Living the Unschooling Life is Christine Yablonski and Phil Biegler’s Radical Unschooling blog – combining all of our previous blogs into one convenient location. Here we discuss radical unschooling principles and share own our journey of living, laughing, loving, and learning as radical unschoolers!
What Radical Unschooling Means to Us
First, let’s describe “unschooling”, which is commonly thought of as one way to homeschool. Unschooling can be described as life-long self-determined learning. When someone learns something, in a way that is actually retained, they need to be intrinsically engaged in that thing. When someone tells you, “Your need to learn this…”, when you are not interested in it, you may find that you can force yourself to learn enough to pass whatever testing method they use to prove your knowledge, at least initially, but you will probably not retain that information because it wasn’t meaningful to you – your brain isn’t working to create the strong connections to other things you already know because you are not truly engaged or motivated to do so.
Kids are natural learners – I remember my daughter memorizing complex dinosaur names at the age of 3, not because one of us made her do it but because she was genuinely interested in them. The same thing happened with our son at the age of 5 when he discovered a passion for the solar system. At age 7 he got into a debate with a staffer at the Sydney Observatory about planet classification. He knew his stuff well enough to have this conversation with an adult not because I quizzed him but because he wanted to understand it.
Very often, it is well-meaning adults – parents, educators, who get in the way of kids’ learning processes by telling them what they should know, when they should know it and how they should prove it. In fact, this education method ends up squelching true learning acquisition and retainment.
At the same time, unschooling doesn’t mean one never uses more traditional methods of learning, such as going to classes, reading text books or studying something complex. What it does mean is that this doesn’t have to be the only method of learning – in fact, it probably is only necessary for sophisticated material or specialized skill sets. My kids have learned some pretty amazing and complicated stuff from rather unexpected sources – and that is the beauty of unschooling: that learning opportunities are everywhere and that the love of learning can be life-long.
So where does the “radical” part come in? Radical Unschooling means moving past the “schooling” aspect entirely. It’s not just about how we homeschool but how we as a family live together, grow together, and make our way in the world together. It’s about being fully engaged in your children’s lives. It’s about helping them explore the world around them, not because they might “learn something”, but because it makes life so much nicer. It’s about honoring and trusting their abilities and passions, knowing that these will lead to a richer, happier life.
For our family, there is no distinction between unschooling and radical unschooling – the trust and respect we have for their ability to learn continues into all aspects of their lives. They are the authors of their life story – we are the guides that keep them safe and point out all of the cool stuff along the way.
How Long Have We Been Radical Unschoolers?
Officially, as in calling ourselves, since 2004. We started learning about it that spring, when we heard about the Live and Learn Unschooling Conference in Peabody MA, and decided to attend. That was one of the best decisions we could have made because we left the conference fully committed to being radical unschoolers.
Interestingly, we were already living the radical unschooling principles with our children, we just didn’t know it. We called ourselves “attachment parents” when they were littles because it was the parenting style we knew about that most closely described what we did. We didn’t know that homeschooling could legally be done as unschoolers until sheer frustration led us to it. In 2004, we experienced our “last straw” moment. We were planning our trip to Australia in April and wanted to get the kids’ class work ahead of time so that they could complete it while we were away. That was against school policy. Then, we offered to come in after the trip to do a Show-&-Tell about everywhere we were going to be exploring while in Australia and all of the things we experienced. Unfortunately, they couldn’t allow it because there was no time in the curriculum to include it. How sad, we thought, that a unique opportunity presented itself but there was “no time” for it. As I mentioned above, we were already interested in homeschooling the kids and when I read about radical unschooling I was flabbergasted. Here was an educational and parenting philosophy that made sense! And we could do it legally as homeschoolers. Oh, what a joy it was when we discovered we could do this!
When Did We Start Blogging?
Our first blog was Unschoolers on the Road – a travel blog that chronicled our RV tour of the country from August to October, 2006. We planned it around the Albuquerque Live and Learn Unschooling Conference, and it was an amazing adventure. The entire blog has been brought over here, so if you want to read about our exploits, click on the “Unschoolers on the Road” tab at the top of the page. Unfortunately, it loaded in reverse, so you have to start at the end (page 11) to read it in chronological order – sorry!
Soon after, I decided to create a regular blog. Several of my unschooling friends were already doing this, and I thought this would be a great way to keep in touch with people between conferences. Little did I know that Facebook was about to explode onto our social lives! It was much easier to connect via Facebook so my postings here dwindled.
Then, in the spring of 2010, our family was approached to be profiled as radical unschoolers by the Good Morning, America show. We spent weeks talking with various producers, explaining, repeatedly, our parenting and educational philosophy and how and why it worked, what our kids’ specific interests were, all about our travels, etc. When taping day arrived, we spent hours with the crew & Juju Chang, sharing our lives with them. They asked us to stage certain things such as sitting in front of the TV together, hanging out in the kitchen, looking at our seedlings, and touring the interior of our motorhome. In the end, though, she chose to ask questions from a “school point-of-view” – questions that don’t really apply to our lives because they don’t involve school. She went away from how we had been talking prior to filming to asking the basic questions all over again, which can feel weird and confusing for the interviewee – “Didn’t we already go over that?”… especially when you know the camera is rolling and you feel like you can’t just stop and think for a moment. Her method was to throw us off, and to some extent it worked. Also, they edited out our explanations, sticking with sound-bites that were unclear, out of context, or made us sound ridiculous. We were very disappointed when we saw the final segment on TV when it aired.
Fortunately, our friends in the unschooling world know how to rally! They signed onto the ABC message board and, with wonderful clarity and intelligence, countered the horrible comments people were leaving there. A few hours later, Juju called us and asked if we would be willing to fly to NYC and appear on the next day’s show so that we could address some of the misconceptions about us. Hesitantly, we agreed, and we’re so glad we did. George Stephanopoulos apologized to us at the beginning of the segment. We clarified many of the points that were lost in the original segment. When the interview was over, off-camera Robin Roberts began to ask us many more questions. She told us that, now that she had seen us in person, she felt she understood radical unschooling better and didn’t feel as negatively towards it. Huzzah! We so appreciated her saying that to us!
Later that day we were contacted by the Joy Behar Show and agreed to taping an interview with her at CNN Studios before flying back home. She asked questions that, although still from a school point of view, built upon what we actually said to her, and she was respectful towards us the entire time. Again, a big step in the right direction.
These TV appearances led to several radio interviews around the country. Always our goal was to demonstrate that radical unschooling is a very logical approach to parenting and education. Following all of this media attention, we were asked to talk about radical unschooling as speakers at the Life is Good Unschooling Conference and in a circle chat at ARGH (the Autodidact Regional Gathering of Homeschoolers, in TN). Buoyed by these opportunities, we decided to create a bigger, more improved blog. We want people to understand why we chose radical unschooling. We want to be able to discuss all of the many aspects that make this way of life work, for us and for our children. Having a blog, as well as our Facebook page Living the Unschooling Life, gives us the opportunity to connect, discuss, and share our radical unschooling lives with others who want to do the same.
Thank you for joining us in our journey!
~ Christine, Phil, Kimi, & Shaun