Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unschooling - what do you think?

When my son was born, I was enthralled with the idea of homeschooling. I read a ton of books about the benefits of homeschooling, the different methodologies, the issues and the like. I loved the concept of a classical education and the idea that content could be catered to a child's interests and focus. Needless to say, I was more interested in secular homeschooling and I was happy to see a lot of support in our area for that (groups and the like), including support programs in our public schools for homeschoolers.

All that said, our children go to public school. It all came down to a few things (without going into too much detail): personality and loss of income. However, we are lucky in that our public elementary school uses some of the curriculum that I would use at home - Saxon and Singapore Math and Junior Great Books for reading. They are able to provide an environment that I certainly couldn't do on my own, as well as services they need.

But, one thing I never could wrap my brain around was the concept of unschooling. Basically, unschooling is centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play and social interaction rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. All of this is facilitated by adults.

I really like the theory behind unschooling, but I don't believe that children would learn everything that I personally think is important to be able to make certain life choices later. In other words, it doesn't provide them with the toolset to do certain things as an adult. I wouldn't want to restrict my children's ability to do anything they wanted to do later in life and that's what unschooling appears to do from my perspective. And, before any panties get twisted, I'm referring mainly to later career choices in math and hard sciences or anything that requires a significant foundation of knowledge.

Good Morning America just did a piece on unschooling. I got the impression they had an strong opinion about it before the interviews and were trying to confirm their pre-conceived ideas about it with the families they chose. They report that 150,000 kids in the U.S. are unschooled.

What do you think of unschooling? For those unschoolers out there, why did you choose unschooling instead of more "traditional" homeschooling? The families that GMA covers do radical unschooling which extends their unschooling ideas to their parenting and they have no rules. Is this common?

Photo by Tup Wanders. Source:


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ipsa said...

This conversation is starting to have a Someone is Wrong on the Internet! feeling.

I love to answer questions and help people understand unschooling better (and my rationales for choosing it), but trading put-downs just seems like a huge waste of everyone's time.

Thanks, Crunchy, for providing people the opportunity to talk about unschooling on your blog. Unschooling is a fabulous experience for our family and that's really what I'd love other people to know about.

Bob Collier said...

Rebecca wrote: "I do have valid and informed criticisms (and suggestions) about public education and I know that unschooling addresses these concerns much more efficiently and effectively than an overhaul of the education system."

Both of my children went to private schools as it happens. Am I glad my son is out of school now? Of course. The digital revolution absolutely favours the self-motivated individual learner and has turned classroom-based teaching institutions into the laggards of the education world.

Lesli said...

"But then you'd be going against common sense, the experience of many others AND "research into more advanced concepts and theories backing it up.""

You write this response to my comment as if you believe that non-traditional methods of education are the only ways that ideal learning conditions can be met, and that is where the disconnect is, because that's simply not true.

I'm glad it's working for you.

Jenny Cyphers said...

"My point; children who go to school are not universally coerced. Not my original point; who's to say there aren't some unschooled children out there who are coerced in some way?"

Interesting take on grades. I always found the whole grading system to be rather coercive. It IS the way in which schools get kids to do the "work". It IS the way in which kids can pass on to the next level, the next course, the next grade, graduate, be able to play sports or participate in extra activities. When kids don't meet the right level of school meted criteria of acceptable, they are punished with detentions, Saturday school, held back, kept from participating in recess or lunch, or fun school activities. Most parents are pressured by the school to uphold these things, some parents uphold them above and beyond what a school asks. Kids get grounded, punished, and rewarded because of the grading system.

How is that NOT coercive? That IS what the system is about. Meeting someone else's standards, sometimes very arbitrary standards, especially viewed through the eyes of a child. The system is set up to coerce children into jumping through those hoops and crossing fingers that they'll learn something along the way and pass enough tests to continue getting enough marks for the school to continue getting enough funding to operate and pay for teacher and administrator salaries and retirement funds.

This simply doesn't apply to unschooling at all. Learning is its own reward, learning happens because kids are living and breathing and happy and engaged and interested. It's not an external reward and punishment system. Learning need not be coercive to happen!

Lesli said...

Lesli: "My point; children who go to school are not universally coerced. Not my original point; who's to say there aren't some unschooled children out there who are coerced in some way?"

You: "Interesting take on grades."

More interesting is that my comment regarding school equals grades to you. That's not how it was meant, at all, particularly as my children go to a school where there aren't grades assigned. Public school, to boot! You've really got to loosen your grip on those stereotypes and preconceived notions.

Jenny Cyphers said...

"More interesting is that my comment regarding school equals grades to you. That's not how it was meant, at all, particularly as my children go to a school where there aren't grades assigned. Public school, to boot! You've really got to loosen your grip on those stereotypes and preconceived notions."

Schools don't equal grades. Those are your words not mine.

Grading is the most commonly used method of evaluation in school, here in the US as well as many places all over the world. It's not a stereotype to recognize that reality, nor is it a preconceived notion to acknowledge it.

There are exceptions. I'm aware of exceptions. They are few and far between and do NOT represent the norm in public schools.

Lesli said...

I guess I should have written "how school equals grades to you." I was paraphrasing what I believed to be your intended message, not stating mine.

In any case, I think unschooling is a very interesting concept, and I "steal", or naturally just incorporate, parts of what I believe this to be into my family's day-to-day, and am always interested in hearing more about it. Just not so interested in hearing or reading about slams on other choices in the process.

Anonymous said...

I know lots of parents who unschool their kids, and not a single one of their children are allowed in my house. They have no discipline nor do they know any boundaries. I actually had to yell at an eight year old to not stick his hand in a garbage disposal and flip the switch while his father just ignored him. But I guess getting your hand chewed up is a type of learning...

Joanna said...

Sadly, there are people that think that unschooling is about letting your child do whatever they get in their head to do. We have radically unschooled for about 5 years now, and I think that these people have really misinterpreted the philosophy. I've known a few myself, and have ended up following sticky hands around with a washcloth in front on another mom, who thought nothing of it.

In unschooling, partnership parenting is substituted for discipline, but respect is paramount in our relationship--and that means treating others and their property with the respect that we would like to be treated with. We talk, sometimes act physically, in ways as respectful as possible to guide our children, but we don't leave them to cause mayhem.

I've recently seen conventional parents subject a restaurant full of people to a child's meltdown on Mother's Day, because the parents had an idea of what a good Mother's Day would be like. I would have suggested having respect both for the child AND for the other patrons by taking the child outside and figuring out what she needed--and maybe it was to go home.

Please don't judge all unschoolers by only those that you know. They are probably learning from each other, but have really gotten the wrong message.

Sandra Dodd said...

If I were going to tell a lie, I would probably use "anonymous," but I never do.

I don't lie and I always use my name. Put his hand in the garbage disposal... That's nonsense.

My middle son, Marty, went to a Jr. Police Academy for a week when he was fourteen. At their graduation, the sergeant was effusive about how wonderful it had been to have Marty there. He said, "You can always tell a kid who comes from a family with a lot of discipline and rules."

That was a professional opinion, but people decide from the result what they think the method was. Marty was in that academy because he really wanted to be. He wanted to learn those things. It was all new and different to him. Some of the other kids were pressed to be there by their parents, and they were disruptive. Some were just walking through, doing the minimum they had to do not to "get in trouble."

When people who use their names and have been doing this for years say something, it shouldn't be "refuted" by anonymous fiction.

ipsa said...

"They have no discipline nor do they know any boundaries."

I suspect that says more about a parenting style/approach than unschooling or even radical unschooling.

I've known conventionally schooled children I wouldn't let into my house for the same reasons: the parents are not active participants in their children's lives and/or do not take on the responsibility for helping their kids successfully navigate situations like other people's houses or potentially dangerous scenarios.

Unschooling does not equal unparenting (in the negative connotation of the word).

Any parent can "unparent" if they aren't engaged with their kids.

Raivynn said...

I am a freshman in college, and I was unschooled. I feel like it very much prepared me for the reading and writing parts of college, which are quite intense. I am also a tad more organized than my classmates. I have to brush up on my science and math skills, but I am not totally behind or anything, and I feel like I'll be okay. Most people at my school think its pretty cool!


Anonymous said...

We only go to school to really learn how to use information, plug in more facts, build a base knowledge of tools for more advanced fields, and if your not like me, well, make friends that last a life time. None of us are born knowing what we need. Not the school district, government, or our own flesh and blood. Our future is wide open for at least 80 years once we are born into the world. There are trillions of opportunities now especially in this technological era of our world.

GMAs' take on unschooling was not researched, reason that's believed is due to gearing people to evade the idea that unschool is possible. Anyone who at best does internet research on unschool will be blasted with positive outcomes, and it is tempting.

Although, I have yet to meet any unschoolers I have read books, watched many clips, and have been practicing it myself. I went from not writing to really writing, and from life is depressing and dreary to something is coming around the corner just wait for it!

We don't know what we'll be at any point in our lives. What we care about now will help later. It doesn't mess us up to follow a rabbit trail when hey' we should be studying about atoms or pineapple filling, or cheesecake for home ec, or what mosquito has,-

As an adult the majority of your learning will come unexpectedly. So, why not help your young daughter or son go catch that Lightning they didn't learn about in science class. See them hold the light and let it out later. Unschool is possible, and it is tougher than people think.

The only thing I'd caution against are those who believe in not being a parent. That's the only place you can go wrong!

Bob Collier said...

"As an adult the majority of your learning will come unexpectedly."

Indeed. I know that from being self-educated since my twenties. And now that I'm enjoying life in the Tim Berners-Lee-Steve Jobs Educational Complex, I'm free to learn everything I want to learn (including acquiring academic qualifications if I choose to), where, when and how it suits me. If I like, I can choose the educational institutions I have a relationship with, I can choose the teachers I prefer from amongst the best on the planet, and all without trudging through the rain to the bus stop at somebody else's beck and call. Wonderful! That's what I call service with a smile.

So it seems to me the issue now isn't whether or not children should go to school. The issue is whether or not schools can provide a service that can compete in today's educational marketplace. I doubt it very much.

Len said...

I think you need a mix of both "unschooling" and more formal education. I like the idea that nothing teaches better than life experience and my kids have gained a lot from it but there is a place in the world for disciplines. Math, science, language and many other disciplines need to be taught. When properly balanced, these disciplines will combine with life experiences to create real knowledge and (hopefully) wisdom.

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