28 October 2008

Unschooling in NYTimes

UPDATE: I moved this to the top of the blog because I have some interesting people writing in on the comments section. Check it out.

Interesting article about a movement called unschooling. I like a lot about it. The best classroom is experience outdoors in the real world. I just don't know who has the time or can afford to stay home from work to spend 12 years home with their kids. I've heard about this movement before, but it seems to be gaining more widespread acceptance.

Here is the Babble article on Unschooling.
...unschoolers don't send their kids to regular school and avoid teaching by curriculum. You won't find them at the kitchen table every morning doing math, then reading, then geography."

...unschoolers believe in letting a kid's curiosity, interests and natural hunger for knowledge guide their learning.

18 comments:

VisuaLingual said...

Hmm, this sounds a bit like the Summerhill or "free school" model. My sister attended a school like that, and I was so skeptical about it that I actually spent time observing the daily goings-on to make sure it wasn't a sham. It's not, and it seems incredibly effective, at least for some kids. You can read her school's FAQ here.

gerard said...

Hmm, sounds a bit like Montessori, only even less structured. I believe it works for some kids - kids of educated parents who are bright and self-motivated. I believe it is totally useless for other kids who need structure to learn.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who decided to homeschool and then moved to unschool for his five kids. The parents have Ivy League educations. The kids do whatever they want. It is NOTHING like Montessori--to say that indicates a gross misunderstanding of what Montessori is.

My friend's oldest spent all day online with role-playing games. That was okay, he was following his interests and learning history. He now works at the Starbucks franchise in a Barnes & Noble part time and has no skills or interest in doing anything else so he can get home to play more games online. He did not care for science so he never did any. He didn't like math so he never did any. He learned a little bit about medieval history, skewed as it was through the lens of the war game he played. He's not even interested in maybe writing a game or two--just playing them. He's a bright kid. But his "uneducation" really set him up for failure.
I think having to do something that you're not good at is a key benefit to more formal education. I stunk at biology but I found a way into it (botany). If I had had complete free choice I never would have discovered that.

corrinesan said...

I think unschooling is a very valuable method for early school years - it creates an environment where children are taught that learning is natural and fun. I would have loved to unschool my daughter, but her learning style was a lot more rigorous & structured.

Even with our schooling choices, we do try to "unschool" whenever we can - finding those teaching moments and following up on interests that catch our fancy.

WestEnder said...

We used to call it "recess" in the old days.

Perhaps these kids will one day become unleaders in fields like unmedicine, unlaw and unbusiness.

Idzie said...

As an unschooling teen, I'm quite glad that the unschooling movement is becoming more widespread! However, it makes me rather sad to see all of these negative comments. For the person who commented on structure, some unschoolers who feel more comfortable with structure work out a schedule either by themselves or with the assistance of a parent. That's not really an issue. Plus, of course, simply by the student-led philosophy of unschooling, a child or teen is free to try out regular school whenever they wish.

Also, I'd like to comment on the "it would only work if the parents are well educated and the children especially bright" comment, which I hear SO often! And it's simply not true. I know many different unschoolers, with many different backgrounds, and in many different economic situations. I think something that would strike a lot of people about your average bunch of unschooling teens is how normal they are! The main differences I see is that they're often much more comfortable being themselves, and don't feel as much of a need to shape themselves into something they're not, and that many of them are more well read than your average high school student.

Oh, and to the person who commented on the unschooler who plays video games all day? I've got a feeling it will pass. People go through stages. I know unschoolers who are big into video games, and unschoolers who WERE big into video games. I see absolutely no stunting of development or anything through that. It's simply a stage they're passing through in their life.

Idzie

CityKin said...

Idzie (and others), thanks for commenting. If you return I have a few questions. Did you learn advanced math ie: calculus, and did you read advanced literature ie Shakespeare? I cannot imagine my mother teaching me such advanced subjects, though I suppose you could research such things online.

Are you going to college? How does a college decide how to admit you or not?

Idzie said...

Of course my mother wouldn't be "teaching" me that stuff! I think you may have missed the main philosophy behind unschooling... No, I have not learned advanced math, because I am not interested in it and see no need for it in the fields I'm interested in (arts and social sciences). However, what my mom has done is found a great tutor. At any point if I want to learn more advanced math, I could go to that tutor, and I could also go through any of the numerous math books in the house. Now, I want to also make it clear that just because I haven't done the more advanced maths doesn't mean I can't count. I certainly know enough to manage my finances (and I have managed my own finances from the time I was a young child), and I can do simple mathmatics in my head faster than my schooled friend who gets 80 + in math class (thanks only to calculators).

As for Shakespeare, why the heck does everyone need to know Shakespeare? How the things kids "need" to learn in school are decided has always boggled my mind. If you're interested in literature, and in classic literature, sure, read Shakespeare. But when you're FORCED to read something you don't want to, all the joy is gone from it. As a young child, I was read to constantly. Books, poetry, the newspaper, everything. When my reading appetite could not be met fast enough with only my mother feeding it, I started reading on my own. At age eight I memorized The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. I can still recite it perfectly to this day. I love poetry, having never been forced to do it or dissect it, and I've read all the poetic greats, including Shakespeare.

As for colleges (which now accept unschoolers with no problem) they decide by several different ways. A common one is portfolio assessment, they sometimes require interviews, and will occasionally ask to conduct their own tests. And if all that does fail (which honestly seems to happen very rarely) some choose to take the SAT exam or other tests. I've only just started to look into universities myself, but so far the reaction of said universities has been encouraging!

I'm honestly quite happy answering questions, so if you have any more, feel free to ask!

CityKin said...

I mentioned Calculus and Shakespeare specifically because they were subjects that were very difficult for me and I remember thinking that I would NEVER have a need to know this stuff in my future career. But as it turns out, I do use advanced math now and again in my chosen career, and I quite often reflect on my Shakespeare. I had a wonderful teacher in that subject, and he had a tough subject to teach to disdainful 16 year old boys.

I love the unschooling movement. I remember a chapter in A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander which discussed how beautiful it is to learn in a natural way. In that chapter a teacher describes his joy at leading a storefront school on an expedition to identify trees, and during their attempt to measure diameter they almost discover Pi on their own!

I also remember feeling that school was a prison to me. I hated much of it. I could not sit still in a desk and I longed for snow days.

There are many problems with our institutional schools but I also feel most students benefit from at least some mandatory classroom learning.

Idzie said...

That's a big thing with unschooling, the knowledge that learning never ends. I see no need for higher math right now, so I'm not learning it. However, if at any point I DO see a need for it, or if I simply decide I want to know it for curiosity's sake, I'll learn it.

Natural learning is amazing. I have, in the past, wondered if I was learning enough, if I was missing out in any way. But when I actually thought about it, I had to laugh. I know so much about so many different things! I'm constantly reading, thinking, having discussions with all different sorts of people... Learning truly does happen all on it's own.

I'm afraid to say I NEVER believe there should be mandatory attendance to anything at all. I have no problem with classes, as long as they're freely chosen. I've attended various classes, seminars, and such, but always on my own terms, and I believe that that makes all the difference in actual retention of knowledge.

distracted by shiny objects said...

Not at all meant to be a criticism, merely a question...if there is no common curriculum in American education how does that affect our common culture?? And I speak mainly to literature and Shakespeare since that was already mentioned. It seems hard for me to fathom not having a basic(and believe me, I do mean basic--wish I had more) knowledge of Shakespeare, Emerson, Thoreau, Greek and Roman mythology,etc...I think one might miss out on a depth and richness to other writings and authors. Is not required in my chosen profession, but think I would be the poorer without it.

Idzie said...

Totally understandable question... The way I look at it is that there are countless different things that can enrich our lives, countless different things to learn. If each person chooses different things, I don't see as how that's a bad thing. For instance, I have very little interest in Greek mythology (although I do have basic knowledge from when I was interested a few years back...) yet I absolutely LOVE Celtic and Native American mythologies. And also, I think that it can probably be agreed upon that the Bible has had more influence on western literature and culture than any other book, yet few people look at it outside of it's religious significance...

corrinesan said...

While we don't "unschool" specifically (we work through a virtual school with a curriculum - but we do work at our own pace and set our own schedules), there are a lot of opportunities in daily life where you can point out that different knowledge is useful - when my daughter had a Star Trek phase, we were able to weave in SO many other topics which she then chose to learn more about. We watched documentaries on alternate universes and space travel, we discussed common themes between Star Trek and Shakespeare, we talked about learning from the mistakes of the past could help make the future better. The best part of unschooling is that it unchains learning from a classroom - learning can (and should) take place in so many different settings.

Radarman said...

Can you imagine the blank looks you would get if you tried to sell this idea in India or China?

CityKin said...

I think the common curriculum common culture topic interesting. There are some things that tie a diverse country/people together. At one time everyone learned the same things in school, watched the same TV, and read the same print newspaper. I think it will be interesting to see the growing diversity of culture develop over the next decades.

BTW, the China comment reminded me of a discussion I had with a relative last month. He said when he was growing up they had 50 kids in his classroom, and the learning was quite rote. This was the early 1950's.

VisuaLingual said...

I attended a graduate program without courses, grades, or any kind of discernible structure. It was very much like the Summerhill school I mentioned before, and different from Idzie's experience only by virtue of there being a place called "school" that one attends whenever one feels like it. I was in my 20s at this point, but my experience was perfectly mirrored when I observed my sister and her schoolmates at their free school.

Most conventionally educated people have a hard time understanding that when external expectations and check-points of success are absent, people often actually work a lot harder, because they own every single part of their educational experience. Those expectations become really personal and internalized, and it's so easy and natural to blur the usual boundaries between living and learning. In the end, I think you're left with a sense of always being curious, always pursuing ideas further, and understanding that opportunities to learn are ever-present.

As for college, there are so many ways to prove your competence, and I think the sorts of students we're talking about here are actually better-equipped to prove themselves to be compelling applicants. Many schools are starting to rebel against the hegemony of standardized test scores, or at least making themselves more open to other ways of showing a student's potential. These kinds of students are also more likely to choose schools that are more aligned with them.

DP said...

The structured vs. unstructured concept reminded me of a story I heard recently about the growing trend toward graduating high schoolers taking a "gap year" before starting college. Basically, so many kids - especially those aiming for top colleges - have spent their entire childhood trying to excel in those things that they think will get them into the college of their dreams, that they don't allow themselves the flexibility to explore different possibilities. I think colleges have long permitted matriculating students to defer a year, but I think now more colleges are encouraging the practice. I think I heard where one will even help fund your year off.

I only wish that this was a more common thing when I was that age. While I did some exploring, I went to (and did well in) schools that were very structured. But when I got out, I still didn't have a very good grasp on what it was I really wanted to do in life. Had I, there's a good chance that I would have chosen a different college (and discipline) and who knows...

So I wonder if more unstructured approaches to school would be another way to compensate for this. The gap year concept seems to be a chance for that, but it's still only one year.

corrinesan said...

I found this article (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25694356/) and thought it might be relevant to this discussion. The idea that children are learning "different" math than their parents, the ideas of different ways to solve math problems, different ways to look at learning... Perhaps there will be a problem with the generation gap increasing because there isn't a common curriculum between parents and even elementary students?