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November 25, 2006 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Unschooling is an educational philosophy which abandons tests, curricula, and textbooks in favor of self-directed learning. Practiced by an enthusiastic community of homeschoolers, unschooling has recently attracted some media attention (MSNBC, NYT). Of course, unschooling raises some concerns: "If they are not made to do arbitrary and tedious schoolwork, children might not learn how to do difficult, uninteresting, and unpleasant work."
posted by myeviltwin (149 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because, of course, the only purpose of education is to learn how to do difficult, uninteresting, and unpleasant work.
posted by MythMaker at 1:18 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well, I don't know about arbitrary but I don't think you can really maintain a middle class lifestyle without doing some, or probably a lot of boring, tedious work.

I mean, come on unless you're Paris Hilton or some other trust fund bastard you're going to have to pretty hard for most of your life. Hopefully it will be in a fun or interesting job, but maybe not.

And even a lot of "fun" jobs require a lot of tedium unless you're a manager.

Anyway, the whole thing seems like bit of a flight of fancy. I mean, kids might "self direct" themselves to playing video games all day if they could.
posted by delmoi at 1:25 PM on November 25, 2006


Because, of course, the only purpose of education is to learn how to do difficult, uninteresting, and unpleasant work.

You should read some of John Taylor Gatto's writings (linked in the wikipedia link above). He points out that public education in the US was started for that exact purpose - to provide a very minimal education for future factory workers during the Industrial Revolution, to make it a little easier to train them to do their (difficult, uninteresting, and unpleasant) jobs.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:27 PM on November 25, 2006


Read also Hard Times, Dickens.

I love the thought of unschooling, though. In theory it pushes all of my right buttons.
posted by goo at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2006


Gatto's Six-Lesson Schoolteacher
posted by jam_pony at 1:34 PM on November 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


I am what's known as an eclectic homeschooler, meaning I take the bits of different methods that work and jettison the rest. We do use a curriculum, which takes up a fraction of our life, and the rest is living life together as a family and as members of our community. I have known people who make complete unchooling work, and I've known people who've totally cocked it up. You have to be active, involved, curious people who can really model self-directed learning for your kids, and not the kind of people who watch soap operas and sleep all day while your kids run wild. I've been homeschooling for 7 years and I've seen all types.
posted by Biblio at 1:36 PM on November 25, 2006


I didn't receive report cards till I was in 7th grade, so I'm open to nontraditional approaches to education. That said, delmoi is right-- any job will involve a certain amount of drudgery, or at the very least doing things on other people's schedules. There's not a lot of money in training to be a philosopher king. And these kids would be underqualified for that anyway.
There are a great many ways to encounter math in the real world. Geometry can be found in quilt making, algebra in painting a room. Shifting perspectives, from textbooks to the real world is sometimes difficult, but math that is actually used is math truly learned.
This sort of thing seems a fine supplement, and a poor substitute, for textbook learning.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:47 PM on November 25, 2006


I am on the fence when it comes to child-led learning. I also think it sounds great in theory. I think the concept can work if the child has motivated, intelligent parents. If Susie wants to learn about the Greeks, does mom and dad bring her to the library to check out Greek history, or the museum to view Greek artifacts and art? Or do they put feta on their salads and rent a movie with Nia Vardalos?

Personally I wouldn't have the confidence or assurance that I was meeting all of my children's educational needs.

What really baffles me is why a lot of homeschooling parents think that traditional school is so darn stifling. I am not being sarcastic, I am genuinely curious.
posted by LoriFLA at 1:53 PM on November 25, 2006


And there are loads of adults out in the world that attended traditional school that can't tolerate any kind of tedium or drudgery. In my opinion personality determines whether one can stick with a boring task, not whether they were forced to do difficult or boring work in a classroom.
posted by LoriFLA at 2:01 PM on November 25, 2006


I'm with LoriFLA. In fact, it may even work in reverse. I attended traditional schools, and I can't stand boring tasks.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:11 PM on November 25, 2006


One thing that stands out to me is how damn resilient kids are. They're made for learning, really, no matter what kind of environment you put them in. Great minds come out of public schools, private schools, Montessori schools and home schools, I'm sure. I'm much more concerned about parents who use TV as a babysitter every waking moment, or parents who don't know or care where their 13-year-old is at 10pm at night.
posted by Jimbob at 2:15 PM on November 25, 2006


I think the main problem with schools is that they are run like prisons, with the children encouraged to be proper, obiedient little prisoners.
posted by MythMaker at 2:28 PM on November 25, 2006


Dang! Where on earth did you go to school?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:32 PM on November 25, 2006


I don't know a single person in my professional life who was homeschooled. I wonder what (if anything) that says about homeschooling.

I know a few people who homeschool their kids. None of them has even a basic understanding of anything that you'd learn in an advanced university course on anything. They all think that everyone with a formal education has been trained by the Man to think in a closed-minded way. And they have their own cockamamie ideas of why accepted scientific principles are wrong, etc.

Obviously, that's all just anecdotal, and I'm sure there are lots and lots of exceptions to that. But I have yet to see the exception. I wonder to what extent homeschooling closes the door to professions like investment banking, law, medicine, and others like them. Maybe it doesn't. Anybody know?
posted by JekPorkins at 2:46 PM on November 25, 2006


I went to public schools. I share all of the skepticisms about home schooling and this unschooling stuff, but schools are just so inefficient, I have difficulty seeing how these "alternative" approaches could have a lower success rate. It's not like the problem is incompetent teachers or something, it just really isn't possible for one person to successfully orchestrate the learning of a hundred kids, even in just one subject. Not to mention the negotiation between different teachers and different grades. I must have written six book reports on Martin Luther King biographies. And they just had to do the French Revolution every damn year. By high school I was ready to stab Marat to death in his bathtub myself.

The most credit in the successes in conventional schools is due to the motivation of the students themselves and this unschooling thing is just recognizing that. Yeah, sure, they'll have some spectacular failures. But like regular schools don't?

And as far as the boring tedium of everyone's jobs - don't you get a heck of alot more work done when that one fun project does come along? I don't think that all of my years of being bored in school has helped me be better at being bored at my job.
posted by XMLicious at 2:52 PM on November 25, 2006


And even a lot of "fun" jobs require a lot of tedium unless you're a manager.

What kind of job might you be referring to? My experience has been that the amount of tedium (read: paperwork) goes up when you become a manager while the amount of Doing What You Took The Job For In The First place goes way down (I have personal experience in both the bartending and computer worlds, and pretty reliable anecdotal evidence in the pilot world.)
posted by Cyrano at 2:56 PM on November 25, 2006


Unschooling sounds like an extremely free-form, home-based version of the constructivist and student-centered approaches to learning that many schools and colleges have been trying, with mixed results, to incorporate in recent years.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:59 PM on November 25, 2006


Jimbob has the right of it. That said, for our family homeschooling leaning toward unschooling works.
posted by LynnS at 3:03 PM on November 25, 2006


LynnS, how do you know whether or not it works if you're still in the process of doing it? What are your homeschooling goals, and how do you know whether you're reaching them?
posted by JekPorkins at 3:06 PM on November 25, 2006


Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:06 PM on November 25, 2006


Like a lot of social experiments this seems to suffer from the fundamental flaw that it assumes that humans are basically good: It assumes that children and teenagers would rather learn arithmetic and grammar than, you know, slack off and play 3D shooters.
In short, unschooling rests on the flawed assumption that children are cognizant of the type of skills they will need in their adult life.

It's a similar idea to communism, which rests on the assumption that humans are not egotistical.

While both ideas are beautiful in theory, they look like they are going to fail in practice - because humans are not good (nor are we evil, of course), we're simply machines for creating as many descendants as possible.

While there are plenty of examples of children that love to learn, they are the minority. And we cannot have a democratic society where only the minority can read, understand history or knows basic mathematics.
posted by spazzm at 3:11 PM on November 25, 2006


I've met a fair amount of homeschooled kids, and they're all sort of..... odd (just this week, I heard someone I knew was homeschooled, and my first thought was, that makes so much sense). I wonder if "unschooled" kids are the kids homeschooled kids make fun of.

I don't know a single person in my professional life who was homeschooled. I wonder what (if anything) that says about homeschooling.

Very interesting. I'd love to see some of the long-range research on what sort of professions those who are home-schooled go into. Although maybe it doesn't matter- professional networking starts in college, and there isn't homeschooling at that level (is there? I have no idea; please tell me if I'm wrong).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:12 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


ThePinkSuperhero - some homeschooling friends of mine are all set to send their teenager to what they describe as a homeschool university in the boonies on a compound in the desert. It's unaccredited, obviously.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:14 PM on November 25, 2006


It is not everyone in the world's goal to achieve a middle class lifestyle full of boring and tedious work. It sure as hell isn't mine. (I was once a milkman. Yes, a real honest to goodness, milk in glass quart bottles, big white truck, wake-up at 3am, milkman. Much more interesting than being a ditch digger, and yet my Rocket Science PHD wasn't really put to good use while driving around the country side at sunrise.)

However, I have a lot of reservations about this unschool-a-ma-thing. If the child has never even heard of Greece, for example, how would the child know if he/she wanted to learn about it?
posted by bobobox at 3:16 PM on November 25, 2006


While not home schooling, the self directed method of learning for K-12 has been refined very successfully by the Sudbury Valley School and its progeny (some 35 in number). Their graduates have a success rate in getting into the institutes of higher learning which is the envy of any traditional school system.

They go on to every kind of possible career. We have studied what happens to kids after they leave here and found that some eighty percent, in general, went on to college. The more years you had spent here, the more likely it seemed that you were likely to go on to college.
posted by RMALCOLM at 3:16 PM on November 25, 2006


a number of comments here seem to confuse home schooling, which more often tha not has a systematic program, with what is here called Free Schooling. But this free schooling idea goes back to the1920 and got a big play in the loose Sixties at
http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/
posted by Postroad at 3:19 PM on November 25, 2006


The more years you had spent here, the more likely it seemed that you were likely to go on to college.

Though the ability to put together a good promotional sentence was apparently not guaranteed.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:19 PM on November 25, 2006


I wonder to what extent homeschooling closes the door to professions like investment banking, law, medicine, and others like them. Maybe it doesn't. Anybody know?

MIT has a long history of admitting homeschooled students, and these students are successful and vibrant members of our community.

Homeschoolers A Small But Growing Minority.
The Harvard Crimson.

Stanford Magazine. In a Class by Themselves.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:27 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


There are a great many ways to encounter math in the real world. Geometry can be found in quilt making, algebra in painting a room. Shifting perspectives, from textbooks to the real world is sometimes difficult, but math that is actually used is math truly learned.

What an absurd thing to say, I have never once in my entire life needed to use any of the calculus I learned in school, outside of school. The only place you will encounter the breadth of mathematics is in a textbook. It’s the same with literature or history.
posted by delmoi at 3:32 PM on November 25, 2006


*uncuts class to go unsmoke some unpot*

Because, of course, the only purpose of education is to learn how to do difficult, uninteresting, and unpleasant work.

If it's preparing you for life, it should be.
posted by jonmc at 3:36 PM on November 25, 2006


Jek Porkins: I don't know a single person in my professional life who was homeschooled.

I do.
posted by erniepan at 3:39 PM on November 25, 2006


Homeschoolings a bit of a bust, not because you can't learn reading, writing and aritmetic that way (I learned most of that on my own anyway), but because it cheats you out of public school's most valuable lessons: how to get around authority, how to pretend to give a shit convincingly, and how to get along with diverse groups of people under tedious circumstances.
posted by jonmc at 3:40 PM on November 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Is it wrong of me to point out that.... MIT students can seem as socially ackward and weird as homeschooled students? In the articles posted above, I'll admit I read the first one with that grain of salt.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:43 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


erniepan: Ooh! A Tetris Master!

jonmc: it cheats you out of public school's most valuable lessons: how to get around authority, how to pretend to give a shit convincingly, and how to get along with diverse groups of people under tedious circumstances.

I learned quite a bit of that at home, actually. Plus, that's actually an argument against structured learning, since you didn't (presumably) take an actual structured class to learn those skills.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:44 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


I learned quite a bit of that at home, actually. Plus, that's actually an argument against structured learning, since you didn't (presumably) take an actual structured class to learn those skills.

Eh. School is where most people learn those things and no place teaches them better. I managed to cut one class 37 times in one semester and still pass, and I attended plenty pf high school classes drunk and/or high and nobody was the wiser. So, add another lesson public school taught me: the functionaries of the system don't really care what you do as long as you don't bother them.
posted by jonmc at 3:48 PM on November 25, 2006


I don't know a single person in my professional life who was homeschooled. I wonder what (if anything) that says about homeschooling

prolly cuz 'homing' is something of a upcoming trend, unless you & your coworkers are 12 or something.

If I had kids I'd think seriously about homeschooling. With the internet it seems the velocity of knowledge transfer is like 20x what it was 30-odd years ago when I was "institutionalized" via the then-excellent California public school system.

Back then a set of World Book Encylopedias, the Book of Lists & The People's Almanac were the touchstones of my self-directed learning. These days, if I want to learn something, I can ferret it out in mere seconds.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:56 PM on November 25, 2006


(...so teaching my kids how to learn like that seems pretty damn important)
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:58 PM on November 25, 2006


Back then a set of World Book Encylopedias, the Book of Lists & The People's Almanac were the touchstones of my self-directed learning.

No shit? Me too. My mom even sprung for those ugly-assed orange ones that you bought at the supermarket 2 volumes at a time. I became a regular fiend for reference books. The principle benefit of which is that no matter what the topic, I can at least drop enough names to sound like I know what I know what I'm talking about. It even affected my taste in music I think, since once I got into my rock and roll stage, I took all the out of date 'rock encyclopedias' out of the library which had all kinds of weird old shit in them.
posted by jonmc at 4:00 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't see how having only one teacher and zero peers is better than many teachers and many peers.

Unless I missed the part where public schools now prohibit students from learning on their own time as well.


ps looks like someone "un-schooled" themself in web design

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:02 PM on November 25, 2006


Is it wrong of me to point out that.... MIT students can seem as socially ackward and weird as homeschooled students? In the articles posted above, I'll admit I read the first one with that grain of salt.

Depends. How many MIT students do you know? Enough to say you have a broad sampling? And was the interaction for a long enough period of time that you saw them in more than one environment?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:04 PM on November 25, 2006


I'm not a scientist; I didn't conduct a double-blind study. As with every other comment by every other member, it's mostly just anecdotal.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:06 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons student-le learning works in my family is that my husband and I expose the kids to all sorts of different concepts through books, videos, the web, field trips, classes, concerts, museums, nature sanctuaries, etc. One of our responsibilities is to help them make connections between these things and the topics and skills that we teach in a more traditional manner. We do a lot of unit studies, where we pick a topic and attack it from every angle: art, music, science, math, literature. This is done in elementary schools frequently, but by middle school, most kids have a schedule of discrete courses that don't have much to do with each other.

One of the reasons that many homeschooled people you meet are a bit odd imay be that kids who are a bit odd to begin with tend to end up being homeschooled. My guys are both very bright, highly ideosyncratic kids with learning styles that are not catered to by most schools. Some are odd because they're being raised in a fundy wasteland, true, but the "secular" homeschoolers I know tend not to shelter their kids like that.
posted by Biblio at 4:09 PM on November 25, 2006


...obviously I should not teach my kids typing, judging on the way that last comment came out.
posted by Biblio at 4:11 PM on November 25, 2006


Ha! I've been wanting to make a post about unschooling since I registered and now I've been beaten to it.

I was in traditional schools my whole life, and to be honest I'd much rather be unschooled. Whatever I learnt, I learnt from my own investigation and research - I was often ahead of the class in many things, even ahead of my own teachers! School was practically useless. All it taught me was:

a) People are racist
b) There's no point in achieving because people would be jealous, especially if you're the minority
c) Grades matter most, not who you are or what you're interested in or any other non-gradeable achievement

MythMaker's comment is spot on. Conformity, grades, the sciences are better than the arts and humanities (anyone wanting to do literature or art was shoved into the "last class" and treated like rejects - this was a nationwide thing), academics over EVERYTHING, and a certain subset of academics at that...it's frustrating!

These frustrations are shared with many of my peers; those that have gone through the same national (Malaysian) schooling system, frustrated with its cookie-cutter, grade-cattle mentality. I'm a strong advocate for unschooling and alternative education and try to encourage that here - thing is, not many people know it exists, let alone consider it as an option.

I've known homeschoolers and unschoolers and they are the most fascinating people I've seen. Plenty of thought, interesting hobbies and passions (one for photography, one for Neurofibromatosis, one for transgender issues...it goes on) and plenty of drive to explore them further. I wish more people were like them, even if their extent of participation in unschooling is "learning something in their own time".

To those of you saying "oh, the kids would only go and play video games" - give them some credit! They're most likely interested in all sorts of things and just need an outlet for them. Even video games could give a clue - what sort of games? What attracts them to the game? Is there any way to connect the game to other types of learning - mathematics, science, geography? Everything is a learning experience.

MIT Comparative Media Studies student Vanessa Bertozzi did a project about unschooling and the use of participatory media. Quite interesting reads.
posted by divabat at 4:14 PM on November 25, 2006


I was home schooled, and unschooled for the second half of high school. I have many friends who were home schooled and, with few exceptions, they are some of the most intelligent, well-adjusted, interesting people I've ever met. Kids who are home schooled for reasons of the quality of education (as opposed to fundamentalist parents who hate the idea of their children mingling with non-fundamentalists), in particular, relate far better to their non-peers, whether that be people of different ages, races, sexes, religions, or socioeconomic backgrounds.

If you think that home schoolers tend to be ill-adjusted or less successful in life, you clearly don't know many home schoolers.
posted by waldo at 4:16 PM on November 25, 2006


If you think that home schoolers tend to be ill-adjusted or less successful in life, you clearly don't know many home schoolers.

We're all just relating the anecdotes we're familiar with. In my case, the only home-schooler I've ever known well was my first college roommate. Academically he was fantastic, but socially he couldn't hack it. However, he worked hard on his social life and by the third year of college he was dramatically improved (i.e., he had discovered drugs and drinking and he was getting laid) but he wasn't able to handle a social life and his studies, and his grades plummeted. The last time I saw him, he was on the verge of dropping out of school because his grades were so bad. He had been ill-adjusted for college, despite his smarts, simply because he'd never been exposed to the sort of social experiences that those of us struggling through public education take for granted.

So, based on my experience, I'd side with the folks that raise an eyebrow towards home- and un-schoolers. Your anecdotal mileage may vary.
posted by barnacles at 4:25 PM on November 25, 2006


What I always wonder about homeschooling is, how often is it a viable option for working parents? I tend to think that school is most useful to a lot of parents as a babysitter (yes, I was a latchkey kid).

As far as the rest goes, like any other form of education, some kids thrive and some don't. I adored traditional school, all the way through high school (and college, and grad school, and now I'm a professor, sigh); my partner wouldn't have graduated from the same system if a guidance counselor hadn't faked his transcript, but he's an incredibly well "unschooled" person (if we can loosely consider cutting school to teach yourself about things you're actually interested in "unschooling").

I could say, too, that as far as "success" goes, said partner's income and freedom to pursue his own interests both far, far, outdistance mine. And he didn't get better at formal education after high school!

To speak briefly to drjimmy's point, I think that a well-home-schooled child (or unschooled) is exposed to far more teachers than a traditionally-schooled child -- and what's more, isn't taught to think of them as "teachers." When I was a child I learned as much from local farmers, our butcher, or pioneer village docents as I did from my formal teachers. Schools that incorporate internship-based learning, like The Met, seem to think similarly.
posted by obliquicity at 4:38 PM on November 25, 2006


I basically did the unschooling thing in highschool: while there was no explicit philosophy attached, I withdrew from public school and spent my days reading books, wandering around town, and getting engaged in the local art scene. I convinced my mom to let me try this unorthodox education scheme, mainly because there were no better alternatives for someone like me.

Right before I started highschool, the two of us moved to a new city. The neighborhood we were in was within the boundaries of a much maligned, innercity public school district. For some reason, we both thought this might actually be good for me, a sort of sociological experience I coudn't get anywhere else. It didn't really work so well. I was the only white kid in most of my classes, and if I spoke up too much I was seen as enforcing negative racial stereotypes. The classes themselves were a total joke, designed to babysit us and push as many students through as possible. Highschool biology: sit still, shut up, and label the 'stem' and the 'flower' and the 'roots' on this paper with a picture of a plant. At times the place was downright scary. My first semester there, a boy was murdered in the bathroom, his throat slit by a rival gang member.

My mom didn't have the money for a private school, and I was too rebellious and unfocused to qualify for any kind of scholarship. After a year of high school, I was literally losing my mind. I didn't have many friends, and those I had were not the best influences on me. I was depressed, withdrawn, skipping school daily, failing my classes. Dropping out and 'unschooling' myself was the only thing that saved me.

What I mainly did was read books, which I do when I'm left to myself. I became a daily presence at the local library. Also, I spent a lot of time on the internet, looking up interesting things. I also started teaching art classes and spent huge amounts of time taking photographs and painting. This is the sort of thing that doesn't work for everybody, of course, but it was fantastic for me.

I didn't have any trouble getting into college, partially because I was good at presenting myself. I made out a resume that included a list of books I'd read in the past several years and all the activities I'd participated in. I also aced the SATs. I don't know if I would have been accepted into an especially prestige institution, but the nearby Big 10 university shit their pants over me. I am in classes with graduates of a wide variety of highschools-- suburban, urban, private, remedial-- and I regularly find I have a stronger, more critical, and more indepth understanding of the subjects at hand than they do.

I don't at all regret my decision to quit school. Yet, there are areas where I fell behind. To this day I have difficulty doing things I don't find 'fun' or immediately rewarding. I have major trouble jumping through bureacratic hoops. And I suffer because of it-- the "boring, tedious work" really is necessary. The longer you put off developing self-discipline in such areas, the harder it is to do.
posted by bookish at 4:41 PM on November 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Homeschooling seems to be mainly a USA thing. I mean sure, it exists elsewhere, but the USA seems to be the place where it is not vanishingly uncommon.
I get the impression that most of this boils down to 1, the US school system, and 2, more widespread fundamentalism in the US.

Now, I understand 2, but what about 1 - what/why is the US school system so reviled? WHat is it doing (or failing to do) differently to other countries? (Or is it doing the same thing as other countries and this isn;t working for some cultural reason?)

What is the skinny on the US school system?

(I've never been to a US school, so this baffles me)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:42 PM on November 25, 2006


Homeschooling seems to be mainly a USA thing. I mean sure, it exists elsewhere, but the USA seems to be the place where it is not vanishingly uncommon.

It's not really that common at all, I doubt more then 1% of kids are homeschooled, and probably far less then then that in non-religious families.

what/why is the US school system so reviled? WHat is it doing (or failing to do) differently to other countries?

Well, actually there isn't really any such thing as a "US" school system. Each state does it's own thing, and some states do so much more poorly then others.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on November 25, 2006


I was homeschooled through high school, and graduated from college. I did quite well academically, and it doesn't worry me if a few people are disturbed by my lack of a "normal" high school experience. In my view, conformity of educational background tends to breed conformity of ideas.

While some people enjoy high school, I have the feeling that I would not have cared for it. Still, homeschooling isn't for everyone. It definitely helps to have educated parents who are passionate about the value of education.

Also, some children prefer different environments. I chose not to attend high school, while two of my brothers attended an alternative high school.

As for the career thing, I now work as a software engineer, which I enjoy.
posted by ladd at 4:55 PM on November 25, 2006


b) There's no point in achieving because people would be jealous, especially if you're the minority

There's no point in achieving period, but that's a whole other discussion.

While some people enjoy high school,

Enjoy has nothing to do with it. School is preparation for the tedium that awaits you as a meber of the workforce. And high school is where you learn about sex, drugs and rock and roll, which as an adult are going to be your main means of escape from that tedium.
posted by jonmc at 5:04 PM on November 25, 2006


Sandra Dodd has an excellent page on Radical Unschooling, for those interested in pursuing these ideas further and avoiding institutionalizing your children.

I plan to unschool my 21-month-old. He will never be forced to attend a school, and he won't use a "curriculum" to learn a subject unless he chooses it. This fits in with my beliefs about learning:
--Learning has nothing to do with Teaching
--Children are naturally curious, and want to be productive, contributing members of their culture/society
--Children are not "property" to be trained to behave the way we want them to (like a dog)
--Humans are sponges who want to know everything about everything unless that desire is squelched by "let's produce good factory workers who know how to sit down and shut up and do what they're told" schools.
--Learning is Life. Our only purpose for existence is to learn.

We all learn at our own pace. "Teaching" comes from an illusion of control. I have no control over my child's thoughts. I did nothing to teach him to walk. I'm doing nothing to teach him how to talk. I live my life, and he models it, if he chooses. I have zero concern about whether or not he goes to college or makes $65k by the time he's 24. My only desire for him is that he has the tools to be able to do whatever he desires in life. I know that all of the tools I now use daily for living my life were obtained after I was 25, and I'd rather he not have to wait that long. K-12 traditional education failed me. At age 17-19, I was depressed because I had no idea how to think and make choices for myself, manage my money and relationships, etc. I was an emotional infant. What got me out of that mode was realizing that I had a Choice in everything I thought and did. I had always been told what to think and do, so this was a huge revelation for me.

My son is my respected partner in this game of life, and I have learned MUCH more from him since his birth than he'll ever learn from me. In my experience, those who are attracted to unchooling their children are the same folks attracted to Attachment Parenting and other partnership ideals instead of Reward and Punishment (Carrot and Stick) and other violent (meaning: imposition of will) methods most of our parents used since that was all they knew.
posted by Bradley at 5:10 PM on November 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Enjoy has nothing to do with it. School is preparation for the tedium that awaits you as a meber of the workforce. And high school is where you learn about sex, drugs and rock and roll, which as an adult are going to be your main means of escape from that tedium.

Wow. Sorry about your life.
posted by ladd at 5:13 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


--Learning is Life. Our only purpose for existence is to learn.

*dies laughing*

--Humans are sponges who want to know everything about everything unless that desire is squelched by "let's produce good factory workers who know how to sit down and shut up and do what they're told" schools.

Bullshit. Pumping kids full of false hopes and chimeras like 'fulfillment' when what awaits them is Clerks or Office Space (and for the overwhelming majority of them, that is what awaits them, no matter what) is a sure fire way to create a bitter, disillusioned, angry, alienated populace.
posted by jonmc at 5:14 PM on November 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Argh. I don't have any problem with homeschooling or unschooling per se, but the implicit digs at public schooling drive me nuts. The public school system wasn't developed to meet the needs of children of affluent parents who are deeply involved with their children's education-- it was created to provide a basic education for children whose parents don't have the resources, background, or motivation to provide it on their own. We don't have modern society without it. And yes, you have to help pay for it, even if you don't use it.

*unclenches jaw*
posted by phooky at 5:17 PM on November 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Unca Sam's most recent homeschooling stats and factoids, for those who were wondering about percentages of this-n-that.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:22 PM on November 25, 2006


Oooo, stats.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:22 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Wow. Sorry about your life.

Haha. Cute. Look, the fact remains that most people (myslef included) are of mediocre capabilities and that there are a shitload of tedious jobs that need to be performed. And the world can only use so many doctors, lawyers, professors and artists (who still expect someone to file thier forms, wash their cars and make their sandwiches). So why not operate on that assumption?
posted by jonmc at 5:22 PM on November 25, 2006


...difficult, uninteresting, and unpleasant work.

Work that is pleasant and/or interesting is most likely being done by someone who's better at it, for free. It's called "hobby" or "vacation".

Work that is not difficult is being done by someone for very little reward. Street-sweeping requires next to no skill and must therefore be classified "not difficult".

Why on earth would you train your child to do that?
posted by spazzm at 5:35 PM on November 25, 2006


I did what many of you described here and unschooled myself while attending public school. I had barely passing grades because I was too busy sitting in the back of the class reading about genetics, or the social structure of ants, or Peter Singer. (or novels or the occult. Whatever tickled my fancy). It drove my parents nuts and made my teachers crazy.

Yet, I wouldn't advocate complete homeschooling/unschooling. I have a problem focusing on tasks that bore me. Like it or not, much of the real world is boring crap. If I was completely homeschooled, I doubt I could hold down a steady job.

I do think that there are valuable lessons in public school (including the life lessons of teaching you to rebel). But maybe a combination of both to teach structure as well as free learning. I would have killed to have something like that.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:40 PM on November 25, 2006


I've known homeschoolers and unschoolers traditionally schooled people and they are the most fascinating people I've seen. Plenty of thought, interesting hobbies and passions (one for photography, one for Neurofibromatosis, one for transgender issues...it goes on) and plenty of drive to explore them further.
posted by papakwanz at 5:48 PM on November 25, 2006


I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that being a fascinating, thoughtful, intelligent, passionate person has absolutely nil to do with where one went to school. Just a hunch.

I have several friends who attended an unschooling type of high school. Boy were they ever shocked at the end of it when they had to make a coherent accounting of all that they had taught themselves at the end of it.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:55 PM on November 25, 2006


um - redundant "at the end of it." Apparently my schooling didn't teach me to construct a sentence very well, either.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:59 PM on November 25, 2006


The public school system wasn't developed to meet the needs of children of affluent parents who are deeply involved with their children's education-- it was created to provide a basic education for children whose parents don't have the resources, background, or motivation to provide it on their own.

Good point. Homeschooling, unschooling, whatever you want to call it -- all of these seem to rest on the assumption that parents actually give two shits about their kids and will provide them with a stimulating environment, take them to museums, talk with them about history, literature, etc.

That's a pretty generous assumption. Lots of people out there have no problem with letting the TV set babysit their kids from 3 p.m. until bedtime. Under an unschooling regimen, they'd just expand those hours.

For a motivated minority, homeschooling could work beautifully. But for the apathetic majority, homeschooling would be a social disaster.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:15 PM on November 25, 2006


I tried to explain all the things I found disturbing in your post, jason's_planet, but I gave up. Maybe if I wasn't part of the apathetic majority raised by television and parents who didn't give two shits about me, I would be able to further expound upon my thoughts.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:22 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


jonmc, you're advocating the status quo for the sake of the status quo, and that's just sad, and frankly, it's far from the only reality that there is nothing better or more or different to be had, and that we should all just do what everyone else does because it's what's done.

My parents (who homeschooled me and my 10 siblings) expected us to make our own way, to find a path that inspired and enthused us, and would allow us to do something with our lives that we found meaningful and fulfilling. We were taught to put those ideals above the notion that we had to have workaday lives because that's what "everyone" does. I'm quite thankful that we were never led to believe that there was some inherent good in a typical "upwardly mobile" lifestyle and the chase to achieve wherein achievement is measured by the job you're given, the money you earn and what you spend it on -- if it was what we wanted, fine, but it wasn't something that we had to have to be happy or "normal" or "appropriate" members of society.

This is the same perspective I take into my task of schooling my children. We don't teach them at home in order to make them drones in the system or cogs in the machine. We teach them at home so that they have the choice; if they choose to become cogs in one way or another, that's up to them, but they're being equipped for something different if that's what they want.

Way upthread, it was asked: What really baffles me is why a lot of homeschooling parents think that traditional school is so darn stifling.

If one of my kids says to me, tomorrow, Sunday, that they want to work on something or read something in the pursuit of knowledge and will I help them, they can, and I can.

If we wish to wait and not start anything before 9 or 10 a.m. in the morning or want to "have school" at 10 p.m. so that we can study astronomy by looking at the night sky with telescopes rather than on a video, or in pictures, we can (and have).

If one of my kids wishes to spend an entire day reading in one subject, or decides one morning that math is a better choice than science or reading, that's their choice and can be made because there is no schedule being imposed that cannot be changed.

If one has advanced skills in two subject areas and is "below grade level" in two others, he doesn't end up forced into all remedial classes that do not serve in most areas, or mainstream classes that don't serve the areas in need of help, everything can specifically tailored to his abilities and knowledge without regard for "catching up" to or "working ahead" of peers and without problems that arise when a child is not challenged enough or is overchallenged and loses motivation and confidence.

If there is an issue of teasing or bad behavior or anything that could even remotely be construed as bullying, it can be dealt with immediately, proactively and continually with constant attention. No one is given an opportunity to be afraid to eat lunch or sit somewhere out of the immediate eye-line of the "teacher."

No one need worry that they'll be called out for not meeting some herd mentality criteria of masculinity or femininity, for insufficient or 'overly sufficient" intelligence (particularly as a minority), grade achievement, artistic ability or athleticism.

No child need fear being "held back" or be unserved with a "social" promotion. No child can find their grade point average or college hopes diminished thanks to a poor grade in gym. No small child need be expected to sit and work, being taught to the (legally mandated) test all day every day, with only 25 minutes for lunch and no recess, giving no opportunity to run, play, burn off energy or just chat with friends.

Now, tell me about the traditional school, particularly a public school, where any -- better yet, where all of these options are possible.

For a motivated minority, homeschooling could work beautifully. But for the apathetic majority, homeschooling would be a social disaster.

And how many apathetic people do you think would even begin to consider taking on the task of educating their children themselves? Really, this is a non-starter.
posted by Dreama at 6:22 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


First off, I've known a few homeschooled people in my life, both academically (once they enetered public school) and professionally/personally (I roomed with/worked with a homeschooled guy until recently) and all were as well adjusted as any of their peers, and in many ways more mature. Still, I felt sorry for them that they didn't get to have a real school experience, and I wonder how many homeschool kids I never noticed because they had no sense of social skills.

My big question is this: since when did traditional schooling prevent kids from following up on their own curiosities? I don't know about other people's educational experiences, but my friends and I all searched for bugs and taught ourselves musical instruments and made movies and played cards and read and wrote - all of our own accord - while still maintaining the rigors of a 9:00-3:00 school day. What's more, there are a number of things that a tradition educational curriculum, for all of it's flaws, can provide, which unschooling can't.

One: It introduces kids to things they might not know they have any interest in otherwise. Two: It introduces kids to things they might hate, but are still worth knowing, and Three: it offers a broad diversity of opinion on any debatable matter.

And that's just in the curriculum, not even touching on the spectrum of dubious, non-academic skills that only a rigid structure can teach you (which all have to deal with getting around the rigid structure.)

I hated Biology. I hated Geology. I hated Chemistry, and God knows I was never any good at Math. Imagine my surprise when I reached my senior year of High School and Physics was my favorite subject. I also excelled at French, which I likely never would've studied if not for the foreign language requirement. My English classes were as much about philosophy as they were about literature (much of which I loved, much of which I despised, and roughly none of which I would have read if it hadn't been assigned to me.) Now picture an unschooled "English class" oof the same nature. The student wants to debate the ideas presented in Siddhartha or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, provided she ever chooses to read them, and her patient mother or father is happy for the opportunity, but her younger sister is practicing piano, and her even younger brother is running around screaming and doing cartwheels. A discussion may follow, and might be useful, but it can't compare to a roomfull of peers who have all familiarized themselves with the same material, formed their own opinions, and have long since accepted that they'll be sitting at those desks for the next hour, so why not make the most of it?

Structure is not the same as spoonfeeding, no matter what the unchoolers might try to claim. And I truly do think that kids need to be able to spend as much time as possible around other kids their same age. The one common maladjustment that I've seen in homeschooled kids is in romantic relationships, which always come off as somewhat stunted based on my anecdotal evidence, because there are some things that family alone certainly can't teach, and which you wouldn't want them to in the first place.

On the other hand, I will say that parents who decide to homeschool will generally be passionate about the educations of their children, and that's never a bad thing. But then I think about the charter school that a friend of mine teaches at in the South Bronx. The parents are all involved - they make up the administration - and the purpose of the school is to raise the children to be prepared for college, not just intellectually, but socially as well. I pray that when I have children, they can go to a school like that, because I just don't trust homeschooling, let alone unschooling, to provide enough for them.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:31 PM on November 25, 2006 [3 favorites]


Now, tell me about the traditional school, particularly a public school, where any -- better yet, where all of these options are possible.

The traditional public school I attended made possible most of them. But you didn't go to public school, and you're making some quite broad assumptions that, while perhaps true in some cases, are certainly not the norm. I think you've heard horror stories for years and years, and you're believing them. But on the other hand, maybe my experience at a unique public school has skewed my view, and I'll have a rude awakening when my kids get to school age. I hope that's not the case, but I have to suspect it.

The people I know who homeschool their kids, by and large, spend most of their time teaching to the test that their kids will have to take so that they can continue being homeschooled. But they also live in an area with (I'm told) lousy public schools.

If there is an issue of teasing or bad behavior or anything that could even remotely be construed as bullying, it can be dealt with immediately, proactively and continually with constant attention.

Eek!
posted by JekPorkins at 6:32 PM on November 25, 2006


--Humans are sponges who want to know everything about everything unless that desire is squelched

You know, I'd have to agree that there's always something I really want to know about, it's just unfortunate that what I want to learn so rarely lines up with what my teachers think I should be learning. I am confused by even university level academia, where I am told to read particular books yet still, and required to learn from those.

I love reading, but when someone gives me a book or suggests one to me (daily on Metafilter...), I half-joke that it'll have to wait until the end of the term.
posted by mek at 6:34 PM on November 25, 2006


"The public school system wasn't developed to meet the needs of children of affluent parents who are deeply involved with their children's education"

Right: it was created to produce Good Citizens who work in factories, vote for Major Party candidates, pay taxes, get mortgages, don't smell too bad or spit on the floor, and send their sons to be soldiers. (Baaah. BAAAH.)

I want to know if home schooling has taken off in mostly White, mostly non-urban (rural and/or small town), mostly Christian red state locales (like say most places in Kansas). My wild-ass guess is that it hasn't, that home schooling mostly involves racist metro- area whites who can't afford private/parochial school tuition.
posted by davy at 6:39 PM on November 25, 2006


My son goes to public school, and I haven't seen any of the horrors mentioned above. He often get to choose what he works on, he spends time with kids he wouldn't've met otherwise (for one thing, we're white, our city is 75% white, and his class is 75% black), he has a good time, and he's learning tons. His teachers are dedicated, affectionate, well-trained, and all-around great.

Oh, plus he gets to ride a bus, which, as a four-year-old, he thinks is very, very cool.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:43 PM on November 25, 2006


Public school is the place you go to learn that when your parents tell you that God made the world last week, or people don't have to pay taxes, or vaccinations cause brain damage, they're full of shit. Homeschooling appeals to a lot of good people, but it appeals to a lot of nutcases, too, and it's in everyone's best interest that kids get exposed to ideas their parents may not approve of.

Letting kids do whatever they want instead of going to school seems like a good way to create the Eloi.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:50 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Public school is the place you go to learn that when your parents tell you that God made the world last week, or people don't have to pay taxes, or vaccinations cause brain damage, they're full of shit.

But vaccinations do cause brain damage. There's a whole set of federal Special Masters in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims set up to adjudicate the claims.

I hope that the teachers in public schools don't try to teach my kid that vaccinations don't cause brain damage.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:10 PM on November 25, 2006


jonmc, you're advocating the status quo for the sake of the status quo,

Please. I'm just accepting what I have no control over: that no matter how many fucking gold stars you get on your bookreport, you're probably still doomed to a life of meaningles drudgery (and for all you baby Che's out there, under a socialist or communist system, the workday wuld still be equally tedious if not worse. If someone would tell us all that when were in third grade or something it would save us all a lot of aggravation. And all you people arguing otherwise are probably somebody's boss.
posted by jonmc at 7:40 PM on November 25, 2006


And all you people arguing otherwise are probably somebody's boss.

I'd wager that the vast majority of people in this world are somebody's boss.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:43 PM on November 25, 2006


That comment reveals a lot, Jek.
posted by jonmc at 7:48 PM on November 25, 2006


And it's true. You're just pissed because you drank your way through school and now you're feeling oppressed by the man.

You "managed to cut one class 37 times in one semester and still pass," and "attended plenty pf high school classes drunk and/or high and nobody was the wiser." And you say that you learned "the functionaries of the system don't really care what you do as long as you don't bother them."

I'll skip the preachy part that could follow that.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:52 PM on November 25, 2006


Jek: the fact remains that 90% of the human race hates their jobs if what I see and hear is anything to go by, and as you say, given our various human frailties and the way the world functions, there's not a whole lot that's going to change that, homeschooling, public schooling, private schooling, whatever.

You're just pissed because you drank your way through school

Betcha I had more fun than you did, though.
posted by jonmc at 7:57 PM on November 25, 2006


Haha. Cute. Look, the fact remains that most people (myslef included) are of mediocre capabilities and that there are a shitload of tedious jobs that need to be performed. And the world can only use so many doctors, lawyers, professors and artists (who still expect someone to file thier forms, wash their cars and make their sandwiches). So why not operate on that assumption?

With the exception of some lucky artists, all of those jobs require a decent amount of tedium as well, certainly with lawyers. Professors have to grade (maybe they can get TAs to do some of the work if they're lucky) Doctors have tons of crap to do, and artists need to practice a lot, and maybe do boring commercial work. If you can find joy in every aspect of you're job, you're lucky. But I suspect that for most people, they wont.

Bottom line is if you can't deal with tedium, you can't get those positions, or excel in them.

That said, I'm not really sure doing tedious work as a child really makes you more capable of doing so as an adult.
posted by delmoi at 7:57 PM on November 25, 2006


That said, I'm not really sure doing tedious work as a child really makes you more capable of doing so as an adult.

It definitely gives you an idea what to expect.
posted by jonmc at 8:02 PM on November 25, 2006


I'm self-employed.
posted by Bradley at 8:17 PM on November 25, 2006


I'm self-employed.

Then you've got firsthand experience with the Reward and Punishment (Carrot and Stick) system that the market imposes on you. Will you teach your homeschooled child about that reality by creating Reward and Punishment experiences for him, or by telling him about Reward and Punishment and letting him experience it for the first time when he enters the market?
posted by JekPorkins at 8:30 PM on November 25, 2006


What really baffles me is why a lot of homeschooling parents think that traditional school is so darn stifling. I am not being sarcastic, I am genuinely curious.

It usually stifles the parents. They often don't want their kids associating with secular teachers who might tell their kids about evolution or make them learn something that isn't religious. Sometimes they just can't give up control for psychological reasons. Sometimes they don't want their kids to have any outside contact with the state, often for potential legal concerns.
posted by Brian B. at 8:34 PM on November 25, 2006


I am going to go out on a limb and say that home schooling is a US thing, I personally don't know anyone who has been home schooled.

Missing school sports is probably a bad thing, and finding the party has to be a lot easier when you are on campus. The learning part of education is kind of secondary.

Regular school probably missed teaching me skills for the corporate world like:

1) Make coffee when there is none around
2) Don't speak ill of your co-workers ever; and balance out your assesments if you are backed into a corner - otherwise this will bite you in the ass.
3) Pawn off shit jobs on the intern
4) If you are an intern, smile and show up on time - nobody really cares if the shit jobs get done. Interns are almost always evaluated on demenor and attitude. Don't make the lifers look stupid; if you do something good let them take credit. This will make you a useful ally; interns are often forgotten otherwise.
5) Worry about the tasks of your job that are being measured, that is what they will discuss at your review. Give little to no priority to everything else.
6) If you are going to take a long lunch; bring the boss
7) Hit your deadlines and if you can't tell the boss ahead of time. This makes you look responsible.
8) Don't accept a "sideways" promotion; ever. Moving up means more money
9) Become well versed on safe subjects like the weather, home and gardens, or local sports teams and discuss them exclusively. Sports are the one area where controvesial topics can be broght up (ie: who should start saturday)
10) One well time box of donuts can conceal a lot of bad behaviour.

That is a real business admin class........ and kept me out of more trouble; earned me more money.
posted by Deep Dish at 8:51 PM on November 25, 2006


I just had a talk on Thanksgiving with one of my school buds who is homeschooling 2 daughters (5,7).

He thinks with homeschooling, socialization occurs upwards, not laterally, and considers this a good thing.

Plus his family is relatively active in their church so the kids get mucho socialization that way.

He just wants his kids to develop with a minimum of negative influences.

I held my tongue about how raising kids in isolation weakens them to some extent 'cuz not being involved in parenting 24/7 (and then some) I just have opinion, not advice, to give.

Being something of a fundie, he is in fact a bit leery of the p.c., secularized, watered-down State Socialism aspect of public school curricula. I can see that.

But: one school year is 180 days x 6hrs = 1000hrs of education. I can totally see how I & my partner -- and tutors -- could fill this time better than a state school could, at least up through K-6.

As for Junior High & High School, I see no problem with letting the kids enjoy these times at a (public/private), to grow with friends, and get a modicum of life outside the home before they go off to college.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:14 PM on November 25, 2006


We don't homeschool. But a lot of the attacks on homeschooling assume a homogenous body of homeschoolers who are insular, red state fundamentalists, and then the critics dance about chortling because they've dragged someone else back into their unhappy little world of drudgery.

I've seen smart, engaged parents who homeschool. and parents who want to create a fundamentalist shield over their children. My kids taught themselves to read at age five, and it had nothing to do with school. We just read a lot because we like it. Our neighbors kids couldn't read at ages eight and nine, and they used homeschooling as an excuse to let the kids hang out all day, it seems.

Right now my kids are in decent schools with fairly engaged teachers, but if they weren't, or if things got hellish with their peers, I wouldn't have a problem with yanking them out of the system for a year.
posted by mecran01 at 10:20 PM on November 25, 2006


In the quote of the first link, Anne Sullivan accuses schools of wanting to "teach children how to think."

I say: Don't we wish!!

Her comments don't hold true here in the U.S. American schools are much more focused on having kids "do" than "think." And in our crowded classrooms, that translates into being trained to repeat whatever the f--- is being thrown at us.

She also claims that a child left to himself will think "more and better."

Sure. I would be very reassured if I were to walk out of my front door onto the city streets knowing that everybody around me had just kind of been "left to themselves" to learn. That said, if that were indeed the case, I doubt there would be a city to roam in.

I would qualify her education theory as a sort of educational pragmatic empiricism. "Learn on you own, from you own experiences."

Great. But a lack of structure worries me.

As if there is no need for guidance. "Let me roam through a field of wheat and I'm certain to walk away with a more profound understanding of what the ecosystem is." OK. But that alone won't do. There needs to be reinforcement and a reason to push the limits.

In any case, her theory of "going and coming freely" is - in the words of a buddy of mine - redonkulous.


Back to the "thinking" thing.

My wife - in her regular job - is a philosophy professor in the French high school system. She has taken a few years leave to follow me to the States.

She has been hired by a major university to teach French. The characteristic that strikes her the most about American students is that, when pushed to "think," she finds that they have a lot of difficulty in doing so. That is, when they are pushed think abstractly, she sees many as handicapped. I believe some of this has to do with cultural differences and expectations she has from students - some has to do with subject matter - but still, even at the university level, an obscene amount of our education is based on repitition. And, for many students, the university makes quite an effort over the first few years to bring them to where they should have been when they arrived.


The unschooling argument is unconvincing as far as the idea goes that people should be taken out of formal structures of education to "wander around" and "find things out." This type of idealism is just based on myth.

In the linked online dictionary, the verb "to school" means to teach / train. But what are we being trained to do?

We are not being trained to think as much as we should. As far as "coming and going as we please" argument goes, true thinking is a discipline and not something that surfaces with no cultivation.

I argue that our schools are what need to be unschooled if their purpose is to train people to become "good," "obediant," corporate-type citizens.

Our schools need to shift their focus and to begin teaching poeple how to think. The ability to associate ideas and to think abstractly is critical for personal development and it is essential to maintaining a democratic society.

Anne Sullivan (whoever the hell she is anyway) thinks that "teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of."

Any thinking involves association whether in the classroom or not. But, this woman has obviously been "unschooled."

I would argue that someone who hasn't had at least some formal exposure to rudimentary skills of thinking will suffer in any endeavor that asks him to surpass himself and do more than simply what he is told to do.

The Iraq debacle is a HUGE example of non-thinking. Look at the US and our current situation in Iraq. Arguably, we are in this situation because "we" swallowed the junk that our administration fed us and stood by saying "they must be right" rather than really thinking it through. The rest of the world knew where we were heading - which is why most didn't follow us - and it has taken us five years to effectively realize that.

Pragmatic empiricism.


For the next couple of years, our "schooling" is not going to matter much more than it does now or it has for the past 50 years. We have a good, strong economy and those of us with a minimum amount of education will be able to find a job to pay the bills. People like Deep Dish above will be able to go through school, get a corporate job, and then ponder on all the practical things they didn't learn in school and think to themselves: gee, "the learning part of education is [really] secondary."

But when we have our backs against the wall - or at least we aren't the top dog of the global economy - we are going to have to collectively learn to think better.
posted by pwedza at 10:31 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well, I live in a liberal cohousing community with multiple Unschooled children. To a child they are socially awkward, and the oldest, 23 years old, didn't go to college and can't hold a job, he's had 4 in the last year.

Basically, what I see, is unschooling in the hands of the average joe results in letting kids do whatever they want all day, i.e. Johny gets real good at pwning noobs.

I've read Gatto, there's some value there, but unschooling is REAL easy to fuck up.
posted by prodigalsun at 10:32 PM on November 25, 2006


My wife and I are associated with some unschooling organizations, as well as like minded parents in our area. Our daughter is two and a half at this point, and we are excited that we are able to give her the opportunity to guide her own education.

The conversation thus far covers all the stuff that always comes up. People tend to have the same fears and biases, and that is fine. No thoughtful rebuttal by me is going to change anyones mind. Either the idea appeals to you or it does not.

The assumptions made about our reasons for doing this are tiresome, since they tend to be false. No one would describe us as religious people. Our own educational backgrounds are different and mixed. We don't hate public education. If our daughter wants to attend public school in the future, we won't be stopping her. Socialization does not work the way people assume it does, and our child will not be raised in isolation. Children are fine little people, they want to learn. This is true no matter how you raise them.

The thing I have noticed over time is that all parents are very defensive about how they raise their children. Discussion can be a touchy thing. We are all in a position where we are confronted with people raising children in ways that contradict our methods, and since we are so personally caught up in our children it feels like a rebuke of what is our most important undertaking. Unschooling is not in competition with public education. They run parallel. We all want what is best for our kids.

I am sorry some of you have met weird fundy home schooled kids. I met weird fundy kids when I was in regular school. The visibility of a self selecting group with an agenda is not surprising, but they do not the compose the majority of the unschooling movement, or even a sizable percentage of it since free form learning would not lend itself to indoctrination very well.
posted by thirteen at 10:38 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


The problem with homeschooling -- and unschooling especially -- is that it's as artificial as public schooling. There is no function for children or teenagers in our society. Now, if there were apprenticeships or other ways that children got to learn alongside adults as they participate in the world, then school would seem bizarre.

But taking kids to museums -- oh, how the homeschooling parents go on about visiting museums, like it's all they do and like anyone actually gets much out of going to a museum -- is not like telling kids go on, go join the world. The World is mostly sitting in its enclosed offices just as the students are in their enclosed classrooms.

I agree that it's sad. I wish the world were more open, interactive, multi-age. I wish the division between education and real-life behaviors was not so harsh. But it is the way it is.

(p.s. Until you can read and write very well, you cannot decide what you "want to learn" and follow through in any meaningful way.)
posted by argybarg at 12:19 AM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


I was not homeschooled and I have actually never met anyone who was. In fact my mother is a high school English teacher, so my experience is completely one-sided in this "debate." I see there are two groups of people who homeschool their children, the people who want to be involved in every aspect of raising their children, and the fundies, who should be ignored by all sides in such a debate.

I have seen that plenty of the parents who homeschool their kids have painted pretty scary portraits of public schools. Uncaring, uninterested teachers and horrible, bullying peers. Now when I was in grammar school, I was bullied quite a bit. Was it pleasant at the time? No way. But I honestly feel like its made me a stronger adult. I was a very shy, emotional, naive boy who honestly expected the best behavior out of everyone I met. Then, when I had to deal with some nasty, nasty kids it was quite confusing and troubling at first, but now I can deal with nasty adults no problem. Had I been insulated from those situations as a kid, or had them "solved instantly" by my parents I doubt I could have handled them now.

As for the "stifling" atmosphere in public schools. There's a point to having to suffer through classes when it's inconvenient. Why should all learning come easy and be fun? If you really want to succeed into the jobs that jonmc listed which involve slightly less tedium, doctors, lawyers, professors, you're going to have to bust your ass learning some stuff that is not at all fun.

I also question the effectiveness of having one or two teachers for every subject. Like I said, my mother is an English teacher, but I excelled in math and science (I'm currently pursuing a PhD in Engineering). Even if my parents gave it their all, I doubt they could have effectively taught me the high school math/science that I learned in public school from proper math/science teachers. Everyone has their favorite subjects and it is very difficult not to pass down your own biases to your children. In that respect, they are not getting the most well-rounded education.

Also, as mentioned earlier, in Literature/History courses, when taught properly, there are 20+ teachers in the room as everyone will form their own opinion on the material. In that way it allows the students' minds to become more elastic. My mother remarks that every year a student usually makes a point about Moby Dick or The Scarlett Letter that she hasn't thought about before and she can then insert it into her teaching for next year's class.

As for the breadth of subjects that public schools offer, at my high school, if you were really interested in a specific subject, you could design an independent study class for yourself.

Plus, when has public school ever been the limit to anyone's education? I had plenty of time left over each night after my schoolwork was done to read, watch shows like NOVA or Frontline, or look at the stars with my helpful parents. They did not have the time to homeschool me but were always happy to discuss subjects with me in the evenings. Public school is meant to give children a sound base of education. In many respects it's the bare minimum. If your children are motivated they will seek out their own learning opportunities, and that motivation is meant to come from an interested parent, not a school teacher. If you are considering homeschooling your kids that shows that a knowledgeable teacher to give your kids the basics during the day and you taking the subjects beyond the classroom at night can make a hell of a one-two punch in making sure your kids have all the advantages they can ask for.

Teaching is a profession like any other, you get better at it the more you do it. Many of my teachers in high school had been doing it for at least ten years. That would be ten years more experience than I would have if I tried to homeschool my kids.

As for a kid not making it into a good school because of a poor grade in gym, you should know that all it takes to get the required 'A' in gym is gym clothes to change into and a body to stand around for the required 40 minutes or so.

Sorry for such a long post, but after seeing plenty of students in my undergrad career underperform because the material wasn't fun or easy has left me little sympathy for any teaching method that takes all the drudgery out of learning. If you can't tread through the tedious, boring, basic information, you'll never get to appreciate all of the exciting, and novel frontiers of any subject.
posted by crashlanding at 1:55 AM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


The public school system wasn't designed by men with education on their minds; it was the brainchild of men like Henry Ford, ushering in the industrial age by shaping a generation of youth. You just can't survive in this society unless you learn the skills that allow you to fulfill the new function of man: to become an increasingly interchangeable and meaningless cog in the manufacturing/data manipulation/retail distribution process.
posted by tehloki at 2:45 AM on November 26, 2006


Where the hell did all of you go to school? I went to six different schools between K and 12, and never encountered any of this cog-factory mentality that people are trying to claim is the norm.

Dreama, I understand your reasons, but disagree with all of them whole-heartedly, so let me take them one at a time.

As a child, if I decided, on Sunday, that I wanted to pursue some particular line of inquiry into whatever, and would my parents help me, I did, and they were more than happy to help. My going to school didn't take this option away from either me or my parents, and there's no reason to believe that it would. All that school did in this regard was broaden my range of interests.

My father and I would often spend evenings with the telescope, as he and I learned about astronomy side by side. This was not hampered in the least by the fact that I would still need to be up in time for school in the morning. Dealing with a schedule isn't a negative, no matter how often we may wish we didn't have to. In this case, it was simply a part of making education more active and less passive, and imbuing it with a sense of discipline.

If I wanted to spend all day on one subject, well, bully for me, except that the actual world doesn't work that way, for one thing, and all research into education shows that kids need to constantly revisit different subjects in order to build on them. Now, I imagine that you probably have some sort of loose calendar set up to make sure that your kids touch on every necessary subject however many number of times in a given week, or something to that effect, but my other problem is this: learning is complimentary. If I were having trouble grasping something in math, for example, oftentimes being forced to shift my brain into science mode would be the trick to figuring it out. This goes double for English and History. Changing subjects throughout the day keeps a young mind active, while letting certain parts of the brain relax while other parts take over. Again, this is a good thing, despite your negative spin on it.

If a kid is excelling in two areas and below average in another two, then that kid is probably naturally talented in two areas and not working particularly hard at any of them. Even if that isn't the case, an option remains for the child - Parents! When I would slip in one or two areas (Math and Science) my whole family would work with me, not just on the material but on my study habits as well, until I had picked them back up. I didn't need to be the best in those areas, but I did need to keep up. Once again, that's a good thing, and a good habit to have.

As for the bullying part, well, you're thinking of horror stories, which can be forgiven, as you only know about public school from stories to begin with. Of course there is some bullying, and it is the nature of kids to find themselves on both sides of that coin many times throughout the course of their childhoods. But your "immediate" intervention isn't in their best interest, I fear. I was definitely bullied as a kid, and was certainly an asshole to those weaker than me as well, but the beauty of growing up in a large peer group was that I learned how to deal with the bullies (and how to talk to girls, finally) which curbed my insecurities, which allowed me to stop being such a dick to other kids. This wasn't just be, but almost everyone I went to school with. It's called "maturing," and it's known not to work very well when somebody else is doing it for you.

Teasing certinaly occurs, and quite a bit, but in no way even approaching what you're describing. In a large peer group, people find their own niches, usually in many different circles for different occasions. Nobody is truly "called out" for lack of athletic ability, or artistic ability (!) or even grades, because everybody finds their own thing. However, kids are applauded for excelling at such areas, and in ways that homeschooling can't recreate.

Lastly, as was said before, all you need to do to get an A in gym is to change into the clothes. The rest is up to the kid. Personally, I wasn't athletic at all, but I always enjoyed gyum as a welcome respite from the other activities of the day. Also, despite what you might have heard somewhere, schools know better than to have small children just sitting at desks all day. They know that they need to make the education engaging and fun if they want to hold the children's attention at all, so that's another one we can strike off the list.

As I wrote above, if someone is homeschooling their kid, then they will be passionate about their child's education. On that, we agree, so apathetic parents are a problem. But what I'm realizing more and more as I read this thread and think back through my life is that homeschooling is really much less about the needs of the kids than is claimed, and much more about the needs of the parents.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:38 AM on November 26, 2006


The public school system wasn't designed by men with education on their minds; it was the brainchild of men like Henry Ford, ushering in the industrial age by shaping a generation of youth. You just can't survive in this society unless you learn the skills that allow you to fulfill the new function of man: to become an increasingly interchangeable and meaningless cog in the manufacturing/data manipulation/retail distribution process.

Please, do yourself a favor and actually talk to an honest-to-god teacher sometime. I don't care if the public school system was founded by Ernest Blofeld with the intention of providing an endless source of labor for his lightless granola mining operations; it's since been hijacked by some very caring, self-sacrificing people who get up at five in the morning because they hope they can help some kids make a way for themselves in the world.
posted by phooky at 7:59 AM on November 26, 2006


(Straying even further from the topic: this week's Times Magazine has a an article outlining some of the current efforts to fix public schooling. As usual, though, it boils down to "if we only had the resources...")
posted by phooky at 8:31 AM on November 26, 2006


some very caring, self-sacrificing people who get up at five in the morning because they hope they can help some kids make a way for themselves in the world.

Is this role necessary if the parents choose to do it themselves?

Anybody see today's AP story about 10 is the new 15? The trends described in this article are related to the peer orientation of our culture in the past few decades (enabled by our school system), and are fully explored in the book Hold On To Your Kids. While the author is not an opponent of classroom schooling, this book had the biggest influence on my thinking about the options for my child, my desire to prepare him for anything in life (not just to become a cog in the machine--how depressing!) and my eventual leaning toward unschooling.

The only other author who has influenced my parenting style as much is Alfie Kohn.
posted by Bradley at 8:38 AM on November 26, 2006


Is this role necessary if the parents choose to do it themselves?

Nope. I do support competent homeschooling; it's just the offhand denigration of public schooling that gets my panties in a bunch.

From the AP article:
"Why are they so interested in all this adult stuff?"

Because if they weren't, we'd be living in an infantilized society populated by social and emotional three-year-olds. *bites tongue*
posted by phooky at 9:35 AM on November 26, 2006


Home schooling is not entirely a US thing, there are small groups in Canada doing it and it's taking off in the UK too. After having surveyed the existing homeschool curriculum options I would say that the major difference between US and UK/Canadian homeschoolers is that that a very large proportion of US homeschoolers do so for religious reasons. There is a religious faction in Canada and the UK, but a greater percentage of parents who homeschool do so because they don't think they are getting enough out of their local system, or they worry about violence etc.

We're home schooling our children, not because of religious beliefs or worries about bullying etc., but because we can see that our kids will not be particularly challenged by what's on offer. Our first born is 2.5 and is reading and doing kindergarten math already, as well as doing simple printing with guidance. We could see that by the time he was age six and able to go to first grade, he'd be well past the first grade curriculum, and bored out of his mind. Unfortunately there isn't anything in the local system to address that - you're not allowed to skip grades, and enrichment programs consist of being taken out of the classroom perhaps once a month for vaguely educational activities.

We also think that home schooling, if we can get it right, will help prepare our kids for more independent and self-directed lifestyles, something that will be important in our increasingly asynchronous society.

The public school system is great for providing the majority of people with the majority of the knowledge they need most of the time. However it doesn't do well by exceptional kids at either end of the scale, and it has other issues as well.
posted by Zinger at 9:56 AM on November 26, 2006


Still, I felt sorry for them that they didn't get to have a real school experience,

Few statements have mystified me more. Aside from buying bookbags and school supplies...school itself (distinct from what was being taught) was far more of an obstacle than a help. Cliques and lunch hours and gym class and worksheets were just things that got in the way of my learning. And they didn't teach me anything about human nature that I couldn't have learned elsewhere, though they did give me many hours of anguish and self-hatred. Which unlike jonmc, I don't think is a necessary brutalization to accustom myself to the hive mind none of us can escape and therefore shouldn't try to.

Homeschooling as a movement is in its infancy--as recently as 20 years ago, it was illegal in some states. A bit too soon for "I don't know any prominent homeschoolers" to be a useful statement.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2006


Which unlike jonmc, I don't think is a necessary brutalization to accustom myself to the hive mind none of us can escape and therefore shouldn't try to.

you may not think the sun is hot either, but it'll still burn you.
posted by jonmc at 10:53 AM on November 26, 2006


jonmc, if you hate your job and life so much, for heaven's sake, change something.

As for the comment (by someone else) that he hadn't met any home schoolers in his professional life, well not only is it too early for them to be well into the adult work force, but I wonder how many homeschoolers end up with traditional jobs? It'd be interesting to see how many end up being freelancers or entrepreneurs or such like.
posted by Zinger at 11:23 AM on November 26, 2006


Please, do yourself a favor and actually talk to an honest-to-god teacher sometime. I don't care if the public school system was founded by Ernest Blofeld with the intention of providing an endless source of labor for his lightless granola mining operations; it's since been hijacked by some very caring, self-sacrificing people who get up at five in the morning because they hope they can help some kids make a way for themselves in the world.
posted by phooky


And ... teaching is a labor-intensive, poorly paid, "missionary" career choice. The majority of a teacher's day is devoted to administrative garbage and "managing" an overpopulated class with severely challenged students. I admire anyone who can stay sane under such conditions. Don't sugar-coat the state of schools today.

BTW, I get the 'products' of public schools in my college classes. 90% of my work is UN-teaching the drone-like habits that come from 12 years of 'factory ready' schooling. The homeschooled/unschooled really stand outto me -- and the other students.

While many new high school grads might be able to recite rote material or can 'psyche out' a class on the first day, few can actually integrate and analyze new information. They have never been asked to think. They are afraid to be curious; wary and defensive of "work"; and -- for the most part -- lacking a basic foundation in common knowledge. The saddest thing is that they know they have been cheated and are deeply, deeply angry -- and ashamed.

As far as 'social skills' from conventional schooling -- the carry-over affect of high school clics, bullying, gossip mongering, and the obsequious fear-awe of teachers-authorities relates directly to the school's heirarchical system that "models real life". Respect, compassion, autonomy, self-expression and curiosity are latent; with a bit of work they can be rediscovered. I am always relieved at the resiliancy of young minds ... and always depressed that they have taken such abuse.

Why wait till college to treat children humanely?
posted by Surfurrus at 12:06 PM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]




One more comment -- the idea that homeschooling/unschooling children are being 'isolated' and deprived of socialization is one of the most common uninformed comments blurted out . Unschooling/homeschooling communities and families can -- and do -- provide for far more healthy socialization opportunities than the conventional school can (or does).

I once subbed for a group of seventh graders and I triggered a discussion of the future with the question that with so much technology availablein the future would there would be ANY reason to sit in a classroom to get information on a topic? They immediately asked about opportunities for social experiences if there were no schools. I asked them to look at their present situation -- not being able to talk in classes; often assigned seats; kept in lines and in tight groupings; only given a brief amount of time to interact in recess or lunch (usually monitored). They couldn't imagine a different way of 'socializing'.

Seems many people can't.

I guess we prepare them well for cubicles?
posted by Surfurrus at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2006


Nope. I do support competent homeschooling; it's just the offhand denigration of public schooling that gets my panties in a bunch.

Agreed. Offhand is mostly ideological in this thread. There is so much hidden fundie anti-government sentiment among MOST homeschoolers that they will be tempted to hide it in polite company and fill the void with a bunch of psychobabble that threatens the minds of their pure offspring--which contains a lot of assumptions about the genetic quality already that is not in a private school. I would tell them to get a refund but most large families in America never pay enough taxes to cover the average cost of educating a fraction of their kids. And their other beliefs typically include the goodness of over-population, anti-evolution, and religious elitism.
posted by Brian B. at 12:30 PM on November 26, 2006


Brian, you have just described the general mentality of any population of parents who are guided by 'fundamentalist' beliefs. I have seen many in their 'pure' private schools, btw (and a very vocal - and active - contingent in public schools as well!).

'Fundies' should never be considered the only examples of homeschooling/unschooling families anymore than they should be considered the 'average' american family.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:48 PM on November 26, 2006


We all learn at our own pace. "Teaching" comes from an illusion of control.

No, teaching comes from the awareness of experience. Not everyone will have to rediscover the pythagorean theorem for themselves - a teacher can guide a student to figure out things that the human race has already established. Teaching is how we share our wealth - we are able to pass down information that a few millenia of self-directed curiosity has resulted in. There is no need to start from scratch when the human family has done so much work collectively, and when adults have had so much experience. This doesn't mean the adults should assume they have all the answers; any good teacher recognizes his own limits, and also understands that different students come to comprehension by different routes. But it's perfectly legitimate to provide guidance on subjects to people who haven't dealt with them before.

I have nothing against home schooling but it seems to me simplistic to put all community schooling in one category and all home schooling in another. There are community schools which are alternative, and I expect there are home schools where the curriculum is very standardized. I think socialization and community is an important aspect of school, so I would not consider homeschooling a real option, but it's certainly important to find a community school that you actually think does a good job. Still, for me one of the important aspects is that kids should be exposed to other ways of doing things, that you may not have chosen yourself.

As for "holding class at night to look through the telescope" etc - why call this school?! Isn't this just parenting? Going to museums on weekends, reading books together at home, playing with microscopes and telescopes, building things, etc, are all activities you can do outside of school time. And self directed learning will occur on its own as well - the point of attending school is to provide the foundation, the essential skills and most relevant information, as determined by collective experience and history. The teachers and administrators are also constantly learning - the homeschooler is always a first-time teacher of whatever new lesson comes up, whereas the schoolteacher has seen what works and what doesn't, and knows the material deeply. Sure, there can be bad schools / teachers, and cases where the parents have the time to be better educators, but on the theoretic level, there is no reason exclusively in-family educating would be superior to community-based educating with ordinary parental supplementation.
posted by mdn at 12:58 PM on November 26, 2006


Surfurrus, my point was that the psychobabble anti-school argument is ideological, not just apparent nonsense. I will make the exact opposite argument. Free public school ONLY supplies math and rote learning to those who want to learn it, preparing for self-paid college. Public schools rarely violate their traditional social contract with religion. This social contract protects religious families and interests and never teaches philosophy, nor HOW to make critical judgements, which is not a reason to boycott them, but a reason to teach it elsewhere. Homeschoolers have it all backwards and never got the memo that schools are secular in attendance and prayer policy only. They don't control our minds, nor ever get close. What we're really discussing is social aspects.
posted by Brian B. at 1:08 PM on November 26, 2006


Not everyone will have to rediscover the pythagorean theorem for themselves - a teacher can guide a student to figure out things that the human race has already established.

I still don't know the Pythagorean Theorem. I've heard the phrase, but I couldn't tell you what it means if you put a gun to my head. Same with a whole lot of things that seem to be common knowledge to more educated people. I imagine if you took a straw poll of random people you met, their answers would be similar. And many of them might add that unless their engineers or mathemeticians or something, they don't care.

Is this a failure? If so, of what? themselves? the educational system, home, private or public? who knows?
posted by jonmc at 1:18 PM on November 26, 2006


And many of them might add that unless their engineers or mathemeticians or something, they don't care.

Or anyone who may want the option to become an engineer. This raises the issue of whether or not ignorant parents should be able to stunt their children or even destroy them educationally in a free society, because the child would not choose this for themselves if their true talent was being wasted by parents who did not share that talent and didn't understand it. I would say that in abusive emergencies, children need interest advocates other than fundie parents, who are willing to sacrifice their children.
posted by Brian B. at 1:31 PM on November 26, 2006


children need interest advocates other than fundie parents,

what makes you think it's only the children of fundies who don't know these things. An awful lot of us spent geometry class drunk, stoned, daydreaming or staring at the ass of the girl in the next row of seats, so all that 'wital knowledge' slipped through the cracks.
posted by jonmc at 1:40 PM on November 26, 2006


None of this changes the fact that the most notable upshot of homeschooling is for parents to be able to hold control over their kids for however much longer. At the end of the day, you can say however much you like that your kids are directing their own course of knowledge, but they will end up confined to the internet and whatever your own limited field of expertise can provide.

In theory, an ideal homeschooling experience could provide a stable learning environment for a child away from many of the distractions which can mar a "traditional" school life. I'm sure that happens in a few cases. As I've said, I've known many homeschooled kids who were very smart and well-adjusted, though to be fair, they all immediately turned to drugs the moment they were out of their family's reach, the girls immediately started sleeping with (much) older men, and all of them were ill-prepared for real-life conflict resolution.

From what I've seen, Homeschooling can't provide anything that decent parents and traditional schooling can't, except for protection from traditional schooling and (in the worst cases) decent parents.

I don't believe that homeschooled children are better taught how to think, and I certainly don't think that traditionally schooled children are taugt to be like drones or cogs, and I noly say that because I don't know any of my peers from my many schools who were. This is homeschooling propoganda, and silly propoganda at that. I imagine that collegiate professors are indeed fascinated by homeschooled kids, but now because they've been better taught, but rather that thaey've just had a different background, and are thus different from the norm.

Aside from buying bookbags and school supplies...school itself (distinct from what was being taught) was far more of an obstacle than a help. Cliques and lunch hours and gym class and worksheets were just things that got in the way of my learning. And they didn't teach me anything about human nature that I couldn't have learned elsewhere, though they did give me many hours of anguish and self-hatred.

Wow, sorry about that, though if you truly - which you likely don't - feel like you didn't garner any positive experiences from school, then you're in the minority. Maybe you let 7th Grade scar you through the subsequent better years. I don't know. And all the "obstacles" that you speak of, as far as I can tell, are actually valuable lessons in the "life doesn't always cater to emjaybee every minute" school of thought, and are best dealt with by dealing with them and learning to enjoy yourself and better yourself in situations that are outside of your or your family's control.

That, by the way, is the option that homeschooling can't provide, because the major purpose of it is to allow parents full control over their children's lives after the children are old enough to hear other voices and opinions and make some choices for themselves.

I'm sorry about the tone here, but I just get more and more pissed off hearing the homeschool proponents make shit up about what actual childhoods are like, and then getting smug about their bullshit assumptions. Say whatever you want about your kids, but you're doing it so that you don't have to let them go.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:51 PM on November 26, 2006 [2 favorites]


the homeschooler is always a first-time teacher of whatever new lesson comes up, whereas the schoolteacher has seen what works and what doesn't, and knows the material deeply.

You aren't really addressing the idea of unschooling here. It does not matter if the parent does not know a subject very well. It is probably more exciting if they do not, so long as they are willing to help find the answer. The idea is to figure things out, and let the child figure out what works and what does not.

The material being covered, beyond basic literacy, is not very important if the child becomes someone who can self educate. If something important is missed and they feel a need, they should be able to catch up.
posted by thirteen at 1:52 PM on November 26, 2006


None of this changes the fact that the most notable upshot of homeschooling is for parents to be able to hold control over their kids for however much longer.


Like a lot of others here, you're letting the image of fundamentalist parents cloud your view of homeschooling. It's not about control for everyone. And even if it is an issue of control for some, in a free society parents have a right to pass on their own values and morals to their children, however much you might vehemently disagree with them.

confined to the internet

You're kidding right? Is this the same Internet where I can download podcasts discussing single nucleotide polymorphisms? Read etexts of literary classics? View lectures from the top universities in the world? Confined?
posted by Zinger at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2006


You're kidding right? Is this the same Internet where I can download podcasts discussing single nucleotide polymorphisms? Read etexts of literary classics? View lectures from the top universities in the world?

And, that's of course what most people are doing with their internet connection? Not say, dowloading the latest Danni Ashe Pictorial or Kid Rock single or playing Texas Hold 'Em?
posted by jonmc at 4:35 PM on November 26, 2006


I don't think you can really maintain a middle class lifestyle without doing some, or probably a lot of boring, tedious work.

Oh! no!

Somehow we don't need curriculum to teach children pain and boredom. Life outside of education will do that.
Hopefully some children will discover that the world doesn't *have* to be like it is, and get the skills and insights to make it better.
Last year's knowledge is obsolete. Learning how to learn is at a premium. Children are learning machines, if we don't kill their curiosity. As it is, we kill off most of the creativity we need (art, music get the axe first) in the service of "practical".

Don't worry ... There will always be enough drones without building that in.
posted by Twang at 4:59 PM on November 26, 2006


Don't worry ... There will always be enough drones without building that in.

The attitude behind that comment illustrates what's been irking me throughout this whole thread. Yeah, there'll be plenty of us drones no matter what. But it seems no matter how enlightened their education might be, the boss' attitude towards us will be the same. That's reassuring.
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on November 26, 2006


Homeschoolers have it all backwards and never got the memo that schools are secular in attendance and prayer policy only. They don't control our minds, nor ever get close. What we're really discussing is social aspects. - Brian B.

Actually, you seem not to be able to separate the concept of unschooling/homeschooling from the people who use/abuse it (those that do it specifically for religious 'isolation'). And so, you completely miss my point that the very design of a 'system' forms -- and restricts -- all growth and learning.

In other words, mass schooling -- i.e., standard public schooling (basically babysitting) -- is designed in its very FORM to promote standardization, punctuality, conformity, obedience, segmented learning of facts and basic preparation for an industrial economy.

This is NOT to say there are not wonderful experiments and models of 'alternative' schools in the public school systems across the country. AND ... it is not to say that homeschoolers/unschoolers escape this 'industrial model'. I am just saying that the homeschoolers/unschoolers have a much better chance of not replicating the 'industrial' system.

I have, btw, seen excellent examples of schools that could legitimately be called 'unschools'.
posted by Surfurrus at 6:33 PM on November 26, 2006


As it is, we kill off most of the creativity we need (art, music get the axe first) in the service of "practical."

Art and music do not get cut in the service of "practical," they get cut in order to , I dunno, PASS THE BUDGET.

The sense of elitism in most of these pro-(home/un)school posts is unbelievable. Do you people honestly believe the administration is just waiting to give the creative programs the axe just so they can create drones more efficiently? The arts get cut because people don't want to pay for education. Instead of the community reacting and working to pass a budget that includes spending for such programs, people just look at it as a sign of "inefficient bureaucracy" in the schools and an affirmation of their decision to DIY.

I'm happy that your kids get the benefit of music and the arts, but screw those teachers and screw the underprivileged kids.
posted by crashlanding at 6:43 PM on November 26, 2006


In other words, mass schooling -- i.e., standard public schooling (basically babysitting) -- is designed in its very FORM to promote standardization, punctuality, conformity, obedience, segmented learning of facts and basic preparation for an industrial economy.

I couldn't disagree more. It isn't babysitting unless there are no expectations. It doesn't promote standardization because it is inclusive and isn't organized beyond parental involvement (and you may be confusing it with private or religious schools who make them all dress and pray the same). Nor there is no such thing as promoting punctuality apart from promoting attendance, which is redundant to promoting education. Nor does it promote obedience because public schools are notoriously lax on discipline. Again, you confuse it with its private and religious alternative. It certainly doesn't promote conformity, because it often unjustly applies a curve to make sure they all don't get the same grade. Preparing students for entry in the industrial economy is where it fails most spectacularly (which doesn't square with your babysitting theory). US public education doesn't even compare to countries that offer aptitude programs and then steer you into a trade school. Most people will be minimally prepared for college in terms of its standardization and "segmented learning" but it won't be free anymore. The main point here is that most people have no alternative whatsoever, so carping about public education is just an exercise in self-indulgence.
posted by Brian B. at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2006


I've only read slightly more than half the comments, but many of you, especially the loquacious ones, are confusing home schooling with un-schooling and free schooling. The original post doesn't help much. I've been following some of this movement as I've been learning how to teach, and for me it's really a movement to re-structure the schools based on current educational theory, rather than the theories of the 1800's.

All these practices are a reaction to the US's deadening public school system. A (slightly meandering, but decent) critique and history of that system was written by an award-winning US schoolteacher. The book is largely free, online.

For the most part, these critiques of the school system are not critiques of the content taught (exceptions abound among the fundamentalists here), or of the school teachers (some of the biggest critics being school teachers themselves), but of the basic structure of the US school system.

So the medium is the message; the current practice of school (with bells, psychological testing, "tracking" class-structures, hierarchical discipline, state-determined curriculum and methods of teaching) socializes children to the value of conformity and punishes independent thought. There is a great limit to what can be taught within such a(n) (anti)socializing structure, and that is the point of the sarcastic Gatto essay linked above.

"home schooling" in its popular form is practiced by those who insist on a parent- or church-determined, rather than state-determined, structure for learning.

"Unschooling" and "Free Schooling" promote not a lack of structure, but a student-determined structure for learning. This is different from Montessori definitions of "student-determined" by widening the meaning of that phrase from the curriculum, to the structure of the school itself (thus including the curriculum).

some links:
Wikipedia's article on Gatto, award-winning rebel schoolteacher

Gatto's essay, which you should read (it's short)

The Albany Free School. (at length)Those of you who think that Free Schooling is a tool only of the privileged may find hope here. What is really different in this type of school, say, from a Montessori kind of school, is the system of discipline.

I hate to self-post, but here you can hear the (self-told) stories of this school from a little Q&A from the national conference on organized resistance, 2006. Hopefully you all can glean more understanding of the limitations and the promise of free schooling from listening to this interview, if your appetite for learning wasn't already deadened by this post.
posted by eustatic at 8:32 PM on November 26, 2006


Interesting discussion. I'm a working foster parent, single. I don't really get how a parent can home school unless they have a situation in which their partner makes enough money with one income for the household, or maybe if the parent has a very profitable and not-overly-time-consuming home business, or maybe they live in a rural area with low living expenses. Aside: Even if I could ever afford to home school, I don't think I would. It sounds cool when done well, but I think I would be terrible at that kind of project (disorganized, impatient, ineffective).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:13 PM on November 26, 2006


eustastic -- great summary (and distinction of terminology!)

Brian B. (once again) -- We no longer live in an 'industrial society'; understanding that point is essential to understanding all the other issues in educational reform. The standard/traditional FORM (System) of 'mass public schooling' inculcates children in "industrial" values and socialization -- as its PRIMARY function; it is an obsolete and warped system:

"So the medium is the message; the current practice of school (with bells, psychological testing, "tracking" class-structures, hierarchical discipline, state-determined curriculum and methods of teaching) socializes children to the value of conformity and punishes independent thought. There is a great limit to what can be taught within such a(n) (anti)socializing structure ..." -- posted by eustastic

i.e. ... -- it is designed in its very FORM to promote standardization, punctuality, conformity, obedience, segmented learning of facts and basic preparation for an industrial economy.

There is nothing 'self-indulgent' about education reform. It is probably THE most important issue in this country today.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:22 PM on November 26, 2006


I'm happy that your kids get the benefit of music and the arts, but screw those teachers and screw the underprivileged kids.

So you presume that because we've got the option to give our kids what is being denied public school students by a shortsighted and handcuffed system and an ignorant populace that votes down tax increases for school funding but happily agrees to pay for stadiums for pro sports, we don't care? That we don't advocate and fight for improvements in the schools? (Not that the voice of non-school parents is heard, but that's irrelevant.)

I don't know what the argument is, that we should inflict what we believe to be substandard education upon our kids in the name of societal fairness, and just hope that our complaints will be heard and taken seriously soon enough to benefit them and if not, oh well, at least they didn't get something someone else didn't? Do you make this same argument about kids who are in private and parochial schools too?
posted by Dreama at 9:48 PM on November 26, 2006


Surfurrus, you're correct that nothing is more important than education reform, but that's where it ends.

Here are my guidelines for determining whether or not you should homeschool your child.

Do you and your family have the type of income that would allow for it?

Are you passionate about making sure that they get the best education they can, tailored to what they are most interested in and how they can best learn?

Are you, truly, the most qualified person to teach them, or assist in their self-led learning?

Are you expert enough in Literature, History, Math, Science, Art, Music, and Foreign languages to teach them to your child, not just competently, but in a compelling way?

Are you willing to make sure that your child maintains an age-appropriate knoweldge and application of not just the subjects they like, but those they find difficult as well?

Is it important to you to make sure that you yourself can handle any academic or social difficulties your child may face, instead of risking them learing how to handle things on their own?

Is it worth possibly damaging your child for life to ensure that the only trauma they face in their school years comes from you personally?

If you can honestly answer "yes" to all these questions, then go ahead and do it, but again, remember that it's a matter of your own self-indulgence, and has very little to do with the kids themselves. I attended six different public schools, but the common thread through all of them was that the way to excell was to not only think independently, but to sell it as well. It doesn't create drones who weren't already making themselves into drones, and any parent who thinks that they don't have enough input and hand in their kid's education should stop watching fucking "Dancing with the Stars" and help them out.

Kids need parents, very much. They also need to be away from their parents, Homeschoolers. You're stunting your children. Homeschooling is hurting them.

Education reform is the most important issue on the table today, and U.S. education needs to be as well funded and well designed as the military. But even in it's current state, it's better than kids being taught by one smug parent who thinks they know better than everyone else. And if you need any proof, ask around at public schools and see how many of the kids would rather be at home every day being taught by their mother.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:19 PM on November 26, 2006


I want to know if home schooling has taken off in mostly White, mostly non-urban (rural and/or small town), mostly Christian red state locales (like say most places in Kansas).

I'm in a small-town bedroom community outside Dallas, and the answer is no. Homeschooled children here, from what I've seen, are a product of fundamental homes who want to avoid overly secular "wrong thinkin."

But, I do have friends (from other places) who were homeschooled as children, and they turned out to be bright, inquisitive, funny, socially well-adjusted people. All artists, to a one -- and I can't ever see any of them working For the Man. Coincidence? No idea.

I love the idea of homeschooling but in execution it would never be good for my child. At 10 years old, she can't wait to go back to school in the fall, even wanted to write a letter of protest to her state senator when she saw on the news that a longer summer break was being proposed by the legislature.

And yet, she always gets a summer full of the sorts of experiences that would seem to comprise homeschooling -- she goes to camp for several weeks and rides horses, swims, takes archery, etc... travels the country visiting family, going to cultural events and festivals... we always set aside special days for museums, hands-on art classes, and volunteer work...

My child likes to be around other kids her age, lots of them. She's also very competitive, and likes to get good grades and works hard to make honor roll, which she wouldn't get at home. By all accounts, she learns life's lessons better in a peer group, and nothing I do at home can change that. (If we weren't in an exemplary public school district, I might feel differently, of course)

The argument that has been oft-stated upthread, that homeschooling helps eliminate the unfair arbitrary markers that can ruin a child's college chances, is incredibly specious. You're already talking about a non-conformist educational experience that does not come with built-in counselors, extracurricular activities, awards, honors... does not receiving a D in gym really offset also not having leadership opportunities? or not having a GPA by which an admissions board can fairly measure an applicant?

Does learning how to take standardized tests just suck? Sure, but ask your average National Merit Scholar if she feels slighted by having gained those skills. Does having to take a rounded schedule of courses create lesser grades for the child who doesn't want to work to succeed in those courses? Sure, but last I heard, plenty of universities are still requiring basic prerequisites for undergrads, which might not have anything to do with one's eventual major.

I'm not saying that classroom learning is necessarily The Right Way, but it sure is the norm for college admissions boards to review.
posted by pineapple at 7:02 AM on November 27, 2006


You are not arguing well, Navelgazer. You are not even discussing the same form of education as the people you are debating. I appreciate that you are a guy with a opinion, but you do not seem to be well informed beyond your gut feelings on the subject. (And as an aside, your numbers make no sense. If education were as well funded as the military, our economy would have to grow ENORMOUSLY , even if most other spending were eliminated). What are you bringing to the table other than you are a guy who has been to school, and thinks it was just fine? We don't have a school system in the states, we have a zillion of them. People are in different circumstances. Some people in public schools are seriously debating about if they are going to spend time learning about Intelligent Design. In my city people are scrambling to get their kids in magnet schools, and my coworkers who are parents have worried conversations about when to move to the suburbs to get into a better school district.

If your assumptions matched up with our experience, I would give you some benefit of the doubt. The idea that parental involvement in a child's life leads to drugs and promiscuity contradicts every study I have ever heard of.

We did not stumble into this, we read on the subject for years before our child was even conceived. I have met these excited kids, and I find myself jealous that I did not have the opportunity to grow up as they are going to. It is frustrating to deal with someone who seem to be insisting that I have a fundamentalist bent.

I am trying to help my child, and you are trying to win an argument. Send your kids to public school. I will vote to fund education, and wish you nothing but good luck. We will be paying attention, and if something better than what we and our friends can provide comes along, will take advantage of it
posted by thirteen at 7:14 AM on November 27, 2006


Again, I can't read all these comments right now, but I would like to post this link to a This American Life show on school reform in Chicago, because I feel it would add to the discussion, and because I hate the New York Times for its shoddy work. I should really make my own post. one day.

From what I remember, the school improved when the teachers were given more authority to shape the school to the needs of the students. And the school worsened as the feds cracked down on the school. But that's a bad recollection.

TAL archive (scroll down, ctl+F "school")

transcript [pdf]

Ira Glass' All Things Considered work
link to mp3s

“It is not clear to me how they will transition to a structured world and meet the most basic requirements for reading, writing and math,” said Luis Huerta, a professor of public policy and education at Teachers College of Columbia University, whose national research includes a focus on home schooling.

It is not clear to anyone. It is the hope and furious discussion of all, including the kids. I think including kids in on the discussion is important.
posted by eustatic at 8:40 AM on November 27, 2006


If we could take a large group of children from more-or-less identical demographics (in terms of family makeup, location, income, social class, race, religion, parents' level of education, yata yata), send half to public schools and homeschool half, I'm betting that by college age, the two groups would turn out more or less the same in educational attainment -- although the public school group would undoubtedly be somewhat more regimented and less risk-taking. So much of how kids feel about learning is modeled and ingrained well before they get to kindergarten, and even crappy schools can't beat a love of learning out of those who get it reinforced elsewhere. Not that that in any way justifies tolerating crappy schools.

In college classes, I see students from all sorts of social and educational backgrounds, and there are certainly some striking differences, but what strikes me most is a disengaged samey-sameyness of the sort that Surfurrus described so nicely. What I struggle with most as a teacher is trying to find a way to help 18-year-olds want to learn anything at all, to help them find some motivating stake or incentive.

Yes, the stultification of non-student-centered institutionalized learning is partly responsible for that, but a whole lot of other things contribute. Even homeschooled kids are subject to the homogenizing, blandifying influence of the mass culture -- to the extent that their parents allow them contact with it.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:04 AM on November 27, 2006


My oldest sister homeschools their 4 kids, and while they'll probably all be doing calculus by age 13, I fear they'll be socially retarded (literally). I mean, would you rather your offspring learn to deal with bullies and assholes when they're 8-15 years old or 20-25? They will have to learn sometime, and the stakes are significantly higher later in life -- fist in your face vs. gun in your face.

I just had a weird thought:

Why is there no formal social education system? I mean, we teach history, math, biology, writing, etc., but I've never once seen an academic class for "how to deal with bullies" or "how to be successful with [insert preferred gender here]" or "how to make friends" or even "how to dress well" or "how to have fantastic sex"... Most of us -- myself included -- use so little of we've learned in higher learning on a daily basis: calculus, french history, etc. But the social stuff, the stuff we use every single day, we're just expected to learn on our own.

Why is that?

Would you rather be socially miserable and make $80k/year or happy & well-adjusted and make $50k/year?

Or is finding one's own way in the social sphere the whole point of being human?

For reference, I went to public school, then got a bachelor's and master's degree in mechanical engineering. Admittedly, that's a pretty geeky major, but the closest I got to any formal social education was in Human Sexuality and Public Speaking classes for gods' sake. (Maybe business or liberal arts majors explicitly teach some of the other stuff?) I work as a freelance software developer now, completely self-taught, and use almost none of my higher education in that profession. Heck, high school math is about as complex as it gets in my daily work life. And, ya know, I used to poo-poo fraternities & sororities as "buying friends", but I'm starting to think they're about the closest thing to a formal social education out there.

Most of us will agree that traditional school-based education does provide a better social education than home schooling, but it's just a byproduct of having a bunch more kids thrown together -- not because of any concerted effort by the school to teach social skills (other than "obey", "be punctual", etc.).

Just seems like a huge blind spot in education, one that could have a huge impact not just on general happiness, but on crime, mental health, etc.,
posted by LordSludge at 9:18 AM on November 27, 2006


Surfurrus, the Gatto essay ("6 lessons") was probably the worst case of recommended reading that I have ever encountered. A case so poorly presented that it could be satirized with little or no effort. Riding a train promotes conformity. Driving a car promotes standardization. Getting a job promotes conformity. Washing your hands before a meal promotes germophobia. Learning that 2+2=4 promotes uncreativity and segmented learning. It is just one bombastic non-sequitur after another, but the normative assumptions in the essay makes it a self-parody already. It is so ridiculous that only a libertarian would have wrote it. Home school is not education reform anymore than gardening is agricultural reform.
posted by Brian B. at 11:16 AM on November 27, 2006


oh man. i am a certified teacher. spent five years teaching delinquents. now i substitute teach at what can only be called the best high school in my town, which is a charter school. i also read SAT essays for a part-time job. (by the end of a ten-day session, i've read nearly a thousand essays.)

and i homeschool. our method for the 10 yr old is somewhere between radical unschooling and curriculum based homeschooling. in other words, we don't coerce learning so much as we leave things open to the child's interests. but we don't ignore state standards utterly, since the child's mother is too uncomfortable with homeschooling in and of itself to be as free form as we would otherwise like.

homeschooling was not something we forced on the boy. he chose it--begged for it after third grade. he went to the best elementary school in his district, but he could clearly see the way the wind was blowing, what with test-obsession, a lack of art class time, and the blizzard of worksheets that bored the piss out of him. his renewed interest in learning, and just generally his interest in life has undergone a renaissance obvious to everyone who knows him.

he--on his OWN, from his OWN interests--studies all kinds of history that is far advanced of where he'd be now in fifth grade, has skipped far ahead in reading, and just generally has been able to experience a wide range of learning on his own terms in ways that continue to impress those who meet him. school, by his own account, was killing his interest in most things.

there are so many misconceptions out there, but there's no point really in addressing them all. suffice to say that we are atheist, world-interested, highly educated folks who believe that there should be more choices for students, not fewer. (our other child chooses school. we worry far more about her than about the child at home, since she's learning well, for example, how to do the minimum required in order to get a decent grade. in her lang.arts class, she's been amazed at the fact that she's been assigned the same book she read in 2nd grade.)

Do you and your family have the type of income that would allow for it?

i'm not sure what this question means. we work at home, and by any stretch would be considered low-income. but we have well-equipped computers, access to decent libraries, and many learning tools at home. aside from time issues, why would one have to be high income to homeschool?

and for those who've asked how someone who's a single parent can do it--many people have jobs that are flexible. in our little homeschool group, everyone is a single parent. we share childcare and schooling--gives our kids time to play with others, and get access to other expertise.

Are you passionate about making sure that they get the best education they can, tailored to what they are most interested in and how they can best learn?

i'm pretty sure you'd have a hard time finding any unschooler or homeschooler or schooling parent who would say otherwise. (aside from the fundies, who would still say so, but differently.)

Are you, truly, the most qualified person to teach them, or assist in their self-led learning?

have you been in a school lately? teachers, even the best teachers, are too busy and distracted and buried by NCLB paperwork to be able to teach anywhere near effectively. not to mention the fact that talented children are *constantly* lost in the shuffle.

and then don't forget the fact that, like in any profession, good teachers are few and far between. don't you remember the jokes about education majors? they were always among the most stunted, stupid people i knew in college. and yet, there they are, teaching your children. i hardly think that they're more qualified than i am.

Are you expert enough in Literature, History, Math, Science, Art, Music, and Foreign languages to teach them to your child, not just competently, but in a compelling way?

please. i again point to the fact that good teachers are not the norm, but rather the exception. we do, between the two of us, work well in most of these subjects up through high school. that does make us outside the norm of homeschooling parents, but there will always be places where we don't have expertise. the world is full of talented people (or technology) who are able and willing to pick up the slack, whether for pay or trade.

Are you willing to make sure that your child maintains an age-appropriate knoweldge and application of not just the subjects they like, but those they find difficult as well?

are you aware of how those standards change with the wind, and politics? are you aware of the vast numbers of students in the school system who fail to make these arbitrary marks on a regular basis, and yet are passed on for lack of personal interest taken? are you aware of the fact that the majority of people in this world fail to learn their basic skills until they *need* to, since that is the way that most people learn?

here i am, in the best high school in town, where a huge proportion of them have never learned their times tables. where writing a coherent sentence is a rare skill.

if you were put in front of my computer screen and read even a dozen of the SAT essays i read, then you would know how dismal our school product has become. NCLB (and teaching to the test) has resulted in an amazing number of kids who read the same thing at the same time of year, and can spit out a few uniform facts and insights handed to them by a teacher and little else.

Is it important to you to make sure that you yourself can handle any academic or social difficulties your child may face, instead of risking them learing how to handle things on their own?

um. what? i think you'd be pretty hard put to find any homeschooling or unschooling parents who don't fall all over themselves to help their children through their academic and social difficulties. i'm pretty sure that it is the schooled children who suffer more with this issue.

Is it worth possibly damaging your child for life to ensure that the only trauma they face in their school years comes from you personally?

this is an absurd question. i don't know of any homeschooled children who don't spend much of their time out and about in the world, being social with all kinds of other kids and adults. do you think they're being imprisoned?

is it not true that many children do well to be in a smaller social milieu? between going to a sport (ours does TaeKwonDo), and hanging out with his friends, he gets plenty of social intercourse. but he isn't big on crowds, and didn't care for the irritating pressure to conform he received from his peers on the playground. they were dragging him down, so he chose to get out. pretty mature choice for a third-grader, IMO.

he may go back, someday. we won't stop him. but i'll tell you--i've met quite a few ex-homeschoolers where i sub. they're not real sure about the trade-off. there are more social opportunities to be sure. but for the most part, they are surrounded by kids whose main learning has been to game the system in order to do the least amount of work possible. is that real life, per jonmc? i suppose so. but if a child chooses to walk a path toward a more fulfilling life, i certainly hope no one would stand in h** way.

the fact is that the world is full of people who learned very little in regular school. they are well-trained, i suppose, for a cubicled life. but our little artist, who is clear on what he wants to do in life, looks for more. i'm sure he probably won't be rich, but i'm betting more on his happiness.

i spend a lot of time in my avocation researching school reform, worldwide. the movement either entails tinkering with and softening a system that is widely agreed to be seriously outmoded--the so-called "industrial" model of schooling we've been operating under for the last hundred years or so--or restructuring it entirely. these restructurings will inevitably encompass a more home-based lifestyle (for those who can swing it, and those people will exist more and more as jobs can be done from home offices) with school buildings being used more as community centers, free computer labs, and for in-person classes (and tutoring) for those subjects that require them.

even if we don't get out of the testing obsession we're currently entrenched in for some years, good test takers are generally made by a drill & kill method that is being optimized by technology as we speak.

where will the american economy have its talents well-used? well, cubicle jobs are fast going overseas, in case you haven't noticed. it's the creative folks, those who can think differently, those who have an ability to be entrepreneurial in mind-set or self-directed who are in demand--and ivy league schools are taking notice, which is why homeschoolers (and unschoolers!) have generally been shown to have no problem getting into good colleges of any type. how? just like someone above said, they sell themselves. they put together portfolios, lists of what they've been doing. many unschoolers start taking community college classes in their interests as soon as they're old enough, giving them an edge on many schooled children. they apprentice. they learn skills. they get jobs. whether they've got SCA hippie parents and end up blacksmithing for a living, or super-academic parents and end up going to MIT, i'd hardly be worried about them.

i'm far more worried about those kids who write essays full of disillusionment at the suburban lifestyle expected of them, or the realization that they're not qualified for college classes, or those who see the wasteland of job-hell ahead of them and wonder at the point of it all...
posted by RedEmma at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2006


I am a teacher (not that it is in anyway relevant)
and a parent of 4 successful adults all of whom are
intelligent, sane and successful in their lives.
All were given the option of staying home or
going to school. They all ultimately chose the former.
I heartily support anyone planning to keep their kids
out of school - at least until around 8 years of age.
Two reasons for this:
First by that age a child has a much more developed
sense of self and their own true interests, so that if
he/she enters school and it is a physically or emotionally unhealthy environment, that child will be much better
able to recognize that, and, if necessary - get out or at
least into different, more supportive environment.
Secondly, assuming the parents are supportive of
exploration and natural curiosity, as well as being
commited to making their child feel valued and
respected, the child will have their love of learning
more deeply ingrained, and will not as easily have
it knocked out of him - which most school are
particularly effective in doing.
For the limited amount of good that schools do,
they often foster the worst in human behavior:
self-interest and alienation at the expense of
cooperation and collaborative problem solving;
an exclusive focus on goals rather than process;
external success at the expense of inner strength
and self knowledge; artificial division by age rather
than interests...and on
Do yourself a favor: try to meet some homeschooled
kids. For the most part you will find them open,
confident, curious, interested and interesting - qualities
schools continually tout yet rarely achieve.
When children are ready for something that schools
can offer and that can't find elsewhere - don't
worry - they seek it out and soak it up like a sponge.
Problem is, most parents are products of the system
and, unless they have been exposed to healthy
alternatives, are very unlikely to seek them out and
even if they do, may not pursue better options for
their kids because of the sense of powerlessness and incompetence which the school system does such a
fine job of promoting.

ps I cannot speak for those who homeschool there
children for religious reasons, but I suspect much of
the same holds true
posted by st3phen at 3:53 PM on November 27, 2006


"Why I am against Homeschooling"

posted by Brian B. at 6:50 PM on November 27, 2006


Homeschooling as thought reform?
posted by Brian B. at 6:59 PM on November 27, 2006


A little bit of incomplete but possibly helpful historical perspective: into the twentieth century, many aristocrats and other elites educated their children in the home using tutors and governesses. Many brilliant figures in European history, like John Milton and David Hume, supplemented their university educations with long courses of autodidactic study in the home and educational travel abroad. I believe that the first "public schools", now a term used for the most selective private schools in England, were so called because they were open to large groups of students, as opposed to far smaller schools that might have been located in the home of a clergyman.

Universal public education is a modern development, and a wonderful one--if you can read the newspaper and figure out the area of a triangle, you've got a leg up on the average 18th century European. But if I had to choose between a classroom of twenty and an individual learned tutor, like the ones Nabokov had, for my hypothetical future child, I'd pick the latter. I even think it would be pretty fun to be that tutor; I just need to convince my hypothetical future spouse to support us.
posted by sy at 8:02 PM on November 27, 2006


Brian B., i hardly think that one lonely ex-homeschooler and the example of krazy-kristian-kollege has done much to make a point.
posted by RedEmma at 8:06 PM on November 27, 2006


Brian B., i hardly think that one lonely ex-homeschooler and the example of krazy-kristian-kollege has done much to make a point.

RedEmma, I've got personal anecdotes for pages and more, but modesty doesn't allow me to ask that people take my word for it, because, frankly, it shouldn't count. So, you think they were born crazy or just brainwashed by their parents?
posted by Brian B. at 11:31 PM on November 27, 2006


UNschooling is very radically different from homeschooling. I understand very well that you have issues with fundamentalist christian parents who homeschool their children in order to keep them from being "worldly" and to monopolize their thinking toward christian aims.

But, again, UNschooling is very radically different from homeschooling. UNschooling is based on total trust that the child will learn anything important to his life in his own time at his own pace. There is no mandated schedule or curriculum or "learning expectations". There is no "teaching". There are no gold stars or any other kind of reward for studying what the teacher wants them to study or for completing X amount of work. It is free-flowing, dynamic, and dependent on completely open two-way communication and access to any resource/avenue the child wants to pursue. Parents act as facilitators or resource specialists to help the child find the information and tools needed. Parents have no duty to "teach"; instead they simply live an interesting, stimulating life and know that the child will model their passion. Unschoolers believe that the idea of "teaching" a child anything at all in life is as impossible as teaching them to walk or talk...it is totally up to the child what and when they want to learn or do. Unschooling is about letting go and trusting.

The most radical of unschoolers extend this thought process into ALL areas of life, limiting the number of artificial/arbitrary rules imposed in their homes. Scheduled bedtimes and mealtimes don't exist, for example. The child is completely trusted to determine when they're tired or hungry. From experience, they learn that staying up too late for too many days in a row affects their ability to function during the daytime. Some children might learn this quickly, while it may take many tired/cranky days for others to determine what is best for their brain/body. The parent in this situation would act as Best Friend, giving feedback and keeping communication open. But they won't impose a bedtime.

The emphasis in the UNschooling house is about living by principles instead of rules. Public schooling is about following rules. Homeschooling is about following rules. SCHOOLING of any kind is about following rules.

UNschooling is not about rules.

The original post was not about homeschooling. Please read the posted NYT and MSNBC articles again. Most homeschoolers see UNschooling as extremely permissive and scary. I don't really see how UNschooling could possibly work for those who want Control over their child's mind and actions.
posted by Bradley at 4:43 AM on November 28, 2006


The most radical of unschoolers extend this thought process into ALL areas of life, limiting the number of artificial/arbitrary rules imposed in their homes.

Obviously, if most "mainstream" folk object in some ways to regular old homeschooling, they're going to froth at the mouth over the idea of unschooling. I support the basic social libertarian principle that parents have the right to rear their children in whatever ways they see fit so long as that doesn't involve abuse or neglect, but it's always interesting to consider when permissiveness crosses the line into dereliction of parental duty (and duty to raise non-sociopathic members of society). I don't really know where that line is, but taking any educational philosophy to an extreme -- which is mere faddishness in at least some cases -- is probably unwise in the long run and smacks of just another kind of simplistic fundamentalism.

All I know for certain is that I really, really don't to sit at the restaurant table next to a family of unschoolers.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:36 AM on November 28, 2006


er, don't want to sit.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:37 AM on November 28, 2006


Unschooling is not un-parenting. On the contrary (as the posted NYT and MSNBC articles make pretty clear), unschooling requires more intensive parental involvement, patience, and dedication.

In my view of things, "dereliction of parental duty" would be a more apt description of turning over the raising of kids to schools and peers. It's the common and usual "norm" these days, but it feels wrong and unnatural to me.

Thus my decision to "deschool" myself philosophically, and unschool my child.
posted by Bradley at 6:32 AM on November 28, 2006


In my view of things, "dereliction of parental duty" would be a more apt description of turning over the raising of kids to schools and peers.

Good point, and I wasn't equating unschooling or non-controlling parenting with poor parenting. Sorry if it sounded that way. Good parents seem to find lots of ways to do it well; bad parents find lots of excuses not to. Obviously, even the least authoritarian parent isn't going to endorse, "Go ahead and shove your hand in the boiling water if that's what you want, Timmy."

We could all stand to apply more Walden-ish ideas in our lives, so that element of unschooling is very attractive to me as a member of the admittedly lockstep educ. establishment. Course, a kid engaged in this free-form process is, for instance, probably going to be unwelcome at a slumber party in a household that has set bedtimes, etc., not that that is any big loss, and will probably be regarded by many peers as an "oddball," which, if you ask me, is a badge of honor.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2006


Brian B., i think, as has been noted above, that you aren't making necessary distinctions between religious-separatist homeschooling and homeschooling for the purpose of individualized "child-led learning"--whether that be of the "relaxed homeschooler" variety or Unschooling. neither of which are very similar to the "keep them away from the heathens" mentality so prevalent amongst the fundamentalists who create fundy colleges to keep the game going. do i think those parents are going to get a rude awakening when their children don't turn out to be molded in the image they wanted? surely.

however, unschooling parents and others of us mish-mash homeschoolers who do it for the purposes of a *larger* world rather than a smaller one are operating from an entirely different way of thinking. and thus, when you trot out someone whose parents isolated him, and then a story about a college full of similarly isolated folks, you're not speaking the same language as those who are interested in unschooling, not in the slightest.

too often, the "concerns" about non-religious homeschooling of all varieties are misdirected, and more often than not, a cover for a sense that "kids should have to go through the same boring, meaningless exercise that i did, because that's just the way it is." well, i guess there are those of us (even former teachers like me) who say enough.

we're fast moving into a world where the school building, no matter how high-tech and modern you make it, isn't enough. if you want to continue to warehouse kids so they're out of your adult way during the day, and out of the workforce, and off the streets, well, you're in the majority, probably. but it's been proven over and over again that schools didn't work well during the industrial era it was meant to support, and it ain't working now. the purpose we all wish schools were for has been proven to be a failure for most children. in any other industry, that would be a recipe for a drastic reworking. (unless, of course, you understand schools to have certain purposes, which they are quite good at: fomenting patriotism, categorizing children for the convenience of employers and the distributors of higher education, warehousing, marketing orientation--and most importantly, teaching them that no matter what happens, this is the way it is and will always be.)

unschoolers and homeschoolers are a growing group of people who are opting out because they believe that learning and education as it has been are not one and the same. that the world is the best teacher, and that schools are about as far from "real life" as living in a prison is from living in a community.
posted by RedEmma at 3:00 PM on November 28, 2006


they believe that . . . the world is the best teacher, and that schools are about as far from "real life" as living in a prison is from living in a community.

In other words, people who don't have traditional jobs so that they don't see the similarities between school and life. And people for whom "real life" is startlingly free of deadlines and pressure. Maybe because they're independently wealthy, or because they're living "off the grid" in the desert somewhere.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:37 PM on November 28, 2006


well, let's see. is being a substitute teacher a "traditional job"? how about being a professor? working in a grocery store? being a minister? going to college? stay-at-home parent?

none of the folks i know who do this are "independently wealthy" or "living off the grid." they simply have different priorities.
posted by RedEmma at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2006


This has been depressing and pointless.
posted by thirteen at 2:54 PM on November 29, 2006


well, let's see. is being a substitute teacher a "traditional job"? how about being a professor? working in a grocery store? being a minister? going to college? stay-at-home parent?

If a substitute teacher, professor or grocery store employee thinks that their real life isn't like school, they're delusional. And yes, being a minister is not a traditional job, going to college is not a job at all (and it is school), and a stay-at-home parent is, by definition, supported financially by someone else.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:27 PM on November 29, 2006


Having been an educator for the last seventeen years, I have to say that I feel strongly both ways. I have seen home-schooled and unschooled children enter public school and step right in and do fine, both academically and socially. I have also seen children who were years behind their peers either academically, socially, or both.

I have to say that I cringe when I hear schools referred to as prisons. The truth is...some are, most aren't. Educators know full well that each school has a culture all its own, which is affected by the administrators, the teachers, the students, and the parents. Out of the four schools I have been at, I would have to say that only one of them was truely a wonderful place for children and adults, but the other three weren't prisons by any stretch of the imagination either.

My main concern is that both of these valid methods of educating children are all too often used as an "out" for parents who just don't want to deal with their child's issues. Learning disabilities...let's homeschool. Behavior problems...let's homeschool. One student of mine was jerked out of public school to be "home-schooled" because we felt that he needed consequences for hitting another student on the head with a rock on the playground. I wonder just how much "home-schooling" he received.

Anybody interested in doing a social experiment and volunteering your town to shut down its schools and everybody unschool? Seriously, can anyone think of a culture or society that basically uses this method of educating its populace? If so, how does it work?
posted by rcavett at 8:30 PM on December 2, 2006


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