The kids and I have been craving more socializing lately, so we made plans with a friend to meet up at Lynch Park today. It turned into a big get-together, with two other homeschoolers we know and a new homeschooler joining us. The kids had a fantastic time (Colwyn told me, "It wasn't just great, it was awesome!") and I really enjoyed the adult conversation.
We ended up talking a lot about general parenting philosophies, with an emphasis on radical unschooling. A friend was having trouble with a family member who does RU and it's negatively affecting my friend's children when they're all together. I don't have a problem with radical unschooling in theory, though it's not something we do. I do notice, though, that a lot of RUers tend to be very ego-centric, to the point where they don't take other children's needs into consideration. That seems wrong to me.. if you believe that children have the right to do whatever whenever they want, that their needs and wants are paramount, then that has to include children other than your own.
I remember hearing a mom complaining about how she was at a park with her son, and her son wanted to sit at the bottom of the slide, not letting any other children use the slide. She got into a major altercation with another dad, whose children were waiting patiently to use the slide. This mom felt that her child had every right to sit there as long as he wanted, and couldn't seem to understand that the other children also have every right to use the slide as they want. How would this mom feel if the situation was reversed, and a child was preventing her son from going down the slide? From what I've seen, a lot of parents like this will ask the other child to give in to her child's whim. That's awfully one-sided.
Personally, I really identify with the unschooling philosophy when it comes to education. We're definitely not radical unschoolers, though. Our over-arcing parenting philosophy is to respect our children as people, just the way we do other adults. Our children's needs and wants are just as valid as ours - what I want should never automatically trump what my child wants. Rather, if there's a conflict, I try to use the same techniques I would use if it were an adult friend I was dealing with and not my child.
However, that's not to say that I don't guide and teach my children. I liken parenting to hosting a friend from another culture. I can love my friend unconditionally and still want to teach them the ropes for being a functioning member in our society. I wouldn't let someone drive on the wrong side of the road, nor commit a social taboo, just because I don't want to infringe on their autonomy. I also recognize that I have a lot more experience and knowledge than my children do, and I encourage them to defer to me when I see they're making poor choices based on a lack of knowledge or ability to see the big picture. The point is, I do it respectfully, explaining my reasoning in ways they can understand, so our judgement doesn't seem so arbitrary.
I hear parents say sometimes that they don't need to teach their children manners, sharing, etc, that the natural consequences (not having friends, not being treated well) will do the teaching for them. Personally, I think that's cruel. Why not explain to your children, kindly and lovingly, that behaving in certain ways will make life easier for them? And you know.. some kids just won't get it. I don't think my boys would make the connection at this age that they'll reap benefits from being polite. I'm not going to force my children to say thank you, shake hands, or hold the door open for people, but I do encourage it. And when the bank teller gives them a lollipop for being sweet, or when an elderly woman gushes about how they're such gentlemen for holding the door open, I point it out to them. And I also stand up for my child when a family member gets huffy that he doesn't want to give them a hug - my children have the right to make that decision for themselves.