Unschooling: No Lessons, Textbooks, or Classes

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK

A veteran of the homeschool-vs-public school-vs-charter/private school wars, I thought I'd heard it all when it came to ways to educate a child. That is until this weekend when a friend told me about her decision to "unschool" her child. She gave me an article from Newsweek and told me to read it before I called her crazy. (Alas, I couldn't find the Newsweek piece online.) I don't think she's crazy for wanting to do what's best for her son. He's had a really rough go of it in the traditional school system and so I'm not surprised that she's exploring alternative methods. However, I'm also really confused. I get what it isn't-no classrooms, tests, textbooks or formal lessons-but then what is it, exactly?

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Earl Stevens on The Natural Child Project explains, "Our son has never had an academic lesson, has never been told to read or to learn mathematics, science, or history. Nobody has told him about phonics. He has never taken a test or been asked to study or memorize anything. When people ask, "What do you do?" My answer is that we follow our interests-and our interests inevitably lead to science, literature, history, mathematics, music-all the things that have interested people before anybody thought of them as 'subjects'."

Aside from noticing that the copyright on that article is from 1994 so apparently I'm not as hip as I thought I was about everything parenting, I also noticed a distinct tone of defensiveness.

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Unschoolers have good reason to be defensive. A Good Morning America segment investigated the trend and called it "crazy" "playing hooky" and "unrealistic"-all in the first two sentences. But the GMA interview also makes some good points. So if unschoolers aren't doing workbooks and science projects, then what are they doing with their time? "They can watch TV, play video games. Maybe read," says one parent on the show. Which, I must admit, sounds a little lazy. "If they ever need formal algebra," the mom continues, "then they'll find that information." But how? If they've never been introduced to textbooks and how to use them will they take the initiative to locate one and figure it out?

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They can and do, says Lee Stranahan, an unschooling parent making a documentary about his experience. He cites the example of his unschooled son who despite having very little formal classroom experience went to college at age 16 and got a 4.0 GPA. But is Stranahan Jr. an aberration or an example? At the very least it seems that unschooling would vary wildly from home to home depending on what experiences a parent could afford to give their child.

What do you think?

-Bad idea: Kids don't have the life skills to know what they need to know.
-Good idea: It's how parents have been teaching their kids for centuries.
-I don't know. If it works for them and their kid, who am I to judge?
-I'm an unschooling mom and I'll share my experience in the comments.

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