February 3, 2006

The "unschooling" movement.

CNN reports:
Welcome to the world of "unschooling" -- an educational movement where kids, not parents, not teachers, decide what they will learn that day.

"I don't want to sound pompous, but I think I am learning a little bit more, because I can just do everything at my own pace," said Nailah Ellis, a 10-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, who has been unschooled for most of her life.

Nailah's day starts about 11 a.m., her typical wake-up time. She studies Chinese, reading, writing, piano and martial arts. But there's no set schedule. She works on what she wants, when she wants. She'll even watch some TV -- science documentaries are a favorite -- until her day comes to an end about 2 a.m.

An extension of home-schooling, "unschooling" is when parents give their children total freedom to learn and explore whatever they choose.
This is great... if you've got a Nailah. But, of course, your child is a Nailah? Right?


Freeman Hunt said...

This is good because it prepares children for adult life where there are no "requirements," and you can do whatever you want and at your own pace. Oh. . .

This seems born out of the late 20th century idea that children really know best and just need room to blossom and grow more than they need guidance.

JohnF said...

This is sort of a wild offshoot of the fundamental ideas of Montessori education, which allows children more freedom than conventional schools to learn for themselves rather than have knowledge thrust upon them. More freedom, but hardly total freedom as in this example.

I don't think there is any question that knowledge discovered by oneself sticks better, and can be used better, than knowledge forced upon one, though these are obviously questions of degree.

Goesh said...

What kid wouldn't want this? It will help them get good jobs where they can do what they want, when they want at work, at their own speed of course. Lovely, lovely...

Sloanasaurus said...

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

You don't know squat when your 10 years old, and don't know much more by the time your 18.

I hated reading when I was 10. So I am glad someone forced me to do it.

knoxgirl said...

I don't believe little Nailah--or, rather, what her parents told little Nailah to say. It reminds me of that potty-training story: another movement created to give certain parents a reason to feel superior.

What's next? "He's only twenty weeks old, but I'm teaching my fetus Spanish and tai chi..."

PatCA said...

So I guess she'll grow up to be the piano player in a Chinese restaurant? If they allow her to stick to her own schedule, that is.

Freeman Hunt said...

"There is nothing like the texture of kids having contact with each other, making friends and relating to different adults in a school setting," said David Tokofsky, a longtime educator and member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

That's more of a dig at homeschooling than at specifically unschooling.

reader_iam said...

One picky point: Tokofsky's quote regarding the "socialization" issue shows that he is lumping homeschooling and unschooling together, since it could apply to both forms. Generally speaking, though, I think the socialization objection is overstated, since whether that issue is one depends on a number of factors.

Here's a brief, overview FAQ on basic unschooling philosophy. Of particular interest might be the entry on "math" and the last entry on "structure."

I won't go into this at length here (and am supposed to be traveling this morning). But I will say I've looked rather deeply into the whole homeschool area, and it is not off the table regarding my own son, depending on how the next couple of years go.

Because my son is NOT Nialah, I would not "unschool" him in general, though there are key areas I'd consider it, when older, and there are subsets of areas I'd consider sooner.

I've researched this topic fairly heavily, btw, and first started doing so before I met my husband, much less had a child, much less THIS one.

Scott Ferguson said...

This is nothing new. British educational theorist A.S. Neill did this on an institutional level with his Summerhill School back in the 1960s.

Cat said...

Patca - I nearly spit my coffee. Funny.

Wasn't John Walker Lindh "unschooled."

If Naila is really this disciplined good for her, but as the others alluded, the kid will have a hard time adjusting to college, jobs...unless she has a trust fund, it will be hard for her to "unwork" her life as an adult.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Rousseau must be laughing at us from the grave:

"You mean they still think I was serious?"

Freeman Hunt said...

Generally speaking, though, I think the socialization objection is overstated, since whether that issue is one depends on a number of factors.

I agree. That's why I didn't like that quote from Tokofsky. I'm more a fan of the idea of classical education (or at least the more secular subset of it) than unschooling education.

Scott, that makes sense. It seems like a 1960's-ish thing.

Freeman Hunt said...


That made me laugh out loud. I'm going to go tell my boss that I'm on the "unworking" plan now. I'm supposed to be launching a new website, updating some ad campaigns, and putting out a new catalog, but I think I'll paint a mural in the lobby instead. After that I'll head over to the breakroom to work on mastering Asian fusion cuisine. Then maybe this afternoon I'll lead the marketing department on a hike in the mountains.

Or I guess I could just read blogs. . .

reader_iam said...

Freeman Hunt: Sorry, you posted while I was trying to find the bookmarked faq link and writing my comment. I hadn't seen it yet.

The world of homeschooling curriculums is fascinating. The ones to which I am attracted are also those to which you alluding, I suspect.

miklos rosza said...

Doesn't everyone need something to rebel against, at some point, presumably in their teenage years?

CB said...

I think that, like most "movements," this is a fringe phenomenon that hardly deserves the name. But it does bring up a question for me: why on earth does it take THIRTEEN YEARS to impart the most basic knowledge and skills necessary for adulthood and entry-level employment? I read (I think on Megan McArdle's blog Asymmetrical Information) that the main purpose of education historically has actually been to keep children out of the workforce rather than to prepare them for it. If so, maybe unschooling isn't so crazy after all.

SippicanCottage said...
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wildaboutharrie said...

My friend taught at a charter school that used this type of model. It was a last resort for kids who just would not go to school. For some, this freedom works well (that is, for the Nailah's, yes, but also for some of the burnouts). It just depends.

I would NOT have done well in an unschool. But I was one of those annoying kids who always wanted to know if "this is going to be on the test". I've met myself many a time as a teacher...shudder...

Henry said...

We had unschooling in my high school. It was called "AV Lab." Other kids took "Yearbook." The more advanced kids practiced their unschooling methods in classes called "English" and "Social Studies."

Okay, the idea of "unschooling" is pretty silly, but most of the time that kids spend in school is totally wasted.

I know home schooled kids who polish off their school work by lunchtime because it really doesn't take that much time to stay on top of a typical school curriculum. That gives them lots of time to pursue their unschooling.

Josh Kinniard said...

More education ideas dealing with school "privatization" specifically, here.

Steve Donohue said...

One problem with this- that I suppose is a more general critique of homeschooling as well- is that those interests and educational prejudices of the parents almost certainly will be impressed upon the children. One advantage of going to a *good* school is that you have the chance to be exposed to a lot early in life and you get the chance to pick and choose.

I'm not sure that, at 10, I would have appreciated that freedom. Looking back, I would like to say that if given the chance, I would have gone to a conservatory in Vienna and learned how to conduct/play horn. But I know that at that age I would have half-assed just about anything presented to me.

And also this factor- let's say that I was truly interested in learning the cello and wanted to take it up at 6. One of my parents had better be pretty proficient at the cello in order to be teaching me, because 1 hour a week for lessons isn't going to cut it, and it's going to cost a lot to hire a professional musician to live with you as a tutor.

XWL said...

effin' hippies

(that is all)

Of course as someone who was indifferent towards actual assignments for much of elementary school and pursued my own interests most of the time, I sort of created my own 'unschooled' bubble within the structure of the public school I attended.

smilerz said...

just wrote an essay on his unschooled children.

I think that it probably takes a special child - or special parents - to successfully pull it off. But if it works for those people then I don't see what the hullabaloo is all about.

Icepick said...

Steve Donohue wrote: And also this factor- let's say that I was truly interested in learning the cello and wanted to take it up at 6. One of my parents had better be pretty proficient at the cello in order to be teaching me, because 1 hour a week for lessons isn't going to cut it, and it's going to cost a lot to hire a professional musician to live with you as a tutor.

How many schools in the USA have intensive cello programs for 6 year-olds?

Yevgeny Vilensky said...

I think that this unschooling idea is somewhat silly for the main reason that kids don't know what subjects might be interesting and don't know what books to read in the subjects in which they are interested. If all children were unschooled, then most girls probably wouldn't know how to add and boys would probably only know how to build giant bridges since young girls generally hate math and young boys generally love playing with Legos and other kinds of construction-y things. Of course, it depends on the parents and the children.

On the other hand, most modern schooling in the public schools (and some private schools) is an utter waste of time, especially for even somewhat precocious children. Seriously, why would someone need to spend months on addition?

At most colleges, what is taught in freshman year really should be taught in high school. There's no excuse for basic algebra to be taught on the college level or that people who do not know how to add fractions are allowed to even go to college.

bearing said...

I looked into unschooling. Decided not even to try. Instead we follow a fairly structured curriculum --- but it only takes up the morning, most days.

Unschooling is a reasonable approach to preschool and kindergarten, and it is a reasonable approach to high school (imo --- I have no high schoolers yet) provided that the student is self-motivated and understands what academic requirements s/he will be faced with when s/he applies to college/apprenticeships/jobs/etc. upon finishing.

I don't think I buy it for elementary school.

On the other hand: You could easily require certain subjects but allow great freedom in how to study them. "This year you will study several topics in American History. Here is a list of subjects. You pick which ones and together we'll choose books and projects you can do." Or: "This year you will need to do some Phys Ed or else go out for a team sport. You pick. Will you join the swim team at the Y? Take tennis lessons? Or will we just go to the gym twice a week to run around the track?"

I mean, one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that you can design your own program. Why not let the student do part of the designing?

ca said...

Steve Donohue wrote: And also this factor- let's say that I was truly interested in learning the cello and wanted to take it up at 6. One of my parents had better be pretty proficient at the cello in order to be teaching me, because 1 hour a week for lessons isn't going to cut it, and it's going to cost a lot to hire a professional musician to live with you as a tutor.

Um. I was truly interested in learning the piano and wanted to take it up at 6. I don't remember if I was interested or not, but my parents decided I should take violin up at age 4. I had lessons for 30 min. a week (although they got longer as I got older), and neither of my parents has any musical training. I got pretty good at both of them, you know, to the point where I was winning state competitions and things for violin.

The point is that a 30-min. lesson once a week teaches you what to practice the rest of the week. You don't actually need a professional there all the time when you are trying to get your fingers to do scales properly, or practicing a bowing technique over and over and over again until you get it right. You do need someone there to make sure you practice, unless you're Nailah (I wasn't), and to remind you what the teacher said ("No, it's NOT okay for you to stick out your elbow like that, remember?") but that doesn't take a whole lot of training. There can also be a LOT of ear training done by playing tapes (well, when I was a kid they were tapes) of excellent musicians over and over again.

Go Suzuki!

Sigivald said...

So, I guess she won't know any math by the time she's 18, at this rate?

That's okay. It's not like it's important or anything; even if you don't happen to want to learn it when you're 10.

David53 said...

"There is nothing like the texture of kids having contact with each other, making friends and relating to different adults in a school setting," said David Tokofsky, a longtime educator and member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

This speaks volumes to me, LAUSD school board member is against it, then I'm for it.

Synova said...

In general... kids aren't the best source to explain what they do "at school" and often parents aren't either because some of the things that they do they don't think to mention. For many "unschoolers" it's not that they don't do school, it's that they do school every single moment of every day. There are not requirements, but there is definately approval showered upon the child anytime she is engaged in "educational" activities.

As for future workplace situations or college... we don't really have to guess about this. Children brought up in self-directed learning environments tend toward self-employment. And if anyone thinks this enables laziness you've never been your own boss. Those students who go to college tend to do very well because they have always been responsible for their own learning and do not expect to have their hand held.

School is not the only place to learn good work place skills, but learning to work when you don't have to seems a better thing than someone who only works when they are forced to.

Voluntarily read a book that wasn't assigned by a teacher? Are you out of your mind?

Elizabeth said...
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sonicfrog said...

Have they alreddy forgoten the hole english / math debakle??? Jeez, when wil they evr lern!

Mrs. Biswas said...

I unschooled both my kids for junior high and high school. They are both in college now and doing fine; if fact they are much more disciplined and goal-oriented than I was at that age (ah, the seventies...)

The public schools are really bad where I live (SF east bay), and private schools cost $15k - $25k a year. I didn't have many choices.

Mrs. Biswas said...

Oh yeah, shoulda said:

In California 49% of kids entering college have to re-take english and/or math classes because of their poor performance on entrance assessments tests. One of my kids had to take a math class and the other one didn't have to take anything.

So I guess it helps to to grow up in a house with lots of books and maps and computers and fairly well-educated parents.

I wouldn't recommend unschooling, or even home schooling for families that lack those things. And unschooling for elementary school would surely be a disaster.

sonicfrog said...

If Rousseau is laughing from his grave, what is Dewey doing? :-)

Steve Donohue said...

I realize that many schools don't have music programs at that age, but many do. Yes, it's good to get lessons, but it's even better to get a musical training, and going to music classes and such with people who are trained in that helps quite a bit. I tutor at a public school in Champaign that both has music lessons for the youngsters and music-appreciation classes. I think that that is an area of particularity (it could be art or something else as well) that you lose with homeschooling. Besides from the fact that you don't know what you like until you see it presented to you.

That's not a knock on homeschooling or even unschooling. Parents who homeschool just must beware to surround the children with a lot of different things to see which ones stick. I know that I would never have gotten my love of music from my mother, God bless her, because I never would have realized it even existed in a form outside of Phil Collins and Paula Abdul (I am, after all, a child of the 80s and 90s.)

Amy P said...

Based on the school experience of a young in-law, I would argue that the homeschooling environment is actually much more appropriate for a serious young musician who must devote several hours a day just to music practice. A standard school day, ending 3ish and followed by a couple hours of homework just doesn't1 allow enough time for those hours of practice. Studying at home frees up a lot of time for practice, as well as for those weekly visits to ones private music teacher, who may be a four hour drive away. (Even in a major metropolitan area, there aren't necessarily that many good teachers available.) I would suggest a similar model for many other students: several hours of intensive academic work at home, followed by more social and less academic enrichment activities (sports, drama, etc.) in the afternoon. And no homework in the evening!

Slac said...

This is great... if you've got a Nailah. But, of course, your child is a Nailah? Right?

Ann, I seriously want to know what you mean by that.

Every child, indeed, every person on this Earth deserves the right to consent to what they learn, when they learn, and how they learn.

reader_iam said...


Kindermusik, ages 0 to 7.

Music ed is not that impressive these days, and is in many cases essentially non-existent in schools.

Even in my day, it was pretty superficial until you got to higher grades. It's generally degraded since.

My parents were musicians, so none of that mattered in terms of my brother and me. But I don't recall most of my friends getting all that terrific of a background through formal schooling. (I could--but won't--recite my parents' rant about the state of Music Ed as far back as the mid '70s.)

reader_iam said...

I mention Kindermusik because where it's available, it really covers a lot of basis. My kindergartner has been in it since 18 months (the infant classes weren't available here yet at the time) and will "graduate" this spring (the teacher accelerated him a couple of times).

When we met with his music teacher at his private school last fall, she said he had basically already covered the entire curriculum through grade 4 or 5, except for actually taking music lessons, which we would, and will, pay for privately, anyway, since I want to pick the teacher.

For serious music ed, I can't see relying on the schools (public or private) anyway. But I concede that I come at it from a different perspective.

reader_iam said...

"Basis" = "bases"

Ronald Reagan said...
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Kev said...

reader_iam--I'm a music educator, and I can tell you that, at least in some parts of the country, there are plenty of good things going on. (I'm in Texas, which is known as a state with strong school music programs.) I can't speak for anything that goes on before sixth grade, as I'm a private saxophone instructor at the middle- and high school levels, but I do know that any kid who comes to me with an elementary school choir background is almost always well-prepared to start an instrument; that goes double for those who have had piano beforehand.

We have a pretty good setup in my area of the state; the private instructors can teach the students during their band, orchestra or choir class once a week, which is good for a number of reasons: There are almost no attendance problems (save for the occasional field trip or assembly), since the students are already at school; being there during the day allows for great lines of communication between the private instructors and the directors; and it's actually possible to make a full-time job out of private instruction (I teach about 70 students a week and a couple of college classes elsewhere). That also means that teachers tend to stick around a while; we have a number of 20+-year veterans in my district, whereas in the place where I grew up (which didn't allow lessons during the day), I had a different teacher every year in high school.

My area is obviously band, so I haven't seen as many choir or orchestra performances, but everything that I've witnessed at our state music educators' convention was of very high quality. Sometimes it seems a little high on the competitive side (during state competition years, which only happen biennially, people have been known to joke that music has become a full-contact sport), but the competition seems to breed excellence more than anything.

I know that music ed isn't as strong in many other parts of the country, so I'm sorry to hear that your parents' experience may not have been so good.

XWL said...


'All your basis are belong to us'?

(and who says Wiki isn't worthwhile?)

(I'm practicing advanced combinatorial commentography, they don't teach that in any classrooms!)

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't see unschooling working that well for a lot of kids, and it definately wouldn't have worked for me. For one thing, I would have had an excellent science and math background, and not literature or history whatsoever. It isn't that I didn't (or don't) read, but rather that I never like standard literature. Rather, I consumed massive amounts of fantasy and science fiction, with some action stories and historical biographies.

My big problem has always been too much focus, instead of too little. So, whenever I was given any real freedom, I jumped in totally, to the exclusion of everything else, for weeks, if not months, on end.

One thing that I do like about home schooling is that kids can proceed at their own speed. For some, including I think many here (from the comments over time), that probably meant at a much higher speed than is found at most, if not all, public schools. For many others, it may be slower. In any case though, hopefully it means teaching at the optimal rate for a given student, instead of at some arbitrary rate set by, for example, a school district.

Finally, the good private schools that I know tend to do a very good job at forcing the kids to learn a broad range of things - much broader than you will typically find at a public school. And, not surprisingly, they don't really teach to exams, but rather try to impart a broad "liberal arts" education.

What must be remembered about private schools is that if they fail at teaching what the parents expect to be taught, and fail to get their kids into the colleges they expect, they will go out of business.

Contrast this with public schools, where there are many other pressures, and, as a result, learning what should be learned is often not accomplished.

(I was reminded today of this structural problem with public education when I attended the funeral today of Dr. Cal Frasier, longtime Commissioner of Education for the State of CO. One of his prouder moments was when he convinced president Reagan to point out in a major education speech that it isn't the teachers themselves, but the system that is at fault for failing to educate our kids).

wv: tpona - "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" (TPONA) by Gene Sharp.

Slac said...

Ann, do children deserve the right to consent to what and how they learn or don't they?

I would very much like a reply. Please consider the implications. If yes, then every child has a right to "unschooling." If not, then we present a suspicious proposition that children should be educated against their will.

Should people be educated against their will?

It is one thing to break the law and force a criminal into a correctional facility. It is another to do the same to an innocent human being, who just happens to be young.

Your terse reply in your post does a severe injustice to this issue in my opinion, so I'd like to hear more.

freewebs.com/flowingfree said...

It's for people who are self-reliant (as in they can support themselves later on), I don't see why no (although many say that is the problem).

Omnium said...

We "unschool" our son after the public schools completely destroyed him to the point he needed psychological counseling to get over the trauma they caused. He has Asperger's Syndrome and in public school, he was tortured by both students and STAFF for not being "normal." The teacher routinely called him "stupid" when he's brilliant. He was just afraid of her because she was mean to him every day. She made him stand up and announce his bad grades (he has a math disability but is gifted in everything else. several grades ahead of his peers) and made fun of him all the time in class. She also told lies about him when he would turn her in to the principal for her behavior. This teacher also verbally assaulted me when I went to the school to confront her about her behavior.
Since unschooling, our son has stopped the daily destructive rages he used to have when he came home from school and has stopped trying to kill himself for not being "normal." He recently scored 98th percentile on the private school entrance test called the ERB CTP4 in everything but the math which he failed because of his math disability. Not every child needs a power-monger children-hating burnt out teacher telling them what they SHOULD learn. Kids are natural born LEARNERS and it is the SCHOOLS that beat that out of them trying to make them "good little future worker bees and tax payers." Watch a child sometime when they discover something new or want to know more about something they see. They will LEARN, on their own, naturally....and we as adults can help facilitate that by guiding them toward resources on what they want to know. Everyone who meets my son is so impressed with his maturity, his verbal acuity, his knowledge for his age. When compared with kids his own age, they are night and day worlds apart. Unschooling is NOT for every child or every family.....but for ours, it was a saving grace. I believe my son would be dead now if we had not pulled him out of public school and let him school himself. He is doing high school level work, on his own, finding his own resources (with our physical help) and he is 12 yrs old. He even taught HIMSELF multiple languages. He sings in a professional choir, has won writing awards, makes money trading stock options, and more. He is flourishing by not being in "government enforced institutional brainwashing & babysitting." What a shame that children are born with such great spirits....and then our "schooling" crushes these spirits, destroys their inherent curiosity, ingenuity, creativity, and heart and turns them all into little unquestioning, taxpaying automatons.

Omnium said...

For "Cat"

Actually, homeschooled nad many unschooled kids adjust to college MUCH BETTER than their peers because they have already lived a life of self-discipline and personal responsibility. In fact, many colleges are now actively recruiting homeschoolers because they state that these kids are better prepared for college and often do not require the remedial courses often required for nearly ALL incoming freshman.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks for writing, Omnium. My heart goes out to you and your son.

kari said...

Some on the outside would maybe think that I "unschool" my children. What a horrible term. When you walk in my house it is more stocked with educational materials than any typical school classroom. My girls age 3 and 8 have guidelines as to what they are going to accomplish in a weeks time. And by gosh they do it, with very little if any push from me. The freedom allowed by "unschooling" as this article seems to call it, is that at 9:00am when my oldest sits down to research; let's say, the solar system, if she wants to continue on all day on that one subject she can. I am not going to break her momentum because it is now 9:50 and it is time for another subject. All subjects blosson from the next. As for the 10 year old referenced in this article not starting her day until she feels like it (11:00am) that is lazy parenting. By roughly 9am each morning my girls have already eaten breakfast, dressed, finished several chores, and are diving into what ever work they want. As in Montessori, I guide them by having certain bits of subject matter available. Learning is apart of everyday. How many of your children get up Saturday morning and run to their "schoolwork" avoiding the TV. This is what my girls want to do not what I force them to do.

Shelshula said...

I was reading the news headlines this morning on Yahoo news and there was a video clip about the “unschooling” movement which, of course, I couldn’t open. I googled unschooling to try and figure out what the heck it was and came across a CNN story about the girl Nailah, a Wiccapedia entry and this blog. Of the three, I think this blog may have been the most interesting and the most informative.

It seems that the posts on this blog which are most dismissive of “unschooling” make the assumption that the children are floating through the day guided only by their whim. It also implies that the whim will only take them to eating junk food and watching cartoons unless they are exceptional (read freak) children like Nailah. It is true that I am making a number of assumptions myself as to what it must be like for the child, but unschooling sounds an awful lot like the Montessori system. My mother was a special ed. teacher in a public school of Cleveland suburb for over 20 years. She has a masters degree in education and, over the years, we have talked a fair bit about the advantages of Montessori.

Unschooling may allow children the choice of what they will learn, but that is not the same thing as saying they have the choice of not learning. There is probably a lot more direction provided by the parents then the description of the program may first imply. Allowing the child to choose which language to learn or which activity to choose for Phys. Ed. is not the same as letting the child choose to avoid the activity. Also, allowing the child to decide which subject to work on next is not the same as allowing the child to not work. The child directing the pattern of activity is not allowing the child to choose no activity.

Several quips have been made about the expected result this system will have on the child’s work ethic and on their ability to adapt to the structured environment of work. It is true that one of the primary skills an adult must have to be successful is the ability to do something, even when they really, really don’t want to. This is one of the most important skills taught to us at school. I think it is a faulty assumption that unschooling won’t teach this skill. And as for the idea of “Unworking” I frequently am given tasks by my boss to complete. As long as I hit my deadlines and complete the work accurately, my boss does not micro-manage my day. If I choose to master Asian Fusion Cuisine, something I might actually try to do as I am an avid cook, I would work on it on my lunch hour. Actually, I am practicing the art of “unworking” right now as I am responding to this blog when I should be reviewing an employee work. That does not mean the work will go unreviewed. It merely means it will be reviewed later.

I am sorry to hear that Omnium’s son had such a catastrophic experience in public school. That teacher’s behavior is inexcusable. For the school to allow it to continue is criminal. I do believe that it was an exceptional experience. The typical teacher is not abusive. However, a parent recognizing the situation for what it was and taking corrective action is frequently the exception. Many children struggle with school and many parents are unable or unwilling to help. Homeschooling is not a viable option for many parents. My mother was a single parent, she could not have homeschooled us and worked a full-time job.

As to the idea that children deserve the right to consent to what and how they learn … I’m sorry, I truly mean no disrespect, but what a very odd idea. Perhaps if you could explain more fully what you mean by “children deserve the right to consent to what and how they learn” I would have a fuller understanding of what you mean.

Shelshula said...

Kari’s description of what a typical day is like for her children sounds very much like what I had imagined unschooling to be. Structured learning is not the same as regimented learning.

Nailah’s schedule sounds very odd to me as well. Letting her stay up until 2 AM and sleep until 11 AM just sounds wrong. However, assuming she really sleeps pretty close to the schedule, she get’s between 8-9 hours of sleep a night, and her parents might enjoy having the morning to themselves. I keep that schedule myself on the occasional weekend. As I get older, I see the wisdom of getting up at a reasonable hour in the morning and go to bed a sensible time. Whatever, it seems to work for her, who am I to say otherwise.

Wondering said...

Friday, February 17, 2006
Mindless Masses

Consider the following carefully;
My youngest sister never attended any sort of school, be it public or private, her entire life. All of her education was garnered at home. Upon enrolling at a state university in the south, she was informed that her "diploma" was not acceptable. Since it did not come from an institution that the university "recognized" as being a place of proper learning. They stated she would have to acquire a "GED", before they would accept her for the upcoming enrollment.

She was subsequently invited by the state's educational board in a formal letter, to address the upcoming attendee's at a state sponsored dinner, celebrating unusual achievements. The reason she was invited to be recognized and asked to speak, was because she had accomplished a first in the state's history. Not only had she passed the "accepted" test, to prove to the university she was capable of their curriculum standards. She had scored perfect on all sections of the exam, regardless of subject.

Something for all that knee jerk react to anything other than the "norm" in education.

amie said...

We - my husband and I - have been unschooling our kindergartener this year. If you asked her, she'd tell you she hasn't learned anything and all she does is play. Next year we plan to continue to unschool her for first grade. In fact, we pretty much plan to unschool her and her little sister for as long as our family thinks it is best.

Why do I think I'm qualified to make these decisions for my children's education? Of course being a parent is the most important reason, but I've researched it . . . a lot. I currently teach at a very exclusive K-8 private school - $13,600 a year to send your child here. I could have had her in my own kindergarten class for $6,800 this year and taught her myself. Oh, yeah right, we already teach her ourselves for a couple of hundred dollars in materials and local interest classes and of course the gallons of gas used to take her to the library 2-4x a week, the weekly homeschool groups she meets with for socialization, the field trips and even the grocery shopping trips to buy the supplies for all the cooking projects she does each week. Currently she reads, writes and does math as well as most of my students - ok not as well as the kid with the 145 IQ, but as well or better than everyone else in my class - but according to her she's not learning anything.

I spent a semester last winter in one of my grad classes (I'm working on a second master's degree) compiling homeschool articles and data – I had to debate a “controversial topic” in one of my education classes. After reading through all of it I told my husband we'd be crazy to send the kids to school and we needed to work out whatever we had to school them ourselves. You'll find a lot of homeschooling parents that do that - even single moms - if there is a will there is almost always a way.

If you actually look at the different kinds of homeschooling you can find the one that best meets the needs and temperaments of your family and not just give a quick response that this is a kooky idea. Many maybe even most of unschooling parents are highly educated and intelligent - perhaps that's why they feel comfortable that their kids will learn this way.

I think I would have been a great unschooler myself. I didn’t like jr. high and high school, for the most part, it was boring and my grades were good enough to get me into the community college of my choice. I spent all my free time reading classic literature, historical fiction and writing short stories. One year my American history teacher never made me do any work at all - I already knew everything outlined in the textbook from reading – and he was lazy and didn’t put forth any effort to challenge me. I failed most of my high school math classes but in college I hired myself a tutor to pass the classes I needed to get the degree I wanted. Once I found out what I needed I was highly motivated.

If at some point my children want to be homeschooled instead of unschooled we will try it. If at some time they want to try a traditional school we may try it. But for now, unschooling is our choice, a choice we are perfectly comfortable with.

rfreeman said...

The beauty of homeschooling and unschooling is that they recognize what traditional schooling does not: that not all children learn the same way; not all children function effectively in a so-called structured environement -- if that's what you would venture to call traditional schooling. I'm sure no one would doubt that thousands of children who attend school everyday are, whether they realize it or not, far more 'unschooled' than Nailah or any of the other children featured in the CNN segment. I applaud a parent who is in tune with his or her child enough to fully understand how that child learns and is committed enough to create an environment conducive to those methods. Not every parent is capable of or willing to do so.

liz said...

re: the six-year-old saying she doesn't "learn anything" -- this is also a result of "socialization" -- that is, she has already "learned" that "learning" has to do with teachers, desks, ABC's etc. Eventually she'll learn a wider definition of learning (we hope) that is consistent with the ideology of unschooling.

re: socialization and homeschooling. So often there is a conflation of the concept of "socialization" (learning how to be a person in society) and "socializing" (having friends).

Often people say homeschooled kids have a problem with "socialization" and in the next sentence, when they talk about loneliness and isolation, it becomes clear that they're actually talking about socializing.

Children may become more "socialized" when they attend school, but to many homeschoolers this is a BAD thing! It implies conformity, ability to lose onesself in a rules- and authority-driven environment by creating a "false self."

However, having been well-socialized can be very useful when one is trying to get through one's life sitting in a cubicle.
-- but it's not necessarily what all of us desire for our children.

Homeschoolers are generally more idealistic, and are interested in developing more possibilities, more interesting lives, for themselves and their kids.

As for socializing, most homeschoolers will point to the kind of socializing that is typical of a school environment -- including rigid cliques, social hierarchies, and bullying -- and report that they don't think this is so great!

You can then say, well how is a kid going to function in society if she doesn't learn all this stuff? The unschooling philosophy says that there are many roads and a kid will do best when she is exposed to a community of people of all ages (instead of just those in her "grade"), gets a lot of her education from real-life exploration, develops her life's path by following her own interests and temperamental proclivities, etc., in a context where "Get in line", "You must obey," "Say the pledge," "BE QUIET!!! I said, BE QUIET!!!" are not the predominant messages.

In sum, many unschoolers say that learning what somebody else has decided is the "right" thing to learn, and under duress (whether obvious or well-hidden thanks to "socialization") is not so great.

As for the poster with the son with Asperger's, I really relate, as my own son had major problems in publc middle school and we homeschooled for a short time, until he began to attend a special education school that is wonderful.

(we don't pay, either, because of federal law concerning equal education for the handicapped).In my son's school he's not just thrown in to fend for himself with a bunch of ignoramuses, but he is getting instruction from people who "get" him, and the environment is gentle and nurturing. Just saying, it's another option (except obviously I don't know what's available in your community.) Best of luck with your son's education!