This is a poetic rant posted in April 2012 by Alex Polikowsky on the Unschooling Basics discussion list. I've made a few grammatical and clarifying corrections, because when Alex gets excited, her non-native-English-speaker roots can sproing out a bit, but I love what she wrote, and here it is almost exactly as originally posted (thanks to both Schuyler and Joyce for sending it to me):
Unschooling is not about letting children take care of themselves or work things out alone or without help and guidance,
Joyce Fetteroll, October 2014:
The false message new radical unschoolers can pick up is that children will be happy and kind if we're happy and kind. Obviously not true. By being happy and kind we don't add to or cause their unhappiness and unkindness. We don't damage their relationship with us. It's much easier to deal with whatever life has dumped on them if we're not also dealing with any additional crap we've dumped on them. *
[I changed "RU" to "radical unschooling" a couple of times. —Sandra the editor]
Emily S (saturnfire16) wrote:
We are radical unschoolers, which means that like other unschoolers we recognize that children are hard wired to learn, but unlike other unschoolers, we extend that belief to include not only academic subjects, but the rest of life. We do not have arbitrary rules, bed times, food restrictions, tv restrictions etc.
We do NOT do TCS or any other form of non-coersive parenting. TCS is about never saying no. Radical unschooling is about learning and relationships. [editorial note: TCS stands for "Taking Children Seriously," a smaller, separate philosophy NOT related to unschooling.]
I will tell you a little about our day today, so you can see how it works here. We went for a hike and dd2 wanted to wear her red sparkly shoes, which are not very good for climbing in. So, we brought her tennis shoes with us. When we got there, I noticed that it was not muddy (so the sparkly shoes would not get ruined) and that the trail was flat walking not hard climbing, so her shoes would probably be fine. Dh went ahead and suggested to her that she change into her tennis shoes, which she did.
We came to a part with a creek and a bridge and a big hill behind it. Dh took dd1 up the hill while I took dd2 on the bridge. She wanted to go down to the water. A TCS parent might be afraid to say no to this request either because of the potential meltdown or because of a belief that saying no might hinder their child's development. I do not fear saying no, but I said yes, out of a desire to facilitate learning and because I was enjoying exploring with her.
Of course, like any 2.5 year old, she wanted to get IN the water. I do not have a "rule" about getting wet on hikes. I do have the common sense to recognize that we did not bring any extra clothes and it is cold out. So, I explained that to her and said that she could not get in, but she could touch it with her hands. We climbed around the bank, on the rocks and under the bridge. I helped her lean in to put her hands in and lay on the rocks on her tummy so she could reach further out. I realized right before we were done, that she was doing a little experiment: Is the water cold where it's moving fast? Is it still cold where it's still? Is it cold by this rock? Is it still cold on the other side of the creek?
Meanwhile, dh was letting dd1 throw rocks off the top of the hill. Some parents have a standing rule about never throwing rocks. TCS would say that she "needs" to throw rocks and to stop her would be wrong. I don't agree with either one. Throwing the rocks was fine, until dd2 and I started walking toward them and could have gotten hit. Then dh had her stop for our safety. Radical unschooling is about learning and relationships. Part of having a good relationship is keeping everyone safe. If we need to say no to do that, we don't hesitate to do so. But we do explain because explanations lead to learning. And if a mutually agreeable solution can be found, for example, if she had asked to throw them the other direction, we would go allow that. However, she stopped without a problem.
That's just a brief snapshot of a part of a day, but that is how it works here. I do not fear saying no, but I do believe that children learn best with a lot of yes's. I give them the freedom to explore, make mistakes and learn about their own bodies, but we don't live in a vacuum, so I also take into account other people (including myself) and their feelings, property rights, and personal space.
I don't follow "RU principles," I follow Biblical principles. I try to make decisions mindfully and thoughtfully, putting our relationship, learning, safety and respect first. I have not given up my parental authority, I just use it to partner with my child and give her as much freedom as I can.
We do not have bed times, but we do help the kids get to sleep at an hour that is reasonable for everyone.
We do not restrict any food or have rules about food, but I do buy healthy foods and talk about why we eat the way we do.
We do not restrict tv, but I do provide lots of other interesting options AND watch shows with them and help them find things they are interested in.
I don't do any of those things to "be a radical unschooler." I do them because I have researched, prayed and deeply thought about each thing and slowly implemented it in our own lives. These were thoughtful, mindful decisions, not a full out abandonment of all rules so I could jump on the Radical Unschooling bandwagon. Thank you!
Emily S (saturnfire16)
What you wrote paints a lovely picture. It's bound to intrigue someone :-)
After some discussion (mostly about "RU" as a designation) these came through:
"lspswr": Is Taking Children Seriously much a part of the unschooling community?
Emily S (saturnfire16): You have one page where you have a paragraph saying that you don't want to be associated with TCS, but if you could start a whole page about your thoughts (and others of course) on TCS that would be very handy to link to. I have read your thoughts on it here on the list, but people who are not on the list often confuse radical unschooling and TCS.
My response (and the reason I made the page you're on now):
Some people do both, and that's fine. I know a couple of people who picked it up and used it (or ideas from it) 10 years ago when someone was active on unschooling.com, and some of the TCS ("Taking Children Seriously") people said they unschooled, but I don't think there was really a lot of overlap, and it's been a long time.