Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Unschooling Conspiracy

Call me paranoid, but there seems to be an unschooling conspiracy taking place in the media; all with the intention of creating a little negative buzz about unschooling (and by inference homeschooling) as a legitimate educational choice for parents. First we had Dr. Phil, then the New York Times, and now Bonnie Erbe, columnist and blogger for US News & World Report adds to the unschooling hysteria.

If a 6-year-old wants to play with a box on top of her head for an hour, that is as qualitatively beneficial a learning experience as an hour of Latin, according to unschoolers-perhaps even more beneficial...

My hunch, however, is that very few parents are practically equipped with the teaching skills necessary or the stores of information required to help a child build a strong foundation in grammar, history, physics, biology, languages, physical education, math, etc. For that, it seems one must attach some sort of structure to intrinsically unstructured unschooled learning. It's an entirely larger question whether "unschooled" kids can enter the real and highly structured (or schooled) world and succeed without the requisite navigational skills.

I wish unschoolers well and hope these children become the creative, individualistic thought leaders their parents are preparing them to become. But if they don't, it should be the parents, not society, who cover the cost of teaching them to function productively in society. That is, if unschooling fails to prepare them for life in a structured world.

And who pays when the schools fail to prepare students to function properly in the structured world? Good grief! For a woman who claims to have covered politics since God was a baby she seems pretty naive about life in the real world. Everyday thousands of homeschool families are paying their taxes to produce bus loads of unproductive citizens courtesy of the public schools. Where's my tax refund for the burden placed on us?

And then last week while everyone was busy preparing turkey, a step-mom in turmoil over unschooling decided to perform her own experiment -- one day of "unschooling" her two step-daughters. She posted the results in what I can only assume to be a lame attempt at humor in the Nashville Scene. It's not worth clicking over to read how it all turned out. Suffice it to say, her children were too cool to homeschool and think the word homeschooler is a synonym for "nerd." The mother's conclusion was predictable, unschooling is just an excuse for lazy parenting. Thankfully, her attitude reflects more on lazy research than anything else. (No offense Lindsey, this is all "tongue in cheek.")

Even bloggers who follow education trends more closely can't get a handle on unschooling, calling it "basically homeschooling without the religious focus."

Like it or not, for whatever reason unschooling is getting some attention.

I'm not an unschooler, but I know many readers are. Unschooler Jeanne left this comment on my previous unschooling post:

I think it is probably wise to look at unschoolers as "canaries in the coal mine." If they will come for me (regulate me; prohibit me from customizing my children's education), an unschooler (who lives a very organized life), because *I* am not using a standard enough approach, then "regular" homeschoolers are also at risk.

This includes anyone who decides not to pressure a six or seven year old little boy to read because he's not ready -- but he will be just fine given a little more time to develop, anyone whose children do not perform at a certain minimum on standardized test, etc. And, to prepare for those tests, you'll have to use a prescribed (by guess whom?) curriculum to cover the material. There goes your homeschool freedom.

The truth is, I know few homeschoolers who are not influenced in some way by some of the ideas of unschooling or who do not develop or already possess, on their own, a responsiveness to their children's needs and interests and learning styles that is related to the ideas of unschooling.These homeschoolers act on this responsiveness they feel in wonderful ways, even tho' they may continue to basically use a structured curriculum -- but I think they would find they are far closer to unschoolers than many of them realize, if our educrats and legislators begin to look for ways to limit unschooling.It sort of reminds me of that phrase, "We are all Berliners" -- well, in many senses from the freedom/legal point of view, "We are all unschoolers." If my unschooling is prohibited/limited (and that really was a chilling statement the one authority made in the NYTimes article), then a non-unschooler/homeschooler may find her ability to choose curriculum and customize for her kids limited.

And, I will take the opportunity, one more time, to say that "unschooling" does not mean un-everything. My husband and I provide guidance, discipline, structure to our household -- we just happen to find that it works well to follow our children's interests as far as their learning goes, and we find that respecting their little selves is a great way to teach and model respect.We are not too different from "regular" homeschoolers.

I think Jeanne makes an excellent point. Going after a homeschooling subgroup creates a path to further limit all homeschoolers.

I doubt seriously that there is a conspiracy in the media, but it is time we help these overly sheltered opinion-makers think outside the school yard fence. The reason they cannot comprehend the life of a homeschooler or unschooler is because they themselves have been institutionalized to think learning only happens when a child sits at a desk coloring ovals until a timer beeps. It's time someone told these columnists to stop, put your pencils down, turn in your article, and get outside for a dose of the real world. And if that doesn't help, try putting a box on top of your head and playing for an hour. Your children will love it, but do close the curtains first, your neighbors might think you're a nerd.

(HT: Gary for directing me to US News)

Other bloggers with something to say:

UPDATE I: We have our first confession. I'm expecting the entire plot to crumble shortly. The New York Times is terrible at keeping a secret!

Update II:
Nancy Baetz also sent me another link to a Health and Business blogger's take on unschooling.
When natural birth advocates include a rigid insistence on home birth and a rejection of OBs, results can be devastating when things go wrong. I'm willing to bet the unschoolers are going to cause society plenty of problems."
Geepers do some people seem jittery at a hint of non-conformity. But let's go with his childbirth scenario for a minute...

Think about it, a girl can have an abortion at 15 without her parents permission and we have to allow it. But let a parent give their child freedom to explore life outside the norm and they go bananas.

And which decision is going to cause society more problems?

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