Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Am I an Unschooler?

A young friend asked the other day about whether I'm really an unschooler; she said there are a lot of things that I write about on my blog that sound similar to how she'll be homeschooling. And she doesn't see herself as unschooly.

I never set out to be an unschooler, and depending on your point of view, I may or may not be an unschooler.

We first heard about homeschooling via Focus on the Family in 1985. I read all the library books I could find by Raymond Moore, John Holt, and later one by the Colfaxes. When we began homeschooling, families didn't label themselves as this kind of homeschooler or that kind of homeschooler. If you were nutsy enough to not enroll your kids in school, you were thrilled to find another nutso to hang out with, regardless of what they thought about religion, politics, or educational philosophy. As we began homeschooling, what we did each day was mostly enjoying unit studies and learning-through-literature.

As the years passed, I had more students in my tiny school, less money in the household, and eventually a calendar full of doctor appointments and surgeries and therapist appointments. We became what has been termed unschoolers-by-default. I had kids who were oh-so-curious and gobbled up books and explored the world with vigor. My time was increasingly spent washing diapers and sheets from wet beds, feeding lots of people, driving to doctor appointments, etc. I certainly still read with the kids (a lot!) and bought them cool toys (such as electricity kits, educational games, maps, and more) and practiced strewing.

Is unschooling my educational-theory-of-choice? Nope.

Have I observed that unschooling produces bright, capable learners who are pleasant people, and serve graciously in their callings? Yup.

Even though unschooling does not exactly reflect my educational philosophy, do I support unschooling for those who choose it? Most certainly. Children are different; they have different strengths and weaknesses; they have different interests. An educational method that works for one child may not work at all for another. The parents know the child best. The parents are the ones given the responsibility to care for the child. Parents are the ones who have the most incentive/desire to help a child live up to his potential.

Families, too, face different challenges. Depending on family dynamics, geographical location, finances, proximity to extended family or other support, health, and other issues, parents may not be able to give their children what's best, but only what's second-best, or even third-best. It doesn't matter whether a family considers "third-best" to be unschooling or a traditional textbook curriculum or enrolling a child in a private school, the parents are the ones who must make the decision of what to do if they are unable to provide the BEST. (By the way, public schools can't compete for the rank of "best." Homeschoolers who aren't living up to all their goals still provide a better education than the government schools.)

Should school-at-homers support the rights of unschoolers to homeschool? Of course. Should unschoolers support the rights of textbook-users and classical-ed folks to homeschool? Of course. Should classical ed folks work with people who have entirely different educational philosophies? Yes, if they want to maintain their own homeschooling freedoms. When homeschoolers divide themselves up into groups, determining which ones are Real Homeschoolers and which are not, we are succumbing to the mentality that someone other than parents (whether govt or society or some organization) should be monitoring the parents' decisions on behalf of the child's well-being.


  1. Strewing? Huh. Never heard of it, but I guess I do it a whole lot.

    I thought I was genius "just leaving" things/ books around for them to find (on the coffee table, artfully arranged). Seems this is a technique others know about. Shoot. There goes another million dollar idea out the window! :)

  2. I really don't know what we are, homeschooling-wise. Like you, we unschool a lot by default, but since we have not explicitly chosen unschooling we don't label ourselves as such. I do assign things. We go through more structured phases. But then we find ourselves in life survival mode and what do you know, my children keep learning without my direction.

    My favorite word to describe how we homeschool is "relaxed eclectic." I'm sure I stole it from someone. But isn't it nice-sounding? And yet so very vague.

    I must say, though, that after I read your momlogic link the other day I started thinking, "Maybe we ARE unschoolers . . . "

  3. Erin, I was surprised too when I heard that strewing had a name. Sorry you lost out on that million.