— from Catholic and Confident
This passage from the Franciscan "Minute Meditations" that I receive daily in my email inbox reflects the freedom within peaceful borders that I have been talking about in relation to unschooling. I was really turned off, when I spent some time with Facebook groups, by the radical unschooling notion that "freedom within limits is not freedom," a direct quote I read on one of them. It comes down to how one defines freedom. Anarchy is not freedom. For me, life without Christ and his Church is not freedom. I still wonder whether I should claim radical unschooling as a Catholic after all, for the sake of redefining what that can mean for a person of faith.
It disturbs me to witness Christians being sucked into the secular rhetoric of radical unschooling, where it is implied that only in very specified terms can peaceful parenting be practiced, and only in being what some consider "fully RU" are children truly "free". Indeed, this is often billed as the only authentic form of unschooling, and its their way or the highway! Where does this nonsense come from? Well, the short story is that John Holt coined the term unschooling, by which he simply meant homeschooling--learning without the confines of school and its traditional trappings. But it was felt by some that the Christian community had taken homeschooling over with the development of their own curricula, so unschooling was branded as a different animal, and any curriculum use or set schedule became anathema.
Then Sandra Dodd decided that the unschooling philosophy must be applied to all facets of life, which for her and many others somehow translates into children doing whatever they want, whenever they want. Somehow living by "principles" rather than "rules" (though these are in certain ways synonymous) will save the family from bedlam, and everyone will be balanced and self-regulated. But that isn't what is happening with, for instance, the mother who let her kid drink as much soda as he wanted, and then that's all he wanted for weeks. He stopped eating food, and she felt like she couldn't interfere because that wasn't "RU"!! This boy was 6 years old. Somewhere along the way, perhaps having become disenchanted with being slaves to a curriculum, some Christians picked up unschooling and tried their best to apply it within a Christian framework. The question is, can this be done?
Ironically, this radical unschooling version of freedom for children requires the adherence by parents to a strict system of rules put forth by such unschooling gurus, to the extent that the word "cult" started to float around in my brain. I just got so frustrated, wanting to embrace some of these ideas yet so repelled by some others. Too many parents seem to have ceased to think for themselves or to use an iota of common sense that I just couldn't bear to be part of the unschooling groups any more. I even left the Christian and Catholic ones--though the extreme problems were much less prevalent there--so I could clear my head and begin with a clean slate. Do I let the dream of living and learning joyfully that unschooling promises die, or do I dream a new, truly Catholic dream for unschooling? The thing is, many of those radical unschoolers are miserable and their children tell them they hate them. When they ask for help, the gurus and other RU parents often just tell them they aren't doing it right; they aren't "RU" enough. That is certainly not the case across the board, but these poor souls need a better way.
Suzie Andres wrote the book on Catholic unschooling, but I think it has got to go deeper, because the secular voices are so much louder. Radical unschooling as it stands allows for spirituality, but only in the sense of religious indifferentism, because it really has its own dogma. Despite what Suzie and her philosopher husband concluded about unschooling not being an ideology, and therefore being in no conflict of interest with Catholicism, it just is not so when it comes to the radical version. Unless, of course, we Catholics entirely redefine what it means to be radical. It really shouldn't be that hard. The Church has been around for 2000 years, while radical unschooling has maybe a few decades under its belt. You want radical? Then be a Catholic.
Why not just leave off the word "radical" and be done with it? Because if we say that ideally there should be no separation between learning and life, which is essentially what unschooling means, then it is by nature radical; that is, all encompassing. In that I agree with Sandra Dodd. Radical literally means "from the root". And Catholic education is supposed to be an entity that does not separate learning from the Faith, according to the Magisterium. Again, we have a deep sense of rootedness. By its very nature, it follows that Catholic unschooling is radical, but obviously not in the way Sandra Dodd means. Hence my desire to set this dish on a clean plate.
I don't think we can Catholicize an educational method and lifestyle that preaches a freedom without limits dogma. That being said, I don't believe that even the most RU parents don't have their limits. What I have seen in these unschooling groups is a state of deep, secular humanist indoctrination. That is why I opted for the label, Catholic Natural Learning, instead of Radical Unschooling. Happiness and Freedom outside of the Church? Forget about it! But religious issues aside, the way of living some families have adopted by following the RU dogma as they understand it is not healthy by any standard.
I really wanted to be done with this topic, but I can't leave souls drifting and confused and mislead in this sweet-smelling radical unschooling muck. It almost happened to me, because a lot of what Dayna Martin (author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun) says is truly inspiring, and I admire her in many ways. But I kept hearing the Virgin Mary quietly clearing her throat. So I'm probably not done--not by a long shot.
"The Virgin Mary in the Rose Garden," Albert Gustav Aristedes Edelfelt (1854-1905)