Thursday, April 26, 2007

Radical Unschooling vs. Self-Directed Learning

Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.
...............John Holt

From the beginning I have referred to my family as unschoolers, since we don't sit around the kitchen table and "do school". We do have workbooks in the house, but only use them when one of my kids asks to. Okay, I do occasionally suggest we do some pages, but if they don't want to, we don't. Our days are filled with reading, playing, watching TV or DVDs rented from Netflix, playing board games and computer games, doing puzzles and crafts, playing, talking, doing household tasks (yes my ten year-old does his own laundry), playing, and mostly being out in the world. We love museums, libraries, letterboxing, shopping, and playing with friends. We don't even mind having to do errands since we are together.

I remember first hearing about unschooling when my older son was about five, and being appalled to hear that the child of someone I knew, was ten years old and could not yet read. So I appreciate that a lot of people do not understand the concept of unschooling, or are uncomfortable by it. It really takes a giant leap of faith to live this lifestyle.

I've always been proud to call us unschoolers though, since it does require an awful lot of trust in my children to be one. But these days I'm finding myself hesitant to use the term, since I've been on a few unschooling email lists and have been increasingly uncomfortable by how some other unschoolers define us. And the fact that the term "radical unschoolers" even exists indicates that there are others out there who feel the same way I do.

So what do radical unschoolers do that makes me hesitate to call myself one?

Kids who are radical unschoolers watch whatever they want, and as much as they want on TV, all the time. They spend as much time as they want on the computer. They eat whatever they want all the time. They are not required to contribute to the running of the household unless they want to. They don't even have to pick up their toys off the livingroom floor unless they feel like it. They can go to bed whenever they want. And from what I read, they also have the right to refuse when their grandmother, who needs a walker to get around, asks them to get her something from another room.

I'm sure there is a lot more, but the emails dictating that those who don't do these things can't call themselves unschoolers had me leaving the lists before I could learn what they might be.

Now I am an attachment parent, so trusting my children, from the time of breastfeeding, is something I've gotten pretty good at. However I am also clinically obese, along with dozens of family members. So when my younger son tells me that the reason he is so upset that his brother was invited to a birthday party that he was not, is that he is going to miss the cake, I hesitate to trust him to eat what his body needs.

I expect my children to eat the nutritious foods I provide for them. I expect them to stop watching TV and playing computer games when they start to ignore other things that they have previously enjoyed doing. I expect them to do their share of the household chores, since I'm not a slave. I expect them to go to bed at an hour which will assure they get enough rest. And I certainly expect them to respect not only their elders, but all other people, simply by virtue of the fact that we all share the same planet.

And for all this, I "have no right" to call myself an unschooler. Well, if that's what being an unschooler means, then I don't want to! So these days I call us "self-directed learners", hoping that it conveys what we are about without the negative connotation that radical unschoolers have given the word "unschoolers", to pretty much everyone who is not one. I have to admit that I also avoid associating with radicals since these kids, in my experience, do not have the respect for others that I expect from my children. And one of the good things about homeschooling is that I can (somewhat) control the time frame in which my kids are exposed to different things.

Like I said before "I appreciate that a lot of people do not understand the concept of unschooling, or are uncomfortable by it. It really takes a giant leap of faith to live this lifestyle." But when it comes to radical unschooling, that's one leap I'm not willing to take.

For more information on unschooling, check out John Holt's book:


Ren said...

I'm not sure who you met, or what their children are like, but you're sure willing to lump a whole group of people together in a negative manner. Sad.

We've lived the "radical unschooling" (I prefer the term "whole-life learning") for many years and my children are not the disrespectful hellions you seem to imagine.

I think mindful parenting involved a LOT of energy, enthusiasm and dialogue that is not the free-for-all you're painting.

I'm sure some neglectful parents like using the term, to negate any feelings of guilt, that doesn't make it "radical" though.

I can't imagine if my spouse forced me to do things against my will, or how that would affect our relationship. I like to extend the same respect, courtesies and kindness to my children that I afford every other human being.

Interestingly, with all the access to tv/video games/food, they AREN'T the "zombie", junk eating, hellions you seem to think all children would become (how much trust is that showing in their natural goodness?). Instead, they are thoughtful, interesting and yes, respectful to those that deserve it.

It's really interesting to me, that the kinds of learning children do can be separated. Sure, we can trust them to learn math, reading etc...when they're ready, but NOT learn about food/tv/household tasks and other subjects in their own way and time?

Everything is learning. We dialogue about healthy vs. unhealthy, we learn about helping each other and because we've been generous with them, they are generous with us. OH, and they can make mistakes without hearing "I told you so", which means if they eat too much cake, they learn something new. It's not a crime to ignore your body signals. The kids that get to learn in their own way, learn to be very in tune with their own bodies!

And they don't learn in a vacuum....we're right there with them providing healthy choices and helping them get where they need to go.

proud radical, whole-life learner

Vicki said...

Wow, I actually know of some of the posts you are refering to! But those were the odd-man out and if you had read the answers to those posts, you would have seen that unschoolers DO parent their children, and DO model manners and respect. I'm sorry to hear that you felt run out!

Now, as for the free for all on video games, computer games, books, food, whatever, I haven't experienced any form of zombiism from my ds (9). He reads above high school level (so why would I limit him?) He understands graphing (x,y)(-x,y) etc, he just learned triangulation, he does multiplication, division and with no spelling lessons, can spell rather well! He writes his own blog which the teacher who did his eval, was highly impressed with.

So why bash all unschoolers just because you ran into a few negative ones?

I'm extremely glad to have learned about unschooling. By applying their concepts, my son is learning more then he ever learned in the public school gifted program.


CBRE B. said...

I went back and re-read my post, and do not feel I was bashing anyone. I was very careful to simply share my own experiences.

Just because I disagree with the way some people do things doesn't mean I judge them. Perhaps the feeling of judgement has been pervasive enough to leave some radical unschoolers feeling defensive toward anyone who questions radical unschooling at all, even if they are questioning it just for themselves?

I agree that "mindful parenting involved a LOT of energy, enthusiasm and dialogue". This is true of homeschoolers of all kinds, and we should *all* be proud of our efforts to live this alternative lifestyle. We should also be proud of *eachother* for stepping out of the mainstream to do what we each feel is best for our own children.

It's curious that the only time I've ever felt judged by fellow homeschoolers is on the unschooling lists. I was actually afraid to post anything because I could SEE how doing one thing "wrong" or simply questioning any of the lists' unschooling dogma, would result in a downpour of soapbox speeches.


Perhaps if radical unschoolers, or "whole-life learners", want to change the perception people have of them, they could work on coming across as less judgemental themselves (she says, ducking with eyes closed - lol).

Ren said...

~~It's curious that the only time I've ever felt judged by fellow homeschoolers is on the unschooling lists.~~

Perhaps when people question motives and philosophy, it feels like judgement? Some lists are more geared for hard-core discussion than others. There are lists for everyone, not all of them as discussion oriented as others.

If you venture onto an unschooling list, geared to help people GET to unschooling, it might feel pretty harsh when you try to defend limits and punishment. I can understand that.

I have no need to change anyone's perception of anything. We all choose our own perceptions and I'm spending waaaay too much time living a joyful life with my kids to worry about what people think.

I do believe that if you met many of the radical unschoolers I know, it might shift your thinking. No arbitrary limits involves a lot of creative problem solving and consensual decisions.

Feel free to check out the blogring I'm in if you are curious about what unlimited children are really up to......:)
So far today, my kids that have free access to tv, video games, food and choice over how they help, have:
~Jumped on the trampoline
~Picked lettuce and made themselves a salad (10 and 6 y.o. no less) from our garden
~Created milk art (swirling food dye into milk)
~Made homemade pizzas
~Played games
~Washed their own dishes, just because...nobody even asked them

And it's only 1:30 here, they awoke around 11am!! That's a lotta busyness.:)

Yeah, we have days we spend a lot of time gaming and watching tv. It's all learning. Every part of their learning experience is valuable and kids deserve to be trusted.

Rather than limiting their viewing or other choices, get into THEIR world and watch with them. Bring them a snack and talk about what they're doing. You might be surprised at all the amazing connections they are making.

I'd hate to interrupt something that is of importance to them. That would be messing with their own unique learning experience, something I trust and value deeply. Even if they eat "too much" cake.

What is "too much" for me might not be for them. We're all so different that way. I think controlling food is a great way to cause harmful relationships with food.

This lady has a great post about "unfooding" if you scroll down:

My problem with your post wasn't the fact that you were judging radical unschooling as something that won't work for you....that's something we're all used to, trust me.

It's the fact that you magically lumped all radical unschoolers into a negative category, without even really knowing any irl.

I don't mind that people think we're nuts, and that we're ruining our children. That's how it is in my world. But it drives me batty when someone writes of ANY community of people without really knowing them, or much about the topic.

Ren said...

I'm sorry...I can't help but comment on this too:

~And I certainly expect them to respect not only their elders, but all other people, simply by virtue of the fact that we all share the same planet.~

The rapist that tries to harm people doesn't deserve the same respect that other people do. I don't want my kids to respect people just because they share the planet with them...they share this planet with some pretty horrible people.

Respecting behaviors or ideas or character traits is far more helpful than just "respecting" everyone. Not everyone deserves respect.

The lady that grills my child about what he/she knows might deserve a blunt response that wouldn't be considered respectful by mainstream America. I value them protecting themselves and I don't expect them to show respect to everyone without any thought process behind the action.

Teaching kids to respect their elders or everyone on the planet automatically, is what leads to molestation and other abuses. Kids need to trust their own instincts.

They'll learn societal expectations and manners just fine if their parents walk alond with them and model/dialogue some thoughtful conversation.

Love 2B Homeschoolers said...

Responded to the "respect" issue in its own post