Sunday, January 26, 2014

Radical Unschooling is it Unparenting?

My friend Rachel, a very lovely lady, also a fellow Radical Christian Unschooling Mom, inspired me to come out of hibernation and write this post. (Hi Rachel, if you're reading)

Rachel, like myself, has had some experience with folks who label themselves as Radical Unschoolers, but were most clearly not at all Radical Unschooling parents, and most definitely Unparenting.

If you do a web search on Radical Unschooling/Unparenting. You find quite a few forum discussions, blog posts and articles that also maintain that the two are in fact the same. And a laundry list of why people think it's a bad path to follow because of the out of control/disrespectful kids it produces.

So is Radical Unschooing the same thing as Unparenting? 
Well, as a Radical unschooling Mom ... I'd say a big huge resounding "Nooooo way"!

I think people that confuse the two terms have perhaps had the unfortunate encounters, such as myself and Rachel have, around other people who call themselves radical unschoolers, but what they are doing is permissiveness (or unparenting).
People who have no idea what Radical Unschooling is, they base their opinions off either actual encounters with someone who claims to be an unschooling family. Maybe off blog posts of people who tried it for a week. Homeschool forum conversations with others who have either had an encounter themselves or heard about someone who heard about someone who had a bad encounter with someone who claims they were a Radical Unschooler. :-) Or maybe they have been misinformed from someone who professes to be a radical unschooling expert but encourages a "screw everyone else" attitude of child rearing. And that scares people. Most people don't want to raise a hell raiser. Most people want to raise loving, compassionate, kind children. They just can't see how that can happen when an impression is given that "kids do anything they want".

Types of parenting: 
Dr. Thomas Gordon talks about 3 most common types of parents in his book Parent Effectiveness Training, he calls them "the winners", "the losers", and the "oscillators". He describes them as follows:

  • The Winners - (Also known as authoritarian) "These are parents who strongly defend and persuasively justify their right to exercise authority of power over the child. They believe in restricting, setting limits, demanding certain behaviors, giving commands, and expecting obedience. They use threats of punishment to influence the child to obey, and mete out punishments when he/she does not. When conflict arises between the needs of the parents and those of the child, these parents consistently resolve the conflict in such a way that the parent wins and the child loses."
  • The Losers: "Allow their children a great deal of freedom most of the time. They consciously avoid setting limits and proudly admit that they do not condone authoritarian methods. When conflict occurs between the needs of the parent and those of the child, rather consistently it is the child who wins and the parent who loses, because such parents believe it is harmful to frustrate a child's needs."
  • The Oscillators: This group, Dr. Gordon says makes up the largest group of parents. Those who go back and fourth between the two types of parenting. He has a quote in his book from a Mom who is an oscillator: "I try to be permissive with my children until they get so bad I can't stand them. Then I feel I have to change and start using my authority until I get so strict I can't stand myself."
Those are not the only ways to parent. But they are the ways most people are familiar with. None of the above describes what parenting in a Radical Unschooling family looks like. 

I love this quote by Alfie Kohn: 
"Parents who seem oblivious to how their children are annoying strangers and getting into mischief are often equally oblivious to their children's needs." 
If I could expound more on this quote as it relates to Radical unschooling specifically I would say... Parents who seem oblivious to their kids following the rules/guidelines of the library, restaurant, movie theater, museum, or respecting the feelings and boundaries of other people, are not Radically unschooling, and you should stop telling people that's what you are doing.  

I've seen parents in person who claim to be radical unschoolers, where the kids are rude and thumb their nose at you when you ask them not to do something that is bothering someone else. The parents are rude. The Kids are rude. The parents also thumb their nose at anything they feel is "a rule". They want to be rebels and they want to answer to no authority. They breed this "attitude" at home within their families. They teach discourtesy and inconsideration. They believe that they are bound by no rules or restrictions of society. They don't have consideration for people around them. And so neither do their kids. 
But to be fair. I've also seen plenty of non-homeschooling kids and parents act the very same way as well. It's just not talked about because it's the "norm" for kids to be in public schools. 

So how does it look at my house... if it's not Unparenting... what is it?
At it's very core in our family we most simply live in consideration of each other. When you are considerate of each other, not only does it allow for amazing relationships. But people help each other because people who love and care for each other do kind things for one another all the time, not out of obligation, force or fear, but out of love. 

And I'll go a step further and say that as a Christian. One of the ways I show Jesus to others through my own actions and behaviors, is through loving acts of service. The simplest gesture can be a loving act of service. I want to show Jesus to my children through my behaviors. Think on the example of how a loving wife is happy to do kind things for her husband, for no other reason than love. And extend that to relationships within the entire family. Loving acts of service done for one another all the time, kids for parents, parents for kids. Just simply because the family loves and cares for one another. For me, this is the very essence of Radical Unschooling in our family. 

No one needs to be bossed around or ordered. There isn't a need when people talk to and treat each other respectfully. Think how you talk to a friend. If you talk to your kids differently than how you treat a friend, like down to them, or like they are less than, or dismissively. That's not very respectful, and you wouldn't talk to a friend that way. Kids are learning to navigate this world. Our job as parents is to be a loving guide. Not put the "fear of God into them" as I've heard people say. And equally importantly it's not to raise them toward focusing only on themselves where everyone else and their needs are of no importance. If you are raising kids that no one wants to be around. You are doing them such a huge disservice. 

An example of consideration in our house. My kids (12, 10, 7, 4) are free to eat anything we have in the house, anytime they are hungry. They don't have to ask permission to have it. I have told them that in the past. Sure by all means... help yourself... you don't have to ask me first. 
And do you know that every one of my kids will ask first, "Is it okay if I have? or Can I have?" before taking something. That's not "training" or because I insist, or because they fear me. That is out of consideration on many levels. 
Consideration for reasons such as:
  • Might we be going out to eat?
  • Might I need the item for a recipe I'm cooking?
  • Is it close to dinner or lunch that I may be making (and they'd rather wait)?
  • Is it the last one of something? And they want to make sure no one else had their heart set on it, or was saving it?
  • Did everyone (who wanted some) get to have some before I have seconds or thirds or finish it off?
The respect and consideration we show each other extends outside of our house and our family. Bry and I model respect and consideration for other people, in their homes, in their businesses, etc. If you are not a considerate adult... like behind closed doors you're disrespectful and talk down to your kids and your spouse, yet out in the world you model consideration for others. You send all kind of mucked up messages to your kids. One of which is "Mom or Dad is fake fake fake." And you will not only lose face with them as they grow up and maybe wish to call you on it as they get older. But there goes the whole live what you want your kids to learn, flying right out the window. 
Don't expect them to live out something you can't model for them. They learn by watching you. 

Ultimately I think people who are parenting badly sometimes glam on to the label of Radical Unschooling. Maybe they think it sounds cool. Maybe someone who was doing it as a way to "thumb the man" told them about it. And they thought it sounded like a good label to use. I would encourage people to not rely on those negatives as examples of radical unschoolers. Read, writings of those with grown Radically Unschooled children, like Sandra Dodd, Joyce Fetteroll, Pam Laricchia. And from a Mom and her family whom I've had the pleasure to met in person, Jennifer McGrail, who's oldest is 17 as of this post. 
This may not be a homeschool/lifestyle choice you wish to pursue. But if you do. It's a wonderful way to live life with your family. 

Blessings to you and yours. 


Michelle H. said...

Perfectly done! It's good to hear from others that are on the same path.

Melissa said...

Thanks Michelle :-)

Pam in Colorado said...

I'm jealous that you have met Jennifer in person. I hope to soon! Great post. Well explained.

Melissa said...

Lol awe Pam you will meet her soon!

Thanks so much. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love this post. We are unschoolers as well. :-)

Melissa said...

Thanks Homesteaders wife :-)