Unschooling, Freedom or Anarchy?

Unschooling is an approach to homeschool education that represents the most unstructured approach to learning. It means, as the name suggests, not designing a curriculum at all. Instead, the child is allowed to explore any and all interests, at any pace and in any order they choose.

The basic concept grows out of two views about child development.

Children are naturally curious. They explore their environment almost from birth. They reach out to touch, they exercise their own powers to discover what they can do. Later, when they become verbal, they ask a million questions. The second is that a child naturally takes an interest in some facets of the world, but less in others. Each makes his or her own value choices, from early in life.

Taking these two fundamental facts as a starting point, advocates of unschooling infer that the best approach to education is to allow the child to choose what to study, and when and how. Children have no pre-set curriculum but simply explore what interests them at any given time.

Unschoolers differ in the amount of guidance or parental involvement they believe the child should have. Some take an entirely ´hands-off´ approach, not even so much as suggesting a topic of study. Other parents will share what excites them, or provide answers to questions, or even assist with working out solutions.

This experiential approach is controversial and the results are mixed.

For some highly independent and motivated children the method works well. They seek out areas that are useful and interesting to them at the time, and make use of that knowledge later. Many have entered Ivy League schools and excelled. They have a lifelong love of learning.

Others end up having a somewhat scattershot approach - acquiring in-depth knowledge of one or two areas, with little or no knowledge of others. What those others are, and whether ignorance of them is important or not is, not surprisingly, a matter of some disagreement among homeschoolers generally.

Many individuals, for example, are predisposed to dislike learning science and mathematics. It doesn´t come easily, or simply doesn´t interest them. That can be no problem for some. But for most, a more than elementary facility with math and an understanding of how the world works is becoming increasingly important in our advanced technological society.

Alternatively, there may be other individuals who focus heavily on such things, but end up wholly unaware of art, literature, fine music, history and other areas of the humanities. For some, that can lead to a happy, successful life. But many homeschooling advocates see that one-sidedness as depriving the child of the opportunity to experience the richness these areas offer.

A balance between the two, some argue is essential. But unschooling doesn´t work to achieve that, relying solely on the child to discover and choose that route for him or herself.

The unschooling approach was advocated as far back as the mid-1960s by one of the foremost writers on homeschooling, John Holt. But to date, studies that follow unschoolers and analyze the long-term effects of this approach are still on-going. Personal views and experience are still the only guide to judging the worth of this method.

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