When I began homeschooling in 1997 I was amazed at the number of people who had strong feelings about homeschooling. Some were adamantly opposed to homeschooling while others were curious and still others professed their support. Over the years, I have been approached by well meaning people about concerns they had with homeschooling. As I am now exploring unschooling as an option I wondered what concerns people had with unschooling. In a personal interview with a friend she addressed this issue.
Q. How do you respond to unschooling concerns?
People worry that unschooled children will not cover all the necessary topics for a well-rounded education. I have several responses to that concern.
First, traditional schooling with its teach-for-the-test approach turns out graduates who often don’t remember much of what they have spent 13 years learning. I don’t see that as being a problem for unschoolers. The responsibility for exposing the child to all types of subjects lies with the parents, and in any given week I make sure to have a wide variety of books and projects available to spark interest.
Second, unschoolers learn that learning is a joy and a lifelong part of being human, not a drudgery that they will no longer have to engage in as soon as they are out of school. That attitude equips them for a lifetime of learning in whatever areas of interest they choose.
And third is John Holt’s response to curriculum, which I treasure. I don’t have the reference with me right now, but it runs something like this: A person might possibly be able to learn one millionth of the sum of human knowledge during their lifetime. Why should everyone be made to learn the same millionth? And who has the authority to decide what millionth is the most important?
Imagine that you were a person interested in plants, flowers, photography, birds, sewing, and the history of ceramics. However, you did not have time to pursue these interests because you were forced to spend your days learning refrigerator repair, accounting, theoretical physics, business management, and livestock husbandry. No one would argue that those are not important subjects for those who are interested in them; but equally it is difficult to argue that a person who loves photography should be studying theoretical physics (in case they might want to be a physicist) or refrigerator repair (even though that is undoubtedly a very practical field of study).
There is some aura of indispensability about Scope and Sequence and the School Curriculum, but in reality it is quite arbitrary. Astronomers would like to see more astronomy taught in school; ecologists would like to see more ecology; musicians and artists, more music and art. And even in the “basics” that are agreed upon– history, math, biology/physics, literature– the students are exposed to only a tiny skimming of those topics. Who then has the authority to say that it is more important that children learn about the battles and generals of WWII rather than the history of the Catholic social justice movement? Or that they should read “The Great Gatsby” rather than “Lord Jim”?
That being said, I do have my own educational agenda for my children so I might not be able to be classed as a pure unschooler. I think it is very important that they have a solid knowledge of history so that they can be good world citizens; a wide familiarity with literature, theology, and philosophy so that they can understand the human condition and empathize with others; a good foundation in math concepts and environmental studies so that they can understand how the world works; and so on. But I think that I am raising the kids to know that the world is an interesting place that is meant to be embraced through experience and through projects, reading, discussions, and however else they see fit. I don’t foresee my daughter saying, for example, “I hate history!” (Though it may happen and I may have to eat my words!) :)
Interview Part One: An Introduction to Unschooling
Interview Part Two: Is Unschooling the Same as Homeschooling?
Interview Part Three: The Benefits of Unschooling
In the final installment of this interview we address the challenges of unschooling and a few unschooling resources.
Personal Interview (Permission granted to print)