I could just say *Wow!* and pretty much cover it all! This was the 6th annual Live and Learn conference, and I wish I'd been there for the first and all the ones in between. Unschooling as a method of homeschooling is one thing, unschooling and/or radical unschooling as a family lifestyle is a whole world beyond that.
We've basically been unschooling our kids educationally only, by following their interests and helping them learn more about what those things, not pushing on other stuff they're not interested in. But the radical unschooling (RU) lifestyle means a whole lot more than just that. I knew that before we went to the conference, and had signed up for some yahoo lists to learn more.
After reading Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, I really thought his book made sense, and that it lead toward RU as well. Same for Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication. I just wasn't quite sure how it would all look "in action." Well, spending almost a week with a self-described "tribe" of RU's was just what I needed. And I had worried that Eddie wouldn't find the ideas appealing, but the talks and the dads' discussion groups he went to, and seeing the families (especially the teens, and talking to them) living it, completely convinced him it was the right thing for us, too.
A quick primer on what most people mean when the talk about RU is definitely in order here. I'm going to use a section from the site Consensual Living, from something Pam Genant wrote, and that I read while at the conference that helped me:
Consensual Living, to me, means living with family members in relationships where each individual is treated equally and has the right to self-determination, living in an environment where each family member’s wants and/or needs are valued and met. When conflicts arise, mutually agreeable solutions are reached.Consensual living is at the core of radical unschooling. If you read the whole article, you will be able to understand this better, but I didn't want to copy the whole thing here.
Another resource for understanding this lifestyle is Rue Kream's book titled Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life. There is a great review of the book at the Parenting Pit. I will use some paragraphs from her preface as another glimpse into RU:
For our family, unschooling has little to do with education and much more to do with our relationships, the way adults view children, and the philosophies we choose to live by. The principles that guide us do not apply only to a list of academic subjects. They permeate every part of our lives and our interactions with each other.
Jon and I treat Dagny and Rowan with respect. We trust that they know in their hearts what is of value to them. We choose to live in ways that keep us connected and involved in each other's day to day lives. We question the ideas that are accepted and passed down as fact from generation to generation. We believe that learning will happen in its own time and is not more important than loving or hoping or laughing. We live without subjects, in a world where life is not separated into neat little pieces but instead swirls and flows together in ways we could never design.
Trusting and respecting our children as whole people leads us to approach every aspect of our family life with fresh eyes. What are we trying to accomplish? What are our priorities? Are there new solutions to dealing with the issues that come up when living together as a family?
Our unschooling and our parenting is our life together.
A little bit further into the book, she says:
We believe that children (humans) seek out knowledge in the same way they seek out fun or food, and we believe that adults can do a lot to interfere with that desire to learn. We don't believe that repetition is necessary or that there is a list of things that every person needs to know. We believe that turning the relationship of parent and child into a relationship between teacher and student is detrimental. We want our children to own their learning and to learn for their own reasons, not to please a teacher.
It all boils down to trusting that your child knows himself best. He knows when he's hungry, when he's tired, when he's cold or hot (my mom always told me "I'm cold, go put on a sweater!" or "It's cold outside, you need a hat." Come to think of it, she still does. :) Hi Mom!), what books are of value to him (as opposed to the parent telling him he should read something because she finds value in it), same with TV and video games and all aspects of his life. Trust that he will know when he's ready for a particular TV show's content, that if he's uncomfortable, he'll change the channel or do something else. We can't possibly read what's in his head and tell him better than he can what's important to him and what's not, what has value and what doesn't, what he's ready for and what he's not.
I especially liked hearing Rue and Jon talk at a roundtable discussion, "Parenting a Free Child." One thing they both drove home was that there is no "Parent Trump Card." We think there is. We think, as a society, that because we're bigger, older, more experienced, "the parents," etc, that we get to make all the decisions, without regard to how the younger people in the family feel about something. How often did we all hear, "Because I'm the parent, that's why!" as we were growing up? But they made it clear that no person has that right over another person, even in a family.
I will digress even more here with a wake-up moment I had last night. I am trying to learn how to play World of Warcraft, which the kids are into at the moment, and they kept telling me what to do, how to move around; Emily even took the mouse from me so I was just using the keyboard for a few moves while she controlled other things. I was getting so frustrated! I wanted to figure it out slowly on my own, but they were way beyond me and wanted to help. And I didn't want their help and realized this is what it felt like as a child (and feels like for mine) to have people telling me what to do and how to do it, and to have them even do for me what I would rather try for myself, even if it did take longer. Ouch!
One thing that Danielle Conger spoke about during her session "From Zero to Sixty" [scroll down the page till you see her session title], about "parenting a spirited, intense, sensitive child" and still maintaining that RU life, should be mentioned here, too. She told us that she explained to her son that his freedom ends where another's begins. Radically unschooled kids don't "run wild." That's not in the definition. If they are shown that everyone in the family, and then everyone they encounter in life, has feelings, thoughts, needs, and ideas that are of value, they'll come to know that you can't go up and kick someone just because, that you can't break someone's toy if it will make you feel better. The main idea is to treat everyone with respect.
I think I'll end this post here and continue in a second . . .