April 15, 2008

The New (Radical) Unschooler

I'm aiming for the Radical Unschooling lifestyle. There. I said it. It's out in the universe. I feel nervous just typing it because I didn't really ever imagine myself taking the "Radical" path--but I've bought the sales pitch, so to speak, and I'm in. I'm a believer. Or maybe I should say I have faith. Because I'm not sure if I know any radical unschoolers personally so I haven't actually seen the results with my own two eyes and even though I haven't met them I believe what they're telling me. (Yes, Caren, I'm going to attend the West Coast conference for sure and am trying for Live and Learn as well!!)

What are they saying? They say I can teach my child empathy and respect by modeling that behavior. They say if I trust my child my child will trust me. That kind of thing. I won't get too into it here because I always get a jumbled when I try to explain it and since I'm new to this parenting philosophy (and struggling with it) I'm not really qualified anyway.

Thus far my parenting approach could best be described as "parenting by instinct." I've always gone with what feels right and it's served me pretty well. My instincts led me to attachment parenting (though I'd never read much about it and only later learned it had a name) and a really warm and loving relationship with my son.

But along with my instincts I've also followed the usual role of parent in our society. I've used punishments and rewards to get Jerry to behave the way I want him to behave. I guess I should say I've tried to use punishments and rewards. They never worked too well.

But last year, when we started homeschooling, I discovered Unschooling. I originally thought it was just an educational philosophy but in these past 220 odd days I've discovered that Unschooling can be more than and educational philosophy. It can be a whole new way of living and relating to the people you love and to the world around you. And it sounds great. 

One of the most important aspects of Radical Unschooling, it's backbone, you might say, is non-coercive parenting. I haven't read any books about it. (Thanks Holly for the recommendation. I'll check out that Alfie Kohn book.) I haven't seen it practiced (that I know if). But my instincts are telling me it's right.

This post was really meant to answer the many heartfelt and thoughtful comments people left to my previous post. But there was such a long involved discussion going on it seems silly to go back and respond to everything that was said there. I will say that I understand what JJ meant when she wrote "it seems to me that zeroing in on Colleen's current feelings instead of her chosen commitment to change the direction of her whole life with Jerry and Warren, is like sympathizing with a girlfriend for a bad test score or being grounded for wrecking dad's car, and the whole group blaming her teacher or dad as a meanie, to help her 'feel better,'"  which is why I've decided to announce my intentions to try for the RU lifestyle. 

Friends and family, please don't panic. My parenting instincts have served me well thus far and I'm not leaving them behind. I'm just trying a different path. I'll still notice if something isn't right and I'll adjust accordingly. I'm not going to be bound by dogma and forgo my own freewill or any of that nonsense. I'm not going to give in to Jerry's every whim and forget that Warren and I have needs too. My goal is to create a family where each persons whims are considered equally, thereby creating a family in which each person feels equally important and honored. 

Just before Jerry and I left for our trip to the South Island I read a few of the comments to that last post and was struck by JJ's remark, "what if Warren didn’t want to go?" which made me wonder why it was so important that Warren and I get our way on that day. The very first thought that popped into my head was "because we're the adults." My next thought was, “because it’s our turn.” So that made think about this cycle of making children feel powerless--because that's what we're doing in traditional parenting practices. We say, "When you have your own kids, you can make the rules." And then our kids become parents and say the same thing to their kids. 

So what if it had always been my turn? Not my turn as in always getting what I want but my turn as in being given the power to make choices and have an impact. What if I could offer that gift to Jerry? (Friends and family, see paragraph 8.) Wouldn't it begin a cycle that was based on mutual respect and love and peace and all the things we say we want for the world but don't always think to give our own children? 

So that's the thought process I've been going through this past week and those are the answers I've come up with and Jerry and I have been at this internet cafe for over three hours now so I think I'd better stop writing and go back to the hostel.

But first I just have to say (again) that I appreciate ALL the comments people leave whether everyone agrees with them or not and whether they apply to one particular philosophy or they relate to your personal experiences. They're all welcome. Someday I might get a comment that I don't appreciate but it hasn't happened yet! 

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