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Is Unschooling the Worst Idea Ever?

Is this education?

Is this education?

Playing video games, watching movies, lounging about. Sounds like a typical weekend for your kids, but what if this was the curriculum of your children’s education? Enter unschooling, a new movement that takes kids out of school and let’s them do whatever they want at home. No textbooks, no tests, no classes. The idea is that kids will learn everything they need on their own by following their interests and passions.

Homeschooling is one thing — when a parent opts to teach their children rather than the mainstream school system — but unschooling seems like an entirely different approach. Without textbooks and formal teaching, kids are free to do whatever they want throughout the day. It takes a deep trust from parents that their children will spend the time productively. “They will do what they need to do whether or not they enjoy it because they see the purpose in it,” said Phil Biegler, an unschooling parent.

Kids might play video games, watch television, or maybe even pick up a book. But how often do you think they’ll resort to the lattermost option?

I highly recommend checking out the video from ABC News. I still remain unconvinced that this is a good idea. Aside from all of the academic knowledge and studying skill set that school teaches you, it all encourages/forces students to learn things they don’t want to know. Because really, I think being able to function in the real world is mostly about doing things you don’t want to do.

From ABC News. Via Momlogic. Photo by David Gray.

  • Peter

    Wow, I knew some people were claiming to home school and not really capable of doing a good job of it, but this takes it to a whole new level of incompetence and neglect. Children need structure – not necessarily the structure of a public or private school environment, but they need to be encouraged to learn more than what it takes to get to the next level of a video game. This sounds like a major problem and is just setting these kids up to be a drain on the nation's economy. I'm all for home schooling, but this is nothing of the sort and I can only imagine will be used to give home-schoolers a bad name.
    At least w/ home school, kids learn real skills – basic math, reading, writing, history, geography, and such. Most home schoolers use some form of curriculum to keep kids on track or are part of a co-op to fill in gaps they cannot fill themselves. I fail to see the benefits from this other than parents getting to sleep in and not deal with their kids.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/chris_h33441 Chris H

      Yea, this is left wing liberalism gone too far…we'll just get a new generation of even lazier more self entitled kids than the current crop of younger parents are themselves. At least this idea is nutty enough that it won't go anywhere. I feel bad for Phil Biegler's kids though.

      • Phil B.

        My kids appreciate your concern. They don't need it, but they appreciate it. BTW, has it occurred to you that the current crop of younger parents who are lazy and self entitled (as you claim) are the products of the school system? I'm not sure how you can say that our choice will make it worse. It probably explains why this movement has been growing over the past 20+ years.

  • AlphaMonkey

    My 9 year old is busy working out multiplication of fractions. Because its fun. She reads, plays on the computer and watches less tv than her friends. At 7 she had a reading age of 16+, and at 9 is at an equivalent level of Math as an 8th grader. No textbook, no worksheet, just making up cool stuff she wants to learn. Her big question today? If I only had 51/2 pieces of pizza, but 7 friends, how would I figure out how many to give them each? That led us down an interesting path of figuring out multiplying and dividing fractions, converting them to decimals etc. Now she wants to know how to work out squares and cubes of fractions.. for fun. How many of your kids ask you those questions?

    • Tami

      I agree with you 100%! My daughter has learned so much when I quit force feeding her knolwedge from a text book. She loves to learn now!

  • http://readinginappalachia.blogspot.com Shawnee

    This is one of the most ridiculous ideas I have ever heard. Unschooling? Great idea if you want ignorant, self-indulgent, lazy children. I find a lot of the current public school curriculum's woefully inadequate but at least the children are learning something. I support parents who choose to home school more than I used to but if any parent would choose this this so called "curriculum" then they have less sense then the nuts who came up with it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Bendite Bendite

    We are a conservative family and we unschool. There is a lot of variety among those who claim the title; some people don't require their children to do much of anything, including chores, family meals etc. (those who often refer to themselves as radical unschoolers) and there are those like our family who do have routine to our days and activities that we do as a family because we are just that, a family.

    When we first began homeschooling I stared of more with the 'school at home' approach. It took me all of three days to realizes that force feeding my child this way was having the exact opposite effect of what I wished for her; I was extinguishing her natural desire to learn. As soon as I stepped back and followed her curiosities she blossomed. In fact, before the month was over she had covered on her own every key concept that I had hoped to 'impart' for the year in Language Arts. Our house is full of books, including some work books (becuase they asked for them) and we have shared more stories together by the ages of four, seven and nine, than I had ever read before entering college.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Bendite Bendite

    I know it is a difficult concept to grasp, but kids really do want to learn. It is often our system of teaching that robs them of this and that is why it surprises many of us who know knothing else.

    Cont.
    Alpha Monkey is right, my girls too often surprise me with the directions they take their learning. The oldest, who I mentioned earlier, began drawing animal anatomy on her own at six (I proptly had do ask my husband if he was sure she was my child) and has since been able to volunteer at the spay and nueter clinic on several occasions and will soon be working with rescued horses. It was her desire to know about these (and other) things and our availibility to answer our daughter's questions that have turned her into a voracious reader and the same has been true of math.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/chris_h33441 Chris H

      Maybe unschooling doesn't make people unintellectual per se, but it seems to me there is a baseline of knowledge you won't get if you don't get some sort of structured formal education. I don't think its possible for a child to self teach themselves this breadth of material, and without a curriculum to follow most parents won't have the knowledge to do so either.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Bendite Bendite

        The perspective of education I want my children to gain makes it easy to acknowledge that no one can grasp the breadth of material that there is to learn because LIFE itself is THAT abundant; we will come to the end of it some day and still we will not know everything. The most important thing for me is not that my children memorize everything I feel is important, but rather that they know HOW to learn and do not come away with the mistaken belief that learning is scripted or contrived; occuring only in limited settings amongst 'educators.'

        If we are honest there will always be gaps no matter the method. I can not tell you how often my children openly hear me say 'Wow! I did not know that' and yet, I myself was a product of formal education. I am not threatened by the fact that I do not know it all because what I do know is that I am teachable and I will find the information when I need it.

  • http://www.parental-intelligence.com Bob Collier

    "Because really, I think being able to function in the real world is mostly about doing things you don’t want to do."

    Is that what your experience of school taught you? How ineffably sad. You have my deepest sympathy.

  • http://jerseyhomeschool.net Nancy McVicker

    Would I take kids out of school and expect them to "unschool"? Probably not. The longer any child has been in a school, the more passive and uninvolved they become about the greater world around them. Does unschooling work? Yes – most effectively in families that have never outsourced their child's education to a school. It works when the family provides a rich and engaging environment. If the only reading material available is a TV Guide, then no, it won't work. It works when parents demonstrate a life-long passion to learn more about the world, including facts, viewpoints, and possibilities. If parents spend most of their leisure time parked in front of the tv, their kids might actually be better off in some school.

  • freemama

    Nancy McVicker is correct, I agree.

  • Mindee Larsen

    Wow what an interesting video. I just have to say that i am against homeschooling in so many ways unless your child has an illness or a problem that prevents them from being able to attend school. I think kids need to be socialized with other children…its just good for them to be in school.

    • Peter

      I'm assuming you don't actually know any people who homeschool or who at least do it right. I know several who do. The kids do not lack for socialization because most homeschoolers make sure that their kids get out and do other things – sports teams, clubs, maybe a church group, even meeting together with other homeschooled kids. Unless you're really doing something wrong, the kids don't lack for social skills and opportunities.
      There's nothing wrong with home schooling as long as the parents are working on education, but it's not for everyone. There are some combinations of kid/parent that won't work well and some parents are just flat out not meant to home school. Sadly, there are a lot of public schools that are failing our kids because they have so much overhead and there's now "no child left behind" (which seems to imply that no child gets ahead, either – and yes, I see signs of that in an otherwise excellent school).
      I'd really encourage you to look into what actual home schoolers are doing and not just whatever's reported in the news. You might be surprised at what you find.

  • http://chezsmiffy.blogspot.com/ Misti

    It amuses me that the people who are most against homeschooling and unschooling are those who know only what their fevered imaginations and the NEA tell them.

    The sad part is the assumption that laziness and lack of curiosity are somehow “normal” and that normal kids won’t do anything they’re not forced to do. That’s not “normal” however common it might be. That is the symptom of an “education” that has bored the child and killed his joy in learning.

  • http://thepassionatewarrior.com Hugh DeBurgh

    Hi Guys!

    My family "Unschools".

    But I have to admit, if all I knew about Unschooling was what was written in this extremely biased article, I would probably have written a response like Peter or Chris did.

    As we can see from the well spoken responses, the concept of Unschooling requires a bit more than a few sound-bites to comprehend.

    I find that people who are determined to defend the current structure of our school system, such as the NEA, have a vested interest in quickly squashing any movement that leaves the "priesthood" of anointed instructors out of the loop as the only avenues to real learning.

    If you are an historian, then you could analogize the Unschooling movement to the Reformation of the 1500s. I am NOT trying to bring religion into this!! Only to show an historic corrolary, and put the Unschooling movement into proper context.

    The argument during the Reformation was that faith was personal, and that individuals could access the wisdom of the Bible directly. And interpret its meaning on their own. Religion was a personal experience, the reformers said. They actively distributed Bibles to the public.

    The organized Church countered that ordinary people were not sophisticated enough to comprehend the Bible, and therefore only the priesthood could do this for them. They believed that people must learn through the filter of the priesthood, and the Church as an institution, or they would wander off into dangerous territory. Bibles were banned. Only the Church had them.

    Today, education as an industry is making the same argument that the Church did all those years ago. And movements like Unschooling are disputing that claim.

    Do you and your children have the right to learn about life on your own, in your own way? Or can today's institutions dictate to you how and what you "must" learn, and from whom, lest you head into "dangerous" territory?

    What do you think?

    I believe that learning cannot be neatly separated from life. And it requires a healthy and natural curiosity that kids must not have squashed from their being.

    Learning also requires a cultural environment that encourages personal inquiry – or at least that does not discourage it. In other words – you cannot truly learn unless you believe that you are free to come to any conclusion that your conscious directs you to. There can be no prior limits – restraints – on your conclusions.

    This is what the American Founders would have called "Freedom of Conscience." And in order to be anything other than a passive follower in this world, you must have that freedom.

    I see the Unschooling movement as a part of a greater, revolutionary idea in how leaders are grown. And that is a threatening idea to some current vested interests.

    And for others who aren't open to thinking outside of the box, or to just experimenting to find anything better than the educational mess that we call the modern school, only the worst can be imagined when freedom is proposed.

    Key elements in all of this are some basic assumptions about kids and about life.

    1. Are kids born lazy by nature. If not forced to learn, will they turn into mushy-minded vegetables? Or is the opposite true?

    2. Does life basically suck? Is the experience of life basically the process of forcing yourself to do things you hate and to put up with things you despise, in order to survive? Or could the opposite be true?

    Your answers to these fundamental questions about the nature of life as a human being will define your response to this issue, and your approach to living your life as a whole. I also believe that those answers will also determine the level of satisfaction that you experience in your life.

    Please also note that Unschooling is definitely not for lazy parents. If I was just lazy, I would quickly take advantage of that free day care service that my local government provides us every weekday. They even have free door-to-door pickup in those cute yellow buses! :-) I wouldn't have to do anything but get them out the door in the morning. Then I get the reward of guilt-free bliss all day. Or a life filled with complications unrelated to raising my children.

    What are your priorities – Really? Do you spend the greatest amount of your time and energy on those things most important to you? If not, why not?

    Anyway, I think that this debate is incredibly valuable. If you disagree with me, please speak up! We need to talk this stuff out! That s how freedom is preserved. Jefferson called this process the "marketplace of ideas."

    All the best,

    Hugh

  • http://thepassionatewarrior.com Hugh DeBurgh

    Hi Guys!

    My family "Unschools".

    But I have to admit, if all I knew about Unschooling was what was written in this extremely biased article, I would probably have written a response like Peter or Chris did.

    As we can see from the well spoken responses, the concept of Unschooling requires a bit more than a few sound-bites to comprehend.

    I find that people who are determined to defend the current structure of our school system, such as the NEA, have a vested interest in quickly squashing any movement that leaves the "priesthood" of anointed instructors out of the loop as the only avenues to real learning.

    If you are an historian, then you could analogize the Unschooling movement to the Reformation of the 1500s. I am NOT trying to bring religion into this!! Only to show an historic corrolary, and put the Unschooling movement into proper context.

    The argument during the Reformation was that faith was personal, and that individuals could access the wisdom of the Bible directly. And interpret its meaning on their own. Religion was a personal experience, the reformers said. They actively distributed Bibles to the public.

    The organized Church countered that ordinary people were not sophisticated enough to comprehend the Bible, and therefore only the priesthood could do this for them. They believed that people must learn through the filter of the priesthood, and the Church as an institution, or they would wander off into dangerous territory. Bibles were banned. Only the Church had them.

    Today, education as an industry is making the same argument that the Church did all those years ago. And movements like Unschooling are disputing that claim.

    Do you and your children have the right to learn about life on your own, in your own way? Or can today's institutions dictate to you how and what you "must" learn, and from whom, lest you head into "dangerous" territory?

    What do you think?

    I believe that learning cannot be neatly separated from life. And it requires a healthy and natural curiosity that kids must not have squashed from their being.

    Learning also requires a cultural environment that encourages personal inquiry – or at least that does not discourage it. In other words – you cannot truly learn unless you believe that you are free to come to any conclusion that your conscious directs you to. There can be no prior limits – restraints – on your conclusions.

    This is what the American Founders would have called "Freedom of Conscience." And in order to be anything other than a passive follower in this world, you must have that freedom.

    I see the Unschooling movement as a part of a greater, revolutionary idea in how leaders are grown. And that is a threatening idea to some current vested interests.

    And for others who aren't open to thinking outside of the box, or to just experimenting to find anything better than the educational mess that we call the modern school, only the worst can be imagined when freedom is proposed.

    Key elements in all of this are some basic assumptions about kids and about life.

    1. Are kids born lazy by nature. If not forced to learn, will they turn into mushy-minded vegetables? Or is the opposite true?

    2. Does life basically suck? Is the experience of life basically the process of forcing yourself to do things you hate and to put up with things you despise, in order to survive? Or could the opposite be true?

    Your answers to these fundamental questions about the nature of life as a human being will define your response to this issue, and your approach to living your life as a whole. I also believe that those answers will also determine the level of satisfaction that you experience in your life.

    Please also note that Unschooling is definitely not for lazy parents. If I was just lazy, I would quickly take advantage of that free day care service that my local government provides us every weekday. They even have free door-to-door pickup in those cute yellow buses! :-) I wouldn't have to do anything but get them out the door in the morning. Then I get the reward of guilt-free bliss all day. Or a life filled with complications unrelated to raising my children.

    What are your priorities – Really? Do you spend the greatest amount of your time and energy on those things most important to you? If not, why not?

    Anyway, I think that this debate is incredibly valuable. If you disagree with me, please speak up! We need to talk this stuff out! That s how freedom is preserved. Jefferson called this process the "marketplace of ideas."

    All the best,

    Hugh

  • Bruce

    Provoking thoughts Hugh. The initial response from most is of course negative on this subject. But talk to any public school teacher; you know, the ones that really have a stake in it. They'll tell you that the system is full of holes and that at the end of the day they are teaching to the lowest common denominator. And most of all, teaching kids how to pass a test.

    My wife, a sixth grade teacher, gets kids in her class at the start of every year who don't know how to use a ruler. Why?, because you don't need to know how to use a ruler to pass the SOL test. This of course is just one example of many that show the faults of our traditional system at the present. Furthermore, 45% of the students at my wife's school are on some sort of medication.(as noted by the school nurse) My theory on this, as supported by parents reaction to progress reports, is that many parents are not doing their part at home so… they use the excuse of some sort of disability on the part of their child as a reason for their childs inability to function at school. When in reality the child knows the game, is unchallenged at school, and does not get the proper attention at home.

    Sure, the traditional methods can work for some. The families that are dedicated to their childs education can make it work in any environment. We've all seen it in examples from our friends and neighbors. To me, it boils down to whether or not you REALLY care about your childs education and are willing to invest the time necessary for a positive outcome.

    I would think that "unschooling" families would certainly maintain some sort of structure based on the individual childs ability to perform. Any parent of multiple children knows that each child is different and learns best in varied environments. This notion of "letting kids watch tv and play video games all day" seems a bit incendiary to me in an effort to spark controversy.

    Bruce

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  • Jeff G

    Obviously you have been misled by your narrowminded interpretation of “unschooling”. As a child, I was technically homeschooled. But I skipped school half the year which allowed me to remain unschooled. This allowed me to learn what was important to me as an individual. It also helped me to do better academically than any other child in my school. In other words, I learned more by removing myself from the school environment. I certainly knew more about life than most kids. Don’t deceive yourself or others about something you know nothing about. Unschooling is nothing more than a name used for describing the proper way of raising a child going back thousands of years. School houses were imposed by government to suit their own agenda. But apparently you don’t know that. I know plenty of public school children who are lazy. It is because it has nothing to do with school. It has everything to do with parenting, regardless of anything else. Bad parents are everywhere. And I would say by your ignorance, you wouldn’t be a very good one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzy.swearingen Suzy Nicora Swearingen

    There is not anything new or alternative about self-educated children; think Moses, Lincoln, and Edison. look up famous public school graduates then look up the bigger list of famous homeschoolers (back in the day most homeschoolers had been self educated unschoolers). Now, I am not sayingn this is for everone but it is a right to be free from public education if you so choose. TV all day? That would show a lack of parenting, not guided or child lead unschooling. Even if you let your child pick what to do all day they would not want to watch TV for 16 hours when they could use that time to follow their dreams. Astra Taylor gives a fair understanding of ‘unschooling’ start it at 4:10 and skip the intro http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwIyy1Fi-4Q