This Teacher's Thoughts about Unschooling

Pro:

  • The Good Morning America report. I'm sure it's easy to find if you want to (yep) but in fact I don't think I've ever watched Good Morning America, and I certainly wouldn't accept a five-minute special report as unquestionable truth.  In fact, if GMA says it's "extreme" and harmful, I'm willing to bet it's a great idea that's misunderstood and poorly reported.



  • A lot of kids' time and effort in school is wasted, much more so in the early years.  The teacher dismisses a child to go to the bathroom, helps another one find a tissue, allows three to sharpen pencils, and after ten minutes of directives, everyone is finally ready to go over the Math lesson.  Once it's finished, it all happens in reverse, and the process begins again during the Reading and History lessons.  There is something to be said for learning patience with others, but invariably, the smart kids get bored and retreat into themselves (me) or goof off and get in trouble (my brother.)



  • The teacher controls the classroom at the vast majority of formal schools.  Again, learning obedience to authority is a virtue, and one that many modern children lack.  However, this can become tiresome very quickly, and I'm not sure it's valuable in the long run; it seems to me that it promotes unquestioning submission.  As much as I detest the constant complaining of parents at my school, I'm glad they feel they have the right to complain.  I also don't mind ignoring them, since we all know I don't need correction on any points.



  • Kids in formal school are stressed. Period.  They know far too much about schedules, and "dates," and they have very little time to explore things they're interested in.  An unschooled child might choose to spend the whole day planting seeds and waiting anxiously for them to sprout, or reading about and drawing dinosaurs, or learning how to bake bread.  S/he will have learned far more than in a cramped, authoritarian classroom.


Con:

  • Most parents lack the discipline, creativity and time necessary to expose their children to a wide variety of subject areas, such that the child truly has the wealth of knowledge necessary to make his or her own choices regarding education.  This may sound harsh, but I'm just speaking from experience.  My cousins are stellar examples of unschooling parents, but I have seen many more who only encourage their children (consciously or not) to pursue areas they know something about and are interested in.  This is natural, and maybe it's okay, but I prefer the Liberal Arts philosophy, since:



  • I learned a lot from taking classes I was forced to take. In high school, to graduate with honors I needed four History credits.  My only choice in my senior year was an AP Government class. Government?!  I thought.  Ugh.  How boring!  But the teacher was dynamic and funny (a drill sergeant, he had an unnerving habit of pointing and yelling "Go!" when he wanted an answer) and the class filled with overachievers like me, who pushed each other to succeed.  Last weekend at coffee hour I recalled the details of Plessy v. Ferguson, fifteen years after studying them in class.  I could quote more examples, but the point is, I never would have sought these interests out, especially if my parents had suggested them.



  • The world doesn't revolve around your kids, as much as you may want it to, and I'm a little concerned that unschooling may allow them to believe that.  We all have to learn to do things we don't want to, and yes, sometimes it's annoying and completely useless, but well, that's life.  You don't always get to choose what you want to do, especially when you're young.  That's a privilege that grows with age.


Conclusions:

  • We're pretty solidly in the homeschooling camp if we ever have children, at least for the elementary years.  There are certain formal programs I would support, but for the most part, we couldn't afford Waldorf or Montessori and there is no Orthodox classical-education institution near us.  I'm not signing any pacts, but that's where I am now.



  • I don't think I could unschool, and I'm a pretty skilled teacher and a pretty well-rounded person (if I do say so myself.)  I would worry that I had left something out that my kids might have wanted to learn.  I also think most ideas work better if implemented with a plan.



  • One of my favorite bloggers, who recently retired, spoke about vocations in words I heartily commend.  She homeschooled five children, beginning with very basic instruction: a half-hour or so of formal math and reading every morning until about age eight, plus a wide variety of family activities that educated them enough to choose very diverse and specialized vocations.  I especially love what she says about organized activities: why young kids need to be on a soccer team or in an art class, instead of playing with their friends or drawing on their own, is an important consideration.