Say what you want about CNN, I’ve always been reasonably sure they weren’t making stuff up. Somehow I can’t picture Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour high-fiving and yelling "Suckers!" every time the camera goes off.
And yet I saw something on CNN.com this week that I’m convinced can’t be real. They were talking about a new trend called "unschooling," wherein kids, not parents or teachers, decide what they want to learn. These are presumably the same kids who, if given their choice of vegetables, will pick McNuggets.
To read the rest of this week's AT LARGE by Peter Chianca, click here.
I got a chuckle out of your column, but I do take issue with your idea that unschooling is "new".
We've been living the unschooled life for about 10 years. Many of my acquaintenances have been doing it for longer. John Holt and Ivan Ilich coined the term 30 some-odd years ago.
It's been around a while and you probably know some unschooled kids. They probably wouldn't tell you, because you just wouldn't "get it". I think you could, though. Good luck with that.
Not a blogger, so I'm posting "anonymously", but signing my name.
That's a lot to say about unschooling for someone who just found out about it.
If you really want to understand unschooling, think of it like this. Unschooling is a way to keep the love of learning alive. Unschoolers do this by surrounding their children with fantastic amounts of resources and guide them as they enthusiastically eat up the knowledge around them.
We trust kids want to learn and guess what? They really do when given the right atmosphere. One that is filled with calmness, butt-loads of interesting materials, choice, and a trusting loving environment.
We as unschooling parents are there to guide but more importantly, always on hand to help them find ways of looking up the information they need. We model learning by reading, discussing, and exploring ourselves, and most importantly not giving them a pre packaged curriculum that they couldn't give a rat''s ass about.
The books we use are real and we learn from real experiences not in an artificial classroom setting with kids all the same age. (Where in life does that happen besides school?).
So instead of judging one episode off ccn, try going to an unschool conference where you will meet gobs of unschooled kids that will blow your socks off with intelligence, confidence, and happiness.
Unschooling sounds fantastic... if you have the means to do it. To have at least one intelligent and dedicated parent available. To have the funds required to support this freeform education in a proper fashion.
I imagine however that its overall success rate in the world of employment and higher education is little better than the standard education system. For every parent who enters into this system with care and planning there is likely another who enters it with good intentions.
Further, how much of a shock will the world be for a child with this style of education? Suddenly thrust into the world of a 9-5 job with cowerkers with NO INTEREST in learning. No joy. Will there be unschoolers anonymous? Where the unschooled gather to share their stories of dealing with indifference and willful ignorance?
Or will these not be the 9-5ers? Are they all becoming artists? Musicians? Working in Thinktanks? Well your average artist is starving and occasionally homeless. Same with Musicians. Thinktanks...are not as common as you might hope and really MOST of them are looking for some sort of proof of education. So you'll have a wide array of knowledge but no particular skill set.
Hopefully Mom & Dad are still around and have their old unroom ready for them because they are unemployable... though I hear Wendy's is hiring.
Home Schoolers and Unschoolers are already in the Real World. They aren't stuck in the same building with the same people day after day. They follow their own interests because they want to.
Unfortunately,the love of learning is squashed by force-fed curriculum and testing. Mass education is basically producing millions of people who can't think for themselves. Robots. It produces people who hate to learn, or better yet, don't know how to learn for the sheer joy of it.
Why are people so afraid of those who are different? What would posess someone to "trip" someone because of that???
It will be the Home Schoolers and Unschoolers that change the world.
Like Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, Beethoven...
Life isn't all about SCHOOL!
From your piece:
"These are presumably the same kids who, if given their choice of vegetables, will pick McNuggets."
The problem is that you presume.
If you truly care to research this topic and present an informed report, I'm sure there are many families like mine who would be willing to talk to you about our choices. Regardless, unschooled children are in the real world, are succeeding in their chosen professions and lifestyles and are generally unaffected by these types of uninformed comments because they have not been trained to seek the approval of others.
Unschooled kids have a natural thirst for knowledge and the ones I know who are adults all have great jobs they love and are happy, productive people. My own son at 15 has had regular part-time work for the past 4 years. He did try school for a year when he was 11 and had no trouble keeping up with the class but he decided to return to unschooling after he discovered that the kids at school weren't learning much and he found the school style of learning tedious. My younger two unschoolers are interested in learning everything they would be offered at school and more. Don't believe you have to be in school to learn. Don't believe everybody in school is learning everything that is being taught.
I recognize that your column was light and humorous. Still, it painted such a doubtful picture of the nature of children's abilities that I need to speak for the opposite point of view.
Just a minor point, my unschooled 11 year old boy eats what he wants. He likes broccoli and dislike chicken nuggets. Not perhaps the outcome you would have predicted.
Forced learning is a very *inefficient* approach to learning. It's a myth that we can pound schoolchildren over the head with curriculum often enough to ensure that they all retain most of it. I like to ask people how much they can speak of the foreign language that they studied in high school. Most people don't seem to have much lasting residue for the years that they have spent, unless they have purposefully used the language in their lives.
A very eye-opening book about how human beings learn naturally is Frank Smith's book entitled The Book of Learning and Forgetting. I recommend it. (I even quote from it at parties.)
I want to reply to smudge's comments, above.
Why should unschooling need to have a better success rate than traditional schooling? Since many people seem to doubt that unschooling could even work at all - a success rate equal to that of school would be outstanding!
The truth is, people don't continue unschooling (or homeschooling at all) if it simply doesn't work for their family. For the people that unschool, it works for their family. Really.
Finally, smudge, been in the world lately? Not every job is 9-5. Lots of things are open 24/7. It's okay to sleep 'till 11 a.m. - there aren't actually any rules against it. I'm a musician, and not starving. Most of my colleagues aren't, either. We'd like to make more money, but we're making it okay. And we get paid to do something we love.
And now, I have to go to bed. See, I have a rehearsal at 10:30 a.m. I prefer to sleep in, too, but I'm capable of getting up for something I need to do. As are most unschooled children.
I know that your article was tongue-in-cheek, and you're paid for being funny. I also know -- based on your comments -- that you really have no idea what you're talking about.
We, too, are a homeschooling family. We aren't "unschoolers," so to speak, we take a more traditional approach to homeschooling. Do you know why? Because in my 45 years, I have been brainwashed into thinking that children don't really want to learn and that they must be force-fed their education.
Slowly, though, ever so slowly, I am beginning to understand how all of this works.
I have an 11-year-old son who was the impetus for our homeschooling adventures. He's one of those kids who just doesn't work well in the classroom. He spent 4-1/2 years in public & private school. In that time, he had ONE teacher who was able to inspire him. The rest of them were either too busy fighting or waging political battles, disciplining the bully child they were dealt, or simply not having a clue about how to deal with a highly gifted child in their classroom.
One. That's all. One teacher in 4-1/2 years.
So, now I am his teacher. In the two years that he has been homeschooled, he has been afforded the time to learn many, many things that he would never have had the time to learn had he been kept busy w/ the busy work he was given in the classroom & the additional busy work he was given to do when he wasn't in the clasroom. He has constructed -- with his father's minimal help -- a working model of an elevator complete with touch sensor & programmed to stop at timed intervals. He has disassembled and re-assembled countless items in order to find out what was inside and how it works. He has yet to find a person who is able to answer all of his questions about electronics, airplanes and computer issues. So, he must find these answers on his own. If he were being held captive in a classroom with the class bully, when would he have ever had the time to do all this?
Oh yes, and I forgot to tell you about his 7-year-old sister. She's on target to finish the 6th Harry Potter book in the next month or two. (She has found Hermione to be somewhat "capricious" on occasion. Her word. Look it up.) It might take her a little longer because she just picked up a book on Stonehenge at the library, and she really wanted to get through that first. Because she too has the freedom to pursue her own interests, she has been able to organize "clubs" within our neighborhood so that kids can discuss things like saving the rainforest and what's their favorite animal at the zoo. Unfortunately, the kids that she would like to have in her club are usually at school. So, her meetings are few and far between.
The examples above are not an exhaustive list of what my children have done while learning at home. It's just a few small examples of what has been possible. If I didn't need to get to work on what we're going to tackle today, I might be able to enlighten you some more. The daily life of a homeschooling parent is usually quite busy. It's difficult balancing all that fan waving and atomizer misting with the daily household chores, time spent reading with the kids & explaining what needs to be explained, and driving to and from sports activities, art classes, etc. Oh yes, and I just remembered another thing my children are learning that most other children don't know: The house does not magically clean itself while they are away at school. There are jobs to be done, and they need to learn how to do them so that when they go out on their own, they are able to effectively manage their homes and lives.
I think that it's really unfortunate, but completely understandable given the evolution of our society, that people like you find it so unbelievable that children really do want to learn (and like fruits & veggies).
I hope you can take your tongue out of your cheek long enough to ask the librarian where to find the books on unschooling. You have a lot to learn.
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