books, struggle-free discipline, unschooling

Radical Unschooling (Book Review)

I’ve come upon a group of people with whom I share a parenting philosophy. I find these people easy to relate to, intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and aware. I’m speaking about Whole Life Unschoolers (aka Radical Unschoolers).

Radical-Unschooling-BookI was recently turned onto an episode of the TV show Wife Swap featuring the Martin family. The mom, Dayna Martin, wrote a book titled Radical Unschooling – A Revolution Has Begun, which I’ve just finished reading. As the title suggests, there are a whole group of parents who are rejecting standardized schooling, trusting their intuition, trusting their children’s innate ability to learn, and doing their own thing. The Facebook group they moderate is called Whole Life Unschooling and in the past few days I have had the most interesting conversations there that make me feel right at home among what most would consider a “fringe” group.

As I mentioned in a previous post, when I began reading the book, I found myself nodding in agreement. It is full of insight gleaned from the Martins’ nurturing of four unschooled, self-directed children. They certainly walk the talk. The first chapters are dedicated to encouraging parents to respect their children as they would any adult whom they love and cherish. Dayna gives examples of how she helps her children follow their passions, whether it be for exploring other cultures or watching Hannah Montana. The key, she points out, is to be there with them, by their side every step of the way, sharing with them, and getting to know them inside and out. It’s a natural extension of Attachment Parenting, wherein the parents pay close attention to baby’s needs and fulfill those needs as they arise. If you support your baby in this way, why not just continue supporting your child throughout their lives? Why should that respect and nurturing stop just because they’ve weaned from the boobie?

The theories behind unschooling are backed by lots of evidence. There has been a heap of research that shows that humans (particularly young humans) have an innate drive to learn, and it is cultivated by plenty of play, free time to explore what interests them, and space to experiment and make mistakes (there is, in fact, an entire conference on the subject called How Kids Learn). Too much structure and forced education (worksheets, tests, rote memorization) can squash that innate drive. Radical Unschooling just extends this understanding into all aspects of life. Radical Unschoolers don’t differentiate between learning time and time to play, eat, sleep, relax, work. Unschoolers are learning every moment of every day and no standardized tests can really show all they know.

Dayna’s book talks about some of the pitfalls along the path to becoming Radical Unschoolers. Some things are so ingrained in us, that we have to work at letting go of them (among them demanding compliance and obedience, yelling, setting up arbitrary limits). We were not trusted as kids, and so we sometimes have trouble viewing children as ultimately trustworthy. Some people think that children left to their own devices will turn into a chapter out of Lord of the Flies. But let us remember that the boys in Golding’s book were the products of a British boarding school education – the polar opposite of unschooling.

Children have an amazing ability to self-regulate in all aspects of life, and it seems a great deal of unschooling involves letting go – surrendering control. Dayna is careful to point out that this is not the same as permissive parenting which is detached and irresponsible. It places the responsibility squarely on the parent to model attitudes and behaviors that promote peace and harmony within the family and beyond. Martin points out that as adults we have had lots of time to learn how to deal with our emotions and kids have not. We have to accept them as whole people who are still learning how to navigate in their world, and not become authoritarian and reactionary if they don’t behave as we wish. Obedience is not the goal of RU. Connection is. Raising happy, well-balanced, self-possessed people is. It’s a doctrine of acceptance over judgement. Of experience over performance. Dayna’s book seems to take some cues from the practice of non-violent communication, and is right along the same lines as other books that I really love, including Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and Scream Free Parenting by Hal Runkel. It shares some things in common with the Continuum Concept by Jean Liedoff as well as Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. All of these take a long hard look at the behaviorist model of parenting (which includes punishments and rewards, time outs and parent-invented consequences to enforce obedience – in short treating children as beings that have more in common with pets than adults) and shows why they are ineffective and even harmful. Most of these, including Martin’s book, ask the grown-ups to really grow up – to deal with our own reactions as byproducts of more conventional parenting, and to be mature and loving examples.

I really love this philosophy and have no problem embracing it, as it seems only natural to me. Any thoughts I had raising my first child (20 years ago) of his performance, how well he “behaved,” were all influenced by outside forces. I looked to what others thought, because, at 19 years old, I lacked confidence in my own intuition. The Radical Unschooling  philosophy is much more native to my own thinking. I feel quite comfortable letting go of others’ standards for daughter. And everything we have collectively learned about human development is firmly in my favor. Not to mention all the repair work I’ve had to do on my own motivation after being a straight-A student in public schools! I was so institutionalized that after getting my Master’s degree I was at a loss for how to function outside of school! It finally took Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose to make me realize that I actually don’t need to finish every little thing I start, and I don’t have to choose one passion over all others in order to be a “successful” person. I don’t want my daughter to have so much work undoing her childhood.  I want my daughter to be free from all the traditional school dogma.

I recently watched a poignant video that speaks to this issue very well.

Radical Unschooling – A Revolution Has Begun is clear, articulate, well thought out and quite obviously backed by years of experience in a parenting style that deserves a lot of serious consideration.   And I am ever so grateful for having found a community centered around the Whole Life Unschooling philosophy and all the great ideas and people associated with it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *