Thursday, October 05, 2006

Guest Article: "A New Approach to Home Schooling: Unschooling"

From time to time, I will feature articles from other teachers and scholars on topics related to Education.

Today's Guest Article is from Duane Bates:



A New Approach to Home Schooling: Unschooling


More and more parents are taking home schooling to a new level and are educating their children without any curriculum or formal plan. It is called "unschooling" and it is based on the belief that children will learn better and faster if allowed to follow their own interests and curiosity with guidance and assistance from their parents. There may be as many as 200,000 children being educated using the unschooling approach in the United States. A link to a full report is posted below.

As radical as this approach to teaching young children may seem, it can be more effective in specific situations. I saw an interview with a family in Chicago that is using the unschooling approach, and was impressed with the both the parents and their children. The wife was a college educated stay-at-home mom and her husband had a doctorate in Physics. The three children were a ten-year old girl and two boys about seven and 4 years of age. The parents were natural teachers who inculcated the love of learning in their kids, and modeled the same value. They did not use the TV as a baby sitter and did not appear to be obsessed with material wealth or the "more is better" syndrome.

Each morning the mother would talk with her children about their learning interests for the day. Then, she would assist them in finding the right resources to accomplish their goals. Some days, the plan for the four-year old included watching some TV or just playing as any normal boy that age would. I was particularity impressed with the ten-year old girl who seemed to have an excellent fund of knowledge on a number of subjects and who was very articulate. The mixture of play and learning is an established method of maximizing education, and is often used in the traditional home schooling approach. Families planning learning and play activities together can accomplish social interaction with other kids, and more public schools are allowing home-schooled kids to participate in school based activities such as sports and selected classes that need specialized equipment or teaching skills.

Some good friends of mine have home schooled their five children during their Primary years, gradually transitioning to public and private schools as they grew older. Right now, the youngest boy (who is fifteen) follows a home school based curriculum for most of his courses, but attends ROTC and Chemistry classes at the local high school.


I have no concerns about the kids in the Chicago family's educational plan. Their parents have the needed attitudes, values and behaviors to produce educated children regardless of the teaching environment or method. Our two daughters attended public schools in the US and Europe. But we knew that what they learned in school was only the beginning of their education, not the end. A child's education begins and ends at home, with his or her parents. Our schools can only do so much in overcoming the educational deficits in our homes and culture. Occasionally, a child's natural intelligence and desire for learning will overcome a poor home environment, but this is clearly the exception.

If a society does not value learning and education, as our does, the result will be the gradual decline in the overall level of knowledge, productivity and civility in the general population that we are now seeing in the United States, and a continuing growth in the gap in income and wealth between the well educated and poorly educated. Effective home schooling, with or without a formal curriculum, requires that one parent be at home, meaning that the family must be able to live on one income. In the United States living on one income is becoming more and difficult to achieve for eighty percent of the population. Middle-class incomes continue to decline in the face of lagging wages and inflation. And the cost of higher education is soaring.

At the same time, tax-payers seem more and more reluctant to provide the needed funds for public education, just when the need is greatest. It is not surprising that the home schooling and unschooling movements are attracting more educated parents who are determined to provide their children with an education that will prepare them to compete in the global economy.





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