This is part of a (much) longer response to the comments on my "Lovely, Lovely Low Tide" post. I thought this part of my comment was relevant to the ongoing discussion here:
I am certainly not perfect and I try show my warts and all on this blog. I am constantly pondering and working with questions, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me seem inconsistent, like people must be wondering if I'm ever going to pick a lane! I am comfortable, though, with who I am (my favorite John Paul II quote was, "Families, be who you are!"), and who I am is someone who likes to mull over a wide range of ideas and see what WORKS. For me, for us, for my kids, my husband, in our unique and ever-changing situation.
I sometimes do feel an urge to "belong" to one school of thought or another, to find that label that fits me perfectly. As I said in my original Tidal Learning post, I couldn't find the label, so I made one up. It's useful mainly as a way of answering people's questions when I meet a new homeschooler.
I have written elsewhere about how some part of me seems to stick out of every niche I enjoy visiting (and that is probably true for most people). I'm a pro-life Democrat, for Pete's sake! Sort of. Ha!—I don't even fit THAT label across the board.
But still there is that desire to find the perfect label. There are times I read Charlotte Mason and think: She makes so much sense! I want to be a whole-hog CMer! And other times when I read Sandra Dodd and think YES, I grok that, I'm an unschooler! But the reality is, I have places where my understanding doesn't completely line up with either CM *or* radical unschooling. And that's fine. I can still learn from both schools (unschools?) of thought, and identify with aspects of each.
One area I'm keenly interested in is the balance between a rich unschooling environment (the kind of environment & relationships Sandra describes so vividly in her book and site) and the logistical challenges of raising a big family, especially with my special-needs son. When you've got big kids and babies in the same house, all with their own (sometimes conflicting) needs, you're probably going to have to make compromises somewhere. Tia, that's the issue you seemed to be exploring in your post on Always Learning—-how your need for a clean, uncluttered space seems to you a valid need that benefits the whole family, and how you feel able to maintain that without shortchanging your children of your time or attention. It seems like a good question to explore, but is perhaps a bit out of context on that particular list. And I saw that the reactions of experienced radical unschoolers there were coming out of a sense of concern that your vision of it being possible to maintain a tidy home while unschooling might make newbies feel like failures if they can't pull that off.
Probably some of the friction comes in the different definitions people have of unschooling. I try to consistently use "radical unschooling" when describing the lifestyle Sandra speaks of, which incorporates an approach to parenting that believes kids grow up happier and nicer if there aren't constant conflicts with parents over chores, TV, and so forth; and that the way to avoid that kind of tension is to relax control in those and other areas.
While I find much to learn from in that vision of parenting, I cannot say it totally lines up with mine. I'm completely on board with "say yes as often as possible"—but I also see myself as the leader of this crew of kids and am comfortable with the notion of parents being in authority over their children. I don't see authority as a bad thing or necessarily meaning there will be friction and discontented children.
But I digress. I was saying that as I understand it, "radical unschooling" has a specific meaning, and some discussions are not going to be relevant in a radical unschooling context.
Just plain "unschooling" is a tricky term, because to some it means radical unschooling, and to others it means "kids growing up without 'doing school' either in a schoolhouse or at home"—without necessarily applying to *parenting* style. You'll find, then, families who consider themselves unschoolers but where the parents have an authoritative (not the same as *authoritarian*, and I credit Jeanne Faulconer for writing a post years ago that first made that distinction clear to me) parenting style. That probably best describes how Scott and I are raising our kids. So while I have great respect for people like Sandra who have, by all accounts, raised some fabulous, considerate, compassionate, respectful, nice kids according to the parenting principles that accompany radical unschooling, I'm coming from another perspective, one informed by my Catholicism (the only label that truly fits me across the board), my experience, my husband's viewpoints, and the temperaments and needs of our specific children.
So yes, I think you can be both an authoritative parent and an unschooler, and there are unschooling discussion lists where it might be interesting to have that discussion, but I would naturally expect the experienced & happy radical unschoolers to speak up with strong arguments from their perspective. And if they all disagreed with my opinion, I'd have to say, well, I went to the vegetarian banquet looking for hamburger recipes!
Still, I love to hear the RU perspective, with its emphasis on JOY. Joyful parent/child relationships, joyful person/learning relationships, peace and delight and harmony in the home and with the world. It's a refreshing vision—invigorating, I think is the word I used in my Low Tide post. Sandra's work truly refreshes and empowers me, and I would hate to discourage anyone from encountering it, even if I'm not a radical unschooler myself.
One insight I had about myself during this current re-immersion in Sandra's website & list is that I was able to put my finger on why our foray into pure CM method this past winter/spring fell flat after six weeks, so that I found myself—for the first time in our homeschooling experience—with a roomful of discontented kids. (Discontented with our learning experiences, I mean. They have certainly all been discontented before, like whenever I cook dinner.)
The realization that came to me via my rethinking Sandra's philosophy is that what was different about our High Tide time this winter was that always before, while we may have been taking an excursion aboard the S.S. Charlotte Mason, I was captain of the ship, adjusting our course as needed, and pulling into port for refreshment or exploration as my young sailors required. This time around, I turned the ship's wheel over to Cap'n Mason herself—and much as I love her captain's logs, she doesn't know my crew the way I do. After six weeks, they were ready to mutiny.
So I am back where I belong: comfortable in my own shoes. I'm a Tidal Homeschooler, and it works for us, makes for fun times with my happy, pleasant children. But it was the Radical Unschoolers who taught me this lesson, and I will continue to enjoy learning from their perspective— just as I learn from the pure Charlotte Mason folks and the Real Learners and the classical-ed people and the Waldorf folks. I really, really like to learn. So do my kids, so I'm content to "be who we are."
As a final note, it occurred to me there might be others out there interested in exploring this concept of Tidal Homeschooling, so I have created a group for that purpose. I encourage you all to join me there! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tidalhomeschooling/