Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Breaking up with RU (Radical Unschooling)

Dear Radical Unschooling,

I'm sorry, but it's just not going to work out between us. I gave it my best shot, but I've become convinced that we're just not right for each other.

You might say I didn't give us enough of a chance. That if I'd stuck it out longer I would have seen that we were perfect for each other. But I just don't think so.

The thing is, I do have an idea in my head of the kind of person I want my son to be. You might call that controlling, and you might say that control is an illusion, and that if I'm imposing my ideas on him I'm just messing with him, that I should stand back (or stand very nearby) and let him develop entirely into the person he wants to be, that he chooses to be. Perhaps this could even be true if the world were different. But with so many influences raining down on him all the time from our culture, I feel that if I don't step in a bit I'm not really letting him grow up to be free, I'm merely ceding my role as guide to the media, etc. I think that as his mom I have a thing or two over the corporate/consumer culture that is constantly, subtly and not-so-subtly, bombarding kids with messages regarding what they should value and who they should be. And if I don't speak up and yes, sometimes insist, that culture will play too formative a role in his development. And as his mom, I don't want that. And I actually do believe that is my right (and maybe even my responsibility) as his parent to want or not want that for him, and to act accordingly.

I know you're asking me who I am to insist that my son spend his time in particular ways. What makes me think that he should spend only a limited amount of time, decided upon by me, playing video games or watching tv, for example, as opposed to reading books? If I happen to think that books are more valuable than tv/video games, that's merely my opinion, and I should let him form his own conclusions, right? Sorry; I don't buy it. I really don't.

Let me tell you, RU, I have nothing in particular against the tv or video games. I enjoy them plenty. And I also know that there are plenty of truly educational tv programs and video games, and also that one can learn a lot even from shows and games that are not at all meant to be educational. But there has to be a balance. And with all the tv programming for kids that there is nowadays, I'm sorry but I don't trust that my son would "eventually" self-regulate. I gave this unlimited tv thing a try. And George enjoyed it, for sure. He found a whole bunch of new programs that he loved and started watching on a regular basis. I don't have a problem with that, except that it's all he wanted to do. And with all the cable channels we have, there is *always* something new to watch. And for awhile he was simultaneously watching the tv and playing his Nintendo DS. For hours on end. At the end of which he'd be completely strung out. I felt him slipping away into his own little electronic world. Seriously, his personality changes when he has too much screen time. His sense of humor, normally so sharp and verbal and sophisticated, regressed into mild obnoxiousness. This just does not happen when he spends the whole day reading. And honestly, I don't think it's good for him as a human being!

Yes, I do have an idea of the person I want him to be, and that person is very well educated, and well read. Call me a snob if you must, but I'll counter that I think that such a person can also be well versed in pop culture. I truly have no problem with that, and am quite well versed in pop culture myself. For crying out loud, I'm in a rock band, and I love so-called "reality" tv. If I had more time, I'd actually read People magazine from cover to cover on a regular basis. But again, there has to be a balance as far as I'm concerned.

I want George to grow up reading. All kinds of things. From comic books to the classics. Reading engages your mind in a particular way that electronic media simply does not, in my experience. In a way that I value. It gives you a broader perspective on humanity and the human experience, and sharpens your analytical skills more than electronic media can. I think it makes you a more sophisticated consumer of electronic media, and in the days of "infotainment" and almost non-stop advertising and completely bogus political propaganda being slung around all over the place by around-the-clock stations like Fox "News" (and all the rest of them, really), being a sophisticated consumer of rhetoric is of vital importance. If you are not thoroughly versed in the ways of rhetoric, or at least in possession of a critical approach to and understanding of the ways in which people use language to shape "reality" for you, you are a sitting duck for corporations and politicians who would manipulate you into following them headlong into what's best for them, which at least as often as not is not going to be what's best for you. And I'll tell you what I see: people who are well read and/or well educated tend to be less likely to fall prey to that sort of thing. It was certainly true for me that in graduate school, when I became a much more sophisticated reader than I ever had been, I also became a more sophisticated consumer of both popular and political culture, and that spilled over into all areas of my life, making me a much more empowered human being.

I want that for my son. And I'm going to do what I can to make sure he gets it.

So, anyway, RU, I hope there are no hard feelings. I wish you all the best, and I know you'll continue to thrive in many places, among many families. Just not mine.


  1. Well put!

    I broke up with RU too, but did it more in the slinking-away-shamefully-just-never-speaking-again way, because I didn't know what to say about our break-up. I wish I'd been able to articulate my thoughts as well as you did!

    In particular, I'm glad you put into words the idea that in today's culture, stepping back as guide really means letting the media take over. I love the ~idea~ of RU but I don't believe the reality can live up to the ideal, in our time.

    George & Ace are lucky to have YOU for a guide!

  2. Thanks for the support! I really appreciate it. It took me awhile to figure out what it was that was bothering me about RU, because in a lot of ways it actually makes sense to me. I find much of the underlying philosophy to be very appealing. After all, I really do want to raise independent-minded, self-directed kids who follow their own passions. But I just don't think their passions can develop organically, on their own, given the media bombardment kids are faced with nowadays! Anyway, as I said, thanks a lot for the support and for the record, I think *your* kids are super-lucky! Honestly!

  3. I love your post! And, applaud you for speaking your mind. I've been reading your blog for awhile now and look forward to seeing where your homeschooling journey leads you.

  4. Thanks, School for Us! I'm so glad you wrote, because I saw your blog awhile ago and loved it, but could never manage to find it again. Now I've figured it out:-)

  5. Won't you be my neighbor?
    Seriously, I ran into the same types of internal conflicts after a (admittedly very) short run of RU'ing. I pull in a fair bit of unschooling theory into our homeschooling (finding passions, digging deep into a topic, tossing "grade level" worries out the window, etc), but in the end... I'm still the mom and I have to put my foot down when it needs putting down. I want more for my son than what our recreation-based culture finds convenient to give him. Bravo to you.