Recently I answered a readers question and labelled what we do as ‘radical unschooling’ and I’ve been asked to explain what the difference is in comparison to simply unschooling. I’ve written before about how unschooling began for us and why we unschool.
What is Radical Unschooling?
To begin it’s important to recognise that every facet of our society – including parenting – is schooled (conditioned). I’ve had readers get very cross with me when I speak of humans being conditioned or schooled but there’s no two ways about it – it’s a simple fact and not always negative! We as humans are conditioned by media, culture, government, schooling, some by religion, etc. I think if that fact makes you defensive or uncomfortable it’s important you explore why that is.
We are conditioned by many avenues to parent a certain way and think of children a certain way and even live a certain way. For some it is simply accepted, but I’m sharing why I take on the label of ‘radical unschooler’.
Radical unschooling is taking deschooling (de-conditioning) beyond education. It is about un-schooling LIFE with children (including parenting). I’ve written about deschooling previously with regards to education. When deschooling, I say it begins with assuming that we need to ‘think outside the box’ and progresses to realising there is no damn box! Beyond that, everything is up to being dissected, questioned, challenged and altered to better suit our authentic values.
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Radical unschooling means you extend the philosophy and apply the respectful, trust-filled process beyond learning and into life! For parenting this includes bodily autonomy as well as adjusting any and all expectations really. It means letting go of arbitrary control and the safety that blindly following the majority can give. Essentially radical unschooling is unschooling the whole child (not just their education) – it is somewhat a fusion of respectful parenting and unschooling.
Just like with unschooling for education and challenging the top-down hierarchy; radical unschooling challenges that paradigm of a family hierarchy. I’ve heard many angry parents who cling to this control and say “that’s your job!” but radical unschooling means challenging what children need from us and what our job actually is. This assumption is a conditioned expectation. Radical unschoolers believe that children deserve to be respected and given the opportunity to make their own choices. We trust children and see them as capable. We ‘let’ them make choices about their days and life – choices that most parents wouldn’t even realise they make FOR children.
We don’t equate parenting (life with children) with control. Yes, it’s our job as parents to keep our children safe, help them learn right from wrong, etc but is control and punishment necessary to achieve that? I think that’s a sad and damaging assumption.
Radical Unschooling is NOT
Radical unschooling is not unparenting, it’s not permissive parenting and it’s not without boundaries.
There are still boundaries (including things like safety or hygiene) but they’re respectfully navigated. Radical unschoolers don’t all of a sudden use disrespectful techniques like punishments to get children to ‘obey’. Often people hear of unschooling (and parenting with unschooling) and automatically wrongly assume that it means no parenting at all or that the child is seen as solely responsible for too much of their upbringing. But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Parenting by the vast majority of our society has become so much about controlling the child. So it’s no surprise that sharing about our removal of the unnecessary control is immediately rejected by many and renders many people defensive. Life with children without punishment is incredibly freeing.
Radical unschooling is about a shift in perspective of the role of the adult in the parenting relationship – one that moves from being a dictator to being a partner. It’s about redefining what being a parent means. It’s recognising that your role isn’t limited to being ‘the boss’, your child isn’t your property and they are deserving of having genuine choices. The child (the one who is often most affected by the choices) has just as much say as the parent in most of the decisions that affect them. For a lot of people, this is really challenging. I think in part this discomfort is due to being surrounded by a society that thinks quite little of children.
Ultimately, we all influence our children in some way. Radical unschooling simply means that the influence we have is not based in distrust, fear and control. It’s about recognising and respecting the abilities of the child while still playing an active role in helping them understand our world.
Radical unschooling is challenging. If you read back to when I first found unschooling and started deschooling you can read my own cognitive dissonance about it. I was scared that it meant ‘anything goes’ and that children wouldn’t learn how to navigate our world where there is such an abundance of control and conformity. It is truly difficult to parent without arbitrary control and obedience among the controlled and obedient.
But ultimately radical unschooling is a partnership, a respectful relationship that means everyone involved has a voice, is treated fairly and kindly. You as the parent are still there – guiding and facilitating – just as with unschooling simply for education. It doesn’t mean your voice as a parent is silenced, but that the child has a voice too.
Is it Radical?
I dislike the term, if I’m honest. I mean the concept of ‘radical’ is so open to interpretation. If you ask me, this lifestyle is only considered ‘radical’ in our completely out of touch world. But, I didn’t like the term ‘unschooling’ at first either. Now I embrace it knowing it really sums up what natural/life/free learning is about – the explicit lack of all things schooling. The terms are growing on me and they help others who are on this path understand where you are at.
It can feel like labelling it as radical makes the perception negative. However, in our society, it IS sadly a radical notion to treat children this way. So I’ve learned to own that for the positive notion it is. For many the idea that children can have the freedom to learn what/when/how they want is insanity. Let alone extending that freedom to the rest of their life. It’s sad to realise we need a label for something most adults take for granted as their standard.
I will say though that this lifestyle doesn’t feel radical when you’re living it. I can’t fathom living a life where I micro-managed and forced so much of what my children do. Our life is one primarily of harmony. I’m still available to help when they want or need it but they’re so capable and amaze me with how much better they are at regulating their life than most adults (myself included!)
If I were pressed to express my ultimate favourite part about this lifestyle it would be that I’m able to witness my children as fully themselves. To watch them develop and thrive without arbitrary rules, control, conformity, pressure or punishment. Their life is their own – their style, their learning, their choices and their personality. It’s something most parents don’t get to see. A child free from the level of conditioning that is typical of our society. And it’s magical!
Further Unschooling Reading:
- Free to Learn by Peter Gray (I read this one after making the decision to unschool and spent the entire book enthusiastically nodding along!)
- Learning All The Time by John Holt (and indeed ALL of John Holt’s works)
- Home Grown by Ben Hewitt.
Thank you for reading!