Recently I’ve seen some posts on the “Unschooling” movement, a distinct form of homeschooling founded on a philosophy of freedom-based learning, allowing kids to learn through natural exploration. They don’t follow a set curriculum; instead these kids are encouraged to initiate their own learning, spend a lot more time outdoors and exploring their creativity, with facilitation by their parents.
Traditional homeschooling has a fundamental difference when compared with unschooling; the former still involves the following of curricula, just from the home environment, with more flexibility.
So what are the proposed benefits of unschooling? As this article by Sarah Boesveld explains:
Proponents say it (unschooling) raises self-aware, inquisitive and worldly young adults who care about learning and have pursued passions they wouldn’t have otherwise found on the scheduled treadmill that is school.
The same article estimates 100,000 students homeschooled in Canada, with 10% of those students being “unschooled”.
Boesveld speaks to researchers, parents and kids who have been unschooled, and brings up interesting points. Unschooled kids do tend to do just as well if/when they join mainstream schools and colleges. They also seem to be happy in retrospect with the process. Others argue they are better prepared to handle ‘real life’, and remind us that this is not a new concept. One parent describes his views on unschooling:
If you take a slightly longer historical perspective, this immersion learning alongside family and community enjoys a much longer historical precedent than does compulsory schooling.
Embedded within the beliefs of proponents of unschooling is the critique of standardized testing and separation of kids and their communities in our current public school set up.
There is also a political range of parents who opt to go this route. Boesveld quotes Paige Fischer (a Vancouver-based professor):
'There’s the really anti-establishment parents and then there’s the super mega right-wing parents who don’t want their kids exposed to evolution and so on', she said. 'It’s pretty complex, you can’t break them down into them all being the same.'
Unschooling of course, is controversial in the mainstream. Critics argue that perhaps there is some value to learning outside of the home, with a diversity of young people, and with some direction. I personally wonder if little to no direction can really be of the most benefit to young people, who may later opt to fully integrate into mainstream society where there are rules and norms to deal with. In the same article, Boesveld quotes UBC professor Charles Ungerleider:
Unschoolers may not be giving today’s school system enough credit, he said —it isn’t a mindless world that only values grades. 'The majority of teachers do cultivate curiosity.'
I agree with Ungerleider that perhaps we aren’t giving schools enough credit that are changing; the polar opposites from the image posted above don’t really represent most public schools (I hope!) - this reminds me of teaching business students of the Milton Friedman-esque profit motive as the only objective of business (what portion of business owners really believe this to be true? Is this not already archaic?)
For now, I sit on the side of having several alternatives (including this one!), to public schools, alongside serious reform within the system. I do see value in homeschooling and align with the principles of freedom-based learning, but I’m not sure I’d have the energy to homeschool my children (!), never mind “unschool” them.. nor am I convinced of this being the best option for every child.
For more on unschooling:
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!