Unschooling vs. Radical Unschooling: what does it all mean?, by Barb Lundgren and Mark Hegener
Just as we’ve witnessed lots of factions develop within the traditional homeschool community, we’re watching as they take form in our precious unschooling community as well. I’ve become close with hundreds of unschooling families over the 30 years I have actively considered myself an unschool mom and I am very happy to say that everyone seems to have their own definition for unschooling, what it looks like in their family, how it changes and evolves over time within the family and sometimes with each child. From school-in-a-box to relaxed homeschooling to child-inspired/led/driven unschooling to radical unschooling, from kids in and out of private and public school and everything in between, I have friends who place themselves in all camps. What I love and find so fascinating is how everyone considers the vocabulary options, their own assessment of each’s meaning, and chooses a label for their style. I do the same thing.
In my experience, by my definitions, I know unschoolers who are really radical unschoolers, unschoolers who do school-in-a-box, those who call themselves radical unschoolers who are really homeschoolers, and every variation possible. What’s a person to do with this? How to make sense of it all? Where is the guidance, if that’s what I am looking for?
Since we publish a magazine that supports unschooling, I think it’s worth clarifying, at least from our own perspectives, what unschooling is and is not, what radical unschooling is and is not.
Life Lessons in Emotional Intelligence, by Alissa Kiker
As a homeschool mother I have gotten into the habit of looking for learning opportunities that present themselves as a part of life. Recently my family was in the middle of a very emotional time, as my husband and I were separating. As difficult as it was for all of us, I knew that I needed to talk to my kids about what was happening. In the most unexpected of ways, the separation turned out to be a profound learning opportunity.
I have discovered that in the midst of this very difficult situation we received an opportunity to apply previous studies to our lives, as well as learn new lessons. I participated in a webinar called “The Generation Leadership Gap: What the Business World is Clamoring After.” Jeff Myers of Summit Ministries said that one of the key ways a student can stand out in the job market is to develop their E.Q. (emotional quotient), which is every bit as important as I.Q. (intelligence quotient). He then proceeded to describe what that means. Another source explains it well:
“Emotional intelligence (E.Q.) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and diffuse conflict.”
It sounded a lot like what the kids and I were learning.
Man About the House, by Lee A. Elliott
The alarm didn’t go off. In fact the alarm hasn’t gone off since I can remember. This morning I wake up to the sound of zombies groaning, “We’re coming.” My son Jay, age three, is at the foot of the bed with his iPad playing ‘Plants vs. Zombies’. Hardly sounds educational, and breakfast has been prepared by my one year-old daughter Holly–some squished banana which she proudly serves by pushing it in my mouth before I have even opened my eyes.
Jay has now plugged his iPad in to recharge, and has wandered into the kitchen with Holly in tow. I imagine what my mother-in-law might have said if she could see me at this moment: “Look at yourself! You might call laying in bed ‘radical unschooling’, I call it not bothering, and bad parenting! Leaving your children to fend for themselves! You should be ashamed of yourself! Man up and get a job! They should be at school!” I pull up the duvet and snuggle into my pillow. Meanwhile, I hear Jay in the kitchen pouring milk for his sister with limited spillage. He even remembers to shut the fridge door this time in spite of the distraction of Holly cleaning up the mess by unrolling practically all that remains of the kitchen towels. Yes! I am sure even social workers would be concerned by this apparently obvious parental neglect. An unshaven man in bed, seemingly unconcerned about his children.
Holly brings me a beaker of milk to drink, which I find quite reviving as she spills it over my face.
Raising World-Changers, by Erica Berge
As a homeschooling parent who has chosen a very relaxed approach to learning, I, like many who believe in a self-directed learning approach, am often met with skepticism or disapproval. The words don’t always come out of their mouths, but the expression on their faces says they believe I am screwing my six children out of having successful futures. Sometimes I need to remind myself of what my husband and I value, so that I don’t waiver under the temporary pressure of disdainful looks. You see, we have realized that our children might not be successful by the standards of today’s world and we are okay with that. Dictionary.com defines success as, “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.” While we acknowledge the validity of this definition, we don’t believe it is all-encompassing. We believe that truly successful individuals are givers, free-thinkers, and world changers like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, MLK, and Harriet Tubman. Above trying to earn and achieve alone, they would seek out what is right, love mercy, and see value in every life. The fact that we don’t dictate and schedule our children’s education allows our family freedom to learn about and live outward focused lives.
We are able to raise awareness within our families as we discuss the issues that are affecting our communities and world. If they are going to make a difference in this world, then they need to be aware of the issues and begin developing empathy and extending compassion at a young age.
Joan of Arc, Educated by Experience and Adventure, by John Taylor Gatto
Joan had neither elementary nor secondary schooling, or college, and yet as a young illiterate French girl she succeeded in changing history through force of will, and by mastering the components of effective education the same way. Most of us recognize educated people because they display command of certain specific skills which at one time were known as “active literacies,” before the teaching of those to ordinary children was forbidden by British colonial administrators, who feared that “overeducation” would cause lower class children to aspirations beyond their appointed stations, a proscription continued into our own time for whatever reasons in familiar institutional public schooling.
Skills ignored in modern common schools include: 1) the arts of expression which should lead to an ability to sustain worthwhile conversations with anybody from any background, a skill Joan possessed in splendid measure, 2) the arts of persuasion, which should lead to competence in convincing all sorts of listeners to treat one’s advice with respect, a skill Joan demonstrated by talking a king-in-waiting and his officers out of an army and equipage, 3) the arts of analysis and dialectic, which when mastered allow any problem, however complex, to be broken down to its component parts and its organizing principle(s), to be identified so precisely that problems can be productively manipulated by the analyst, and those so skilled should be able to tolerate profound changes of situation/environment without losing control of themselves in mental confusion.
Lessons from a Recovering Approval Addict, by Kelley Casey
It has been my goal as an adult to make thoughtful and informed decisions, to listen to my own inner voice that can get lost as it gets tangled with the voices of loved ones that all live inside my head. I take very seriously my roles of wife and mother. I read, research and reflect a great deal when making decisions in these areas of my life. When I started to meet resistance in my family as I chose to marry, be a stay-at-home mom, adopt attachment-parenting practices, and especially as I chose not to send my kids to school, it put me in a tough spot every time.
I had been really enjoying all that approval and celebration of my achievements. I was a kid that had never been in trouble or done anything my parents didn’t like. I didn’t have any experience to draw from in handling the disappointment and disapproval I was facing. Although I had read repeatedly about families who have severed relationships over their choice to homeschool their kids, not even in the thick of my struggles with my own family did I anticipate that loss of relationship would be part of my own story. And yet, with all the thought and research I had put into these decisions, even though my relationships are important to me, I could not choose to live a life that someone else had planned for me, one that did not fit me.
Connection Parenting, by Mary Krawczyk
I feel very strongly that if we honor our children now, letting them be who they are, we are laying the foundation for them to become the adults they want to be. My hope is that my children will not struggle with what others think they should be or do, that they will find purpose and fulfillment in leading the lives they choose for themselves. We work toward this through close family relationships and connectedness. Connectedness means spending time together and really knowing our children. Our kids were not in a lot of structured activities when they were little. We did not get caught up in the trend to enroll them in many activities, but rather encouraged and facilitated unstructured play. As they got older, the kids have participated in various activities–sports, music lessons, scouting, church groups, etc. There have been times when one or more of us felt like we were involved in too much. At those times, we discussed it and were able to make decisions that worked for everyone. This illustrates how important it is to have honest communication with our children, to really listen to and remain open to them so they feel safe in expressing their true feelings. I had to get over the idea of wanting my kids to like the same things I like, and to let go of worrying about what others think if my child goes out in public in clothes that clash or don’t fit the weather, or if he only listens to audiobooks for a whole year, or if she doesn’t know her division facts yet.
Leave My Country to Homeschool? Yes! We Did It!, by Jenny Lantz
We could see three possibilities: Stay in Sweden and put the kids in school, stay in Sweden and home educate them illegally–taking quite a risk, or leave Sweden and home educate the kids elsewhere. In the end it wasn’t a difficult choice for us. Once again we found the answer was yes, this is what we all want to do, so go for it! We decided to leave Sweden. We really wanted to go on home educating, and we were already tired of fighting and worrying about authorities, which made staying and home educating illegally a really bad choice for us.
From the beginning we made it clear to ourselves that we would NOT see ourselves as victims. We always knew we had a choice. And we knew that this whole thing surely would bring good things as well as bad. And one of the things we have come to know through all of this is that we want to see more of the world. This was our first step.
In May 2011 we left Sweden in our old car and very small caravan. We decided to go to Aland, an independent island under the jurisdiction of the Finnish constitution. We had only been there once before, many years ago, and didn’t know much at all about the country. We did know that it was a Swedish-speaking society that once belonged to Sweden, and that the Finnish law allows homeschooling. That sounded good enough for us.
“Serenade II Unschooling”: How an Unschooled Teen Realized His Dream of Becoming a Rock Star, by Laurie A. Couture
When my son, Brycen, was five years old and heard the song, It’s My Life by Bon Jovi, he thought to himself, “That’s what I want to be–I’m going to be a singer!” Brycen came into my life through adoption when he turned 11 years old. He told me that the first time his gift and passion for singing were acknowledged was when I came into his life. I recall back then when my son played outside, his opulent, operatic, soprano voice rang through the forest and rained like crystal dew from the blue skies. His gift of tone and vocal power were as apparent as his zealous, proud way of expressing it! He made it clear to me from the start that he wanted to be a performing musician, singing to a crowd of 10,000 people, as his future career. Unschooling would prove to be the perfect way to support this and all of his dreams.
When Brycen was almost 13, his voice began to change. I began to realize that the little boy arias that filled the air began to quiet. As Brycen struggled to negotiate into a budding baritone octave, he stopped singing, yet continued to asseverate his career dream. The next several months of his operatic silence required an enormous amount of trust on my part.
Coming ‘Round, by Marissa Neal
For my family the homeschool journey has been an odyssey. Traveling from school-at-home to the opposite spectrum of unschooling, each leg of the journey has been filled with excitement and uncertainty. Beginning in 1990, and then taking a five year break from 2007 to 2012, when we delved into the bewildering world of public school, we have come full circle, back to unschooling. Like Homer’s epic adventure, this tale is an account far too lengthy to share in one piece of writing, but I wanted to explore an issue that has troubled me since the day I dipped my toe into the unschool realm. The matter in question has always been college, and conforming to the standard educational norms built into that experience.
Having launched into homeschooling in 1990, I have been privileged to watch a movement bloom and grow, and to flow with it. We found out early on that school-at-home did not fit our lifestyle. I was a midwife, providing home deliveries. The school type schedule didn’t work for us. I then switched my focus to the three Rs; Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. I felt that if my kids could accomplish these things skillfully they would do well in the world. My second child, Rachel, was the one who caused me to reassess my forward thrust on the early, avid reader ideal. She loved to be read to, but felt great anxiety trying to learn.
Disc Golf, by Penny Tuggle
Sometimes I joke that my junior high and high school P.E. classes are the reason I homeschool. To this day I can’t throw or catch a ball, and I walk faster than I jog. Lacking these skills put me way behind socially during my gym class’s softball-volleyball-basketball-track rotation. Four years of hearing groans from my teammates took its toll.
Although I’ve danced throughout my life, I always was disheartened at the thought that I’d never have the skills to play a “legitimate” sport. Then I discovered disc golf. This sport involves no throwing or catching of spherical objects, and you tend to lose your form if you run. The object is to toss a disc into a metal basket with as few throws as possible. Easy rules–no gym class flashbacks. If your family is looking for a new outdoor activity, you should check out this fun game.
The easiest way to find a disc golf course is to go to www.discgolfcourses.org. This site lists hundreds of disc golf courses in the United States, and it provides Google maps to them. You will also find locations of Canadian courses, and you can see a listing of thirty-four other countries that host courses. There is even a course in Antarctica.
Medicine in Your Backyard, by Kimberly Scheimreif
Our family’s decision to create a medicine wheel has helped increase our independence and empowerment in our unschooling, sustainable lifestyle. For chronic conditions or serious maladies we do visit the doctor. However, growing medicinal herbs has helped us to not need as many over the counter remedies for minor ailments. Many of the herbs we use are just a way of life, and are used to keep us healthy physically and mentally. It is very gratifying to be able to provide healing options for yourself.
Our family chose to construct a raised stone wall to contain our medicine wheel garden. This garden was divided into six parts, like pieces of pie. Six branches along the perimeter with string from the branches to the stake in the middle were used to create pie slices. Long strips of colorful fabric scraps were tied on the strings to help keep birds away when the initial seeds were planted, and for aesthetics. Each pie piece contains a different herb that can be used medicinally. At our local hardware store we found some great seed packets that explained the medicinal benefits of each herb. Calendula was planted to make salves for skin ailments; dill for tea to help soothe stomach problems; mint for a tea to aid in digestion; hyssop for tea to help soothe sore throats and congestion; California poppy flowers for a tincture for relaxation and preventing sleeplessness.
The Awesome Freedom of Options, by Kate Fridkis
This is New York City. We have a bunch of world-class restaurants where you can eat the realized dreams of some of the most brilliant chefs who have ever cooked. But it is nearly impossible to get a reservation. Walking around the Village on a weeknight, unable to get into a single one of the good places, I have been known to give up and settle for tourist-trap Italian, out of sheer exhaustion and hunger. In NYC, you sometimes get the sense that you might be really close to gaining access to the best of the best. You might see some of the most famous people in the world, just walking down the street, like it’s no big deal. And the fight for a good education starts extremely early and gets extremely intense. People flee to the suburbs just to avoid the stress and hoop-jumping of nursery school applications–the test prep for your toddler that can begin as early as one and a half, with no guarantee that they’ll be accepted anywhere. There is a hovering, oppressive assumption that if you possibly can, you will spend, well, all of your money on private school. You will begin to spend all of your money on private school at a time when whole days are devoted to face-painting and trips to the local botanical garden. You will do this because even if it seems like you’re not getting your money’s worth now, most of the children who enter this early get to stay. Most. And then, you know, they get to go to Harvard. Eventually. Maybe.
Sparking the Budding Computer Scientist, by Suki Wessling
It’s pretty hard to escape the message that business and education leaders have been trumpeting lately: STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, math) are the wave of the future. Some of the more progressive thinkers have proposed STEAM, just to make sure we don’t forget about the arts in our zeal to push kids into technical careers.
But the overall message is that technology is here to stay. And it’s not just for techie kids. Office managers, sculptors, machine operators, and physicians all have to be comfortable with computers and willing to manipulate them as part of their jobs.
So where does that leave your artsy unschooler or your computer-phobic Lego builder?
As the wife of a programmer and the unschooling parent of one or two in training, I notice a common message that “geek” kids are born, not made. It seems that parents who are unwilling to believe in fate in any other sphere of life become fatalists about this issue. If your child doesn’t instinctively “think like that,” you should just give up and let him or her develop “naturally.”
The fact is, however, that we intervene in our children’s development all the time. Every time you have a conversation with your child, you are molding their view of the world. And every time you do an activity with your child, you are actively intervening in their “natural” development.
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