On the Meaning of Radical
I had a letter over the weekend from a subscriber to Life Learning Magazine. She wanted me to know that while she has been enjoying reading about other people’s learning experiences, she won’t be renewing her subscription because she feels it is “too radical” for her and that we “don’t keep to the homeschooling topic all the time.”
I thanked her for using the word “radical,” and pointed out its real meaning. It comes from the Latin word radicalis, which means having roots. And thus the botanical term “radical leaves,” which refers to leaves that arise from the root or crown of the plant. So, for me, a person who is radical is one who examines the roots of issues. And a radical solution to a problem is one that arises from that examination, addressing what we sometimes call the root cause, rather than more superficial symptoms. I suppose that focus on fundamental change is why radical views, opinions, practices, or proposed changes sometimes seem extreme. It is also why I prefer to examine how people learn by living, rather than to isolate unschooling as just another homeschooling method or style.
When I started thinking about these things forty or so years ago, I began with the presumption that what was wrong with our education system wouldn’t be fixed by tinkering – by adding more subjects, more equipment, more teachers or more funding, or, in fact, by changing the location of where the teaching took place or the content of the curriculum that was used. I realized then, and believe it ever more passionately now, that what’s needed is an examination of how people learn and why schools don’t provide the best opportunity for that learning to unfold. That sort of radical examination of the problem – and the radical solutions unschooling families are living every day – is what Life Learning Magazine is about. Someday I hope to be able to tell that reader that we all agree on the root cause of our educational problems and also on a solution that trusts and respects children…and that it won’t seem so radical after all.”
That was written in 2005, but the discussion about what is and isn’t “radical unschooling” is still going strong…as is the apparent need to define “unschooling.” Today, if I was responding to the Life Learning Magazine subscriber who prompted the 2005 post, I’d add this: In our culture, trusting and respecting children is radical; everything else is details.
We can discuss, debate, and (gasp) disagree about the details, but if we base our parenting on trust and respect for children, we can’t go wrong, no matter what we do about screen time or healthy eating, and no matter what we call that parenting. And, because we are growing and evolving as people and as parents, how we deal with the root problem of how we parent and educate will also evolve.
Don’t beat yourself up about how you are parenting, in spite of all the judgments you’ll hear from others about your parenting style – whether or not your style of unschooling is not radical enough or too radical. As you learn to trust your parenting intuition, your trust in and respect for your children’s ability to learn and develop with your help will also grow. You might make mistakes, but you can apologize to yourself and your child and move on, confident that there is always something to learn from our actions.