Monday, November 27, 2006

Unschooling

Taking a cue from Dr. Phil, The New York Times ran an article on "radical unschoolers."

"As school choice expands and home-schooling in general grows, this is one of those models that I think the larger public sphere needs to be aware of because the folks who are engaging in these radical forms of school are doing so legally," said Professor Huerta of Columbia. "If the public and policy makers don't feel that this is a form of schooling that is producing productive citizens, then people should vote to make changes accordingly."
The Constitution was established to create a "more perfect union" not a more "productive citizen." It said nothing about education. That's because the writers recognized that parents have the natural right to direct the education of their children. The idea of subjecting a parent's educational choice to the state or another citizen out of fear that they won't produce a "productive citizen" is absurd. (By that standard the public schools are producing far more unproductive citizens than homeschooling or unschooling ever will and at taxpayer expense!)

Homeschoolers are not the only unschoolers either. The Brooklyn Free School is an unschooling private school operating under a provisional charter in New York.

One recent day at the Brooklyn Free School, the "schedule" included the following: filming horror movies, chess, debate, and making caves for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not that the students had to go to any of these sessions.

At this school, students don't get grades, don't have homework, don't take tests, and don't even have to go to class -- unless they want to. Students are required to show up for at least 5 1/2 hours a day, partly so that the school can meet legal definitions, but what they do with their time is up to them.

The Brooklyn Free School isn't quite "free" either. Tuition is $11,000 a year. (Why not just do the same thing at home for a lot cheaper?)

Whatever the location or cost, I think some educators find it a little unbelievable that there are children out there who are motivated to learn without being constantly prodded along. I know when I was in school, "Why do we have to learn this?" and "Is this going to be on the test?" were heard countless times. For most children, the joy of learning seems to end around fourth grade. That's why schools need to offer incentives to learn. Textbooks are not what most kids (or adults) consider "good reading."

Homeschoolers typically believe that given the opportunity and freedom, most children find learning new ideas worthwhile for the information gained and the pleasure of learning it. A curious child cannot help but learn. They are motivated by a purpose beyond just passing the test or getting a grade. Unschoolers allow learning to be completely determined by the desires of the child. It may not be for everybody, but then no one method or structure works for all children.

The state, however, promotes uniform standards and conformity in education. They have to. Conformity produces a controlled order that is necessary to teach the masses. However, the benefit of homeschooling is that order can still be achieved without sacrificing the individual interests of their children.

If we, as a nation, believe that the parent has the natural right to direct the education of their children, it must include forms that others will find radical or even objectionable. Otherwise, the right is meaningless and the state becomes the final authority in a child's education. And that's an idea that all parents should find objectionable no matter how they choose to educate their children.

(HT: Laura A.)

Update: Gary pointed me to an excellent article in The Washington Times, Nurturing learning takes many forms by Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three. Here's how she describes learning,

I like to think of a young person's brain as like a plant or a fruit tree. Situating that tree in a good spot with rich soil and plenty of sunlight and water, and feeding it the minerals and elements it needs to develop into maturity will ensure years of continued good harvests.
Update II: The most grievious example of "unschooling" producing "unproductive citizens" may be this school district in New Jersey (reg. req'd),
The tiny borough here elects three school board members to keep records and divvy up its $261,887 budget. Yet Teterboro has no schools and only 10 students, who are sent to neighboring districts.
Update III: In a related topic, The Deputy Headmistress talks about the importance of giving children the gift of free time.

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