Is there a difference between a Radical Unschooler and just an Unschooler?

Some responses to that question:

Mary B.:

I think it really depends on the person. What might be radical to some, wouldn't seem so to others. In my local area, I would say I'm radical. Here on the list, I can't say the same thing because so many others seem to parent and unschool as we do.

Mary B.

Julie S.:

Well.....like most things it depends. The problem is that some people call themselves "unschoolers" but they force the kids to do math, or they "unschool" after the kids get out of ps in the afternoons, or they require a certain amount of reading each day. These are people that hard core unschoolers would refer to as "eclectic".

Radical unschoolers use that title as a way of saying "No really, we are committed 100% to unschooling. My kids are REALLY in charge of their lives, etc.."

Julie S. --radical unschooler


Years ago, someone asked about the difference between unschooling and radical unschooling, and this was my response:

Have you heard Eddie Izzard's routine about "weirdo transvestites"? He says he's an action transvestite, and an executive transvestite, not a "weirdo transvestite."

Outside of discussions of homeschoolers, they're all homeschoolers. To someone in South Africa, Americans are all Americans.

To someone in Mexico or Canada, they probably know and care about the differences between Texans and Californians, or New Englanders/Midwesterners/Pacific NE folk.

Within a state, people know which regions are likely to be how, or will expect what behavior or level of clothing formality, or will have what food, and so forth.

In which town in your own state is there most likely to be a mosque, or synagogue, or Buddhist center? Which is likely to have three kinds of Pentecostal church? Where can you buy Moon Pies and pork rinds? Keifer and sprouts?

And so within homeschooling some people have lots of shades of meaning for the homeschoolers like themselves and fewer shades for those further away. I don't personally care much about the difference between ABeka and Sonlight, and I'm sure there are differences! Within those, I bet there are people who choose their friends or avoid people based on how they use those, and I bet they themselves have terminology for their slackers and too-stricts and just-rights.

In different discussions over the years I've seen different distinctions made about "radical." Sometimes it involves whether there is any instruction. Some people want to teach math facts and reading and other than that they're unschooling. They're not radical unschoolers.

Sometimes it involves whether there's any separation of learning and other life. Some want to give their kids uninterrupted learning opportunities and time to pursue their interests during "school hours" so that on a school day they're free to do what they want as long as it seems somewhat justifiably schoolish. And they might accept that Lego or sandbox play is schoolish because there are math and engineering and physics and nature elements, and they want to document some of that. But they might not want the kids to just sit and look out the window, or to read magazines about movie stars, or to play a video game during that same time.

If you read that and thought, "Yeah, but looking out the window, playing a video game or reading ANY magazine is still learning," then you're probably a radical unschooler.

Then there is another division that considers whether unschooling has so transformed the parents or the family that they have blurred the lines between learning and any other part of life, and I think that's the line that causes conflict in radical unschooling discussions sometimes.* It has to do with lifestyle other than project/learning/input. What about bedtimes and food and chores and rules of interaction with the world?

Each family has a point that is too far for them. For me "too far" is when a parent comes here and says they don't think it's their job to suggest anything for their kids to do, ever. They don't think it's their job to comment on their children's interests. They don't think it's unschooling if a parent ever directs anything or imposes his or her own interests on the child in any way. See, I think that's justifying some kind of detached neglect, and I think it's irresponsible. Yet there have been very VERY few of those over the years (and I think they were bluffing anyway, or experimenting with a posture they didn't actually hold and would say something different in a week or two).

There's my personal edge-of-the-world. But I don't call them more radical than I am. I think they're just doofi or they're just saying what they think will stir trouble. (Do you imagine anyone would actually do that? I didn't think so years ago, but now I'm sure they do because I've heard their twisted confessions of having disrupted lists and wasted people's time just for the thrill of being irritants.)

So back to the real world as we know it and I would like to try to maintain it. I think if people divide their lives into academic and non-academic, they're not radical unschoolers. I think unschooling in the context of a traditional set of rules and parental requirements and expectations will work better than structured school-at-home, but I don't think it will work as well for the developing souls and minds of the children involved. And those who are not radical unschoolers would look at that and say "What do their souls have to do with unschooling?"

It has to do with philosophy and priority. I think the way I discuss whether one of my teens can go to a movie or not under the circumstances of the moment is as true and deep a life-building experience as when he asks me what squares and square roots are about.

One day we had from seven to seventeen kids here, in various combinations and not all at once. It was a madhouse. Seven was my low count because there are still seven here at the moment. At one point two were gone and were coming back, one was half-expected (and did show up) and Marty wanted to go to the dollar movies to see "School of Rock" with a subset of the day's count. Holly didn't want to go; her guest from England did. Kirby half wanted to go; the girls coming back wanted to see him particularly. So the discussion with Marty involved me helping him review the schedule, the logistics of which and how many cars, did he have cash, could he ask Kirby to stay, could we offer another trip to that theater the next day for those who'd missed it today, etc. I could have said "yes" or "no" without detail, but it was important to me for it to be important to Marty to learn how to make those decisions. Lots of factors.

That's part of my personal style of radical unschooling.

(Where it says "One day" used to say "Yesterday," so it was an up-to-the-moment report, at one time (22 Dec 2003).)

Another version of this writing said "goofy" rather than "doofi" (the possible plural of "doofus"). 😊 Doofi shouldn't rhyme with goofy, either. Doofi is DOO-fie. I suppose I made the change when I sent it to the other website.

ORIGINAL of the writing above—this topic was rescued in 2019, when yahoogroups announced they were not going to save the archives. The engineer and hero of that rescue was Vlad Gurdiga. There are archives of three groups preserved on my site, thanks to his knowledge and generosity.

Those archives are now searched when my site is searched! SandraDodd.com/search

Images are links

photo by Gail Higgins

photo by Lydia Koltai

photo by Karen James

Radical Unschooling: a philosophical take

Why Radical Unschooling?
Sound file and notes from an HSC presentation by Sandra Dodd on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Terminology (with discussion of "radical")

You might want more definitions of unschooling or other comparisons.