In the last few days I have had several conversations about words, definitions and how they are used. It seems to me that some people feel a need to redefine the content of words to make them fit what they want them to mean.
I am of the exact opposite – I think words are important. I think definitions are important. If I do permaculture I don’t use tarp or a propane burner to kill weeds, I try to find another solution to my problems. If I unschool I don’t expect my children to learn certain things. If I Radical Unschool I don’t set limits to screen time or sugar intake.
Why is this important? It is important because we use words to communicate and tell the world what we think and feel, and when we change the meaning of the words we make communication far more difficult.
In my time in the attachment parenting community I have heard so many many people bend many many words and it has always frustrated me. I have heard of schools that use “natural learning” and “positive discipline” – while requiring the kids to be inside and “work” 4 hours a day and not let them outside and play at all for those for hours, these same schools used a “silent chair” where the children could “meditate on their actions”, while claiming to be “respectful” and “non-punitive”… I have heard people being “peaceful parents” while using “cry-it-out”, people using “baby lead weaning” while spoon feeding from 4 months. And I have even heard people say that they “unschool in the summer holidays” What is that anyway? Like you allow your kids to play in the summer without expectations about learning? Or does it mean that you put a whole lot of “learning” into the summer holiday so that your kids don’t even have that time to rest and play? When you point out to people that this isn’t actually what the words mean, then you are usually met with a comment about how judgemental you are. I also hear teachers talk about “offering children opportunities to read”, while the fact that the children don’t have a choice in reading is brushed over.
This is not about being judgemental, it is about communication. It is also very much about taking responsibility for your choices, and the consequences it has. Eg. I used to call myself a Radical Unschooler – but recently I have chosen to limit my children’s access to sugar and gluten, because I can see that we all thrive on a diet without sugar and gluten. I don’t say “we are Radical Unschoolers except for food”, because that isn’t completely honest. Honestly I don’t feel that I can be responsible as a parent if I let my children eat what-ever they want. This might have something to do with my connection with them (which has a lot to do with how I used to eat and how I felt when I ate that way), but it doesn’t change the fact that I have a fear that they will not get the nutrients they need or that their teeth will rot, and I simply would not be able to forgive myself if that happened. That – right now – is more important than their freedom, and much much more important than whether I can belong to a group that I think is super cool.
Fact is that the genuine Radical Unschoolers I know, are some of the coolest people I know, and their relationship to their kids is the relationship I would most love to emulate with my kids. So I am greately inspired by Radical Unschooling – and most parts of our life is Radical Unschooling. But I cannot right now take the step to be there, and feel OK, so I choose not to use the label, because that is not who I am.
I can’t help but wonder if someone feels limited by definitions, why it is that they feel the need to use the words that limit them. Is it not more liberating to just say “that’s not me, so that isn’t what I do”, instead of saying saying “I am an unschooler – but”? I don’t understand it actually.