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Don’t Call It School

Despite working most of my adult life in the structured environment of public education, I find a lot to like in a growing trend called unschooling.

This is a branch of homeschooling in which parents reject “the basic foundations of conventional education, including not only the schoolhouse but also classes, curriculums and textbooks”.

The families who subscribe to this seemingly radical concept of education make some excellent points about the downsides to public schools.

Adherents say the rigidity of school-type settings and teacher-led instruction tend to stifle children’s natural curiosity, setting them up for life without a true love of learning.

“When you think about it, the way they do things in school is mostly for crowd control,” said Karen Tucker, a mother of three boys who is an unschooler in Siloam Springs, Ark., and belongs to the Unschoolers of the Ozarks. “We don’t duplicate the methods of school because we’ve rejected school.”

You can imagine one of the first challenges to this approach to education opponents try to make.

“One criticism I hear over and over is that children won’t be ready for the real world,” Mr. Farenga said. “That’s ridiculous. We’re saying get them out of the classroom and into the real world. It’s not about isolating them and drilling them.”

He makes an excellent point.

Can we seriously claim that our schools are preparing kids for the “real world”?

unschooling, home schooling, education


  1. Nancy McKeand

    Well, even though I am myself an educator, I don’t know if I could say that about schools. But as a parent who “unschooled” her children, I can vouch for the fact that unschooling can prepare kids for higher education and for the “real” world. I actually think my kids were more prepared because they weren’t isolated from it.

    By the way, my kids are 32, 29 and 19. The oldest has a BS in Nursing; the next graduates from law school next month; and the last one is studying in a community college now.

  2. Eric Hoefler

    It is interesting to me, though also troubling, I’ll admit. I wrote about this recently, but am still not certain of where I stand. My dilemma is that, while I agree current school practice isn’t doing an adequate job, I’m also not convinced that unguided learning is the best solution, either.

    It could be that I’m just not understanding how “unschooling” actually works, but it sounds too open to be helpful enough. While I do agree that getting students “out of the classroom and into the real world” is definitely valuable, is that actually happening? If led and encouraged by parents, exposed to a range of ideas, and supported to persevere in difficulties, then yes … I can see it working. But completely unguided learning, with the option to drop something as soon as it becomes less interesting or too difficult, and without exposure to the range of disciplines, I question its validity.

    I also have no doubt that some learners can greatly benefit from “unschooling.” I do wonder about its general effectiveness.

    Nevertheless, I’d love to see the studies that track learners over time!

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