When schools were created, it was thought that learning was a sequential process that involved structure, uniformity, and memorization, and relied on extrinsic motivation and control – things like praise, rewards, and punishment. Now science knows differently; modern cognitive research is demonstrating that learning is open-ended and spontaneous, and that people – including children – learn best when they are intrinsically motivated (or what researchers Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan refer to as “self-determination”) and can build on their everyday experiences.
The whole post is a great analogy about a train ride (schooling) vs. a car ride (homeschooling) vs. family and individual bike trips (unschooling).
So the next time someone asks you if you are afraid your child will have knowledge gaps because of unschooling, you can say something like, “I’m sure they will! And what thrilling opportunities those gaps will provide for my child!”
The next time you are feeling doubts about unschooling, when you question whether or not your child is learning everything he or she needs to know, you can think of bicycles. You can think of all the interesting gaps your child has crossed so far on a bicycle. And you can get excited about the possibilities of where and when your child will find the next gap, and how you can support him or her in crossing it.
The tone is rather … well … bitter, but I like that every now and again. It’s cathartic. Some of my faves:
3 Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir practice, baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to socialize.
6 Please stop telling us horror stories about the homeschoolers you know, know of, or think you might know who ruined their lives by homeschooling. You’re probably the same little bluebird of happiness whose hobby is running up to pregnant women and inducing premature labor by telling them every ghastly birth story you’ve ever heard. We all hate you, so please go away.
7 We don’t look horrified and start quizzing your kids when we hear they’re in public school. Please stop drilling our children like potential oil fields to see if we’re doing what you consider an adequate job of homeschooling.
12 If my kid’s only six and you ask me with a straight face how I can possibly teach him what he’d learn in school, please understand that you’re calling me an idiot. Don’t act shocked if I decide to respond in kind.
18 If you can remember anything from chemistry or calculus class, you’re allowed to ask how we’ll teach these subjects to our kids. If you can’t, thank you for the reassurance that we couldn’t possibly do a worse job than your teachers did, and might even do a better one.
20 Stop saying that my kid is shy, outgoing, aggressive, anxious, quiet, boisterous, argumentative, pouty, fidgety, chatty, whiny, or loud because he’s homeschooled. It’s not fair that all the kids who go to school can be as annoying as they want to without being branded as representative of anything but childhood.
As a former sufferer of piano lessons (heh heh), I’ve often wondered how we might unschool music. This unschooled, musical adult has many interesting thoughts on just that (with some helpful links on language learning besides).
Pragmatic and poetic fable demonstrating the value of learning vs. education.
I’m not very good in geography, either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying the imports and exports of Turkey all week, but I couldn’t tell you what they are. Maybe the reason is that I missed school for a couple of days when my uncle took me downstate to pick up some livestock. He told me where we were headed and I had to figure out the best way to get there and back. He just drove and turned where I told him. It was over 500 miles round trip and I’m figuring now what his oil cost and the wear and tear on the truck—he calls it depreciation—so we’ll know how much we made. When we got back I wrote up all the bills and sent letters to the farmers about what their pigs and cattle brought at the stockyard. My aunt said I only made 3 mistakes in 17 letters, all commas. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on “What a daffodil thinks of Spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.
Sad topic that I know is pertinent to some unschoolers in my circle. It can also apply to divorce and contains good advice for all of us to prepare for our children’s welfare in advance.
Quick hits: Are a lot of people who homeschool/unschool middle-class and white? Yes. (Am I? Yes.)
Are there some people who homeschool/unschool who lack privilege in meaningful ways? Absolutely.
Is homeschooling/unschooling possible for everybody? I would guess no. That’s one of those tricky points, where I know people who struggle incredibly with lack of privilege and who still manage home education. But I would never tell someone what sacrifices should be made to unschool, and many obstacles are very real and very big (single parenthood, suspicious neighbors/government officials, disapproving grandparents or other authority figures, disabilities and illnesses, poverty, the not insignificant weight of cultural expectation) — I’m not going to stand from my place of privilege and tell someone else to just suck it up. That’s ridiculous. Educational paths are each family’s choice (or lack of choice).
Does the unschooling community need to continue to address issues of privilege? Yes. And I wish the schooled community would as well!!
Does anyone’s not-unschooling help the less privileged? I can’t see how. Honestly. I put my kids in public school, and that magically makes the world more equal? (I’ve thought long and hard on this, too. There’s not much I can do to transform the public school system — or our society’s treatment of children — except by modeling our family’s own preferences.)
Does putting children into a school environment you believe would be toxic for them reflect a respect for all humans? Um…no. Children also suffer from a noted lack of privilege, and I’d rather they had free choices about learning, as mine do.
Quote from the article:
Of course, all parenting realities are influenced by privilege. Many parents with kids in school spend their energies trying to effect improvements for their children or their child’s school; most do not take on the larger cause of educational and social inequities. Notably, many of the progressives who I’ve seen voice anger or angst about unschooling or homeschooling and privilege, either don’t have children at all, or have children already privileged in terms of race, socioeconomic, health, family support, heteronormative family structure, neighborhood safety, and the school options available to them. Et cetera. “Privilege” accusations, in some cases, begin to feel like a red herring.
However, I will always support the discussion of privilege and oppression, and even more so action-based strategies, within any group I find myself allied with, a member of, or sympathetic to (this goes far beyond education and parenting, for me). On a personal note, even more than discussion at a macro level about systems and socioeconomic realities, I enjoy working with families on a one-on-one basis for them to have more of the family life they want.
And referenced within, this post: "The Unschooling Put Down: Economic Privilege" at Parent at the Helm:
Second, and this deserves more space than I can give it now, is something Matt and Bruce have touched on: unschooling as a program, as a method, as a cult. I really wish we could talk about learning and living, but these terms have been marginalized by schoolspeak: now babies and children must learn how to learn (it isn’t something they have a biological imperative to do); unschooling is a program administered by parents rather than a description of how children can grow while they explore the real world with different types of support from their families and others. The social capital unschooling/homeschooling provides to children—access to adults who are doing things besides teaching children; strong interest by parents in making sure the emotional, nutritional, physical, and spiritual needs of their children are met—is far more important for helping children learn and feel secure in their lives than focusing on improving their test scores.
And "Thoughts on unschooling and privilege?" at life in the radical lane:
I think that the unschooling community as a whole does a really bad job of recognizing and acknowledging their privilege, and of admitting that that privilege affects both their ability to unschool, and how easy (or even how safe: those targeted by CPS and similar for unschooling, attachment parenting, and the like, are almost always already marginalized in some way) a time of it they have when unschooling. When questions and discussions of privilege come up in a group type setting, they tend to be quickly shot down and silenced by a bunch of fairly wealthy white people. That said, I’ve made many really incredible friends in the unschooling community who are really aware of and talking about privilege. But on a large scale, that discussion is noticeably absent in the community.
However, I also get extremely frustrated with the reaction from radical and social justice type people who are not unschoolers, which is more often than not “only privileged people can unschool, so it’s privileged and horrible and selfish to do so, and no one should do it.” I feel like this is another example of how little children and teens are valued and respected, because with most oppressed groups, at least in words if not actions, SJ and radical peeps are quick to talk about concrete changes that should be made, yet when it comes to kids in school, it’s just a reaction of “oh well, it kind of sucks that they’re being indoctrinated with the tenets of the dominant culture, and that’s not very good I guess.”
Most experienced unschoolers will identify “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MATHS!?” as the number one query people ask after, “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SOCIALIZATIONS?”