Other Ideas

This discussion was September 27-29, 2014, at Radical Unschooling Info on Facebook. If you're on facebook and would rather see it there, with images and "likes" try here: Gentle Parenting advice as a Hindrance?

I'm saving it here because not everyone is on facebook, and facebook probably won't always be there.

Gentle parenting advice as a hindrance?
(anonymous question:)

Either here or on the Always Learning discussion group, someone once wrote that gentle parenting advice stood in the way of them really *getting* radical unschooling in the fullest way. I'd like to discuss that idea.

Alex Polikowsky:

Gentle Parenting as in mindful-peaceful parenting like it is discussed here and on that group?
If yes how?
Can you be a Radical Unschooler without it?
Sandra Dodd:
Maybe someone will remember the original, but I was in a conversation just lately with a mom who said she uses "assume positive intent" in every situation. Sometimes a person (neighbor, friend, child) really IS being confrontational or belligerant. Sometimes it's NOT positive intent. So a rule the mom is following might not be working in her favor.

I'm not sure whether that's applicable to the question. I'll be busy today, so (note to the anonymous mom) please send follow-ups to Alex Polikowsky.

Alex Polikowsky:
Yes Please. I would like to discuss that because it was attachment parenting that led me to unschooling but while all parents I knew who practiced Attachment Parenting were becoming less mindful and gentle, i wanted to continue to be gentle, connected, peaceful and mindful towards my toddler.
Deb Lewis:
I don't know if this fits, but there have been a few times someone thought they should never say no, and a few times someone's child needed medicine or medical care, and was resisting, and the parent was having a hard time reconciling being gentle and doing the necessary thing.

I don't think that's a problem with gentle parenting advice, it's more a problem of understanding.

Connie Coyle:
Something that I have seen with both gentle parenting and attachment parenting is that those ideas have been used as a means of coercion and control. No matter how you disguise it, some things are still controlling.

As with anything, I think that how a person defines certain things can have a big impact on whether or not it might interfere with unschooling. The closest example I can think of is the notion of gentle parenting getting in the way of a mom being rough and tumble and wild. If a kid is super physical and needs to get really rough, then a parent might shy away from that because it is not perceived as gentle. If my memory is correct, I think I have seen that brought up in conversations before.

I also thought of the page about peace on Sandra's site: Great Big Noisy Peace [SandraDodd.com/peace/noisy]

Gentle can be screwed up the same way as peaceful in that a person can gently control you and manipulate you.

Joyce Kurtak Fetteroll:
I do recall what Alex mentioned being discussed here. That as kids get older, Attachment Parenting becomes less about responding to a baby's needs and more about responding to the child with what mom believes is best. It's easy to respond to a baby's needs with organic local food and organic unbleached cotton clothes and wooden toys. It's not so easy when kids get old enough to say, "No, I want Oreos! I want Barbie! I want a Batman shirt!"

So the original version of Attachment Parenting was good. It's more what it's grown into that can be a problem for radical unschooling.

Alex Polikowsky:
Two good points. When some people are trying to follow unschooling "rules" like never say no or "let them do whatever they want" "No limits or rules" that is clearly a lack of understanding of unschooling and not thinking about principles but in terms of rules.

I have seen the no limits talked about. Kids doing things in public places that clearly should not be happening because parents think rules do not apply to them.

Sometimes it can even cause marital problems when one parent complete overlooks the other and does not take their spouse in consideration.

Sometimes a parent thinks that being gentle is talking in a sing-songy voice to the child even if they are being mean or when they need to be more direct .

Rebecca Jo:
"Assuming positive intent" is advice that I actually really like. When I first came to AP I already had a 1yo and 3yo with another on the way. Punitive parenting was the norm in our Southern Christian culture. We were taught to not assume positive intent bc everyone's heart was essentially rotten because of sin. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it now more than a decade later.

Assuming positive intent means starting from the presumption that people don't want to be mean or "bad." Of course that's not always true, but it's a good place to start. My child isn't "trying to make me crazy," my spouse isn't being a jerk to me on purpose, that person who cut me off in traffic may not have even seen me.

I tend to be a bit of an Eyore, and I need the reminder to start from a positive place. It's really treating people the way I'd want to be treated. I want people to assume that if I say something hurtful or am grouchy that I don't want to be that way. Maybe it's a bit Pollyanna-ish, but to me it falls under the same category as avoiding the news when I know it will not contribute to making my mind a peaceful, kind place.

Alex Polikowsky:
Joyce that is because attachment parenting became so entangled with being all about "natural" things like organic food, wood toys, no media.

It think that can get in the way of unschooling. I think parents need to make priorities. If radical unschooling , learning, connecting, exploring and relationships are more important to you then only having wood or cloth toys then you will do fine. IF having wood toys and only eating organic is your priority Radical unschooling may not work for you.

That does not mean you cannot have those toys and eat mostly organic. But limiting her toys and food choices to what the parent decides is best will get in the way of the child's exploration and learning and will probably hurt the relationship in the long run.
Alex Polikowsky:
Alex Polikowsky So with advice people will take them and interpret them in different way and some will go too far or too literal and not be mindful about it.

For Rebecca, because of where she came from, the advice to assume positive intent is a good one.

Having clarity and being mindful and thinking and pondering is one of the reasons this group and Always Learning exists.

So instead of us trying to follow the "rules" of unschooling we can learn and understand enough of how it works and why and we can stop and think what the best choice will be next and what are the principles guiding us.

Summer O'Neill:
I agree with Connie's comment about seeing gentle/attachment parenting being used to coerce and control. Not that it has to be, but in my experience, much of the material seems to be written toward the objective of getting what you want from your child (ie compliance) without an outward show of force. For many of us it's like a back door to manipulation. I'm lucky enough to have a little person in my life who reminds me real quick if I happen to stumble into one of those old patterns of parent/child communication, but if I had a more go-with-the-flow type kid, I don't know I would notice I was being coercive. Especially if the "techniques" worked.
Melissa Johnson:
I have seen the same thing, Alex. I think people equate "gentle parenting" with permissiveness--because saying "no" or even expressing natural reactions to off-putting behavior makes it feel like you as the parent are in the wrong--who is being gentle if they're feeling such negative feelings? So those parents are left feeling conflicted and err on the side of "nice" so as to appear gentle. They end up not helping themselves or the kid (s). I think making the transition from thinking of gentle parenting and unschooling as let-em-do-whatever to partnership is key--it's what helped me.
Alex Polikowsky:
And that is where Principles are important. Rules vs. Principles: SandraDodd.com/rules
Melissa Johnson:
Yes, as opposed to Rules
Alex Polikowsky:
This is also a very enlightening link:
Understanding the Value of Principles SandraDodd.com/rulebound

and another one:
Living by Principles SandraDodd.com/principles/

Andrea Quennevillev:
I believe that Sandra has said (multiple times) that nonviolent communication (NVC) can get in the way of unschooling, because people get caught up in the NVC rules or insist that their children follow the method. NVC is often touted as a gentle parenting technique.

Here's an article with some thoughts on NVC:
Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

Joyce Kurtak Fetteroll:
I think "assuming positive intent" is helpful.

It's not a fixed judgement about someone's character. It's a place to begin responding. If you begin responding in attack mode because someone did something bad, people put up defenses, defending even actions they know were wrong.

If it can help a mom say, "Whoa! Stop! Bad idea!" instead of "Are you an idiot?!?" that's a good thing.

If it causes a mom to treat a hurtful action as positive, that's not good.

Alex Polikowsky:
Now Katya I do not know what HESFES or WEHEC is . In this list it is best to write it out so people can understand as there are people from all over the world

There are clearly things that will screw up unschooling as it is discussed in this page:
How to Screw Up Unschooling SandraDodd.com/screwitup

Sacha Davis:
As someone who is very involved in the attachment parenting community, Alex is entirely right that often people attempt to attachment parent by doing vs. being. They do the right things, which are the accoutrements of the attachment parenting culture and can help foster attachment but are NOT attachment. This tension is very alive and well in the AP community.

As an unschooler, attachment is very much part of unshcooling in my world, because both approaches demand that you place your relationship with your child first. If you are someone who practices attachment parenting but see your role with your child as Parent Knows Best, and that causes you to DO to your child, you will ultimately not be practicing attachment anymore and veer into control.

As for the idea of assuming positive intent, AKA guess what, your child is not the enemy. Another way to look at it is that ALL people work for positive reasons. This isn't attachment, this is basic psychology. We are all people who are working to get our needs met, for positive reasons, even if our actions to gain those things sometimes look ugly. Another way to look at it—at our very core we all want to be loved.

Personally, being an attachment parent is not going to make you end up an unschooler. Being someone who recognizes control, who values the voice of children, who sees them as an oppressed class, and that causes you to be an attachment parent, just might.

Andrea Quenneville:
Excellent observation @Sacha Davis! Doing vs. being or even acting vs. being.
Sacha Davis:
it's Alfie Kohn, who despite being someone steeped in education is a stealth unschooler 🙂
Sacha Davis:
Although I think technically Alfie Kohn talks about doing vs. working with, which is nice, but for me, I like being.
Katya Lamb:
Sorry about the unexplained references:

HESFES = Home Education Summer Festival held the last week of July in the UK attended by 1500+ people

WEHEC = Wales Environmental Home Education Camp held last week of August in West Wales (70+ families)

According to that list I am definitely an unschooler!!

His first school (that he only attended for 20 days) told me I have my children far too much control in the home.

All I had done at that point was ask them to say please and thank you and model good manners if that's what they expected from my child and to please not "drag him kicking and screaming from the book corner".

Funny the other person didn't think I was an unschooler, in fact they were certain I was not. Very interesting.

The only one on the list I have questions over is the worry thing. I worry if I'm being the best mum I can be.

I just want my kids to be happy and confident and feel loved. The teenage angst years that two of mine are descending into rapidly makes me wonder if these are all achievable. I've learnt to trust that children need to follow their own path and that will take them where they need to go.

Still rollercoastery at times. Good thing I like rollercoasters 🙂

It is weird because I guess I trust my kids to follow their own path but I freak out regularly at the awesome trailblazing I'm doing with them.

It is a little scary at times but we always seem to survive the bumpy bits and come out better people!!

Lisa J Celedon:
When one of my boys is trying to hurt the other one, I impose my will. I physically prevent or stop them and separate them. It is literally unacceptable. As in, I don't discuss it or expect them at 2 and 4 to agree with me that it's a bad idea.

I do tell them, no hitting. I do tell them I won't let them hurt each other. I do what I can by being there with them and do what I can in the environment to help them not resort to hitting each other. They can't hit because I say they can't. I don't have to discuss with them that hitting hurts - they know that - though a 2 yr old's understanding of that is limited to their own point of view. He will understand someday when his brain makes the connection between what he feels and what other people feel.

I show them how unacceptable hitting is with my actions to prevent it- I show them how important it is by paying attention to helping them not do it and intervening immediately if it happens.

Conversations come up. My son asks about super heroes hitting people and why are bad guys hurting people. We talk about anger and people getting so angry they want to hurt someone. We talk about how to calm down when you're angry. We talk about alternatives to hurting someone you're mad at (he rarely hits, though his little brother recently started to, and my older son is confused about why- he's asked me, is Kaiden a bad guy? Does he like hurting me? And that has led to more discussions).

My point us not that discussions about it do not and should not happen--rather that they happen as a normal part of our lives and not as a way for me to manipulate my children into agreeing with me or behaving a certain way.

Sylvia Woodman:
I don't think it is accurate to characterize Alfie Kohn as a stealth unschooler. I have never read anything of his that is in support of home education.
Sandra Dodd:
-=- i wanted to continue to be gentle, connected, peaceful and mindful towards my toddler.-=-

I did, too.

It didn't make it difficult for me to unschool—it made it easier. So I hope someone will give an example of what's problematical.

Joyce Kurtak Fetteroll:
Katya, if you want to start another thread, that would make it easier for people to focus on any issues you have. This one already has several ideas flowing through it.
Sacha Davis:
Sylvia - he's an education guy but his philosophies lend very well to unschooling. He may not be actively advocating for unschooling but if you follow his approach, it can lead there. That's what I mean. He's awesome. If he controlled our education system I'd be deeply conflicted and it would be way more awesome.
Sylvia Woodman:
What I like about Alfie Kohn is that so much of what he writes is evidence based. This is helpful for unschoolers who are seeing similar things playing out in their lives; for example rewards don't work in the way we think ought to. And while having that information handy is useful when discussing some of our reasons for homeschooling with others, I would never say to someone who was interested in learning more about homeschooling or unschooling that they should run out and read his books and articles. I feel like Alfie Kohn has a tremendous blind spot when it comes to home education.
Andrea Quenneville:
Kohn is interested in supporting and improving public education. He isn't a fan of homeschooling.
Lisa J Celedon:
I have seen how 'consensual parenting' (which I think grew out of gentle parenting ideas- but I could be wrong) gets in the way of learning and unschooling. I have seen how parents trying to derive consent from their children for the things they (the parents) want to happen leads to distance and manipulation and disregard for the children's needs.
Sacha Davis:
I also would never offer Alife Kohn to someone who is exploring home schooling or unschooling. HIs philosophies lend well to people who want to live their lives treating their children with respect, which works well with unschooling. Whether or not Mr. Kohn himself appreciates home based education is a different discussion for a different page and given the chance I'd love to work to change his mind.
Meredith Meredith:
The idea of "assume positive intent" can get confusing because "positive intent" isn't the same as empathy. A person can have positive intent solely towards their own needs and feelings—especially if that person is under a lot of stress and/or feels pretty helpless. Assuming positive intent can be a useful starting place for developing better understanding and communication skills, as others have said, but a simple rule of thumb can never replace actually learning to be more mindful.

Sometimes parents get confused by ideas about coercion, thinking they need to ask for kids' input a million times about everything - are you sure this is what you want? Really sure? That can be hugely stressful to kids - heck it can be for adults, too! No one wants to re-think every idea and decision a bazillion times. And yet there's another extreme that's still within the bounds of "gentle parenting" where parents give such a narrow range of choices (do you want to wear the red sweater or the blue one?) that kids can feel just as constrained as if they had no choice at all.

Gentle parenting also sometimes gets conflated with gentle discipline, something that does operate on a different set of assumptions than unschooling. Discipline methods of any kind assume that teaching produces learning. Unschooling presumes that learning depends on the feelings and perspectives of the individual - which makes the results of any kind of teaching more dependent on the personality of the recipient than on the intent of the teacher.

Sylvia Woodman:
I think people confuse "Say yes more" with "Never say no." When you are moving toward unschooling it's important for parents to examine why they are saying "No" to their children. Is it for a good and real reason or is the parent saying no reflexively? I think it's an important mental exercise in creative thinking to examine "Why am I saying no?" There may actually be a good and real reason to say no. Maybe with a little creativity the answer can be yes. Maybe it can be "yes, but not now." Or "Yes, but not here." To say "yes" reflexively is no more mindful than saying "no" thoughtlessly.
Cassie Ware:
Do you know what I label my parenting? PARENTING. I understand reading up on these topics and learning more, but at the end of the day, are you a better parent or homeschool provider because you have a label or a teaching you subscribe to?
Sylvia Woodman:
Cassie, I would say yes I am providing my children with something far better than school or even homeschooling since I stared learning about Radical Unschooling and applying those principles in our lives. There are plenty of places to get parenting advice in the world. Most of it awful and with unpredictable results. My kids are still young, compared to many of the experienced people posting here so I'm not yet at the "end of my parenting day" so to speak. But if by the time my kids are grown up they are as happy, confident, and accomplished as the the grown unschoolers that I am acquainted with I would be very pleased indeed.
Cassie Ware:
I'm sorry, I should clarify. I don't have a problem with "unschooling" or the like as a label. I was speaking more to when people label their parenting style (as viewed separately from their education style--which, for us, is hard to do.) vs their educational choices for their children.

I encounter many families who are so proud that they have done Attachment Parenting by the book, or that whatever other parenting philosophy they've chosen. I think that putting ourselves into parenting boxes is detrimental to our ability to parent. You might say.....I prefer "unparenting" (as it relates to the term unschooling. It's not to say we don't parent--we most certainly do! Just as we most certainly educate through unschooling! )
Cassie Ware:
Also, Sylvia, do you label yourself ONLY as a Radical Unschooler, or are there things of that philosophy to which you don't subscribe? I'm only curious from an academic stand point...it makes no difference to me, as I can see you seem well educated and well informed. I'm sure your children are and will continue to be as well.
Meredith Meredith:
There's not really much to the unschooling core philosophy - people learn, feelings and perspectives affect what and how people learn, and children are people.... everything else kind of flows from that. In that sense radical unschooling is unschooling with a philosophic basis. When people "don't subscribe" to the philosophy it's because they don't have a good understanding of how feelings and perspective affect learning so they fall back on some variety of teaching - whether that's lessons or consequences or discipline or a controlled environment.

A controlled environment is one of the ideas people can bring from "gentle parenting" circles - that if you want kids to learn something you can get them there by limiting their worlds in specific ways — their toys or food for instance. That's another way gentle parenting can conflict with unschooling.

Cassie Ware:
Holy moly. Food limiting? That's not something I could ever get behind. Food is fuel, not a parenting tool.
Meredith Meredith:
It's entirely common in gentle parenting circles and an outright method of gentle discipline.
Lisa J Celedon:
If you parent, then why even ever use a term like unparent? Unschooling means not schooling. Unparenting means not parenting.

Instead of thinking about what methods and labels you are or are not using, start looking at the principles you have and in what ways the decisions you make affect your children- their comfort, trust, happiness, peace - their learning.

Sacha Davis:
Very much what Meredith said about gentle parenting, attachment parenting etc. Lots of food limiting.

Cassie - I personally embrace being an attachment parent and I do feel my kids are better for it. But all of the ways I approach life are influenced by my core values, so any approach or philosophy I embrace is just a way of expressing the conclusions I've already come to in thinking about who I want to be in this world. In any group if you are doing it "by the book" you start to veer into dangerous territory. Think religious radicalism as a good example of a group of people who very much go by the book. People who think success is just checking off a list are people who are rigid and cannot function without external supports, and those people will be in ever single group out there.

Lisa J Celedon:
Parents who are thinking lots about labels and using them or not are thinking less about their children and their learning.

I have heard a lot of people go on and on about how they don't like to define their style of parenting or 'educating' their children and that just seems to me like a waste of words and energy.

It's a way of rebelling for the sake of rebelling—or resisting something because you don't understand it.

Try to understand better or do something else entirely&mash;I don't get the benefit of resisting clarity and definition. Not having it makes it easier to not see when something could be better, or when it is downright harmful. It leaves more room for error, which can let people drift further from where they want to go without recognizing it.

Sacha Davis:
^^ totally agree.
Deb Lewis:
Unparenting, as it relates to the term unschooling is neglect. The only people who use the word unparenting are critics of radical unschooling and are accusing radical unschooling parents of neglect. I hope you stop using that word.

A few years ago there was a website called unparenting something and it was about parents who were deliberately parenting different from the mainstream. They were not unschoolers. Whether they're still around I don't know, but the typical use of the word unparenting is negative and meant as an insult.

Alex Polikowsky:
I have a clear picture of the principles that guide my parenting and how I want to parent.

I want to be gentle, connected, supportive, a friend, a partner (that is big!!!).

I want our relationship to be strong, based on trust and respect for each other.

I want to support my child in the world, his discovery and exploration.

I want to support learning, support his passions and curiosity,

I want to provide a warm welcoming home where we take care of his needs and mine and everyone in the house with patience, care, and love.

I want to keep my family together and my marriage strong and solid so my children grow up feeling safe and feeling like home, and their parents, are a safe harbor to come when they are happy or sad, when they are in need of help or wanting to help.

I want to help my children navigate the world and help them learn how to live in society in a positive way. I want to be happy and positive and encouraging. I think all of the above fits perfect and it is a big part of Radical Unschooling as it is discussed here.

When I first started learning about unschooling I wanted to be a good mom and continue the Attachment Parenting I was doing with my son. I wanted to keep my kids as safe as possible from long time traumas of any kid. I wanted to keep them emotionally healthy as best as I could.

Now I want more than that. I want all of the above.

And if my kids grow up and feel they had a great warm childhood and that they were supported and loved and are now doing what they love because of it and are happy, then I did a good job being that mom I want to be.


Deb Lewis:
That's beautiful, Alex. There is a moral and ethical foundation to radical unschooling. It's right and good to help, support and partner with people we care about, to help them navigate the world, to give them security. It's right and good to not injure them, frighten them or shame them. Those are the things that lead to learning and emotional growth and well being. There is no part of that philosophy I disagree with.
Rebecca Charles:
This is a really awesome conversation. I like what the one person above said about "assuming good intent".

I had an experience very similar to this with a friend the other night. I'm in a band, and as one does in bands, we had a band "business" discussion about goals, direction, gigs equipment etc. The conversation ended in me feeling pretty dang disrespected so we put an end to the talk when I realized I wasn't going to be correctly understood. We decided to skip to something easier to deal with and started talking about a song we are in the middle of arranging a cover for. When my bandmate suggested that we watch the music video of the song, after a couple of seconds of viewing the video I just said "i don't want to watch it right now". I could tell he was getting frustrated, but wasn't really that worried about it. I just felt so disrespected and upset. He asked why and I said "because this is my favorite music video. I'm feeling really upset right now, and I dont want to watch my favorite music video and associate feeling this way with it!" He was irritated, and long story short we decided to take a week off for me to recover from feeling disprespected. But I could SEE what he was thinking (because of how he had been talking to me earlier). he was seeing the way I was refusing to watch the music video with him and probably thought I was throwing a diva tantrum (or whatever he thinks). the real thing is it got me to thinking "this must be how kids feel all the time. They have a very good reason for not wanting to do something, but it's hard to explain, they dont feel understood or respected. or it doesn't look important to the parent, who just assumes that the kid is throwing a tantrum or being pouty."

Anyway, good learning experience for me

Jenny Cyphers:
"I understand reading up on these topics and learning more, but at the end of the day, are you a better parent or homeschool provider because you have a label or a teaching you subscribe to?"

Well, obviously a label doesn't immediately grant a person special powers inherent in the label. Reading and and learning more, though I sure as heck, hope makes me a better parent and homeschooler! Otherwise, why would any of us spend our time doing that? I do embrace the label because I feel it accurately describes what we do in our home. The tricky part is when someone else also believes that, and what they do is so vastly different from what you know to be true.

Where positive intent should be assumed, is the person wanting advice is genuinely wanting good advice and the advice giver is genuinely offering up the best ideas they have with the intent to help. It's when one of those is off, that things go sour. I've seen it happen on both ends of that. Some people need more hand holding and that's okay. What I find frustrating is when people get defensive and then offensive. I know people are people and will do silly people things, but that kind of behavior won't help a parent be a better parent. It's exactly the kind of behavior that ruins the parent/child relationship.

I think gentle parenting advice can still be good advice, it's just that the advice giver really needs to be very clear about intent while also conveying ideas. I've seen a lot of gentle parenting advice devolve quickly into "whatever you do is great because you're the mom and moms always know best", which we ALL can probably agree isn't true. Moms don't always know best. I don't and I feel like I'm a pretty good mom.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-I have huge respect for people who can be fully autonomous.-=-

"Autonomous education" isn't the same as radical unschooling.

Sandra Dodd:
Assuming positive intent can be a good beginning tool, but if a person hopes to use it in every case forever, that's not very useful. Deciding in advance that each person/act/statement is "positive" ignores direct observation and good judgment.

But if it's not clear, and you're not sure, then giving people the benefit of the doubt (assuming positive intent because you have no evidence for negativity) is sensible and kind.

Danie Archer-Forinash:
I think there's a bit of confusion that goes on where AP gets tied up with natural parenting and unschooling. I know quite a few NP type unschoolers who I gel with well until the indepth conversations about which foods are evil and why start and I get dirty looks for sharing the wrong ones with their kids.
Jenny Cyphers:
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I feel pretty strongly that the AP folks who attempt to keep all the evil foods away from their kids, probably all have kids under 10/11. It's just a hunch. After that age, the connections are really obvious, when parents are doing that because the kids will show it. Every kid I've known, whose parents were weird about food controls, showed me by either talking about it or over eating foods they weren't supposed to have, while in the absence of that parent.

Here's the part where I think it doesn't matter.... A lot of those folks end up with kids in school. It's what I've seen. Meaning the parents weren't fully invested in unschooling, which is fine, but not really worth talking about in an unschooling group. So if someone receives "gentle advice" and it nudges them toward unschooling, it's more than likely that they were heading that way already. If the gentle advice helped them be a better parent and then send their kid to school, it's still better, right? It would be a better place for children all around if their parents were kinder and gentler, whether they end up in school or are fully unschooled.

Katya Lamb:
-=-"Autonomous education" isn't the same as radical unschooling.-=-

Agree totally Sandra. I didn't think it was and demonstrates the point I was trying to make beautifully.

I used it as an example about the potential for misunderstanding between people, in my case my own original misunderstanding of my own position, when you try to label how you parent.

I thought I was an autonomous Home Educator until I went to the workshop and realised I definitely was not.

I had been [Home Educating] for four years at that point so I found it quite amusing it had taken me that long to realise.

I just wanted to make it clear in my earlier comment that I totally respect autonomous [Home Educator]s!!

I left the workshop thinking "if I'm not autonomous then what am I?" But didn't pursue it because it was never that important to me to apply a label to what I do. Which is probably why it took me so long to realise I wasn't autonomous.

The whole discussion here about the principles of what you do being more important than the label has been spot on for me.

I don't have any "issues". I am interested in this post because of things that have happened recently.

In August (whilst at a Home Ed camp) my friend recommended we join them at a week away being organised by a group of unschoolers. She thought I would fit in perfectly.

It was with very judgmental condescension a person listening in on the conversation told me "You can't come because you are definitely NOT an unschooler".

I was quite bemused at the time and have always suspected there is more to her issues but they genuinely do not worry me.

The same person has since made a bit of a fuss about non-unschoolers not being allowed to attend the trip and wanting an explanation as to what the organiser defined as unschooling because they did not want undesirables wink emoticon coming on the trip.

It was the first time I'd ever given any thought about what unschooling meant. It sparked a very interesting conversation between a group of us - quite a few who all said they were unschoolers - that made it clear that they all had very different ideas about what it meant.

Very similar to the discussions taking place here actually!!

I found out this week that that debate from August camp is still bubbling and causing upset (to others, not me). So I'm interestingly reading the several ideas flowing through this thread and have no need or reason to start another thread.

I booked to go on the trip anyway weeks ago because for my friends and I it was about getting together to have fun (the principle bit 🙂).

I've since seen it confirmed that just because it was organised through an unschooling group did not mean it was just for unschoolers and that any family who HEs can go (it's in school term time).

Then, amusingly, from the useful list on the link that Alex posted, I would appear to definitely be an unschooler so far as 'best fit' labels go.

So this whole thread has been very enlightening.

Thank you!!

Sandra Dodd:
With over 5000 people on an international group, it's probably not the best use of time to complain about other unschoolers. Being an unschooler doesn't grant anyone magical entry to any events or associations, so it's not about being or not being in the eyes of other adults. For this discussion, it's about wanting to understand radical unschooling better. Anyone who does NOT want to move nearer to doing it well, or helping others do so, won't be helping the goal of the group by posting a defense of NOT unschooling. We all live surrounded by people who don't get it and don't want to. This forum isn't the place for more of that.

People from the UK, especially, seem accustomed to ranting and raving about organizers and officials of home-ed-related activities. The ranting and raving doesn't help bring peace to the family, nor respect to the ranter. It's especially inappropriate in a discussion full of people who aren't from that area.

The principles that help unschooling work well should be the focus here.
Pam Sorooshian, on Principles of Unschooling:
There's a list of some Pam gathered, but they're not the only nor all, just a list. People have their personal priorities—peace, or learning, or travel, or something—but focus on children's peace is better than complaining about who did or didn't acknowledge or welcome or approve a parent's ideas.

Because the topic here is Radical Unschooling (and because it's my group), other topics should only be discussed in light of whether they make that better. That was the original question.

Sarah Scullin:
I agree that gentle parenting *advice* can stand in the way of unschooling. The principles behind gentle parenting, on the other hand, do seem to me (and most in this thread) to obtain for Unschooling. Because so many gentle parenting practitioners and advice givers rely on "gentle" techniques to coerce and control their children, it's been quite difficult for me to know where to go for advice, since my toddler is not unschooling age yet. Sandra's page and this group are a wonderful resource (with quite a bit of writing on younger kids, in fact), but I was wondering if anyone here can recommend some gentle/attachment parenting sites or groups that do jibe with an unschooling approach?
Jenny Cyphers:
I guess it would depend on your purpose for wanting to be in such a group. I don't like chatter, so I'm not inclined to be in any of those kinds of groups.

If the goal really is to unschool, there are only a few really good groups for that. The kind of ideas and advice on mommy AP groups isn't going to get you there. If it's to meet people, a local group might be the best option. Even local Unschooling groups tend to fall into the AP category more than an Unschooling one. That's my experience.

Sarah Scullin:
Sorry, I should have been more specific! I'm looking for, basically, something like this group or Sandra's page, but for younger children. I'm more of a reader than a poster, otherwise I would post here (but I also think that a post about my toddler e.g. resisting diaper changes is outside of the scope of this group. I'm not looking for "support" or community, just principled advice about common parental concerns at this age. I've already found this place to be way more helpful than other places, even with my son being two.

I've read several threads here that address the issue of when unschooling begins, with the consensus being that it begins when a child is "of school age". When people have asked what to do in the interim, the advice has usually been to practice gentle or attachment parenting. But this thread highlights some of the issues that are often treated differently by unschoolers and APers. If posts about toddler issues are welcome here, however, and there aren't other places as committed to giving principle-based advice, I will happily get over my posting aversion!

Alex Polikowsky:
Sarah you can apply the same principles and the same ideas discussed here towards you toddler or your spouse. 🙂
Lisa J Celedon:
I read a post someone shared from the unpreschooler and it struck me as not being by a person who is comfortable and confident with unschooling principles. That was based off one post though. Other than that one post I am not familiar with it.
Lisa J Celedon:
Someone posted to the Always Learning list a year or two ago about the same issue- a toddler not wanting to be diapered. I know that lovely person and her lovely daughter in person. 🙂 She received many useful responses. You can look it up in the archives, probably by searching for a word like diaper or I think Elimination Communication is mentioned too.

And read more of Sandra's links about principles and parenting and being and breathing and young kids. I don't see how a separate group would help you learn more about unschooling-- I recall feeling that way though, before I understood better what it meant to parent with principles. My kids are 4.5 and 2.5

And I just wanted to say, you don't need them.

I'm not saying that to be rude. Like Alex said, the principles are the same regardless of age and if a parent is having trouble understanding and applying them, there is no better place I've found than the resources Sandra has on her page, where there are also links to the blogs and Web pages of other wonderfully helpful people.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-The principles behind gentle parenting, on the other hand, do seem to me (and most in this thread)...-=-

Can anyone really speak for "most" though? Some are talking about parenting gently. Some might be talking about some specific book or "approach" (named, by someone, and promoted and defined by someone).

I don't mind advising about diaper changes or toddlers. I do mind people complaining about people who don't want to help. 🙂

I don't mind making suggestions for situations involving "pre-school" aged kids or babies. I do mind people insisting that they've been unschooling since before the baby was born.

I don't know of a group for pre-schoolers that's a great fit for unschooling. I do know people have a legitimate need to know.

Shara Leone Harper:
For sure, Lisa, I love the no nonsense way on this page - My kids are still young, 6 ,3 & 1. And while I used to trawl my favourite gentle parenting/AP books/websites, I'm now finding more and more I can find what I'm looking for on this page or Sandra's site.
Sarah Scullin:
I've definitely been working towards applying what I've read here to our lives, and I'm happy to know that questions about younger children (when one doesn't have older children and then, therefore, shouldn't call themselves an unschooler) are OK. Thank you everyone for your responses. I enjoy the format of this group, because it brings to my attention things I hadn't even realized I should think about. When I do have a specific problem, I do generally find what I'm looking for here or on Sandra's site, but on the rare occasion I don't, I've just sort of googled around.
Sarah Scullin:
"I don't mind advising about diaper changes or toddlers. I do mind people complaining about people who don't want to help."

I'm sorry if my tone came off as querulous or if my wording implied that this group is unhelpful towards parents of younger children. I'm aware of the hard work Sandra and the other commenters put into this group and was hesitant to derail the conversation with questions that are specific to a pre-unschooling age when/if there might be a more appropriate forum for such questions.

Alex Polikowsky:
The great thing about hanging out in a group like this one where unschooling is discussed in such depth and clarity is that once you start getting it, and boy it takes awhile, and once you start thinking in terms of principles and better choices you will be able to answer most of your questions by just stopping and thinking about those principles and making choices that will lead to them.

Just today I had a question that came up in my head and I even thought for a moment that I would ask here. I might ask still 😉

But now I was able to stop, think about it and get the answer in my head of what choice will lead to more learning, supporting my child exploration, more connection, better relationship, joy and peace.

Sandra Dodd:
Sarah, we've had a couple of incidents recently of someone complaining about the quality or tone or direction of the work of volunteers. I wasn't criticizing your question, just saying that there's a difference between wanting to discuss an issue (which is fine even if the child is young) and trying to insist that the parent of a toddler is just as much an unschooler as someone whose children are "school-aged" and not in school.
Sandra Dodd:
I hope someday I will have read carefully everything in this topic. 🙂

-=-Something that I have seen with both gentle parenting and attachment parenting is that those ideas have been used as a means of coercion and control. No matter how you disguise it, some things are still controlling. -=-

Although other people have tried to insist that unschooling requires zero "coercion and control," they're usually conflating two or three people's/group's philosophies or platforms. That's a problem every time, because it spreads confusion and causes people to defend what they're not even doing.

Unschooling is about learning. The kind of atmosphere parents will end up creating for this learning to occur is going to involve a LOT of peace and attention to children (if they do it well). If another philosophy is about "non-coercion," let them defend that. Coercion is a large range of things, from mafia persuasion to saying "please." Personally, I think coercion starts where the person being persuaded is afraid or uncomfortable. But those who want to create a coercion-free life will (and have, some of them) called everyday things coercion or manipulation.

Strewing (as here SandraDodd.com/strewing ) has been called manipulative by people who came to unschooling discussions to complain about unschooling:

Sandra Dodd:
Offering a child food instead of waiting for him to ask has been frowned upon by some people as being pressure. I think that's crazy. Asking for cold pantry-food, or needing to ask someone to cook something isn't nearly as good as smelling food cooking, or seeing nicely-arranged food that's immediately available if you want it.
Sandra Dodd:
If I really want someone to do something for me, I ask them in such a way as they see the benefit to them. Not in a blackmail/mafia way. 🙂 But in an honest way as I do with friends or my husband or my now-grown children. Or if there is not any benefit to them in it, I ask nicely, and then watch for a way I can reciprocate or thank them sweetly.

Marty fixed our dryer last week. Holly (22) was home alone, and the starter switch mechanism fell into the machine. She didn't tell use, in Maine, where we were. Marty came over to borrow our trailer, and when she told him, he and his friend (not appliance repairmen) took it apart and found a way to fix it temporarily. I doubt she coerced or manipulated him, though.

When people are generous and honest, they create a mutual indebtedness and enthusiasm for maintaining the relationship. There is benefit to several people, when I am kind to Marty, and vice versa, and there has been since he was born. Being sweeter to him made him a sweeter person. He is generous with his time to help me sometimes, even though he's VERY busy these days (fulltime job, two college classes, important position in a club he's in, and getting married in November).

If I ask him to come over and mow the lawn, I had better be very nice and considerate. It's not coercion or bribery if I offer to feed him when he's here. Because of the length of our association 🙂, I will understand if he says he can't do it.

Sandra Dodd:
The False Charge of Bribery: SandraDodd.com/bribery

I don't think "non-coercion" is a requirement for unschooling.
That doesn't mean I am "coercive."

It means I know that having a mass of conflicting principles and "rules" about what parents can't do is not going to lead to as good a relationship as can be if the parents remember that part of being a child's parent is helping him make progress (referring to recent conversations, for those who might recognize it), and that when the senior more experienced member of a partnership persuades the younger less experienced partner to do something for the good of the team/family/situation, that it is likely to be better for the child, too.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-Sometimes a parent thinks that being gentle is talking in a sing-songy voice to the child even if they are being mean or when they need to be more direct .-=-

Yes. A few years ago a mom gave me permission to share the details, but I really don't want to out her beause her kids probably don't even remember the incidents. 🙂 Without names, though:

Older child bugging, touching, hitting younger child in back of car while mom drives; I'm in the front, too. Long drive .

Younger child expects help and a rescue. Mother kind of sings a 60-word song to older child saying "it hurts mommy's ears when you're not quieter and mommy is driving and it can be dangerous if the driver is distracted and on and on and on.

Older child clearly had the option to continue what was happening. Younger child was being ignored.

My advice then, when I was asked, was not to be sing-songy, not to refer to oneself as "mommy" (or whatever it was), not to compartmentalize oneself as what ears were feeling, as opposed to what eyes or brain or feelings were feeling. Not to use dozens of words—use three or five. I think I said six, maybe. Some small number, I said try to just use....I forget.

But in that case I think the response should have been STOP IT.

Sandra Dodd:
It would not have been "coercive" to defend one's own child from aggression while trapped in a small space. It's good parenting to keep a child safe. The child is a better person when not bullying or harrassing others. The mom is a better person when defending the downtrodden or pounced-upon. The rescued child is happier. ALL those other things (like fixing a dryer fifteen years later) are being built upon. 🙂

It's okay not to give a child a choice when he's hitting an innocent person. It's okay not to give a child a choice sometimes. Motives, intentions, circumstances—all of that matters. Having a rule that's applied regardless of what is actually happening will not result in a child respecting the mother, I think (nor will it help the mother to figure out what to do as the children get older).

Sandra Dodd:
Thinking is not only fair, thinking should be required.

-=-The only 'rule' we have is that it is not acceptable to hurt other people (verbally or physically) but it has come about through discussion and understanding empathy rather than us imposing our will.-=-

I'm assuming that what your "rule" applies to is not to hurt other people in the home, or other young children at a playgroup. I hope you're not actually telling your children that it is never acceptable to hurt any other person, verbally or physically, under any circumstances.

My friend Jerome was told by his mother that he must ALWAYS do anything the priests or nuns told him to do. He was the youngest altar boy ever at Our Lady of Fatima. His parents were very proud. Without going into detail, it ruined his whole life. That priest is long gone; it's okay to go back to church there. He was eventually reported (by others) and that's good.

If someone persuades your child to get into a dangerous situation (the van that turns out not to be full of candy; the puppy-search that turns out not to involve a puppy), will they think their mother wants them never to hurt anyone with words or actions, and be gentle and cooperative?

How passive and non-physical do you want your children to be when they're old enough to date?

If someone grabs your child right in front of you, might you not consider some harsh words and physical coercion to get him or her to let go?

The principle (it doesn't need to be a rule) that peace has value, and that being harsh makes one a harsh person should be why people shouldn't hit. What is illegal for adults to do should, generally, not be encouraged in any children, either. Helping them move toward being responsible people is part of the learning unschooling involves.

Sandra Dodd:
Perhaps these points were already made. I hope so! If I'm duplicating answers already given, that will be reinforcement. If no one has made these points, I wish someone had. 🙂

-=-Everything is up for discussion and we value our children's input and often allow them to learn for themselves the hard way.
-=-I think this is what Gentle Parenting means.-=-

Honestly, I have no idea what the original questioner meant by "Gentle Parenting," but I doubt it means leaving kids to learn things the hard way. It doesn't sound very gentle, and doesn't sound like good unschooling.

-=-But there is a whole spectrum of degrees of both and there is not set formula for bringing up your children.-=-

Depending where a family lives, there probably are guidelines for bringing up their children. And depending where their child would go to school, there are probably guidelines for how homeschooling will need to go.

Children are expected to feed and clothe their children, to keep them safe, and to keep other people and other people's property safe from their children. Parents are expected not to physically or sexually abuse their children, nor to allow others to do so. Parents are expected to provide a safe place for their children to sleep. Parents are expected to see that their children learn to do the things others in their culture need to do—eat with forks, or chopsticks, or right hands (not left), depending where they live.

It's quite a list of things, really, the lack of which might earn someone a visit from social services or police.

-=-What we are we have discovered it's the same answer to "How long is a piece of string?" and the answer changes day to day.-=-

If it's the same string, and the same length, the answer shouldn't change every day.

If the question is "how should a child be raised?" someone could, for fun, come up with a different answer every day, by imagining a child and assigning for him a place, time, religion, social reality, and finding that the range of "right" and acceptable "good parenting" for a child in a Masai village will be very different from a wealthy child in New Delhi, or from any child in Sweden.

Here's the thing: We are each moving toward being a good parent in our own home, to our actual, living children who are probably waiting now for you to get off the computer and do something useful and right and good with or for them. That string is NOT a different string of a different length every day.

Integrity should be the goal.

Saying there's a huge range of right, and that strings aren't all the same length seems like a dodge. There are other dodges I've glanced at above, about people hoping that others will admit to not really being good radical unschoolers. Looking for low hurdles and exemptions isn't what thie page was created for. Please do that excuse-making and "yeah, but"ting elsewhere, if you could. Those who ARE interested in what radical unschoolers know from years of experience should stick around and read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch, and stop defending ideas that do NOT help.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-Personally, being an attachment parent is not going to make you end up an unschooler. Being someone who recognizes control, who values the voice of children, who sees them as an oppressed class, and that causes you to be an attachment parent, just might.-=-

Seeing children as an oppressed class won't lead to unschooling.

Having the desire and ability to homeschool, and choosing NOT to use a curriculum is what will lead to unschooling.

Jenny Cyphers:
The phrase "gentle parenting advice" wasn't clear to me. I wasn't sure if it meant that the advice given was given gently, or whether the advice given was to be a gentle parent. So, this whole conversation was a little confusing. I took it to mean that the advice given, was given gently.
Sandra Dodd:
-=-Whether or not Mr. Kohn himself appreciates home based education is a different discussion for a different page....-=-

Not after you said he was a stealth unschooler. He is not ANY kind of unschooler. And the things he says have been said better by unschoolers in an unschooling context, with examples from unschoolers' lives.

Sylvia's point that he writes from research an evidence is good. If someone wrote a treatise on the number of dogs without four legs, it might be interesting. There might be statistics and studies about three-legged dogs. Some dogs might have more legs, from some sort of birth defect or partially formed twin problem. I have seen a two-legged dog.

While statistics and history and recommendations for vets and owners might be interesting, no one would need to read that book to know that sometimes a dog loses a leg and survives.

And some of Kohn's statements are OVERstated, in an unschooling context. If a hired teacher uses rewards or praise to manipulate a child in a classroom, that can damage some natural desire to learn and to be a good person.

If a single parent has declined to say "Nice!" to a child who has done something clearly nice, or decides not to give a child a gift out of fear the child might then act in order to receive future gifts from the parent, then reading Kohn will have stunted that parent's interpersonal growth.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-at the end of the day, are you a better parent or homeschool provider because you have a label or a teaching you subscribe to?-=-

"Homeschool provider"? eeek.

Yeah, if that's the label someone has in mind, the effect will have very little resemblance to what these people found: SandraDodd.com/feedback
Feedback on Sandra Dodd's Unschooling Writings

Jenny Cyphers:
Sometimes when the advice given, is given gently, it's all kinds of watered down goo that looks and feels like telling someone to be a gentle parent but doesn't really get at what that actually means.

I see this happen a lot on local unschooling groups. I don't want to defend that kind of thing, especially here on this group! 🙂

Sometimes people lie and sometimes people aren't nice or gentle and sometimes those people unschool. So what does that have to do with this conversation? Well, it means that each person should really seek out clear advice and ideas that make sense. If a parent can't figure that out, then unschooling is going to be hard. Maybe that's mean on my end of things, but I've seen enough unschooling in action to see REALLY good parenting and really bad parenting and if someone can't tell the difference then there is zero point in trying to get them to understand it, gently or not.

Sandra Dodd:
-=--=-at the end of the day, are you a better parent or homeschool provider because you have a label or a teaching you subscribe to?-=--=-

In any moment, a person with a clear idea of how she wants to be is a better person that one whose idea is "whatever."

Anyone who thinks all ideas are equal can't tell a good idea from a bad one. "Parenting" isn't specific enough to discuss.

At the end of today, does it matter where people end up?
I hope to be in Albuquerque tonight. The other 190 people in this plane don't all want to be in Albuquerque. 🙂 In Phoenix, they will scatter, all hoping to be in a particular place. Many choices are involved in getting to our destinations. Not having a destination in mind isn't helpful.

Mary Lewis:
Yup Jenny Cyphers, that's what I thought the question was about too. Parenting advice that was "gentle" and didn't cut to the chase and therefor hindered the movement toward "getting" unschooling.
Sacha Davis:
Gentle parenting is an actual approach, similar to attachment parenting. It's not typically offering advice in a gentle manner.
Karen James:
I think advice of any kind can get in the way of unschooling if it is taken as truth without some reflection. Unschooling is really about learning without school. Radical unschooling includes all learning, not just academic learning. What encourages and supports learning in your child(ren)? Look at that. Learn from that. Proceed from that.
Andrea Quenneville:
"What is Gentle Parenting" from the gentleparenting site
Jenny Cyphers:
Wow, okay, I didn't know. I don't like what I've read so far. So gentle parenting has been co-opted, but it's a little meaningless if it's all equal as it premises.
"It doesn't matter if you bottle feed, give birth by elective C-Section, use a buggy and your child sleeps in a cot in their own room. Just as it doesn't make you a "gentle parent" if you breastfeed until 3 years, homebirth, babywear and bedshare. These "tools" are irrelevant, they don't define the conscious actions and thoughts behind your parenting."
Those 'tools' aren't irrelevant and they DO very much define conscious actions and thoughts behind my parenting.
Jenny Cyphers:
"Gentle Parenting is also about understanding others and not being judgemental of their parenting choices, even if they differ from your own."

I get now, why so many unschooling groups devolve quickly with the gentle parenting advice. I do make judgment calls. How else does one discern right from wrong without first saying that something is wrong or right?

There are some things that aren't good for unschooling. It seems really clear to me. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have some and what I'm doing works to my end goal of learning which involves peace and happiness and good relationships with my kids. I'm happy to share that with people because it's cool and I'm really only passing along information that other people have been willing to share with me for similar reasons.

Sacha Davis:
It cuts both ways. Too much judgement is no better than too little. Having been around both communities and both approaches, I like neither. I've come down to the fact that any community has the right to define itself and to enforce the values they have decided on as a group. This idea that anyone can be part of the community even if they don't subscribe to the values waters down the community and renders it useless. But too much judgement and dogma creates a community so hostile it only ends up serving a few. I don't proudly claim to judge. My tendency to judge does not always serve me well. What I DO is stand by my values and participate in communities that reflect them and live by them myself.
Sandra Dodd:
-=- read a post someone shared from the unpreschooler -=-

Years ago someone grumpy because she wanted more rank and recognition in a discussion (now inactive) started her own discussion called "Always Unschooled." Well "Always" isn't worth a lot when the kids aren't school age. My kids were always unschooled, because they never went to school, but opting out of preschool that costs money and is not government mandated is not like opting out of the free government provision for a compulsory education law.

There might be good ideas there for other parents of toddlers, but whether it will help them move solidly into confident unschooling isn't very likely, if the leaders don't have children who are learning without school at an age the government says they should be in school. ALL babies learn to speak and walk without school, and (hopefully) to eat politely and to put their own clothes on. That's not about a lack of the presence of preschool.

(Those kids did end up in school.)

Two years later...

Sandra Dodd:
Someone liked a post from this topic today, and so I came to see. It was a great discussion. And something similar came up in a discussion on peaceful parenting in last week's chat. Someone wrote "I thought what I was doing was peaceful parenting, with the talking bit" (about saying things like "I can see this really frustrates you. Tell me about it.")

Compared to spanking and yelling, that's pretty peaceful! In creating an environment for unschooling to thrive, it's likely to maintain a condescending separation between the parent and the child.

There's a comment above that "Gentle parenting is an actual approach, similar to attachment parenting." Someone trademarked "peaceful parenting," too, to sell counselling. Governments should NOT be giving people exclusive right to normal English phrases. 🙂 Same with attachment parenting, which used to be a term used in La Leche League meetings, referring to Dr. Sears' writings, which themselves referred to cloth-mother and other psychology studies from the 1960's and 70's, I think. Later, though, some people registered "Attachment Parenting" and tried to create "an actual approach." It's SO IRRITATING! 🙂

Terminology: Any jargon?

Is this really part of unschooling Where is the edge of unschooling?

Definitions of Unschooling