If you’ve read some of my more recent articles you’ll know I’ve embraced the notion of “RU as a Social Movement”. We were set to explore the possibilities in a panel as part of the For the Love of Learning series but a logistical delay allowed time to further ponder social movements. I dove into academic studies and the current state of practices within the RU community, to better understand whether RU should and could be elevated to a “social movement”. Not so sure academia had any answers but the exploration led to bigger questions and one Big AHA.
RU needs and deserves more understanding and awareness in the general public, leading to greater acceptance and increased numbers of practitioners. But not just because it’s the right way to educate and raise kids. RU principles are the right way to live, work and interact with others in daily life settings too. With greater acceptance of the principles, unschooling will be a natural progression. But while it’s a critical piece, RU is not “the movement”. It’s still a key piece to a much bigger puzzle. AHA!
Drive the RU Principles Down Main Street, Not the RU Practice Itself
Emergent strategy: focus on promoting the principles that make RU what it is, rather than the actual process of unschooling. (WAIT …there IS no cookie cutter step-by-step process for RU) So, what are “the” Principles and what is their relevance to life in general? (WAIT again…wouldn’t an official, all-inclusive list of principles be uber un-un?). Practitioners will understand those two points, other neophytes like me not so much.
Unschooling is considered the most allegedly radical among the various approaches to alternative education. But it’s more normal than it appears to be. Radical unschooling extends the philosophy of unschooling into all aspects of life. It involves partnering with our children, not just with regard to academic pursuits, but in daily activities such as eating, television viewing, and going to bed. (From What is Radical Unschooling?)
Practitioner parents practice the philosophies and principles of unschooling with their learner children, even outside of the family relationship. But the outside world can be harsh. Let’s look at just a few of the philosophies and principles to understand how all this may fit together.
Driving Principle: TRUST
From the same source as above: The bedrock of radical unschooling is trust: a belief that our children possess an inner wisdom or intuitiveness far beyond what mainstream America gives them credit for. Parents act as guides and facilitators, helping children to connect with that inner wisdom.
Simply backing away and trusting children to follow their own path is contrary to what we’ve been brought up to believe the role of parenting and teaching to be. How much guidance is appropriate? And if learning is “me”-driven, when does socialization and norming happen? In considering “movement” potential how, and how much, is “trust” relevant in the adult world?
Pause just a moment to let the profound absurdity of that last sentence sink in….hurts, doesn’t it?
Principles, Not Rules
Rather than strict rules, unschoolers use principles. Instead of imposing limits, unschoolers work with their children to help them live in a balanced and healthy way. Instead of a strict schedule, unschoolers follow a daily rhythm.
Organic rather than mechanistic. Principles make a heck of a lot more sense across the board than authoritarian, over-structured, black-and-white command and control. It’s as true in education as it is in the workplace. Organic elicits commitment, while mechanistic usually only begets compliance. I used to write management system and operating procedures, work instructions and safety and HR policies. I’m well aware that specific rules are sometimes necessary. But we’ve become so obsessed with (addicted to!) rules, procedures, protocol, policies for every single nit, every possible scenario. For the sake of legal CYA and compliance we’ve over-documented and over-regulated ourselves into a corner and the paint will never dry.
Being principles-centered and values-driven is nothing new or radical in the private sector, it’s just not nearly as prevalent as it should be. Long-standing workplace concepts include engagement and empowerment, and an enabling organizational structure and leadership style. The Dark Side of the Force: hierarchical command and control style and structure. C & C prevails in a work environment with distrust between leader and follower, lack of ability in followers, or task criticality. Mostly, it’s a trust issue. Relationships built on trust require leaders to freely share information needed for people to make good decisions and giving away information is giving away power. But people need credible information to safely make decisions. And they need to know they won’t get hammered if they make an honest, well-informed mistake. Even though trust is free, we still get too much of this stuff….
- I’m gonna write you up!
- Just do it, you don’t get paid to think!
- “They” just don’t get it!
- Why are we losing money?
FACT: When exploration and learning is fun, more and better stuff gets done. Something is “fun” when it’s intrinsically satisfying—it strikes a nerve with the explorer. The fun factor is driven by a combination of values, natural ability, challenge of the exploration…clearly individual-driven.
Why overwhelm with facts and data that simply require spewing back? Issues with multiple possible “right” answers are a whole lot more thought-provoking than “2 + 2 = ___?___”
HYPOTHESIS: Work can be fun too! (don’t push your luck, Bubba!) Re-read the description above. Why not “work is fun”? Engineers continuously tweak work systems to maximize productivity, ease of use and quality. Why can’t we engineer work systems and environments using the same engaging “fun factor” criteria.
Humans are naturally organic. Cosmic, right? Seems like an undeniable truth. And roots need room to support healthy plant growth. Also needed: natural fertilizer, water and sunlight.
Engagement theory, when put into practice, delivers big league hard results in the workplace and in academic performance. Not nearly enough organizations are insightful enough to simply do the right things by people. And guess what? The cornerstones of engagement are a mirror of the RU principles that I’ve seen. Would love others’ opinions: see Supercharging Engagement for a summary of seven universal attributes, principles from several of the mainstream engagement models.
Why don’t we set common goals, learn the same language, establish the right norms all the way across the spectrum of education, work, society…life?
Now, Wait Jest a Gol-durned Minute, Matthew…. of course, civilization could be more civilized. Society, and therefore every one of us, would benefit from being more principles-centered, more driven by shared values. So this whole conversation is a bit silly isn’t it? Of course it is. It’s hard to disagree that we need more caring, compassion, understanding, empathy, general civility in how we interact with each other, right? What’s the real underlying issue? The academic analysis: we’re an individual-centered transactional society. Everyday translation: we’re me-first, driven by the pursuit of power and profit at all costs. That’s the root cause, that’s what we need to eliminate or at least minimize.
The question is a whole lot more “how” than “what” do we need to do?
Pardon the crudity, but humanity sucks. It would be so understandable to reach the point of saying “what’s the use in trying?” It’s damned tempting to me sometimes, how about you? This is the reason behind backing away from “RU as a Social Movement” even though I still feel it’s wildly important and high-impact. There’s a more pressing greater good need. Seems like ages ago, I was advocating a community-based model built around whole-person social-emotional development. I’m leaning back that way: drive the principles of RU. When unschooling becomes more recognized as a humanity-friendly, natural practice it will be less “radical” and we’ll have the movement we need.
First we need to ditch this “thing” fixation, replace our obsession for power and profit with passion for people and planet. THAT’S the one movement that really matters. Open for suggestions, folks….
We’ve amassed an amazing body of information on human dynamics and what enables people to reach their full potential. To have this information and not leverage it into knowledge is unconscionable. Big Concepts waiting to be turned loose:
- Flow / positive psychology
- Engagement theory, general motivation
- Strengths-based learning and leadership
- Social-emotional development
The Last Great Frontier may be exploring the mind, the human condition, individual and group dynamics—what really makes us tick? Why not focus on the front end of the process, the “people” stuff that drives how well we do stuff and accomplish goals and results?
Why not, indeed?