Unschooling and Learning: A Wise or Unwise Decision?

When a word is preceded by the prefix “un,” a negative force is given to it. Think of a few examples of your own. The antithesis of being American, for example, is to be un-American. You may either be a kind or unkind person. You might consider a popular comedian to be funny or unfunny.

What comes to mind when you add the prefix “un” to the word “schooling”? I draw the same very basic conclusion that I have drawn for my prior examples: a student is either schooled or unschooled. Does this equate to being educated or uneducated? What exactly is unschooling, and why are so many parents choosing this method for their childrens’ education and learning?

Let’s first look at a couple of definitions or explanations that unschooling supporter and blogger Idzie Desmarais provides:

Version #1: Unschooling (usually considered a type of homeschooling) is student directed learning, which means the child or teen learns whatever they want, whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by an external curriculum, by teachers, or by parents. For an unschooler, life is their classroom.

Version #2:Unschooling requires a paradigm shift, one in which you must stop looking at the world as a series of occurrences/resources/experiences etc. that can be learned from, and a series that can’t.  The world doesn’t divide neatly into different subjects, and you can’t tell right from the outset what a seemingly unimportant question, interest, or TV show obsession will lead to.  I learn from: wandering, wondering, listening, reading, watching, discussing, running, writing, daydreaming, searching, researching, meditating, hibernating, playing, creating, growing, doing, helping, and everything else that comprises the day to day happenings of my life.”

The unschooling movement is one that is growing substantially. A 2016 story published by the Christian Science Monitor shares some interesting National Center for Education Statistics data regarding the phenomena. The number of children being homeschooled, according to the study, was a little under 2 million in 2012. Since there is no federal registry of home-schoolers, as the article explains, education researchers actually estimate that number to be up to 3 million. The article also claims that nearly half of all homeschooled students “embrace some variety of unschooling – a category that might range from the Martins’ extreme hands-off approach to that of other parents who incorporate many ideas of self-directed learning but still set some limits and goals for their children’s education.”

Through taking the learning out of schools, unschooled students do their learning in whatever environments they’re exposed to. Sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it? But how does it play out in the long run? In 2014, Psychology Today published a study in which unschooled adults were surveyed on their childhood and adult experiences. Although I won’t go into too much depth about the study’s findings, the results seemed to place unschooling in a pretty favorable light. Nearly all of the respondents believe that the advantages of unschooling outweighed the disadvantages (i.e. dealing with others’ criticisms of unschooling  and social isolation). Smithsonian.com also shared research shared research that makes it appear that unschooled students do just fine when transitioning into a more traditional education environment (i.e.higher education).

With all of that being said, what are the main issues that come with unschooling? What are the learning method’s most prominent critiques?

Talk show personality Steve Harvey recently hosted a parenting panel on his show in which “new school” and “old school” education supporters debated the unschooling trend:

So, what do you think about the unschooling trend? Is it a wise or unwise parental decision for their child’s education?

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