It’s September, which means that we are in the throes of the not-going-back-to-school period that seems to be the start of a new year for most. This means that along with all the schoolers, many homeschoolers are writing about the new year, talking curriculum, talking methodology, new homeschoolers are asking questions and many terms are flying around. One of those terms is of course unschooling.
I have already wrote what unschooling is to me…
….it is an ideology and a lifestyle in itself. It is seeing learning in a different way, a way that happens through the learner instead of the teacher.
Let me explain again, unschooling is a lifestyle. It is trusting that children will learn what they need to learn when they are ready to learn it. It is a process of letting go of arbitrary expectations that children should learn certain things at exactly/or by a certain age. It is shifting from the idea that we must teach in order for someone to learn. Unschooling is entirely philosophy in itself and it is as different from homeschooling than it is from school.
To unschool, I believe, that you have to embrace the educational philosophy (whether you embrace radical unschooling/child-led living etc. is then another issue). You have to trust that children will learn everything they need to know and that it may not be exactly what you think they need to know. It is a struggle, yes, and I freely admit that I do struggle with it also, as I still have all of my school baggage behind me and have outside criticism that at times penetrates the barrier that I put up… but it doesn’t change what unschooling is.
And this is where my pet peeve comes in…
What gets to me is not that people don’t know exactly what unschooling is. To be fair, it is fairy complex philosophy and far leap from most mainstream views of learning and there are so many misconceptions around it. But, it is when they don’t know what unschooling is and then still use the term to describe what they are doing or part of what they are doing. Perpetuating the myth that unschooling is basically the time that you don’t care about what your child is learning.
Here are a few quotes that I have seen in the last few weeks just to show what I mean…
“I unschool until they hit about 4 then I start incorporating a curriculum.”
“I unschool kindergarten then add more structure each year.”
Um… that is letting toddler be a toddler…a kid be a kid… it is not unschooling… it’s childhood…
“We do school work in the morning and then I let the kids unschool in the afternoon.”
So basically, you are teaching your kids what you think they need to know and then letting them play/or do unstructured schoolwork in the afternoon. I would define this as homeschooling… not unschooling.
“My kids go to school and then we unschool on the weekends.”
yes… I have heard this said and um.. no!!! again… that is letting kids just be kids and that would mean that ALL kids are being unschooled.
“We’re unschoolers… the kids choose the subjects and then we make a curriculum around that.”
I would call that relaxed or eclectic homeschooling…and it is a great way to homeschool, but it is still parent-led and is not unschooling.
Don’t get me wrong… it is not that I really care about what kind of labels people want use, I really don’t care if people don’t unschool and it is not that unschoolers feel elitist and don’t want people in their club. It’s just that there are already varying degrees of unschooling that using the term is these contexts just cause confusion. Unschooling is more than just a method, it is instead a philosophy and it simply can’t be done part-time.
If an outsider was to hear these statements they would most likely come away with the idea that unschooling is not a way in which kids can learn the “important stuff” and that is sounds like another word for unstructured learning or play.
I mean, the people who say they are unschooling in these statements are saying they believe in “unschooling” then are contradicting themselves in the same breath by saying that they will teach what’s important. Their definition of unschooling has nothing to do with trusting that children will learn on their own, it is just pointing out that their children have unstructured learning periods.
So, when unschooling is put in that context, hearing that people choose to only unschool is basically like hearing that they are choosing for their children to not learn the important things and setting them up for future failure willingly. It sounds drastic, but it is easy to understand that if this is the way unschooling is presented, it is the way that people will understand unschooling and it is understandable that their reaction will most often be negative.
By only hearing such statements, they would never see the possibilities that unschooling provides. They wouldn’t know that unschooled kids can and do learn “the important stuff”. They wouldn’t know that as time goes by the learning that happens is more complex and that as kids grow they will learn more, and learn quickly.
Furthermore, and most important, though unschooling is all about self-guided learning instead of what is being taught, by only hearing the phrases above, people will never know that unschooling can also involve structure, taking classes, using curriculum, having tutors, and even choosing to go to school later on..
Unschooling is just so much more than just “not doing school”.
So I ask you, if you are a unschooler, what do you think? Is it s pet peeve for you also? Do you see the same problems?
What about the others? What is your notion of unschooling?
this reminds me of a quote i saw somewhere: not all teachers are parents, but all parents are teachers. a lot of those statements fall into that.
we’re not unschoolers (reggio emilia and montessori so far) but we DO sign with our child. We use full-on ASL and it drives me INSANE when people say “oh, we Sign, too! But we just made ours up.” Those are signals or cues, not Sign. I could get all soapboxy…I’ll save it for when I’m feeling ranty 😉
Nice post! You’re right, when I think of “unschooling”, I think of more than “just not ‘doing school'”. Some people just have such a hard time escaping the very concept of schooling even though it is an unnatural, artificially-constructed way to teach kids what the “system” wants them to know. “Unschooling” is simply the natural way that children should be learning – learning by living a full life and following their own passions and interests with wild abandon…and adults being useful, encouraging resources and mentors.
The hubby and I have been in an ongoing debate about the concept of school. More specifically our disagreement over how to school our kids. I want to “homeschool” and he is desperate for them to be in an actual school… Ideally, I’d love to unschool but that’s a philosophy he’d NEVER go along with (and I don’t believe it can work while the parents are fighting and divided in their philosophies. It would be too chaotic)
Anyway, yesterday he sent me this article:
The article is riddled with flaws and it gets under my skin. Though, it was an acknowledgement that homeschooling isn’t out of the question… but it doesn’t do any good for the concept of unschooling. I have to admit that I understand some of the worry. On the other hand, I also think back to all of the time I wasted memorizing crap in school that is completely useless to me… and that I really don’t recall at all now. So, really, who cares if my child doesn’t do as well on a stupid standardized test. Is it really “useful” knowledge or just things they’ve learned to spew out for now and will inevitably forget soon enough because it’s useless to them.
My boy has learned so much already, with no direction on our part. All led by him. By what he wanted to learn. We facilitated it, of course, but we never forced any of it. I wish I could go on like this to see just how far he takes it… Sorry. Your post (and that article) got me into a rant.
I saw a link to the study yet had not seen the article yet…
Honestly for the age group it does not surprise me for a study of that sort to come to that conclusion. That is the thing about unschooling, it is not as easy to measure and grade. It is a different way of learning all together. What some kids might be interested in knowing might not be exactly what their schooled peers are doing at the same moment.
I would be surprised if they found the same results with teens or young adults and I think that a study within that age group would be much more telling.
One of the bigger flaws that I see, is that an unschooled child may not be able to write down the answer to a written question but it doesn’t mean that they don’t understand the logic or concept.
For example, Colin (just turned 7) understands Math very well. He understands fractions, he can divide things, he know what the number places are (ones, tens, hundreds etc) and he can add and subtract big numbers… but this is all in his head… not abstract numbers on paper. Logically he is way ahead of his schooled peers, but on paper he wouldn’t be able to do it at the moment. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand, it just means that the two haven’t connected yet. I have no worries that that connection will not happen though.
Likewise, Xavier may have started reading when he was just about 7 (so technically later than his peers) but when he did start reading, he was reading. Not sounding out words, not struggling with big words, but could read a novel without hesitation (well, if the subject was interesting to him).
I just don’t think that it is in any way realistic to test unschooling in such a way.
I hear you. We are in ‘not going back to school’ mode too and people don’t understand that the children have been learning ALL SUMMER! It’s not as if you can switch autonomous learning off at any point you choose.Try telling a child not to learn anything today and see what happens.
We are “radical unschoolers,” “whole-life unschoolers,” whatever. Saying that you unschool after you teach subject x or unschool except for math is like saying you’re a vegetarian except you eat a lot of chicken.
very interesting reflexion.
it is soooo hard for most people to grasp what unschooling is because the system has totaly brainwashed us. I think someone has to actually SEE it with it’s own eyes to believe it! kids CAN and DO learn so many things by themselves! The hardest thing someone will learn in his entire life TALKING is learned in a totally “unschooled” fashion.
I sincerely hope you’ll take this as intended. But I’m thrilled to finally read a rational unschooling post! I’ve been studying the subject for 18+ years and comments like those you’ve quoted make me crazy!
IMO, you can’t possibly “unschool until X” and then STOP unschooling, without undermining the very foundational principles of unschooling.
I have way too much to say about that, but thanks for a great post.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
I just read your post about unschooling and you hit the mark in one of your comments about the three types of unschoolers.. we are definitely of the third type… we truly do not have the same expectations as many others do however, it is also that there is trust that things will be learned if needed depending on the goal.
I tried to show in this post why the definition of unschooling needs to be defined better because the consequence of using the term in the wrong way is clearly seen in the comments on your blog…
BTW… Have you read this post before? It is a good one! http://justabaldman.blogspot.com/2010/08/guy-on-plane.html
This idea of unschooling is fascinating to me. I want to learn more. What’s the best resource for figuring out how to go about it?
Hi Diana, what in particular would you like to know. There are tons of resouces on the web but if you have questions just ask and maybe I could help 🙂
I went ahead and ordered a book from amazon that should help. I guess I’m interested in the do’s and don’t s. I’m a teacher turned stay at home mom and I think it will be challenging for me to go from direct instruction to unschooling. But I am very interested in trying!
If your goal is to unschool then you definitely need to go through a deschooling period. You need to learn to trust how a child learns and let go of certain expectation when it come to what and when children learn. There are quite a few good articles on the internet also on this. Look for “deschooling”. Also John Holt books are a great place to start.
Wonderful advice, thank you!
[…] of that term? It is not a new one but it seems to be gaining momentum. I have already mentioned the pet peeve I have about using the term unschooling for a preschooler but I thought I would go into it […]