Category Archives: Community; Society

“RU as a Social Movement”…NEWSFLASH!

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.

About Engagement

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?

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“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.

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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!

 

What Should the RU General Public Narrative Include?

In Part One Come Out of the Shadows http://wp.me/p4xnz1-83 I asked for practitioner input on a proposal to the RU community that RU needs a narrative, a more cohesive identity not within the community but externally, targeting the general public. Greater understanding of RU would lead to greater acceptance and inclusion, unschoolers being able to practice openly without fear, recognition of the legitimacy of RU, and of the impact potential for significant contribution by unlearners to society and the workplace. Part Two is one neophyte’s observations on what it is about RU that would be most relevant for the general public to understand.

Narrative Themes

Out of the Shadows.

RU has earned the right to more than fringe cult status with practitioners in hiding. The likely culprit? Fear of the unknown, misunderstanding among the general public. Fear of being considered weird by other kids and adults. But RU actually centers on well-established, familiar principles. There’s nothing new here to be afraid of. More on “fear factor” later.

There is also the possibility of unwillingness or inability of an authoritarian establishment to let go of their power and control. Opinion: they’re a dangerous animal when cornered. Is it just paranoia? How to deal with it beyond grass roots pressure?

We’re Working Against Human Nature.

Traditional education as well as private sector management practices are predominantly command and control, compliance-mandating systems. This is counter-productive to human development all around, all ages. We’re stifling performance and causing incredible levels of killer stress because these systems are in direct conflict with basic human nature.

We’re All In This Together.

Principles and values-centered leadership, employee engagement, and emotional intelligence are somewhat established in the private sector. RU is absolutely aligned with the same core concepts. We can leverage the private sector’s familiarity with these by focusing on similarities and minimizing the perceptions of “radical”. Nothing new here!

The Private Sector, Traditional Education and Society All Need RU.

Creativity and creative thinking and highly principled, purposeful job candidates are the most valued new workplace capabilities.  RU delivers these attributes and skills. Traditional education does not. If we continue on this course, US competitiveness and quality of life will fall even further behind the rest of the developed world.

Traditional education is not just ineffective, it is destructive.

The worst-case scenario is a looming reality: youth suicides are on the rise and a key driver is academic pressure to perform and conform. There has been so much written about this that it is a travesty and a moral embarrassment to continue on this current course (personal note: young people committing suicide is the hottest of my hot buttons, followed by the dangers of self-inflicted stress on social, emotional, physical health).

RU Needs a Narrative.

What is it? Why is it important? What’s the WIIFM for the kids, the parents, employers, society? People cannot learn unless they are compelled to invest the time. People will not invest without a clear, compelling narrative.

Principles ->  Beliefs –> Values –> Norms –> Behaviors -> Society.

I jump around a lot, from what currently interests me to what my key drivers / intent is behind my “life’s work”. Things keep circling back to values. Values are human nature, part of our DNA. They determine who we are individually and what we can become. Values give us a shot at living a life with purpose. But for some reason we’re intent on pushing our selves further and further away from what is most natural to us, from the way we raise our children to the way we approach life as adults to the nature of “work”. Then we wonder why we’re so stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves.

The collective of values becomes norms–what we are societally. We as individuals, and society as a whole, are driven by individual values that become shared norms, our common attributes of human behavior and needs no matter age or application. Young, old, school, work, society, government. Not “just” values. And quite simply, living a life of purpose has huge universal appeal and interest is growing. This is something people can believe in.

And we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

Leverage the Data!

Old-school establishment in education and the private sector thrives on validation with data. You want results? You need data to back up the claims? No problem. But just my opinion: numbers are an addictive drug that dull the pain of using human intuition. But if you must have your fix…numerous studies of years of experience with alternative ed and workplace motivation theories bear the hypothesis out: fuzzy stuff delivers much greater hard results and higher levels of personal satisfaction. Less stress, greater longevity to boot. Need more WIIFM?

Fear Factor?

This late entry is powerful. I need to learn more about the reasons RU practitioners apparently feel they must keep low profiles. One practitioner said … it is fear of being turned in to Child Protective Services for arbitrary reasons, kind of like medical kidnapping .…family and friends are a never ending battle over whether they should or shouldn’t be doing it….some simply find it easier to stay out of the spot light.”

“This can’t be happening” was my first thought. “Is this fear factor widespread?”

“Yes, because there are enough stories circling the homeschooling and unschooling communities of it actually happening. Someone thinks the kids are being neglected because they don’t have curriculum and the parents aren’t making them do structured work. The state takes the kids and asks questions later, then the parents spend months fighting the stupid arbitrary nature of the system that can’t overlook crossing a t even if harms the child more than what the state suspected in the first place. It is not widespread, but in most cases, there is no rhyme or reason as to why “that” family.

There are facebook pages set up to help expose stories to help families get their kids back.

And then there are homeschool legal aid outfits here and there that help families fight courts over their right to homeschool. I have encountered my own opposition from a school board member, that same school board member still questions what I do and even tries to quiz (my child). It is nuts because they think we are crazy when they are the ones who are brainwashed.”

It seems society needs some serious deschooling.

 My Role: Gather and Sow

Besides getting a good grasp of practitioners’ perspectives, there are several areas where more information is needed to build the case for RU. I’ve come across much of this information in the past but didn’t see much need in cataloging it until now:

  • Worker / private sector and learner performance / achievement data relative to engagement level. We’re all in this together: RU leans heavily on principles that are fairly well-established in the workplace. It’s really not all that radical after all!
  • Evidence of the damage traditional education is inflicting: data on youth suicides and rising incidences of mental health issues among youth;
  • Life After Unschooling. How do unschoolers do in the workplace / job market, and in higher ed? What has been their role in society?
  • Non-technical information on brain theory and learning, why RU works and why traditional education and command and control management are counter-productive, even destructive.
  • The subtle as well as clear physical and emotional impacts of stress induced by the toxic school and work environments we subject people to.

(RU Narrative Support, in process)

Now, About That Data….

RU is principles-intensive. Practitioners don’t worry much about validating what they do with data, because they know it’s the right thing to do, they see the results of their efforts. A practitioner observation: “…over the years I’ve seen plenty of articles with anecdotes from college admissions people and trends that homeschooled kids went quickly from “untouchables” to “sought after” as soon as they realized that homeschooled kids perform better than their schooled peers during freshmen year. (They need much less hand holding for one.)
Now we have decades of homeschooling and data points…there are also some test score comparisons out there and I’ve never seen one that didn’t show homeschoolers performing better. Don’t have links saved or anything, but I’m willing to bet a google search (or maybe duck duck go) will give you some good hits.”

Conclusion…For Now

RU needs a greater level of public awareness, understanding, acceptance. It needs to become more firmly established as a viable approach to human development.

For the general public to buy in, the RU community needs a stronger identity, a cohesive presence that is a whole lot more than random individuals doing whatever. The community needs a narrative, and the ideal would be for an outsider to be involved in building the compelling case and serving as one of the messengers.

I’ve more than dabbled within the establishment in both education and the private sector but have no expert credentials, no real feathers in my cap. Just a regular guy who has seen the light. That’s part of my personal narrative because I have to answer the question “why should what I think, what I’ve studied, and my conclusions matter to the rest of the general population?” As an education / private sector hybrid my views are big picture, inclusive. As a non-practitioner, my perspective will hopefully be seen as objective and impartial, rather than that of an insider making a sales pitch.

I’m also someone who believes, not because I have a vested interest but because it makes sense, we need it badly, and it’s the right thing to do. Stay tuned for Making the Case for Radical Unschooling: Factoids and Anecdotals

 

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.

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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)

Radical Unschooling Narrative for Neophytes

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!

_1 Factory Model of EducMaximum 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:

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

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

 

Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

Peter Gray got me again. As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity  was originally posted Sep 17, 2012 but just showed up again on my feed, and it’s even more relevant today. The situation has arguably worsened considerably in five years.

Gray writes: “In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset.  In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success. It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades.”

The article details research methods, explaining how creativity had been accurately measured in the study. If you’re into analytics, read the article–I won’t elaborate here.

Findings summary: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” (there’s a reason for that!)

We have automation to do menial, repetitive physical stuff, and artificial intelligence to even do some light lifting low-level, analytical thinking. The only way for humans to add value that machines and computers cannot (yet) replicate is our unique ability to think creatively. So kids and adults alike are losing the edge we used to have, and the very capabilities the new workplace most demands.

The economy and the nature of work, for that matter the world, have all changed. Education has not, and it shows. The US workforce is seriously deficient in the new skills, and it starts with poor preparation in school.

If you’ve read much Gray you know his position on traditional education. His concerns include the serious and lasting damage inflicted on our young people by rigidity in education, standard testing, no freedom to play, to explore, to really learn.

How much damage? This came along two days after the Gray article: America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate   Research shows that “…increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism, and social media are behind the rise in suicides among the young.” And of course bullying, most of which takes place at school, by peers.

We dump our kids into a toxic environment and expect them to learn in ways that are contrary to their natural wiring, and they are not even developing the skills and attributes that may help them survive to adulthood and beyond. And the US workplace is crippled by a poorly prepared talent pool. Related?

Hello (hello…hello…) is there anybody IN there? Just nod if you can hear me.  Is there anybody home?

You’d think we’d eventually wake up and realize this is a life-and-death social and economic problem. We’re failing our young people socially and emotionally, even doing irreparable harm, and plodding along with antiquated teaching methods and curriculum. Along the way we’re trashing the economy and our global competitiveness. It’s more than a double whammy because the two issues are connected and compound each other’ impact.

We expect conformity, we demand following rules, rigidity. We condemn creativity, freedom of expression, exploration. It’s so contrary to human nature. And the same expectations, issues and profound, lasting damage applies to big kids too—at work, in politics, in social interactions.

Gray’s writings and the education reform movement are not just about education, it’s social reform. Much, much bigger than kids in school and the education system.

I’m not an expert, not a “real” educator (full-time subbing doesn’t really count) and I’m a dozen years removed from parenting. So why should I care so much about education and parenting, the way we treat and teach our children, the way we force them to “learn”? Why should I care that society is going down the tubes? I’m old enough, I can surely ride this one out to The End.

The driving purpose behind what I do is a need to to do my part to make the world a better place for future generations. I kind of like my grand children. Haven’t met their kids, and I doubt I’ll have the chance. But I bet I’d like them too. They are why I care, and why we all must care.

Resolution?

Suicide and the skills gap share a common denominator…the two issues are one. They need to be clearly connected and framed together, then a concise and compelling narrative developed: here is the central issue and here are the impacts.

Then share the resulting narrative to build grass roots awareness and concern. The need to act must be elevated to the pressing crisis status it deserves. Emotional well-being can be life-and-death for too many kids, then there’s sustainability of our way of life for all of us. High stakes.

We must attack the issues with a consistent, coordinated focus. But here’s a huge barrier: tons of organizations, armies of concerned people, so many that none seem able to get anything of substance accomplished. Turf wars, fragmentation, over-saturation, diminishing returns. Maybe more simply herding cats, bb’s in a boxcar.  Joiners and activists are mule and Clydesdale, no offspring out of that one. Chaos, anarchy, complexity, rampant A.D.D. Experts blowing their knows all over each other, comment threads akin to meth head babblings. Very few if any groups can stay on-topic and maintain focus on progressing toward a well-articulated common goal. Crafting, sharing and staying focused on a common goal—what a concept!

We need laser-sharp focus and a coordinated attack. Activity does not equal progress.

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Post Script: I Rest My Case

There’s technical writing and persuasive writing. Dissertations and journaling on a napkin. Investigative reporting and data analysis, and editorials / opinion pieces. Some folks scream if they don’t see annotations and scads of trustworthy numbers (an oxymoron!). Others could care less about style, sources and data–they’ll look further if they want to. I’m in the latter group. I can do the first examples of writing but at a price–my sanity. But we demand more and more technical expertise, less and less creative thinking. So we get a bunch of grown people sitting around highly polished tables, all fearful of being the first to raising their hand and say “I don’t understand”. Fear and angst in school and the adult world has taken root like a fast-spreading cancer.

Suicide PSS…

I just read a story about a young woman who hung herself several years ago in her college dorm room. Written from her mother’s perspective, it was a look-back at red flags. Her mother said: “I keep coming back to one such warning sign, one that is so obvious now. I don’t know how I didn’t see it: not worrying about future consequences.”

I’ve studied engagement theory and its relevance to young people, a spin-off of my business world involvements turned toward youth and education. One key measure of engagement for kids is their feelings toward the future. I’m no expert but there may be something there.

I taught 4th-6th grade guidance classes off and on for a year, 45 minutes for each class every 10 school days, social-emotional development, bullying stuff. Not nearly enough time. I waited impatiently for the material to turn the kids inward, to help connect them with their inner feelings, put a name on what they dream about, what they hope for, what truly makes them happy. On the flip side, what makes them unhappy, what they fear most. Identify the bogey man under the bed and exorcise it. But the curriculum never went there. So I did what I could to take the kids there off-script

Our education system continues to fail kids and we continue to lose them. One of the reasons radical unschooling is so powerful is that it enables and encourages kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the common good….no, survival…of kids of all ages. Maybe we need to strive toward making “Un” a state of mind, a way of life?

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