Christian Unschooling, Part 4: That Pesky Word, “Radical”

“The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.” ~Mark Twain

I saved this post for last for a few reasons. First, in many ways it’s the most important, because it ties everything together and is at the crux of why we do what we do. It’s also one of the hardest and most frustrating to write, and the one I’ve been losing the most sleep over.

I’ve come to a disheartening realization lately. What I said in part one about feeling like I’m alone in many ways was the truth… too Christian for the unschoolers, too unschooly for the Christians. But the fact is, in some cases that feeling is self-imposed. The unschoolers I know have, as a whole, been extremely welcoming and non-judgmental. As my unschooling circle grows, I’m just more and more thankful for its presence, and proud to be part of it.

Christian homeschoolers are, sadly, not as welcoming. I’ve read, and received, a lot of harsh words from other Christians who take issue with what I’m doing, from unschooling to discipline to television habits.

The ironic thing though, is that the harshest comments actually tend to come from a segment of other Christian unschoolers, those who are quick to denounce the term “radical”. And they don’t mess around about it. Seriously. Hell hath no fury like a don’t-call-me-radical Christian unschooler scorned.

And frankly, I’m confused. They decry secular unschoolers for being “judgmental” of some of their choices as Christians, while they talk out of the other side of their mouth about how “sinful” radical unschooling is, how “stupid,” how it’s a “contradiction to the word of God,” how those kids will grow up to be wild and rude, with no discipline, no respect, no self-control.

Um. Wait… who’s judging who?

Here’s the thing:

I call myself a radical unschooler. And the reason I call myself a radical unschooler, as opposed to a garden-variety unschooler, is that I’ve taken the freedom, the respect, and the trust that I have for my children’s education, and extended it to all other areas of our life and our relationship. That does not mean that I’m like every radical unschooler you’ve ever met or read about. That does not mean that my house, and our life, looks like that of every radical unschooler you’ve ever met or read about. It seems like this should go without saying, but I’ve read too many things lately that lead me to believe that people have one – negative – stereotype of radical unschoolers, and they like to toss everyone in together.

We’re not all the same.

I feel like I need to make that distinction, because I keep hearing broad, sweeping statements like

“Radical Unschoolers let their children make ALL the decisions”
“Radical Unschoolers let their children be rude, out of control, and show no respect for other people”
“Radical Unschoolers don’t set any boundaries”

And then, inevitably, come the scriptures… how we’re commanded to “train up” our children. How we’re to chastise and discipline, and DEMAND RESPECT. How we’re to Train. Up. Our. Children. How to do anything less would be to doom them to a life of failure and a damaged relationship with God.

:::Pausing to take a deep breath:::

I want to be really clear when I say that I’m fully aware of the responsibility I have as not just a parent, but as a Christian parent, and one who is trying to raise children in Jesus’ footsteps. And I don’t subscribe to radical unschooling philosophies in spite of it… I do so because of it. Radical unschooling makes me think about how I’m treating my children, makes me think about what I’m modeling, makes me think about what respect means, makes me think about why I make the decisions I make as a parent… whether it’s asking my daughter to hold my hand when we cross the busy street, or telling my six-year-old that sure, he can have ice cream before dinner. Jesus had a lot to say about how to treat children. Not so much about bedtimes, time-outs, and required reading.

You’re shaking your head again. But, training! But, discipline! But, teaching them to respect you!

My three-year-old recently became enamored with the phrase “thank you.” She says thank you more than anyone I know. She was never taught to say thank you, but she has learned, because her father and I say thank to her, to her brothers, to each other. We show respect to her, to her brothers, to each other. I think there’s a big confusion here between the words “teach” and “learn.” We do not have to TEACH kids to have respect and discipline for them to LEARN to have respect and discipline. I do not TEACH my kids about the Bible, and about God and Jesus. But they LEARN because it’s a part of our life. We talk about it, we answer questions about it. We live it. We breathe it.

I “train up” my children – if that’s a phrase that works for you – by fostering our relationship. By modeling discipleship. By talking to them, by guiding them, by treating them the way I would like to be treated. By treating them the way that Jesus would treat them.

As for the radical unschooling misconceptions I listed above:

No loving, attentive parent truly lets their young children make all their own decisions. My daughter is still very young. She may decide that it’s a good idea to play in the middle of the 45 mph street (except she wouldn’t, because through modeling and guidance she has learned that it’s not safe). But if she did decide to go into that street, I would – as her parent – decide to keep her out of harm’s way. What if she decides not to comb her hair? Or decides not to eat her vegetables one night? Or decides to wear cowboy boots, polka-dotted tights, and a princess nightgown to the grocery store? Does giving her autonomy in those areas put her in harm’s way? Does letting her make those decisions conflict with the word of God?

Yes, our children get as many choices as we can possibly give them. And I get choices, and my husband gets choices. A true unschooling family operates as a working, breathing, give-and-take UNIT, not child-centered, and not parent-centered. My needs, my husbands needs, the kids needs: they all factor into the equation.

As to being rude, out of control, and disrespectful… we behave as well as we’re treated. And life is full of boundaries, whether we like it or not. There are externally imposed boundaries, and boundaries that we set ourselves without even realizing it. We set boundaries with our tone of voice, with the way we treat ourselves, and the way we treat others.

If a family has kids who are disrespectful, if the kids truly are making ALL the decisions, if there honestly are NO boundaries… maybe it has less to do with radical unschooling and more to do with that *individual* family’s choices.

I don’t begrudge anyone who isn’t a radical unschooler. Or who isn’t a homeschooler at all. That’s all part of the freedom I spoke about it in Part Two. We are free to raise our children, and educate our children, in the way we are individually led. For me, I am led to be a radical unschooler… to give my children choices and autonomy. To operate as their parent, their partner, their facilitator, and their friend. To support them and guide them as they grow and learn and follow their own paths, not mine. As a Christian, I fully believe that their path is laid out for them by someone who knows FAR better than I. I believe in that, and I trust in it. Radical? You bet. Unscriptural? Not at all.

And finally, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t point something out. If you’re reading this, and you’re a Christian who bristles at my using the word, “radical,” think about this: If you’re going to be more than a follow-the-rules, Sunday-morning Christian; if you’re going to get out of your comfort zone; if you’re going to “walk the walk” and truly ask yourself what Jesus would do in all situations… you’re gonna have to get radical.

Jesus was radical. The Bible is RADICAL.

Being a believer should be radical.

~ Jennifer

See also: Part 1: Intro, Part 2: Freedom, Part 3: Humble Yourself.

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One Reply to “Christian Unschooling, Part 4: That Pesky Word, “Radical””

  1. Fantastic article, thank you. Just a few months ago I was still resisting the RADICAL unschooling movement because of all you mentioned above. But God is gently renewing me and my husband’s mind. We are so excited about this journey, although him and I have at least a full year of deschooling ahead of us.

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