I think it is dangerous. While giving children rope to explore and learn at their own pace is healthy, normal, and welcomed, extremist philosophies like Unschooling may result in illiteracy, social isolation, and difficulty to pursue areas of interests later in life (e.g. college).
Traditional homeschooling has been made safer (in terms of outcomes) due to professionally developed programs along with state enforcement of baseline testing. While Unschooling as a philosophy rejects the very idea that children should be measured like their peers (e.g. standardized tests are out), and thus no major homeschooling programs have nor could be developed.
I find it curious and confusing that the stated objective is to help the child develop improved critical thinking skills, while the stated philosophy (Unschooling) seeks to never have the child try anything they don't choose to do (learner directed education). Has intellectual isolation ever resulted in improved critical thinking skills before?
I think it's absolutely essential to have a good basic education in: reading, writing, grammar, literature, philosophy, math, science, history (all not in any particular order), maybe add some psychology. These things are essential. How you structure teaching these things is much much less important than actually getting them across.
Whatever your concerns with public and private schools, you can spend some time at home making up for their faults. Homeschooling is a full-time job -- great if you can do it and are good at it, but it requires a tremendous commitment.
Unschooling... I'd never heard of before, and it sounds dangerous indeed. There is no way that children will self-directedly learn the basic things they need to learn that we've accumulated over the last few thousand years -- the vast majority children don't even have the organization skills and self-motivation needed for this, and they simply do not and cannot have the perspective needed ("eventually I'll be an adult and will need to be able to provide for myself and my family, and so I need to know all this stuff and more"). To force that perspective on them might work out, but might also ironically deny them the innocence of childhood. At least going by what I see here, "unschooling" seems like the sort of bad idea that the State should throw its weight onto and squash, and I'm not one to think that the State should do that. Think seriously of all the culture you enjoy and all the implied knowledge, and tell me there's a chance that children will learn some equivalent of that on their own, and the only thing that will convince me of is the depth of your ignorance.
And I say that even though I have some experience with how schools fail to deal with, e.g., students who are on the autism spectrum, or even those who aren't but who are even somewhat gifted. Maybe it's just that I know nothing about unschooling and it comes across in the worst possible way.
Whatever OP has been reading, OP should consider reading other views as well before possibly inflicting a huge own-goal on their children's lives.
“Unschooling may result in illiteracy, social isolation, and difficulty to pursue areas of interests later in life”
Do you have any reading on this? Even anecdata? All the reading I have done seems to indicate the exact opposite.
Granted i have been specially seeking out material that is pro self-directed education. Would love to read anything that actually builds a strong case against it.
“I find it curious and confusing that the stated objective is to help the child develop improved critical thinking skills, while the stated philosophy (Unschooling) seeks to never have the child try anything they don't choose to do (learner directed education). Has intellectual isolation ever resulted in improved critical thinking skills before?”
Inherent in the question posed here is the assumption that the child/learner would be intellectually isolated? However from my reading this is not necessary the case.
Once they have the means learners would seek out others with the knowledge they require or ask for help.
If you can point me to some reading that contradicts the unschooling view and builds a case against it, or expands on some of the points you have mentioned that would be great.
I could give an extreme example and show you what's wrong here. Let's say a kid is born. And we have somehow lost all morality. Kid gets put into a room with food, drink, whatever it needs for physics experiments and left alone. Will the kid ever do, say, the double-slit experiment ? No. In fact it won't even learn how to eat. It'll starve to death. We know this, because people have done that accidentally.
Or another "experiment": show a kid only "parents" that walk on four legs. Will the kid ever learn to walk like a human ? After all, the human body is built so that walking on 2 legs is much more efficient. Again, accidental experiment was carried out, in fact many times. Disney made a completely unrealistic movie about it. Answer: no, the kid will walk on hands and feet. They do not find the optimal solution, despite exploring. Despite being forced into the ultimate form of self-directed learning.
But let's work from simple principles. How about we start by assuming that the brain is neither magical, nor can it come up with information from nothing. It must absorb information from the outside.
You can see, given those easy assumptions that the brain cannot be but almost exclusively a behavior copy machine (which is of course why you seek out help in the first place). Then you see "unschooling" if it works, DOESN'T work because of it's stated principles, but because it copies things from the parents, and/or/later teachers. Unschooling, like any other method frankly, will work incredibly if the parents are geniuses, or otherwise regular contact between the child and very smart people can be maintained over a long time, and will fail spectacularly if that doesn't happen.
Second thing to consider is the information content difference between positive information and negative information, and which random (self-directed) information will be. Positive information is showing a particular example that works, for some process. Negative information is showing that a particular way doesn't work. You can easily see that this depends on whichever is less dense in the solution space (in other words: you should show whichever is rare, not the common case). This will in practice nearly always be the positive information. In other words: the correct solution has lots of information, false tries have very little information about the world.
If you just let the child try, all they'll ever hit is the common case (in the extreme example given above: not eating the food). So you can't let that happen. You MUST show them the correct solution, or put another way you must transform the solution space for them so the rare and common case happen 50-50, and not 1-99999 like would be expected. Again rephrasing: It's very easy to fail, and very hard to succeed. So a "self-directed learning" would only ever fail. You must prevent that if you want them to learn anything at all.
AFTER doing that, yes, you can let them try and explore more by themselves, but it's easy to see that a behavior copy machine like the human brain will be able to learn incredibly faster getting shown the above things compared to trying things out itself.
This means in practice self-directed learning requires the brain to process thousands to millions (or worse: trillions) of times more information to arrive at the same level of knowledge. In the overwhelming majority of cases that'll mean it will never happen.
Third problem is that skills converge. Having one skill makes almost any other skill a tiny little bit easier to learn (even in machine learning, an imagenet trained network can learn faster to make music than a random start network, vastly disparate skills, but the ability to recognize squirrels allows you learn to make music faster). The problem with that is that 0.99^1000 is a very small number. So if you let a kid be slower, the damage that accumulates over time is incredible. If you slightly accelerate a kid, constantly, the advantage that builds over say 10 years is not only enormous, but is at that point STILL compounding. Likewise, if the kid doesn't have skills the damage will compound. Are you seriously going leave that to chance as a parent ? Wouldn't you require extraordinary evidence in favor of unschooling rather than the reverse ?
So self-directed learning is a lie. It cannot work. You cannot explore the world in a self-directed manner and expect to learn much. That doesn't make sense when you consider how the mind must work. But ! There are famous examples where it worked ! It must be able to work. Alas, no. Or at least, there's a simpler explanation. Like most "mysterious"/"natural"/"magical" processes it only works when people cheat. It works when there is another form of learning available to those kids (seeking out help, or having some other form of knowledge easily available to them, like a genius parent).
The factor that confuses people, I think, is that Montessori schools can work despite their bullshit method because of the teachers they hire. As long as that method of instruction is very rare and intriguing they will have more money and more interested, more effective teachers. And that can make a big difference, big enough that the disadvantage of their methods is compensated. But traditional instruction works reasonably effectively despite the teachers being underpaid idiots that don't understand the subjects they're teaching. Is it ideal ? No ? Fun ? Hardly. But you can easily see: traditional instruction with actually good teachers vastly outperforms Montessori schools. It also works much better in the practical situation on the ground that will exist in any large society (that practical situation is, in case you're wondering: 50% of below-average performers, and with current teacher pay, teachers will not even be below average 50% of the time, but much more). But as long as unschooling is done only by intrigued smart people, that will be masked.
The literature on it is unanimous: the thing that matters more than any other in education is how smart the parents are. Second thing is how smart the teachers are. Only third is the method of instruction used. People really hate this, because of course it amplifies class differences, makes IQ "inherited", but that doesn't make it any less true.
Rather then argue against SDE (self directed education) most of what you said above actually provides evidence for it. Will post a more detailed response from my laptop.
2. There seems to be some confusion in your understanding of SDE.
You believe that SDE = no assistance at all.
Rather it is exactly the opposite. The child would seek out more assistance. It does mean they choose who they seek assistance from. It means the assistance they get is not mass communication like a teacher lecturing 30 kids at once. It is individualised and highly customised to them.
I was both unschooled and unschooled my middle schooler through homeschooling.
There's something very powerful about developing "undirected learning."
Maria Montessori's fundamental insight was the way to develop a child's ability to learn was by providing a rich learning environment - books and projects. Montessori toys are a great place to start.
Youtube for Kids is actually a great resource in this regard - lots of easy projects where kids can experience various natural phenomenon.
We are headed towards a project-based, self-directed world when it comes to work. Your instincts are dead on. I founded a company to help college students develop these skills and you can see some of that at: https://useed.net/spotlight
I'd encourage you to check out a few other resources:
The Teenage Liberation Handbook (John Holt)
Most Likely to Succeed (and anything by Tom Wagner)
There is a fear that if our children are not lockstep chasing the next learning objective, they will fall behind.
This is unfounded. Children who learn to take ownership over their learning experience rapidly surpass those who never do.
My favorite practical teacher on this is A.J. Juliani:
There are schools that provide this experience and co-op groups if you homeschool.
Schools that emphasize self-directed, project-based learning are generally great choices. Waldorf is another model worth looking into.
Today's Montessori schools are much more structured than they were at their founding. They are a good balance, but unschooling provides a unique opportunity for your kids:
For them to see themselves as the agents of their own education.
Once a student sees themselves as the driver of their learning, they have a distinct advantage in any educational environment.
Feel free to connect with me directly about it if you'd like!
I was homeschooled for most of my K-12 education, and unschooled in different degrees during that time. At best, unschooling can encourage a child to dig deep for new ideas, and involve them in activities that build on that knowledge. It can also be a great supplement to more typical subject-based homeschooling, and encourage cross-disciplinary thinking.
But unschooling requires serious engagement on the part of the parent as well. I've seen unschooling families get lazy and end up with 18-year old ballerinas who can't do times tables to save their life, or physicists-to-be who might seem advanced to their parents, but get to college and find themselves far behind their peers. The parents' worldview and involvement can easily become a constraint for their child's growth.
I would also caution potential homeschoolers to be mindful of how they frame their choice when they talk to their children. Making it about the child or taking a strong us v. them stance against other options can be very isolating for the child, especially if they ever feel like they're not getting the education they want at home. Be moderate in your explanations, and leave the door open if you can.
“I would also caution potential homeschoolers to be mindful of how they frame their choice when they talk to their children. Making it about the child or taking a strong us v. them stance against other options can be very isolating for the child, especially if they ever feel like they're not getting the education they want at home.”
Great point. This was one of my concerns I had having spoken to some of the teens who had been educated like this. They all seem to have a kind of “us versus them” mentality against traditional schooling.
“But unschooling requires serious engagement on the part of the parent”
Yep it is much easier to just send your kid to school and make their learning someone else’s responsibility.
“I've seen unschooling families get lazy and end up with 18-year old ballerinas who can't do times tables to save their life”
Would you care to provide details on this? Over email if you would like to avoid a public forum.
I would be careful. As a young child I was allowed to self-direct many aspects of my education (Montessori schools, permissive parents, etc.), and as a consequence I immaturely neglected many "boring" activities like learning math facts and spelling. Especially in math, shaky foundations have plagued me ever since, and I still have deficits in that area, which I very much regret.
The problem with letting children self-direct themselves to a high degree is that they're immature and ignorant. The world is a much more complicated place than it was hundreds or thousands of years ago, and many of the skills and activities they need to master are essentially invisible to them, so they need a lot of guidance and some external motivation to gain them. For instance, they might end up finding a lot of joy in advanced math, but they're going to have to slog through some hard stuff to get there. If they don't, many opportunities will be closed to them.
“I would be careful. As a young child I was allowed to self-direct many aspects of my education (Montessori schools, permissive parents, etc.)“
Could you provide more detail
On this? Did your parents involve you in their day to day activities, were you completely free or did you have a choice out of a set of activities. I know this may be a difficult question to answer as our memories of early learning is always hazy.
The few home schooled people I’ve met were some of the most brilliant, and my bar for saying that is quite high. They were also socially well adjusted. And 100% of the smartest people I’ve met received substantial, although not exclusive, home schooling in the form of parents who were academics. I would like to home school when I have kids, both for the learning and anti-brainwashing benefits, but it seems impractical unless one does not need to work and is willing to dedicate vast amounts of time to it. Also I think the kids would be missing out on certain special socialization experiences. I think the ultimate solution is send them to a school with sports teams and cheerleaders, have thought provoking conversations with them, and hire college students to tutor them on the side.
I was homeschooled K-12. I have mixed feelings about its effectiveness, and I harbor resentment against my parents for many of their choices. Most of it revolves around their strong religious reasonings for homeschooling, and the denial of my wish to attend standard high school. There was also a very strong "us vs them" philosophy that took me years to get over.
The hardest part was simply being "normal" in the real world. Even though we had friends outside of the homeschool groups, it took me literal years to learn normal group interactions so I would stop sticking out like a sore thumb. Lack of socialization is brought up as a downside to homeschooling, and is frequently rebuffed bringing up extracurricular activities and clubs. I believe that no matter how much you think a few clubs and extracurricular activities may substitute, sadly our culture revolves around working in groups and within a bureaucracy. Homeschooling and its ilk are a poor preparation for working effectivly within those systems. I seriously felt mildly retarded when I got out into the real world, and would frequently joke that my first few jobs were my substitute for the social systems of HS and College.
While I do think that homeschooling can offer younger children a lot of benefits, such as accelerated reading and math skills in the early years (I was performing these at a high-school level in early middle school), I don't believe that parents can ever replace the structure specialized learning that formal schools give older children. The option of me attending a public school for high school was never taken seriously, I wish I had at least been afforded that.
Neither unschooling nor pre-packaged curriculum seems right to me. At first I make math worksheets, have them read out loud until they get perfect smooth-and-fluid phrasing, and have them write in cursive. There is a local homeschooling group that goes over history and sort of functions like a book club, and also has a weekly gym class. The next step, starting at age 7 to 11 depending on the kid, is to teach AP Biology or AP Chemistry. I take this seriously, with a College Board approval of my "syllabus" (their misnomer) and plenty of labs and a real focus on the test material. I don't wait for the prerequisite skills to be perfect; one could wait forever for that. I'll even start with kids who struggle to read or do algebra. The test provides a real goal with a measurable outcome. Once a decent score has been achieved, I use that as evidence to get the kid into dual-enrollment at the local college at about age 11 to 15. The deal in my state is that this is free college, and the local public school district will even loan you the books. That gets the kid to an AA degree, which in my state will guarantee admission to a state BS program and satisfy all the general education requirements.
Although my state does mandate that my kids can participate in public school activities and classes, I don't bother except for one kid who needed speech therapy. There is a municipal band here that teaches music for free. BSA scouting provides activities, with the Eagle Scout rank actually translating into valuable things like scholarships and military rank. My state has an online virtual school that I use only for driver education. I almost used it for a language requirement at the state colleges, but taking the language at the college means 2 semesters instead of 2 years. I suggest looking into 4H as well; for me it was a bit too distant.
Be aware that often it seems that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I have trouble getting my kids to study... but my mom had that same trouble with me in a public school. Getting the kids to study is the most difficult problem, and that fact doesn't change no matter how you decide to deal with education.
Bonus for homeschooling: flexible hours, flexible days, less communicable disease, better quality food, your choice of values, and usually a smarter instructor.
I attended public school first grade, home-schooled second grade, private school 3rd grade, home-schooled until 7th grade, home-schooled with a 2-days-a-week co-op 8th grade, public school 9-12, public university. If a coin has 3 sides, I've seen all 3. Ask away.
Private school wasn't any "better" than public school. Homeschooling didn't make me anti-social. Kids are the reflection of their mentors, the system of education applied to children is mostly a political talking point.
Will Hunting: See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you're gonna staht doin some thinkin on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certaintees in life. One, don't do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin education you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library
Unschooling family here....2 boys ages 14 and 18, always unschooled other than the first couple of months of kindergarten with my eldest when I drank the Kool-Aid and thought we had to follow a set curriculum for them to be normal, happy, successful humans. Happy to share our experience and/or answer questions.
I had an 'alternative' educational life.
I attended a Montessori school from K-2nd grade.
Was homeschooled from 2nd to 9th (very loose curriculum).
Went to public high school (9th-12th).
Attended a public state-school for college.
I like to think I got a good view of 'both sides of the coin'.
In general, my homeschooled years were focused on 'real world' type skill building, developing and following personal interests, and having fun. We did some 'regular' book-type learning for math/science/english/etc, but never spent more than 3-4 hours a day on it.
Although I spent a fraction of the time on regular studies that 'normal' kids did during grade school, I entered 9th grade in public school at the normal level. I was above-average at Math and English, but struggled with Science. This, I believe, was due more to my personal interests and learning style than preparedness - but who knows for sure.
The biggest benefit from that time period, imo, is that I really internalized how to a) find and develop my own interests outside of school/sports, b) develop relationships with non-parental/non-teacher adults, c) develop strong auto-didactic skills, and d) have a strong base of 'real-world' skills before I was 14 (cooking/cleaning/shopping/fiscal responsibility/etc).
The biggest adjustment from non-schooling to public-school was the amount of time 'wasted' in my eyes. The amount of material were able to cover in a full day at school was the same, if not less, than what I was able to learn by my self in half the time. This led to some slackerish tendencies and a lack of concern over my grades. I did well, but was never a top-of-the-class type of student.
The second biggest adjustment was integrating socially. Not because I lacked social skills (which is a huge misunderstanding about homeschooling in general), but because of my hometown. I'm from a rural area, and my class size was small (220 graduating class from 6 towns). Most of the cliques of people had known eachother and been forced through the same daily routine since they were 5 or 6 years old. It's really hard to break into social groups like that at age 14. By end of Sophomore year I was able to carve out a little group of friends, but the first two years were quite rough. I think that's more of a testament to location, though.
My advice is this: if you are considering homeschool/non-traditional schooling, try it now. Don't wait. At 1st grade your kid most likely has developed some friendships, and probably doesn't care too much about being 'different' socially. Just make sure you have a well laid out plan for developing social skills / maintaining relationships your kid already has. And, most importantly, take time to re-evaluate. I was lucky that my parents were supportive of my decision to want to attend public school, and didn't keep me from making the choice. Also, really pay attention to the social-needs your kid has. I was pretty much fine by myself for a long time, and therefor resisted a lot of 'normal' social activities (sports, camps, etc) from an early age. If your kid is an extrovert and needs those social interactions to be happy, it will take extra work to accommodate.
That ended up being more of a ramble than anticipated, but I could talk about this for hours, so if you have Q's lmk.
From what I gather from my children (13 & 15, mainstream schooled), I find there to be a huge amount of wasted time. I'm sometimes under the impression that the teachers are basically glorified child minders.
I have a friend who home-schools their children, and they're much more aware of the world around them compared to others of that age.
My argument against home-schooling was that the children are missing out on the social aspects - but thinking about it, that's just wasted time which just encourages concern over trivial matters and like you say, cliques. There's also the concern of being around those with a less than desirable influence. Of course, it's not entirely negative.
Now I'm on the fence. In hindsight, I would have at least given home-schooling consideration.
My mom was a high school art teacher (masters in art ed.) before she home-schooled me, and one of the reasons she'd often bring up was how she felt much of the time spent in traditional education consists of shuffling kids around from one room to the next, and she wanted something better for me.
As for socialization, that was more than likely the most commonly voiced concern I would encounter. I'd get a lot of "but don't you wish you were with other kids?", and I would think "who the heck wants to be stuck with a bunch of kids?"
We homeschooled our kids (for the most part). Whenever we worried about socialization, we grabbed our kids, dragged them into the bathroom, and beat them up for their lunch money.
Just kidding. But the point is, socialization in public school can be pretty awful, even violent. If your kid is the introvert, the less physically developed, and/or the less popular, socialization may not be a net win for your kid. And homeschoolers do get socialization - just not with kids. Instead, they're talking to grownups at the library or the grocery store while other kids are in class. They (often) come out more socialized to the adult world but less socialized to their peers.
Anyway: I'm not going to tell you that one way or the other is the right way. I'll just say that, as a parent, it's your responsibility. You can send them to public school, or private school, or a charter school. You can homeschool, which may or may not look like unschooling. Whatever you do, though, pay attention to how it's working out for your kid. If it's working out badly, do something else. (We switched to homeschooling from a very good private school when our daughter said that every day, when she was getting ready for school, her stomach hurt. That told us enough to know that, no matter how good a school it was, it wasn't good for her.)
It is a good idea in theory, but the problem comes with the lack of a social group for the child. Unless you somehow have the ability to provide the child with a group of similarly aged peers of at least 5, please just send her to a school and try to support her in whatever she seems particularly adept in by helping her find good resources.
We all have an inherent drive/desire to learn. It is why most of us learn to talk, walk, run with out any direct instruction. Yet school is based on a massive assumption which I had never questioned. The assumption that it has to be forced on you. Education that your are not interested in has to be forced. True Learning, which differs from education, is self directed. It happens because you are interested and curious.
I thought myself coding in high school because I enjoyed it. No one told me to go out and teach myself this. I found myself coding and hacking instead of learning useless facts.
Regarding the “schooling the world” documentary I have added two links. YouTube and the documentary website where you can rent it. I chose to rent the documentary to support the filmmakers.
> The assumption that it has to be forced on you. Education that your are not interested in has to be forced. True Learning, which differs from education, is self directed. It happens because you are interested and curious.
That's a false dichotomy. Sometimes you need the "forced learning" to get to the "self directed education."
> Personal anecdata I thought myself coding in high school because I enjoyed it. No one told me to go out and teach myself this. I found myself coding and hacking instead of learning useless facts.
To a small enough child, reading is a "useless fact." After all, an illiterate child has gone his whole life without needing to know how to read. Why waste time learning letters when you could look at animals and plants outside? None of the facts they teach in school are truly useless, but rather the person who judges them useless is just too ignorant to know their value.
“To a small enough child, reading is a "useless fact." After all, an illiterate child has gone his whole life without needing to know how to read”
“Why waste time learning letters...”
This is the point/philosophy of it. The child will choose to learn when they need and want to. Having spoken to some of these children I found most taught themselves to read without formal instruction.
“None of the facts they teach in school are truly useless, but rather the person who judges them useless is just too ignorant to know their value.”
Exactly. So if they are useless to the person it means an EXTERNAL party has made a judgement call on what knowledge is useful. It comes down to who decides what Is useful knowledge and what is not. Who should make threat decision?
> This is the point/philosophy of it. The child will choose to learn when they need and want to.
You're missing the point. A child is ignorant of a great many things and not competent to make many of those kinds of choices. That's not to say they can't have some input, but it's an abdication of your responsibility as a parent to let them make all their educational choices based on "when they need and want to," unless those choices are so highly stage managed that they're not really choices at all.
> So if they are useless to the person it means an EXTERNAL party has made a judgement call on what knowledge is useful.
What's so bad about that? The whole point of schooling is to benefit from the knowledge and maturity of that "EXTERNAL" party, which allows them to make better educational choices about a great many things.
I think educational standards are saying this: To be a functional member of our society, you need to be well grounded in certain subjects. Reading, arithmetic, basic chemistry, basic physics, basic biology, history (local, your country, and global), economics (personal and global), classic and world literature, and so on. Many subjects you may not find on your own. An elementary education seeks to expose you to an overview of human knowledge so you can, if you choose, pursue the bits that interest you further. It also seeks to give you the foundational skills to operate in the society we've created.
I mostly object to homeschooling, charter schooling, unlearning and anything else that takes children out of their community and away from community standards of education. I understand some people object to their local school systems; I think it would be more beneficial for everyone if they put their work into improving them instead of opting out of them.
I homeschooled my 3 kids mainly because I lived overseas and wanted them to travel extensively with me. They spent most of Grade School home schooled and now are in public high school.
They are way ahead academically and are strong socially, as are most home school students. 30 years ago these generations had more truth, but today they are super outdated. They FaceTime their friends from all over the world. They complete online community college courses in their "study hall" times at public school and complain that high school is so inefficient and that many of their classmates just do the minimum required of them.
I wonder if in 20 years from now if the US system will still have high schools?
We homeschool, and use a modified unschooling approach. We were in Charlottesville, VA from 2013 to 2018, and there are far more atheists and hippies than fundies. Here are two distinct groups there.
Now we’re back where we grew up: Harrison, AR. It’s pretty much the reddest area in the country, and even here, the homeschool co-op that my kids attend has much more of an “anti-authority” vibe than anything else.
For what it’s worth, we’re Christians, but I go out of my way to ensure my kids get a well-rounded education. Christianity is not at all incompatible with science, and I believe that Man was created as an intelligently being for a reason. Our ability to understand the Universe is not a mistake.