What is Unschooling?
I was dying to know because all I've heard for the last several years is that we all need to become lifelong learners. So what's all this nonsense about UN-schooling?
The term unschooling was coined by John Holt, who founded the unschooling magazine Growing Without Schooling. It's a child-based way of educating a child that lets him choose, based on what he's interested in, what he studies. It's similar to a Montesorri education in this way. Proponents thinks it's a more natural way of learning and one that plays up a child's natural talents. Success rests upon a child's natural curiosity.
Unschooling advocates disagree with our current public school model and argue that one size does not fit all when it comes to educating our children. They also believe a school limits opportunities for students to experience hands-on learning.
What Do Unschooled Kids Do All Day?
Unschooling is really a form of homeschooling, but not in the way that a traditional classroom is recreated in the home. It is not curriculum based or teacher (or parent) directed. Unschooled students are masters of their own destiny. Kids may use a teacher or academic program if they choose, but what, where, and when they study is completely up to them. Parents are only in the equation as facilitators, helping kids to access resources and make their own educational plans. They may give advice, help the child create and be accountable for goals, and share interesting books and information, but other than that, it's up to the child. It's all about respecting the child's time and innate interests.
According to John Holt:
"...the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don't know."
Unschooling and the Information Age
Unschooling focuses more on learning how to learn than memorizing a set of facts or knowledge that may or may not be useful in the future. In this way, the practice is totally in line with the encouragement to be ‘lifelong learner'. We are living in the information age. We have accumulated more knowledge than any human being could learn in a lifetime. Unschooling frees the student to decide what subject is worthy of his study based on his own inclination.
Socialization and Higher Education
Many people believe unschooled children run the risk of not being able to function in a social environment, but proponents believe the opposite. They think their kids are better able to manage social situations because they come in contact with a wider variety of people. That is, of course, if they get out of the house to do their unschool work.
If they want to attend college, unschoolers must provide a portfolio of work to be evaluated by the school's admission department.
Common Criticisms Of Unschooling
Opponents to unschooling believe kids will have gaps in essential education and that they will not learn to make friends and deal with the everyday conflict kids face at school. The diversity of people may be severely limited when children choose their own studies. Then there are those kids who are simply unmotivated. How will they be coerced to learn?
Parents are available to help, but most of us are not trained educational professionals, especially in multiple subjects. Unschooled kids lack access to field experts unless they are able to get private attention from those experts, which may or may not be possible. Additionally, many people believe in the value of learning to follow directions and developing a respect for authority, which many unschooled children will fail to learn.
Your child may thrive in an unschooled environment, but make sure you do your homework, so to speak. Unschooling is not an easy way out, and not a way for your child to escape social pressures at school. Also, you will want to check with your state officials to find out what the guidelines are to comply with the law in your state.