Unschooling is an informal learning method that prioritizes learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Often considered a lesson- and curriculum-free implementation of homeschooling, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, under the belief that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood, and therefore useful it is to the child. While unschooled students may occasionally take courses, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, fixed times at which learning should take place, conventional grading methods and standardized tests, forced contact with children in their own age group, the compulsion to do homework regardless of whether it helps the learner in their individual situation, the effectiveness of listening to and obeying the orders of one authority figure for several hours each day, and other features of traditional schooling.

Children investigating insect deposits in tree bark as part of an unschooling activity

The term unschooling was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, who is widely regarded as the father of unschooling. Unschooling is often seen as a subset of homeschooling, but while homeschooling has been the subject of broad public debate, unschooling received relatively little media attention and has only become popular in recent years.[when?]

Critics of unschooling see it as extreme, and express concerns that unschooled children will be neglected; miss many things that are important for their future; lack the social skills, structure, discipline, and motivation of their schooled peers; and not be able to cope with uncomfortable situations. Proponents of unschooling disagree, asserting that self-directed education in a non-academic, often natural and diversified environment is a far more efficient, sustainable, and child-friendly form of education than traditional schooling, as it preserves innate curiosity, pleasure, and willingness to discover and learn new things; invites children to be part of society; shows children how to deal with their surroundings and own existence in a self-determined and responsible manner; makes children understand why certain properties, skills, abilities, values and norms are important rather than just telling them to obtain and adhere to them; rewards and supports creativity, individuality, and innovation; teaches how to acquire new things[example needed] and find one's way in unfamiliar situations quickly; and better equips a child to handle the "real world" outside of school.[1]

History edit

The term unschooling probably derives from Ivan Illich's term deschooling. It was popularized through John Holt's newsletter Growing Without Schooling (GWS). Holt is also widely regarded as the father of unschooling.[2] In an early essay, Holt contrasted the two terms:

GWS will say "unschooling" when we mean taking children out of school, and "deschooling" when we mean changing the laws to make schools non-compulsory...[3]

At the time, the term was equivalent to home schooling. Subsequently, home-schoolers began to differentiate between various educational philosophies within home schooling. The term unschooling became used as a contrast to versions of home schooling that were perceived as politically and pedagogically "school-like," in that they used textbooks and exercises at home in the same way they would be used at school.[citation needed]

In 2003, in Holt's book Teach Your Own (originally published in 1981), Pat Farenga, co-author of the new edition, provided a definition:

When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.[4]

In the same passage Holt stated that he was not entirely comfortable with this term, and would have preferred the term living. Holt's use of the term emphasizes learning as a natural process, integrated into the spaces and activities of everyday life, and not benefiting from adult manipulation. It follows closely on the themes of educational philosophies proposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Paul Goodman, and A.S. Neill.[5][citation needed]

After Holt's death a range of unschooling practitioners and observers defined the term in various ways. For instance, the Freechild Project defines unschooling as:

[T]he process of learning through life, without formalized or institutionalized classrooms or schoolwork.[6]

New Mexico homeschooling parent Sandra Dodd proposed the term radical unschooling to emphasize the complete rejection of any distinction between educational and non-educational activities.[7] Radical unschooling emphasizes that unschooling is a non-coercive, cooperative practice, and seeks to promote those values in all areas of life. These philosophies share an opposition to traditional schooling techniques and the social structure of schools. Most emphasize the integration of learning into the everyday life of the family and wider community. Points of disagreement include whether unschooling is primarily defined by the initiative of the learner and their control over the curriculum, or by the techniques, methods, and spaces used.[citation needed] Peter Gray suggested the term self-directed education, which has fewer negative connotations.[8]

Motivations edit

Parents choose to unschool their children for a variety of reasons, many of which overlap with reasons for homeschooling.

Unschoolers criticize schools for lessening the parent–child bond, reducing family time and for creating atmospheres that are fearful.[9] Some unschoolers argue that schools teach children facts and skills that will not be useful to them, whereas with unschooling, children learn how to learn, which is of more enduring use.[9][10] Some assert that schools teach children only how to follow instructions,[9][10] which does not prepare them to confront novel tasks. Another argument is that the structure of school is not suitable for people who want to make their own decisions about what, when, how, and with whom they learn because many things are predetermined in the school setting, while unschooled students are more free to make such decisions.[10]

In school, a student's community may consist mainly of a peer group, that the parent has little influence over or even knowledge of. Unschoolers may have more opportunity to share a role in their community—including with older and younger people—and can therefore learn to find their place within more diverse groups of people. Parents of school children also have little say regarding instructors and teachers, whereas parents of unschoolers may be more involved in the selection of the coaches or mentors their children work and build relationships with.[10]

According to unschooling pioneer John Holt, child-led learning is more efficient and respectful of children's time, takes advantage of their interests, and allows deeper exploration of subjects than what is possible in conventional education.

...the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don't know.[11]

Some schools have adopted relatively non-coercive and cooperative techniques in a manner that harmonizes with the philosophies behind unschooling.[12] For example, Sudbury model schools are non-coercive, non-indoctrinative, cooperative, democratically run partnerships between children and adults—including full partnership with parents—in which learning is individualized and child-led, in a way that complements home education.[12]

Concerns about socialization can also be a factor in the decision to unschool. Some unschoolers believe that conditions in conventional schools, such as age segregation, the ratio of children to adults, or the amount of time spent sitting and obeying orders of one authority figure, are not conducive to proper education.[13]

Unschooling may broaden the diversity of people or places an unschooler is exposed to.[citation needed] Unschoolers may be more mature than their schooled peers on average,[14][15] and some believe this is a result of the wide range of people they have the opportunity to interact with, although it may also be "difficult to find children [...] for, well, socialization".[16] Opportunities for unschoolers to meet and interact with other unschoolers has increased in recent years,[when?] allowing unschoolers to have interactions with other children with similar experiences.[17]

Methods and philosophy edit

Natural learning edit

Unschooling may emphasize free, undirected play as a major component of children's education.[18]

A fundamental premise of unschooling is that learning is a natural process constantly taking place[19] and that curiosity is innate and children want to learn.[20][21] Thus forcing children into a "one size fits all" or "factory model" school is an inefficient use of their time and potential, because it requires each child to learn specific subject matter in a particular manner, at a particular pace, and at a specific time regardless of their present or future needs, interests, goals, or pre-existing knowledge.[citation needed]

Many unschoolers believe that students miss out on valuable hands-on, community-based, spontaneous, and real-world experiences when their educational opportunities are limited to, or dominated by, those inside a school building.[1]

Learning styles edit

Psychologists have documented many differences between children in the way they learn.[22] Unschoolers assert that unschooling is better equipped to adapt to such differences.[23]

People vary in their learning styles, that is, how they prefer to acquire new information. However, research in 2008 found "virtually no evidence" that learning styles increased learning or improved performance, as opposed to being a matter of preference.[24] Students have different learning needs, but in a traditional school setting, teachers seldom customize their evaluation method for an individual student. While teaching methods often vary between teachers, and any teacher may use multiple methods, this is sometimes haphazard and not always individualized.[25][better source needed]

Developmental differences edit

Developmental psychologists note that just as children reach growth milestones at different ages, children are also prepared to learn different things at different ages.[22] Just as most children learn to walk during a normal range of eight to fifteen months, and begin to talk across an even larger range, unschoolers assert that they are also ready and able to read, for example, at different ages, girls usually earlier than boys.[citation needed] Natural learning produces greater changes in behavior (e.g. changing job skills) than traditional learning methods, although not necessarily a change in the amount of information learned.[26] Traditional education requires all children to begin reading at the same time and to learn multiplication at the same time; unschoolers believe that some children will become bored if the topic was something they had been ready to learn earlier, and some will fail because they are not yet ready.[27]

Essential body of knowledge edit

Unschoolers sometimes state that learning any specific subject is less important than learning how to learn.[28] In the words of Holt:

Since we can't know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever must be learned.[28]

Unschoolers suggest that this ability for children to learn on their own makes it more likely that later, when these children are adults, they can continue to learn in order to meet newly emerging needs, interests, and goals; and that they can return to any subject that they feel was not sufficiently covered or learn a completely new subject.[28]

Many unschoolers disagree that there is a particular body of knowledge that everyone, regardless of the life they lead, needs to possess.[29] In the words of John Holt, "If children are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them."[30]

The role of parents edit

Parents of unschoolers provide resources, support, guidance, information, and advice to facilitate experiences that aid their children in accessing, navigating, and making sense of the world.[23] Common parental activities include sharing interesting books, articles, and activities with their children, helping them find knowledgeable people to explore an interest with (for example physics professors or automotive mechanics), and helping them set goals and figure out what they need to do to meet their goals. Unschooling's interest-based nature does not mean that it is a "hands-off" approach to education; parents tend to be involved, especially with younger children (older children, unless new to unschooling, often need less help in finding resources and in making and carrying out plans).[23]

Paradigm shift edit

Because unschooling contradicts assumptions of the dominant culture, advocates suggest that a paradigm shift in regards to education and child rearing is required before engaging with unschooling. New unschoolers are advised that they should not expect to understand the unschooling philosophy at first,[31] as many commonplace assumptions about education are unspoken and unwritten. One step towards this paradigm shift is accepting that "what we do is nowhere near as important as why we do it."[32]

Compared with other homeschooling models edit

Unschooling is a form of homeschooling,[10][33] which is the education of children at home or places other than in a school. Unschooling teaches children based on their interests rather than according to a set curriculum.[34][33][35]

Unschooling contrasts with other forms of homeschooling in that the student's education is not directed by a teacher and curriculum.[34] Unschooling is a real-world implementation of the open classroom methods promoted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, without the school, classrooms, or grades.[citation needed] Parents who unschool their children act as facilitators, providing a range of resources, helping their children access, navigate, and make sense of the world; they aid their children in making and implementing goals and plans for both the distant and immediate future. Unschooling expands from children's natural curiosity as an extension of their interests, concerns, needs, and goals.[citation needed]

Unschooling differs from discovery learning, minimally invasive education, purpose-guided education, academic advising, phenomenon-based learning, and thematic learning.[how?][citation needed]

Branches edit

There are a variety of approaches to designing and practicing unschooling. Some of the most popular include:

  • Worldschooling, in which families travel around the world and learn through experiencing other places, people, cultures, and activities typical for these locations.[36]
  • Project-based unschooling, which holds that students acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges, problems, and projects that they can do in their own way and at their own pace.[37]
  • Gameschooling, which employs various games like board and card games to facilitate learning.[38] In addition to developing skills in math, language, history, board games also develop social skills such as interpersonal communication, negotiation, persuasion, diplomacy, and virtues like good sportsmanship.[39]

Complementary philosophies edit

Unschooling families may adopt the following philosophies:[citation needed]

  • Unconditional Parenting and Punished by Rewards—parenting and education books by Alfie Kohn.
  • The continuum concept, attachment parenting, and attachment theory—theories and practices attempting to encourage the child's development.
  • Voluntaryism—the idea that all forms of human association should be voluntary, as far as possible (voluntaryism opposes the initiation of aggressive force or coercion).

Other forms of alternative education edit

Many other forms of alternative education also prioritize student control of learning, albeit not necessarily by the individual learner. These include free democratic schools,[40] like the Sudbury school, Stonesoup School, and open-learning virtual universities.

Criticism edit

As a form of homeschooling, unschooling faces many of the same critiques as homeschooling. Criticisms of unschooling in particular tend to focus on whether students can receive sufficient education in a context with so little structure compared to standard schooling practices. Some critics maintain that it can be difficult to build sufficient motivation in students to allow them learn without guardrails, and that some students might be left behind as a result,[41] and that they might fare poorly compared with their peers.[1][42]

Opponents of unschooling fear that children may be at the mercy of bad parents, resulting in children having trouble integrating into society.[43]

In a 2006 study of children aged five to ten, unschooled children scored below traditionally schooled children in four of seven studied categories, and significantly below structured homeschoolers in all seven studied categories.[44]

See also edit

Persons of interest edit

Adult unschoolers of note edit

References edit

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Further reading edit

Books edit

Essays and articles edit

External links edit