“Radical” Unschooling–Just Doing What’s Natural

I’m a radical unschooling non-expert, non-practitioner and for some time I wasn’t much more than a highly interested bystander. But I’ve become passionate in my advocacy for RU.

By default, I see my role as limited to outreach–an awareness-builder who is connected to the RU community but mostly working with the general public and private sector.

Result: I’m straddling a barb wire fence, interfacing with experts and practitioners while tailoring my message to uninitiates / neophytes like myself. Worrying about appearing to be a presumptuous, meddling outsider among practitioners, and talking over the heads of non-practitioners. As my blogs begin to find their way into the RU practitioner community, this up-front disclaimer became necessary.

The private sector is critical—we need their support and buy-in for RU specifically, and for the social movement generally. So my intent with this post is to ease private sector angst by showing how RU is very engagement-intensive, something most business leaders are quite familiar with and value highly. They should want, and they NEED unschoolers who have grown up as explorers within a creative and highly engaging environment.

As a neophyte student / non-practitioner, my understanding of the issues is limited. If I’ve  unintentionally ground any sacred cows into burgers I apologize. That said, how do you like yours cooked? Oh…I can do tofu too.


This thing called “radical unschooling” confuses me. I guess it’s “radical” because it’s homeshcooling to the extreme. But it’s not RU that is “radical”. What is radical is the way we try to educate young people then manage them in the workplace, the way we expect all ages of people to happily accept an authoritarian, command-and-control governed life with absolute, limiting boundaries. The way our lives are managed for us is what’s radical, unnatural, causes health and emotion-destroying stress, holds us back from being all we can be, goes against the way we are meant to live.

“Radical” unschooling is based on the way children really learn, the way they are designed to grow and mature. That’s not radical, that sounds abnormally normal to me. Maybe the “radical” perception among the general public needs to go, starting with that inappropriate label? But it’s bigger. RU principles applied to the workplace and to society in general would trigger a radical transformation and take us where we need to go to thrive and survive. Now that’s radical!

Most of what I’ve been studying and writing about lately is how people really learn and grow. RU is the only sensible human development game in town. Then there’s the bigger picture of the desperate need for social change. A connection! “Radical” unschooling represents the springboard to radically transform our world. Thing is, except for practitioners and the occasional accidental converts like me, not enough of the right people know it. And the wrong people—the power wielding establishment—would be scared of the fullness of human development RU represents, if it becomes more than a fringe practice. Docile, compliant creatures are so much easier to control and manipulate.

Radical unschooling must become the New Normal…our profoundly destructive education practices and lifestyles need to be normalized and that will take a major shift away from this current path. There’s so much already written and over-discussed that I started doing a compilation with links and annotations for original blogs and sources, organized by topic with condensed thoughts in summary thumbnails. Very labor-intensive, it can come later. For now, big picture stuff.

Key Themes

  1. RU practitioners don’t deserve being banished into the shadows as a fringe group. RU needs to be Main Street, needs to become The New Normal. The core philosophy and principles are scientifically well-founded and they represent nothing less than the means to unleash our full potential as human beings. What’s the holdup?
  2. “New Normal” must become a highest priority social movement. At stake: social-emotional well-being for all ages which translates into less stress and fewer suicides, greater health, more and better years of life. Also on the table: higher levels of contribution and achievement (the related dirty words are “productivity and performance”) thus greater US private sector competitiveness vs the rest of the world. To be really crass….”MO’ MONEY, OK CEO’s??”
  3. RU’s benefits for young people and their families, and for the workplace and society, needs to be told in simple, concise and compelling terms to achieve broad buy-in from everyday people.
  4. There is so much cross-sector WIIFM for all stakeholders in the RU philosophy and principles that we’re damned silly if we do not systemically embrace it in every sector. The culprit is lack of understanding, no widely shared, credible information. Once the right knowledge is provided there can be no excuse.

Not-so-Radical for the Workplace

There is a clear connection between “employee engagement” and RU. The private sector fell in love with employee engagement going on a quarter century ago because the research and tons of data irrefutably showed monster bottom line enhancements across all private sector entities: a direct and significant correlation between levels of engagement and performance. But it ended up being nothing but a fling, a passion-driven affair that led to over-saturation with throngs of engagement experts hawking high-dollar wares that were nothing but window-dressing enhancements of the Gallup Q-12 model from 1994.

The private sector also flirted with Goleman’s emotional intelligence, Mihaly’s flow, Covey’s principles-centered leadership and even the military’s (seriously!) values-based leadership model. Always in search of a better way to make more money…all that is another story for another time though.

For now, here’s a quick run-down of the leadership and workplace attributes that result in gains in engagement levels, therefore impressively increased levels of productivity, profitability and every other bottom line measure the private sector worships. The findings have been verified, validated and then validated some more. “Gallup Q12” is easy to google, if you do want to learn more. If you do it’s highly recommended that you stick to the original and stay away from the imitations. Same wine, different bottle.

Top Drivers of Engagement per Gallup

I’ve taken some liberties in the wording to fold in other thoughts that came along after the original Gallup Q-12 items and to expand the relevance of the items beyond employees in the workplace. These are in no particular impact level or priority order:

  • I need to know that what I do makes a difference in the grand scheme of things;
  • I do my best work and am most productive when I enjoy the work and have a talent for it;
  • Recognition and praise are more powerful drivers than cash and other extrinsic perks;
  • Values-based relationships are important, especially trust and respect;
  • I need to contribute at a high level, toward something that really matters. Better yet if I like it;
  • I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I am challenged to use my talents and creativity.

That should be enough for you to get the idea. What needs to be made crystal clear is that these attributes of employee engagement are part of what makes RU what it is. And, for the most part, these attributes are suboptimized in traditional education. One engages, the other disengages. As someone who used to hire a lot of people, I would drool over a candidate who I knew grew up learning in the right kind of environment. Most employers are smart enough to understand that too.

“Systemic” Initiative: More Than a Buzz Phrase

You see it everywhere in the private sector, and in education improvement initiatives. “Systemic” is became the sexy way of saying “across-the-board”. To maximize results and make an idea, or for that matter for anything really take hold, it takes an all-stakeholders-on-deck effort. Isolated pockets of doing stuff is pointless. It blasts noise into the system–churn, chaos and confusion along with it. And isolated activity is unsustainable. For something to have stickiness, for the new to fully replace the old for the old “radical” to become the New Normal, it can’t be just youth development. All-hands-on-deck, systemic, across-the-board. Not isolated activity but a movement. Oh….and it makes sense too.

When it comes to changing the world, radical unschoolers can only go so far on their own.

Summary (more like the preface to the next chapter…I’m Learning!)

Traditional education is broken. It’s failing our kids and their parents, it’s failing employers and society. Kids “graduate” woefully unprepared for higher ed, for the workplace, for life. Essential workplace and life skills attributes like creativity, judgment, civic and social responsibility (principles) are not well-represented in traditional curricula. The US is behind the 8-ball in global competitiveness because our workforce is so anemic. The employment talent pool is a mud puddle and we’re losing our global status along with our quality of life (different from “standard of living” but it’s tanking too).

Kids are hard-pressed to survive being molded into bricks in the wall. So do adults. Too much suffering, stress, burnout, suicide. Stop this radical madness!

Humanity needs a radical intervention!



10 thoughts on ““Radical” Unschooling–Just Doing What’s Natural

  1. Heather Greenwood

    Great article Craig! Excellent points as usual. I’m
    very much enjoying hearing your perspectives and insight into RU. Theme #2 is huge. Perhaps if we had happier kids, we’d have have happier adults, and a more healthy culture as a whole. RU, like you said, is the best way to cure our unhealthy culture.

    1. Craig Post author

      Thanks, Heather! “Happy kids grow into happy adults” on one level, very much true. Also, as I learned raising three, and you’re learning now…parents live through their children.

      My personal narrative needs to be front and center in all my posts. It’s this: by default, I see my role in RU as being limited to outreach–an external recruiter / awareness-builder. My practitioner / mentor friend thought the engagement and business stuff was a Rabbit Hole. I think I slipped on the external narrative recruiter hat without warning. The private sector is critical—need their support and buy-in for RU specifically, the social movement generally. So my intent was to ease their angst by showing that RU is very engagement-intensive, something they are familiar with and value. They WANT and NEED unschoolers.

      Right now I’m straddling a barb wire fence, and it’s electric to boot (sorry, Iowa talk). I’m interfacing with experts and practitioners while tailoring my message to uninitiates / neophytes like myself. Worrying about being taken wrong by practitioners, and talking over the heads of non-practitioners. I think that as my blogs start finding their way into the RU practitioner crowd more and more, I will need some kind of very clear up-front disclaimer like this.

  2. Heather Greenwood

    Hey there Craig! We’ve just arrived home from our trip to Phoenix, Arizona where we attended the Free To Be Unschooling Conference, a 4 day immersion into the unschooling world- we talked and collaborated with other unschoolers, participated in circle talks and presentations about everything related to unschooling from practicalities of unschooling, unschooling beyond labels, gentle discipline, play and well being, unschooling in the moment, thoughts from grown unschoolers, just to name a few. The environment was rich, lively and supportive. Everybody I talked to had different reasons for choosing unschooling, but the overall theme we discussed was happiness for our children and family. Because children were also there, they had game and art rooms, talks specifically for young children and teens. It was a great family experience with people from all over the world- we met families from Canada, UK, Seattle, Oregon, California, Colorado, North Carolina and more.

    I agree with you that our job needs to be awareness building. I talked to many folks who expressed this very idea. Here we were, maybe 150+ of us all working to support each other, and willing to offer any kind of assistance to further the movement. I really like the idea of sharing stories. Everyone has a story. A personal story is authentic because nobody can tell you it’s wrong. It’s your story! I think your personal story, one that comes from the lens of a non-practitioner is authentic. People would want to hear how you arrived at that place. I think that’s very powerful.

    I would be happy to share more about our experience at the conference and offer what I can. It was a fantastic experience!


    1. Craig Post author

      Hi Heather!

      My notifications are all messed up, just saw this. It sounds like an amazing, recharging gathering. I’m convinced RU people are the most “together” people you can find.

      We soooo badly need to design a powerful vehicle and get it on the road to share the goodness. Considering the shape of the world, I truly feel that the need for copping an “un” mentality extends far beyond developing kids and individual family happiness.

      Stories of new and hesitating families would be golden to share–would show others they are not alone and there IS a way! But HOW to get the stories out to the mainstream? That’s what I’m consumed with, and what the panel is going to explore, when we get it set. The point person Lainie and her son are on a major cool world learning journey–last I heard they were in Athens but their luggage was in Frankfurt or some place equally wrong. Now there’s some learning!

      Keep on reaching for the Greater Good!….

      1. Heather Greenwood

        It was a great primer for me. My husband and I talk ALL THE TIME about our path and it was a great validation for us. The group was very supportive and acknowledged the fact that everyone’s experience is going to look different. Each family has their own way. I attended a lecture with a fellow named Brian Curtice. Brian has two PhD’s in different areas- sauropod dinosaur identification and educational technology. I liked his take on unschooling, which he calls OWNschooling. He doesn’t like to use the “un”. He finds it to be a negative, which I agree with as well. We often tell people we do self-directed learning, and then I explain that our children have the control what to learn about. We don’t force them. So I really like OWNschooling, because it implies it’s your own way path and your own journey of discovery.

        I think a good point to start with is definitely sharing stories- People love a good story. It’s getting the, let’s call them “traditionals”, to have a look at what were doing un-traditionally. I shared my thoughts with Brian’s wife about my posting on my FB page articles I had written, or others’ posts I shared because they are important to be heard. The response is usually pretty nil. Nobody comments because of the fear or because of their investment in their own narrative. My hope is that they read it out of curiosity and that unconsciously, if their child starts to show signs of distress in school (stress, bullying, burnout, etc) they will remember the post and re-visit it or ask more. I’m putting it out there that there are many choices beside traditional, and unschooling, OWNschooling and the like are there and that they are a better choice for our kids.

        I think the HOW is asking the question of schools- “What are you doing to fuel my kids dreams?” Is the current system fueling dreams? NO
        I’ve always said there will be a tipping point, it’s inevitable. Kids are getting privy to the system. They are getting tired. Why do more and more kids each year move to charter schools or homeschooling? We know that doesn’t change the current curriculum in traditional school, but it should! People are looking for options. If we can show them that RU, unschooling and OWNschooling work and it fuels kids dreams, anything is possible!

        This is a pretty cool pdf to download from Seth Godin (it’s really what inspired The Future Belongs To The Curious)

    2. Craig Post author

      So sorry, forgot to note earlier—did you take away any new connections to continue networking with? There are buckets of RU groups out there I’m sure, and I don’t really care to re-create wheels with yet another!. But I simply don’t know my way around the practitioner terrain!

  3. Craig Post author

    FB…PM / email me so we can connect? craig.althof@gmail.com I have a closed group that gets into some good stuff…idea development etc.Will add your name. Have you considered the panel I told you about? Finalizing details but very fluid, as RU should be!


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