon, baby!

Empathy can really suck. Too many good people are soured on life. You can see it in their eyes, their spirit is drained. Their body language and facial expressions scream “I hate my life!” No purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment, no closure. Wandering through the desert, no hope of ever reaching the Promised Land. We’ve done it to our Selves from early childhood on. That is so wrong. We can  re-discover our mojo, what it means to be human. Am I a drunk-on-the-koolaid idealist? I think not.

Outside looking in again…to me, there are so many high-powered, extremely devoted and highly committed experts researching, writing and practicing, but primarily for peers. It’s a closed group that can be zealously protective. So here I come—a non-credentialed, inexperienced, unqualified commoner proposing a PR campaign.

If RU is to go mainstream and become capable of weathering potential attacks and resistance from the establishment, John and Mary Everyman must be the real targets of an awareness-building campaign. The mainstream can be understandably discouraged, disconnected, frustrated, confused with what looks like voodoo mumbo-jumbo. They don’t know where to start, what to do. “Radical” unschooling (even the name is intimidating!) and other alternative education methods, mindfulness, yoga, spirituality, social-emotional learning and development, engagement, purpose, values…the huge need is to drive things down to an everyday, mainstream, grassroots level of relevance.

This from a practitioner was a raw nerve statement for me… “It’s not just the best for kids, it’s also very healing for parents. In fact I believe it will be a huge factor in healing humanity from the wounds of authoritarianism and so much of the other fucked up shit we’ve done to each other since we became “civilized.”

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…RU can be a world-changer.

Next up, some observations on what everyday people like me may need to know more about, to better understand RU and its impact potential.

What Should The RU General Public Narrative Include?

http://wp.me/p4xnz1-81   (part two)


4 thoughts on “Radical Unschoolers, Come Out of the Shadows. We Need You!

  1. Heather Greenwood

    Hello Craig- Great post. RU is definitely getting more on the radar lately (thank you internet!). We are fairly new to RU (less than 2 years) and wish we would have started sooner. Our experience has been extremely positive. There is less stress in the whole family, more engagement, and the kids self direct their learning. Freedom isn’t free, it’s a choice. I just read this morning of an Iowa school that puts troubled kids into a “hole”, like solitary confinement in prison (!!!).

    The problem is that change is hard. People I talk to about change in school tell me “but it’s always been done this way” or either have nothing to say or they’ll challenge the idea of unschooling with things like “how will your kids get into college?” or “what do they do all day, sit and play video games?”

    I like the questions you’ve come up with so far. I think the tipping point will happen when the awareness around the idea is better understood. It’s a foreign idea to most. The more we talk about its core philosophy, show people how it works and what it looks like, people can then see for themselves how it impacts kids positively all around.

    1. Craig Post author

      Hi Heather-thanks for joining in. You probably noticed I’m a non-practitioner but I’m working on the advocacy end of things, for the general public to become more aware and accepting. So when someone “new” comes along I have a badgillion questions! They’ll be coming, so be forewarned!!
      I saw your blog-haven’t have time to dive in yet but looks really interesting. You noted a story about an Iowa school that uses “the dungeon technique”…a link? Are you an Iowegian? I’m in Central Iowa. The Greenwood name rings a Hawkeye Football bell, but that would be a huge coincidence!

  2. Heather Greenwood

    Hi Craig- I very much appreciate the work you’re doing to spread awareness about RU, and just being a champion for children in general. The children can’t do it alone. I’ve become passionate about it too, as our former experiences in school settings have been disappointing, to say the least, and its made me want to do more to help people see there is a better way for kids that don’t involve things like “holes” to be put into. Here’s the link on that https://dondivamag.com/iowa-schools-seclusion-rooms-seem-to-only-be-the-hole-for-little-troubled-kids/

    Anything I can do to help! I am from Temecula, a fun little town in Southern California, known for its wine country and located between San Diego and Los Angeles.

    I just started another wordpress site The Future Belongs To The Curious, so if you see comments coming from there too, that’s me! 🙂

  3. Craig Post author

    Thanks, Heather-very pleased to make your acquaintance. Stay tuned for more on the advocacy front–so much possibility and need. I glanced at your wp site and definitely plan on reading up when time allows


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