I’ve had it. I’ve really, really just had it.
Every time I’m at a social event, someone who genuinely wants to know will ask me, “So how’s school going?”
And someone else will pipe up, “Pssh! School? She’s an unschooler!” Laughter.
As if that means something. As if being an unschooler means I have completely abandoned all parental responsibility as well.
As if being an unschooler means I am uninvolved, unconcerned, unplanned, uncaring about my children’s education, or worse, completely lazy.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not.
And, yes, your ten seconds of guffaws reveal your ignorance.
So put aside those prejudices for a while and let me tell you what unschoolers really do, how we do not shun sit down work and how our children are not wild and how, really, we’re not hanging out in our pajamas eating bon-bons every day. You probably won’t listen, but let me tell you anyway.
Unschoolers are almost always planning the next step
Unschoolers are usually great researchers. They revel in learning and collecting information. They have scores of lists and they are members of at least five different online groups. Based on their children’s interests, they are almost always planning the next book, the next curriculum, the next week. I have a book list that I have compiled, for example, with 500+ books on it.
You can find unschoolers poring through online sales, library sales, library catalogs, yard sales and pretty much every place you can expect to find something their children can learn. They are found at homeschooling conventions, even odd places such as their neighbors’ and relatives houses and garages because their children have expressed an interest in learning to change a tire, or sew, or learn to play a musical instrument.
With very few exceptions, unschoolers are observing their children and planning the next step almost all the time.
Unschoolers guide their children’s education with an eye to their interests.
The reason why an unschooling education doesn’t look like school to those who love to poke fun at us is because unschoolers tend to keep an eye out for the children’s interests and guide them in that specific direction.
I’ve said before that I have some non-negotiables that I absolutely focus on in our sit down work, but otherwise, our school days are very fluid and the children barely know that they are learning. Our lessons are short and, more importantly, customized to their individual personalities and interests.
As I have mentioned in my book, The Classical Unschooler, if I see the potential in a child that he does not see himself, I will push him a little toward it. As an unschooler, I am not abdicating complete responsibility as a parent. But for the most part, I work within his interests and abilities.
Unschoolers are non-institutional in their approach to education
I think this is the rub that gets most people and this, right here, is the reason unschoolers get such a bad rap. We are not afraid to flout the rules. We are not asking teachers for permission, for guidance. We want nothing to do with how it’s traditionally been taught. We don’t want their tests, their teaching material.
We don’t like classrooms. We want to do it ourselves.
Most unschoolers have a well defined philosophy of education and want to do it our way.
That’s the reason we have pulled our children from said institutions to begin with. And we work hard not to bring institutional thinking into our homes. The worst thing you can tell an unschooler is the right way to do things because we know that most of what you’re saying is just plan old convention. And convention doesn’t usually work for unschoolers without a compelling reason.
Unschoolers teach skepticism
…or discernment, if you will. Because of the way unschoolers conduct their schooling and their lives, because we do not accept any textbook, school or institutional authority as having the gospel truth without first researching and double-checking it, unschoolers teach their children a basic skepticism that I see as important.
“Don’t believe everything you hear!” goes the old mantra and yet, teachers in traditional schools spend an inordinate amount of time reading from textbooks approved by a committee, only recommending books approved by the school board, teaching and testing toward a curriculum that the school wants them to teach and then shake their heads at unschoolers who want to teach their children to think.
From all these jibes big and small, I am beginning to conclude that humor sometimes is the last weapon left in a lot of people’s arsenal. And if that fails, there’s always derision. Hence the jokes, the talking down.
Some might accuse unschoolers of being proud, but I don’t think that’s it at all. Just because we refuse to take something at face value and trust our judgment over that of a school’s doesn’t make us proud. It makes us self-governed and humble. It makes us responsible – something many have forgotten how to be and something we desperately need in the people of today and the days to come.
The Classical Unschooler: Education Without School is now on Kindle! Get your copy here.