homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Labels are a tricky thing. They can help to identify similarities; to allow us to find like-minded groups within a larger community. This is good. Of course, once you identify yourself by one aspect, you often find that you're lumped in with a group (and prejudged) based on a whole range of aspects that you may or may not also share.

Case in point: what do I call what we're doing?

To the general public, I usually just say "homeschooling". Then they at least know that we don't plan to send our kids to school, and unless they feel like asking more detailed questions (in which case I elaborate), that's enough.

But within homeschooling groups, I feel a need to go a step further and specify "unschooling", since I do not plan to have a set curriculum or texts or evaluations beyond what is required by the state. I learn and read and learn and read (and read, and read, and read), I seek out other people along similar non-school paths: for perspective, advice, and understanding. At one point, I came across the idea of "radical unschooling", which in its simplest definition seemed to fit where my soul-searching was leading me. Aha! That must be us!

Now...I hate to make generalizations (read: stereotypes), but when you encounter a group of like-minded people it's fair to say that you often notice certain trends. And within many of the RU groups/boards that I've lurked thus far, it seems to me that I find this overriding attitude of countering one parenting extreme (control and rigidity) by espousing the complete opposite extreme (universal permissiveness). I have always felt very strongly about taking my kids seriously but it seems to me that many of the folks who wear the RU badge go to the far extreme of allowing the children's needs/wants/desires to completely dominate the lives and activities of the rest of the household.

I'm sorry, but this isn't The [insert child's name here] Show. We're still a FAMILY. We *all* have needs--both individually and collectively--and while I do try to be fair to what my kids want, I refuse to become a doormat by conceding to their desires if they conflict with my/our overriding principles, values, or needs as a family.

I prefer a constantly-adjusting-to-each-situation moderation and willingness to reasses/change, both in parenting and in learning. Heck, in everything. I believe that one of the most important things a person of any age should learn is reasonable limits and self-restraint. Always saying "yes", IMO, cripples a child's ability to think critically...and of course there's the old fashioned idea that something that is waited for, or worked for, or done without, is often valued more highly than something that comes without effort.

So, I don't think we're RU, either. I do consider us unschoolers. We're very AP, we respect our kids' opinions and needs, and we're anti-testing/curriculum. But the more I lurk in unschooling mailing lists, the less "radical" I feel about it.

What is a non-radical unschooler, then? Isn't that like saying you're a conservative liberal?

See, that's why labels are such a mess. Maybe I'll just start saying "eclectic autodidact"...


  1. I think you are misinterpreting what RU really is.

    It is not permissiveness, it is respectful, mindful, partnership, common sense parenting.

    There are no rules in my house, we live by principles and foster respect.

  2. I think I understand the *goals* and *ideals* of RU.

    I am commenting not on RU as a concept, but on what I have observed among many people in the groups that I have subscribed to. I do realize that it is different for everyone. But I have encountered a great number of people who spend an inordinate amount of time panicking about the notion of ever saying the "N" (no) word. That's where it goes too far for my comfort level, and why I don't think that label completely suits me.

  3. I am so glad I found this post tonight. I am so struggling with this issue. We are unschoolers. In real life we've hooked up with lots of radical unschoolers. I really *get* the radical in radical unschooling. And now that I do get it, I know it isn't what works for us. My problem is feeling judged by the RUers out there and not being able to hook up with other unschoolers who haven't taken it to the extreme. Thank you for the post. We need a community of like minded folks.