Category Archives: education reform

“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?


Radical Unschooling as a Social Movement

(Tweaked and re-loaded November 1st…also see follow-up post:  “RU as a Social Movement”…NEWSFLASH! )

How Did We Get Here? a.k.a. ”another fine mess you’ve got us into this time, Ollie!”

Cliff Notes Version: I wrote a blog, Come Out of the Shadows that got  noticed by the right people. A friend introduced me to Lainie who hosts For the Love of Learning, a series of online panel discussions. Lainie really liked the notion of “RU as a Social Movement” for a future panel topic. I was asked to be a panelist since I threw the first pitch.  So now I’m a non-practitioner instigator swimming with expert do-ers….

We need to establish a little focus to get a running start at this huge plate of spaghetti prior to the panel taking place.  I’m a Big Fan of Shared Vision but this is just my musings until others join in. A collaborative “what-if” manifesto with several contributing thinkers would be nice!

If you’ve just dropped by the panelists and I would love to hear what you think! I don’t go looking for traffic so this blog is a quiet little corner of cyberspace. Please feel free to comment.

What Will the Panel Focus On?

Broadly, we will explore the possibility of elevating radical unschooling’s visibility, of building broad grassroots support for the very attainable vision of helping to create a better world. Call it a social movement because whole-life learning and subscribing to RU principles can be the catalyst for more caring and compassionate communities, creating a more sustainable society. I believe it, as you probably do. But not enough other people have bought in yet, and we’ll discuss changing that! Here are several other questions and topics that would be good to discuss.

(a) What Constitutes a “Social Movement”? (homegrown definition, not textbook. What’s yours?)

Movements are fueled by passionate, like-minded people who share attitudes and perceptions but more importantly, mindsets that lead to action and social change….”movement”…get it? Movements require broad grassroots support–enough critical mass to be noticed, taken seriously, and make a difference. RU isn’t there yet. We have plenty of passionate, like-minded people who mostly share the grand notion that RU can change the world. But RU lives out of sight, underground. We don’t have the needed visibility, we’re lacking critical mass. And, other than that sweeping grand notion, we don’t have a flag to rally around. Changing the world is serious business. We need details.

(b) Even Though RU May Deserve to be Elevated to a “Social Movement” Status, should it be?

It’s easy for an outsider looking in to say “of course! More attention is always a good thing”. But what does the practitioner community think? What are the pro’s and con’s from their perspective? Are practitioners convinced they are champions for a world-changing social movement, and that they need to formally come together? One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that RU folks are extremely independent and adverse to control and structure, to rules and regulations.

(c) Driving things down to an everyday, mainstream, grassroots level of accessibility and relevance. “Radical” unschooling (even the name is intimidating!) and other elements of human growth like mindfulness, yoga, spirituality, social-emotional learning and development, engagement, purpose, values…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. What does it mean, where do we start? What to do?

(d) Developing a communication strategy: a coordinated PR / marketing campaign, not hit-and-miss. Sounds crass and un-un, but that’s what it is. Message consistency is essential….we really need a powerful narrative.  Following: a few thoughts-in-process on messaging.

(e) Building broad awareness, understanding, support, buy-in of these groups:

  • Private sector is essential for RU to become publicly legitimate.
  • Potential new unlearners: what are the entry barriers? What support do fence-sitters need?
  • General public: awareness leading to open acceptance and inclusion. Driven by a “Greater Good” focus, the realization that RU is whole-life with a huge WIIFM upside for everyone, all ages. RU needs a more cohesive identity, not within the community but externally with the general public. Broad understanding and acceptance of RU would lead to greater societal inclusion and unschoolers being able to practice openly, without fear. Goal: recognition of the legitimacy of RU, and of the impact potential for significant contribution by unschoolers to society and the workplace.
  • Political support, advocacy for RU-friendly policy, a buffer against a potential onslaught by current establishment authoritarians and profiteers who stand to benefit from leaving unwell enough alone. We can go up against the establishment only with critical mass, a huge grass roots support system.

Hot-off-the-presses-thought, from practitioner friend Heather: “RU a a Social Movement” is so big, should we focus our efforts on one group? What is the feasibility and the impact of influencing….

  1. Traditional education, the establishment?
  2. Middle-grounders already into some form of alt ed…charters, home-schoolers?
  3. Fence-sitters still mired in traditional education, wanting to make the Big Jump but not knowing how or where to start?

(f) How can we build awareness and increase acceptance beyond the RU community?  “Acceptance” by whom, and of what?

  • The masses. Encourage more people to embrace alternative ed as practitioners, or at least as community supporters and advocates.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

(g) Identify factual, relevant WIIFM for each target group and reinforce with anecdotal stories

  • There’s plenty of specific “what’s in it for me” for each stakeholder group;
  • Minimize the voodoo, weird incantations, mystical-sounding labels. That’s all great for practitioners, but for the uninitiates, John and Mary Everyman (the critical mass!) it can be scary and intimidating as all get-out;

For both the private sector and youth development: workers deserve an exploration-intensive, creative, fun environment built on trust, honesty, respect, compassion and mutual respect. They 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.

(h)  Where can people go when they need to find the right RU, or any other kind of, information? I took a break from working on the final draft of this to surf my Un network. There were TWO (no wait,  three!) excellent posts, resources for fence-sitters and general awareness, all on Facebook. Here’s the problem: FB posts have an incredibly short shelf life. It’s a drive-by medium where really good stuff is gone in a flash and replaced with other really good stuff. If you’re a surfer, here’s the links.


(i) Why is building concensus among practitioners akin to cat-herding? A practitioner friend warned me “…narrative might be hard to define – 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?”

Indeed, how? We need to sing from one sheet, in one communal Voice, without even a whiff of authoritarian airs and no controlling I’m-the-boss figurehead. How can this delicate balancing act come about? My opinion: through a shared, co-developed narrative–what we do, why it’s important. Clear and compelling for both the community and for the general public. Classic chicken or egg: need a compelling narrative to rally the community, but need community input to self-design the narrative.

(k) A couple of barriers

Barrier to solidarity? The RU practitioner community appears to have more than its fair share of big egos, closely guarded individuality, dueling experts, infighting…generally highly independent people. Is it a by-product of the environment / nature of the beast? WHY the Cowboy Culture, can it be overcome? SHOULD it be?

Barriers to entry? What is difficult, or causes prospective new families to hesitate or back away from committing? How can the community minimize the barriers, and make RU easier to access?

(j) A rose by any other name still packs nasty thorns. Building a stronger, more unified community requires clear vision and focus—a compelling narrative, a cohesive statement of community purpose that is principles-centered and driven by shared values. But maybe first, something needs to be done about what we call it. There’s plenty of debate over this, so I’ll just add my neophyte perspective. “Radical unschooling” is confusing and scary as hell. And I have always been a “radical”. Do you guys, like, occupy schools? Oh…you abandon them! Right on.

(k)  How real is the Fear Factor? Apparently, fear forces some RU practitioners into the shadows where they keep a low profile and quietly go about their business. 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.

Vision, Purpose, Values…What’s the Big Deal?

RU as a social movement would be a world changer. Humanity is exterminating itself. Not just nukes, climate change, famines or epidemics, but also extinction triggered by Terminal Lost Mojo, for lack of a better term. We’ve disconnected from our core humanness, society is coming apart at the seams.

RU: anti radicalization elixir? Ex white supremacist Christian Picciolini, author of ‘Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead’ noted young people are much more likely to radicalize into gangs when they have no other source of identity, community, meaning, purpose.

An Iraqi friend is an anti-terrorism expert (I run with a scary fast crowd, huh?) noted that when identity, purpose, values are lacking, the deficiency can even make ISIS appealing to disenfranchised Muslim youth. Was it the same for people buying into Hitler? Is it the same for people buying into our current nationalism? (sorry! I swore I wouldn’t get political…)

Identity, community, principles / values, meaning, purpose are the most powerful universal human drivers. They are right up there with love, compassion, the need to connect and contribute. Those principles are, in my opinion, where society is self-destructing. Those things are also high on the list of what makes RU work.

My Big Honkin Personal WIIFM

I came of age with the Woodstock Generation, lots of bona fide causes and maximum-strength Peace, Love, Rock & Roll. Went to the University of Iowa, not quite Columbia or Berkeley but still an early 70’s hotbed of social activism. I got a Bachelors, heavy on upper level Lib Arts because it was the only way it looked like I could avoid the pain of wearing a suit the rest of my life.

The degree didn’t matter, after graduating I was music-bound regardless. In 1979 I lost a good friend & bandmate to narcotics addiction. I still carry the pain and guilt of being a bystander. In 1987 I magically got too old for the road overnight…r & r burned me out. So I dove into the private sector as a student of human behavior-engagement, motivation theory. Lost a co-worker and friend to chronic depression. I was a bystander again, still hurts. Again.

Since I had been doing adult ed, I got into school teaching when I lost my job economic slowdowns and got hooked on educ improvement. In just the last couple years the evolution intensified with  Standing Rock and the political scene leading me into connecting with the new generation of activists, including radical unschoolers. Kid in a candy store, the prodigal radical has come home!

The Greater Good Big Hairy Deal

I’ve had quite a gradual evolution over the years. But all along, a subtle awareness had been brewing. It finally came to a head. Kids are killing themselves. A beautiful young lady in my home town, then my oldest grand daughter’s 7th grade classmate. I had him in classes.

Suicide at any age is a terrible tragedy. Depression, anxiety, stress are increasing and out of control, and it affects kids, teens, adults. We’re slowly killing ourselves with this modern lifestyle, and too many people grow too impatient with the slow death.

Good people are soured on life. You can see it in their eyes, their spirit is drained. Their expression and demeanor screams “I hate my life!” No purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment. We keep pushing our Selves further and further away from what is natural, starting with the way we raise and “teach” our children to the way we approach life as adults, including the nature of work and the meaning of “success”. We’re in a constant struggle with our humanness, our core values. We’ve done it to our Selves from early childhood on.

We’ve disconnected from our Earth Mother. We rape and poison her in every way possible, and we’ve stretched her way beyond her capacity to support this species.  And we poison ourselves along the way. Then we wonder why we’re stressed out, miserable, literally killing our Selves physically and emotionally.

We’re doing this all wrong. RU can change the world. Am I just drunk on the koolaid? I think not (hic).