Unschooling in the News, sort of

This article got really close to talking about unschooling in a way that is actually, well, not from a  schoolish perspective. And it made a few remarks that stunned me.

A few comments:

It’s child-directed or child-led learning. Some call it relaxed home schooling. Topics aren’t learned until a child expresses curiosity, and they’re dropped as soon as the child is ready to move on.

Well, yes and no. Topics are learned well, when they come up. Sometimes the child expresses curiosity. Sometimes, the parent does. Sometimes topics are forced on us. And, unschoolers don’t learn learn just “topics”. Seeing it from a “topics” point of view is a school perspective. Sometimes, sure, we gotta look at things that way, but usually, unschoolers don’t. You just learn things, regardless of what “topic” they are. Also, topics aren’t “dropped” when a child is ready to move on. The stuff we learn is always around us. Usually, kids are learning about a whole bunch of stuff at once. A topic is never really “dropped”. You can only drop a topic of it’s been picked out of the world and studied like a specimen to begin with.

Their parents say this unconventional style of learning shows respect for their children as full human beings who can learn lessons from everyday life.

No, no, no… this isn’t right. Children and people DO learn ALL the time. Unschoolers don’t learn “lessons”, they learn how to live, how to be smart, how to do what they believe in, how to be a fulfilled human. Unschoolers know this, so don’t feel the need to try and make kids what to learn when and how because we are aware at the natural drive for people to constantly grow. It’s not that people “can” learn from life, but that they “do”, and that’s enough. Don’t have to try and place a second layer of externally forced learning on top of that – a layer of learning that is someone else’s agenda.

These families reject the structure of formal schooling that, they say, crushes creativity and curiosity.

I really hate the “unschooling has no structure” bull. It DOES have structure. Just, the structure is internally driven, family-created, life-created structure. It’s a structure that makes sense, not one imposed on us. There is always structure in life. And each of us, if left alone, will create the kind of structure that best fits our needs (barring a neurological disorder or injury, or psychological trauma). It’s external structure that (most) kids don’t need to have in order to learn. And if an unschooled kid does need that external structure, so be it. It can happen. But it’s because the kid himself needs it, not because of some big idea that kids are cows and don’t know where the barn is if someone doesn’t tell them.

But some education experts — and even fellow home schoolers — feel this free-form style could lead to gaps in learning. They are afraid children do nothing all day or develop strengths but ignore their weaknesses.

And I ask a seroius question here – what is so bad with this? What’s really wrong with developing strengths, while ignoring weaknesses? And here, I’m assuming they mean academic weaknesses.

When Miyana asked her mom where carrots came from, the family took a field trip to a farm. Learning often emerges in their childish games, like the time Miyana created play people from orange peels and started figuring out how many of them would have to share if she only had three forks.

This is way too contrived to explain what unschooling is like. This is from a “how does unschooling at least look a little like school” point of view. In our house, you ask where carrots come from, I’ll tell you. If I don’t know, and you can’t figure it out yourself, I’ll look it up on the internet, maybe now, maybe later. Or maybe the next time we’re at the grocer, you can ask them. Then, at some point, we’ll head to the damn farm and have fun, just because it’s fun. And as for the orange peels, my guess what this ended up being a game about fractions by accident, not because mama thought, “Oh, I know, I’ll make a game out of oranges.” It probably started from being silly. Not that it really matters how it started, but that the concept of unschooling orange peels is that things happen because they happen, because it’s an interesting and fun thing to do, because it means something, not because it’s “good for us to know.”

Her mother, however, did not turn that moment into a structured math lesson about division. Rather, she let it unfold at Miyana’s pace.

Yay! 🙂 BUT, what if mom really likes division? Why not talk about it? If Miyana is interested, keep on talking. If not, let her walk away. Whatever.

Some educators expressed concern that this free-form style of education isn’t good for children.

Of COURSE they did!

“If unschooling is curiosity-led, not all children are question-askers,” said Cindy Benefield, who oversees home schooling for the state Education Department. “If they’re focused on one area, the child may know everything about gardening but won’t know multiplication tables.”

“It’s risky to put all the eggs in the child’s basket,” said Mary Jane Moran, an assistant professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, where she instructs future teachers of pre-kindergarten to third-graders. She has not studied unschooling.

“Blah blah blah, I am totally not listening to anything an unschooler actually says.” Oh, wait, she hasn’t studied unschooling. I’m actually pretty damn impressed that the reporter included this. Makes you think about the value of her opinion.

But just like Valerie at HEM, I always wonder why they ask school people what they think of something that is totally opposite of what they do. “So, Coke representative, what do you think of Pepsi?”

“If children are the only lead horses, then there is no educational map through which they are led in a purposeful way,” she said. “It’s random starts and stops. Therefore, there is less opportunity for deep learning.”

And this is where I have to say, “what the hell is the matter with you?” So, a kid is studying something ALL DAY, can’t get enough of it and spends hours and hours doing something, and “there’s less opportunity for deep learning.” Where is the deep learning in school? What exactly is “deep learning” if it isn’t going into a topic until you are satiated? Brain…is…exploding….

Then, after a few people offering their opinions, there’s a section called “It’s not a new idea.” In my opinion, the author should have put this first. It’s the best part.

Here’s an example:

At home, they practice “strewing,” leaving books, games and other interesting items in their children’s path for them to discover.

That’s not to say there is no parental involvement.

Rather, these parents said, they must be totally aware of the needs of their children and able to find resources to seek out information, whether that’s the local librarian, an entomologist at a nearby college or the grocer who can explain an exotic fruit.

See, it’s not all bad. 🙂 It’s actually quite good. And for an article that’s intended for general audiences, it’s pretty decent coverage.

In the end, I hope unschooling is always on the fringe. That way, we’re constantly forced to think and know who we are, rather than blindly following trends.



2 Responses to “Unschooling in the News, sort of”

  1. Tara Says:

    Amen, sister! Great post!

  2. Carol Says:

    Hi – thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on my post about unschooling. Most of all, thanks for referring me to this post. I have a much clearer idea of what unschooling is now. I’m still not sold on it. My children are both grown. Even though I’m a public school teacher (and one who does NOT stifle curiosity and joy), I think I would at least seriously consider homeschooling my children if I had it to do over again.

    I have a granddaughter who is in kindergarten – in a well-known school that gets high “grades” on state tests. She has anywhere for 1 – 2 hours of homework every night. She has to do math sheets and then she must color all the pictures on the math sheet – staying within the lines and using a variety of colors. It’s ridiculous. This is from a young “progressive” teacher who just moved here from California.

    So I worry a lot about what school is doing to my granddaughter’s natural joy of learning.

    You’ve given me some food for thought. Thanks.

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