Unschooling:Homeschooling without books, tests or rules

June 4, 2010


I never heard about this until very recent. My initial reaction was that this sounds like one of those rebellious behavior where the movement comes out of the discontent of the current system. So, I did a little research. This is what I found out based on my limited research:

The basic premise of unschooling is based on the belief that children learn best if they are internally motivated. In other words, it is passion driven learning. Currently, there are around 150,000 unschoolers in the country.

This radical movement is to respond to the entire education system where students are forced to follow the curriculum and learn things that the students may not be interested in learning. For example, if someone is bent to enjoy music, why force them to learn math or history?

It has some similarities with homeschooling, in which they do this at home. But that is to the extend of the similarity. Since this is relatively new, it appears that there’s a range of approaches. Some even take it to the extreme and apply this concept to parenting as well. They called this extreme unschooling.

Nightline covered this and the video and the story can be found here: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/unschooling-homeschooling-books-tests-rules/story?id=10796507

I grew up in the culture where even homeschooling was unheard of, let alone unschooling. Over the years, I have interacted with homeschoolers or parents who homeschooled and learned that there are definite benefits in homeschooling. It may not be for everyone, but there are needs for it. And the reasons to do it can range from religious reasons to practical reasons such as military family, from having a child with special needs to the child that is learning more and faster than what the school can offer.

Now, the whole concept of unschooling has some sound logic behind it, but based on what I understand, unschooling  sounds a lot like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It throws away any kind of structure for learning. Research has shown that kids need certain kind of structure for them to feel safe to learn.

The followings are some of the points I agree with:

  • Kids learn best when they learn something they are interested in.
  • Kids learn best with hands on activities and with trial and error methodology.
  • Kids may have different style of learning. If it’s possible, ideally, the teacher can meet the learning style each student. In the classroom setting with so many students, it is just not practical to expect teachers to cater to every single different learning style.

The followings are the points I strongly disagree with:

  • Since it’s best for kids to learn whatever they are interested in, they can do whatever they want and whenever they want it.

What happened to the skills that are needed to actually live in the world where interactions with other people are required? meaning that they need to learn it’s not always about their happiness. Some may argue that by letting the kids completely loose will create anarchy, which can be counter productive. How about character building? learning that we may not get everything we want whenever we want it?

  • Because the curriculum at school is so rigid and telling kids what to learn, it makes them unhappy. That’s why in order to make them happy, we let them go to bed whenever and wake up whenever. From there, if you want to just play games, that is part of learning. Plus, kids will have more time to build relationships with their other family members since relationships are more important than education.

Of course, there are things more important than following the rigid school curriculum such as learning to nurture relationships with family members and other people. But it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice education because of that. I think it is very unwise to sacrifice education/learning just so that we can make sure the kids are happy all the time. Can you imagine what the cultural shock it will be when the kids learn that the world doesn’t exist just to make sure they are happy all the time. What do you call this if not intentional extreme spoiling?

  • Kids don’t have chores and no rules, so they can learn to make their own decisions on whatever they want to do

There are many more points that I disagree with unschooling that I’m not including here. Here are my closing thoughts:

1. The ideas of tailoring learning style to a child and letting the child to explore curiosity and be creative are all good. But that have to be coupled with good parenting. Letting the kids do whatever they want in the name of wanting the kids to be “learn” and be happy, is bad parenting at best and borderline on neglect/child abuse at worst.

2. In the Nightline coverage, the mom wrote a book about unschooling, I wondered if the mom was unschooled, if she was able to even write the book in the first place.

3. The good ideas about unschooling (ie. passion driven learning) appears to be overshadowed by the extreme view of [bad] parenting.

4. I’m curious to find out how they are going to survive after college. Maybe they are ok. Maybe I’m wrong on all this. But because it appears that unschooling is going against so many good parenting conventional based on sound research, I’m willing to put my bet on anything other than unschooling.

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One Response to “Unschooling:Homeschooling without books, tests or rules”

  1. Wendy Says:

    Knowing this is happening is terrifying to me and should be for the kids being unschooled and to society. Good points Latif as I think your responses to the unschooling hits it on the head…parents should not throw away their parenting skills! And thanks for raising the awareness on this topic as I had no clue that this was going on. Who would of imagined?

    To add to what you have wrote….
    Unschooling is I think breaking some of the basic principles (okay maybe not so basic if some people actually believe in unschooling) of

    living a balanced healthy socially adept life.

    Two such principles are
    1. Establishing and respecting others boundaries. “Boundaries”, a book by Henry Cloud, talks all about relational interactions with people by not being aggressive, nor a push over. In unschooling, what if the kid wants to go over to the neighbor’s place and egg bomb them? Does the parents just let them do it? If the kids are trained to always get what they want, what happens when in the future or the present someone says no? They will think they are being treated unjustly and potentially act up against whoever is in their way. This aggressive behavior can happen when parents don’t teach their kids where to draw the line (boundary) on how one should behave.
    Give and take must be taught.

    2. Delayed gratification – Doing the hard/boring stuff now and enjoying the pleasurable stuff later. This allows people to learn discipline and learn that life is not always about fun now.
    The author of “The Road Less Traveled” actually mentions that children exercise this delayed gratification in grade school via daily homework.

    The consequences of not learning or practicing delayed gratification: procrastination. Since it is boring, why do it? Let’s just do the fun stuff now and save the boring stuff last…if I ever get to it. Everyday life consists of both mundane tasks and fun tasks. As mundane as some tasks may be, they can be critical…like going to the dentist, etc.

    Unschooling promotes letting the students choose what they think they will enjoy and skip all the rest of the subjects they may find boring.

    How can this teach the children about delaying gratification? Watch TV before doing homework? wait, there is no homework. It is just pure gratification…

    Delaying gratification allows one to be disciplined, patient and responsible. There are already enough adolescents out there who do not practice delayed gratification and the results of that? They skip class or school, do poor in school, are impulsive, get into frequent fights, get into drugs, get in trouble with the police. They can’t even go into psychotherapy because they miss their appointments. When they grow up, they are in bad marriages, accidents, psychiatric hospitals, and/or in jail. The book The Road less Traveled by M. Scott Reck, M.D. talks all about this.

    So why do I think unschooling is terrifying? I don’t want to guess what would happen to these kids and their impact to society. =[


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