Two Things About Unschooling

Conventional parents usually don’t think they are being disrespectful or
unkind to their children, and they often think they are using only gentle punishments,
referred to as “natural” or “logical” consequences.

What do radical unschoolers do that is different?

First, they try to engage in  “Parenting with Interpersonal Intelligence.”

One of the things unschooling parents work on is having a clear idea in our own heads, as parents, of what our
interactions with our children mean TO THEM, from their point of view.

Parents send their kids to their room to, “Think it over,” or give them some kind of punishment to get them to, “Think about what you did.” But what are the kids most likely thinking? “She’s so mean.” “She doesn’t understand.” “She’s not fair.” “She didn’t listen to me.” “She doesn’t care.” “I HATE her.” “I’ll never treat MY children like this.”

When we are more able to think from our kids’ point of view, we are more able to figure out what we can do that will really help a situation. It makes a huge difference in what choices we make, as parents.

Second – most people are completely and totally and thoroughly  brainwashed by the whole Skinnerian behaviorist approach to “training” children. When a child is, for example, lashing out at a sibling, that  is a child who needs a parent to help him work through some kind of  problem. But most parents think that any show of sympathy will be
perceived as a reward by the child for his misbehavior and will condition him to do more and more of it.

It is very hard to get out of that mindset – but children are not circus animals, to be trained with reward and punishment. Unschoolers drop that “trained animal” paradigm – and that is a HUGE huge gigantic big  change that requires us to re-examine every aspect of parenting – and to treat our children like real human beings, with complex needs and

Making these changes in our thinking isn’t easy. Not everybody starts out with the same level of interpersonal intelligence (look up Howard Gardner’s ideas about multiple intelligences for more info on this). For some, it comes naturally, but for many people it takes effort to develop. And, we are SO steeped in behavioral psychology ideas that we tend to think of them as axiomatic – unquestionably true.  It takes almost all of us time and practice to accept that there are other, much stronger, forces at work in child development than positive and negative conditioning and, especially, to realize that conditioning techniques can often counterproductive.

Radical Unschooling

It  isn’t at all surprising that radical unschooling sounds pretty wacko to those who haven’t observed it in action.

First, it is extremely hard to explain it – it is a total paradigm shift in how we parent. We don’t just keep doing things the same way while dropping rules and punishments – there is a lot more to it, and the other changes are significant although more subtle.

Second, it is a long-term process and it involves giving up some things for the sake of other things which we value more. So, in the short run, it can seem pretty goofy. I get that.

But my radically unschooled kids (we had no rules and no punishment) are now 19, 22, and 24. They’re just fine – they’re better than fine. I think they’re pretty darn awesome people and, even by external standards, they’re all successful.

HOW we live without rules or punishment is what is important and what takes a LOT of discussion to really get across.  I just think it isn’t at all what people who have rules and punishments think it would be like if they just dropped them.

Parents of school children think homeschooling would be like what they experiencing when trying to make resistant children do homework.  But we all know that isn’t what homeschooling is.  Still, we find that it is difficult to get that across to parents whose only experience with their own kids is in having homework battles.  We have a similar problem in explaining radical unschooling to other unschoolers and homeschoolers.  It really is just hard to imagine how it really works.

We’ve loved our radically unschooling livestyle – it has been sweet and joyful and extremely satisfying and we have no regrets. They kids were never out of control, never rebellious. We’re super close and the now-grown kids are helpful and generous and responsible and they really don’t quite understand why parents would punish kids – they don’t see any reason for it. They understand other ways of developing parent-childrelationships based on cooperation and collaboration and support.

So – not saying everybody should jump on the radical unschooling bandwagon. Just asking people to maybe not rush to judgment based on a tv segment or even on just a family or two you might happen to know.

Radical unschooling has come to mean extending the basic principles of unschooling to all kinds of learning – not just the usual academic subjects, but to learning to share, to clean the house, to take care of personal hygiene, and on and on. We trust our kids not only to learn to read but also to learn to eat and sleep.  But not “on their own.”  Not at ALL. There is tremendous parental involvement – being a radical unschooling parent is hard work (albeit great fun) and requires a lot of attention and awareness and it needs a lot of creativity, flexibility, and energy.

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