Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Home Unschooling: Theory

Two people commenting on my previous post expressed curiosity as to how we have educated our children. I've decided to do it in two parts. This post describes the arguments for our approach, the next our experience with it.

Our approach starts with the fact that I went to a good private school, my wife to a good suburban public school, and both of us remember being bored most of the time; while we learned some things in school, large parts of our education occurred elsewhere, from books, parents, friends, projects. It continues with some observations about the standard model of K-12 schooling, public and private:

1. That model implicitly assumes that, out of the enormous body of human knowledge, there is some subset that everyone should study and that is large enough to fill most of thirteen years of schooling. That assumption is clearly false. Being able to read and do arithmetic is important for almost everyone. Beyond that, it is hard to think of any particular subject which there is a good reason for everyone to study, easy to think of many subjects outside the standard curriculum which there are good reasons for some people to study.

2. It implicitly assumes that the main way in which one should learn is by having someone else tell you what you are going to study this week, what you should learn about it, and your then doing so.

As some evidence of the failure of that model, consider my wife's experience teaching a geology lab for non-majors at VPI, probably the second best public university in the state. A large minority of the students did not know that the volume of a rectangular solid--a hypothetical ore body--was the length times the height times the depth. Given that they were at VPI they must have mostly been from the top quarter or so of high school graduates in Virginia; I expect practically all of them had spent at least a year each studying algebra and geometry.

As all students and most teachers know, the usual result of making someone study something of no interest to him is that he memorizes as much as he has to in order to pass the course, then forgets it as rapidly as possible thereafter. The flip side of that, routinely observed by parents, is that children can put enormous energy and attention into learning something that really interests them--the rules of D&D, the details of a TV series, the batting averages of the top players of the past decade.

Quite a long time ago, we got our kids gameboys with Pokemon cartridges; at about the same time I heard a lady on talk radio explaining that kids who got high tech toys played with them for half an hour or so and then put them on the shelf. My estimate is that Bill and Becca logged something like eighty hours a month, perhaps more, on those cartridges for many months thereafter-more work and more attention than I, at a similar age, put into all of my schoolwork combined--and continued to play the game at a reduced rate for years thereafter. The skill they were learning, how to find their way around a world and accomplish goals therein, was in one sense useless, since the world was a fictional one. But being able to find ones way around a new environment and accomplish things within it is a very useful real world skill.

3. A related assumption is that you learn about a subject by having someone else decide what is true and then feed it to you. That is a very dangerous policy in the real world and not entirely safe even in school--many of us remember examples of false information presented to us by teachers or textbooks as true. A better policy is to go out looking for information and assembling it yourself.

Part of what that requires is the skill of judging sources of information on internal evidence. Does this author sound as though he is making an honest attempt to describe the arguments for and against his views, the evidence and its limits, or is he trying to snow the reader? That is a skill that is taught in the process of learning things for yourself, especially online. It is anti-taught by the standard model of K-12 education, in which the students is presented with two authorities, the teacher and the textbook and, unless the teacher is an unusually good one, instructed to believe what they tell him.

We concluded that the proper approach for our children was unschooling, which I like to describe as throwing books at them and seeing which ones stick. Leave them free to learn what they want, while providing suggestions--which they are free to ignore--and support. Put them in an environment--web access, people to talk with, visits to the library--that offers many alternatives. If, at some future point, they discover that they need something that was left out of their education, they can learn it then--a more efficient strategy than trying to learn everything they might ever find useful, most of which they won't.


COD said...

That might be the most succinct explanation of "why homeschool" that I have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

You are a horrible man, after my own heart. :)

Will said...

Obvious question: what about work skills, like meeting deadlines or doing what one's told, "taught" in schools?

Scott said...

The undiscussed issue which deserves attention here is that the valuable material that children learn from interaction with other children at school cannot be obtained by homeschooling/library visits/ample online access/etc. Of course, I respect the right of parents' to homeschool their children if they wish and understand that it may be the case that the children will receive a better academic education as a result, but the price that the child pays by missing out on valuable lessons of social interaction seems too high.

This issue is one about which I am especially concerned because I have observed the effects of home-schooling first-hand on the one of my extended family members. My uncle and aunt have been home-schooling my twelve-year-old cousin for about six years now. He is a very bright young man-gifted even, say some tests-and is naturally an eager student. I cannot say that in his home education he has learned more or less academically than he would at traditional school. What I do know is that his growth as a person has suffered greatly because of homeschooling. He lacks basic social skills that most kids his age have already acquired in their early years in school by being forced to interact with other kids (among them difficult and mean kids). In addition, he has a quixotic view of the world that is very unhealthy even for a twelve-year-old; he thinks that most kids in America live in the same comfort and luxury that he and his family enjoy. He can't even understand why someone his own age would disagree with him. Presumably this is because it's been ages since he had an argument with one of his peers.

My point is that it's part of life for kids to learn how to interact with all sorts people from a young age. To a certain degree, I would say, youngsters who are truly smart should even learn what it's like to be held back by their not-as-smart peers. This may have the salutary effect of spurring them on to their full potential in the long run.

Anonymous said...


I'd like it to be a matter of record that your posts on education are the most enlightening to me. I would be ecstatic to see if you have any related ruminations on higher education. I am graduating with my bachelor's in a week, and while I feel that it wasn't the egregious waste of time that K12 was, the college experience has still left a great deal to be desired. The social-networking and status benefits have turned out to be undeniable, which is why I ended up going back after an aborted first semester some years ago. But as far as advancing my intellect goes, it still feels like more of a hindrance than an accelerator, at least when contrasted against my productivity in auto-didactic settings. I have a number of thoughts as to why this may be, but I'm given to understand that yours would probably be closer to the mark.

So if you're taking listener requests, Mr. DJ, then there you have it.

David Friedman said...

Will asks about learning "work skills, like meeting deadlines or doing what one's told."

Even without school, life provides deadlines. My daughter takes harp lessons--her idea, not ours. She has to be ready to go to them, and have done whatever preparation is required. Similarly for other activities. I won't claim our children are terribly disciplined about such things--but neither are their parents.

I don't think learning to do as one is told simply because one has been told to do it is a useful skill.

Anonymous said...

the price that the child pays by missing out on valuable lessons of social interaction seems too high.

Just one guy's opinion, but...

Public school was a miserable meat grinder of name calling and physical abuse, with the penalty for self defense being a sentence shared with your aggressor. The experience drove a few of my classmates to suicide, and I wound up hideously anti-social as a preemptive defense to psychological torture from other students. It took me years to become aware of the scar tissue that had taken hold in my psyche, and further years of constant daily attention to undue the damage.

Probably there are social benefits to traditional school, so in some sense I agree with your proposition. But, I propose that there are also social costs, and I submit that the mere presence of benefits does not a profitable investment make.

Idaho Dad said...

Great post. I agree with you, but to a point. My kids thrive on the structure of a set homeschool curriculum. But that's them. Everyone has to choose what's right for their kids.

Scott, I love it when people trot out the "socialization" argument, because it's so tired and hilarious at the same time. Your cousin's parents are simply DOING IT WRONG. I don't know any homeschoolers in my area who are locked up in their house all day. Just this week, my 9-year-old son has the following outside activities planned: two 1-hour PE classes at a local gym (with kids ages 8 to 12), a Geography Bee, a gingerbread house building party, an afternoon of bowling (with kids ages 6 to 14), and a lake cruise to watch bald eagles feasting on Kokanee. Next week he has more PE, a game day with other 4th graders, and a Christmas party. That's not even counting his time with neighborhood friends, family members, and people in the community.

Most homeschoolers I know receive MORE socialization, from a greater variety of people, than the students marching in lockstep down at the public schools.

Idaho Dad said...

Peter, my school days were miserable too, starting around 6th grade all the way through high school. I think back to all the wasted time, the inane social concerns (like what clothes we wore to school), and the non-stop bullying.

The #1 thing I learned in school was to be afraid of both the students AND the teachers. It took me decades to get over that.

David Friedman said...

Scott asks about social skills. He has a legitimate point--the first home schooled children I met, forty-some years ago, felt socially clumsy, and the one of them I still know still to some degree does. On the other hand, he's had a successful life.

So far as our children are concerned, there are three answers:

1. My post was about unschooling, not home schooling. They have been home schooled for the last few years, but earlier were in a small private school run on unschooling lines.

2. My son frequently does overnight visits with (non-home schooled) friends, so gets some social experience there. He also interacts with people online.

3. My daughter interacts with adults a good deal in the course of her and her mother's shared activities in early music and renaissance dance. She also interacts with a much wider range of people online than she would interact with in a school.

4. I'm not sure that growing up in an age segregated social environment is particularly good training in social skills, but that would be a longer discussion.

5. Judith Miller, in The Nurture Assumption, argues that children's personalities are for the most part shaped by their peer group, not their family. If one, on the whole, prefers the values and attitudes of the family to those of the likely peer group, the social argument becomes an argument for, not against, home schooling.

David Friedman said...

I wrote:

"So far as our children are concerned, there are three answers:"

For large values of three.

Scott said...

Thanks for the prompt reply, David. Before I begin further inquiry, remember that I am in no way arguing that traditional school education be compulsory, but merely suggesting that homeschooling and unschooling methods might not always be best for children.

A few questions:

1. I am a bit unclear about the difference between "unschooling" and "homeschooling". According to Wikipedia:

"Some use the term 'unschooling' to describe methods of education that do not resemble schools, primarily indicating that they do not rely heavily on textbooks or spend much time at desks. The parents actively conduct the children's education, using a variety of resources."

I assume that this definition, or something close to it, is what you attach to the term. In my example, however, how does the homeschool-unschool distinction relate to my cousin's situation? Whether his parents sit down and hit the books with him everyday or whether they provide him with a myriad of available information seems irrelevant to his social interaction.

2. You emphasize the importance of online interaction. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the internet is a wonderful thing for human interaction. Now more than ever it exposes people to new ideas, new people and new possibilities. These benefits not withstanding, I'm not sure it's a good substitute for one on one human interaction between children. Assuming you're making sure that your son isn't talking to online predators or being unsafe online, I'm still not convinced that online interaction is enough. How are children supposed to learn their peers' gestures, vernacular, oral vocabulary and facial expressions if not through forced immersion?

3. You write:

"I'm not sure that growing up in an age segregated social environment is particularly good training in social skills, but that would be a longer discussion."

I think this is a thought- provoking point with which I will neither agree nor disagree for now. However, who's to say that sending your children to school would define their environment? Why can't they still be around adults and talk to people online while at the same time going to school during the day?

4. Another thing I should have mentioned was that like many home-schooling cases, my cousin's was religiously motivated. This fact is probably what bothers me the most. One of his parents (I won't say which) is devoutly religious and undoubtedly does not want his/her son to go off doubting the faith. Citing Wikipedia again, 38.4 percent of homeschooled kids in the United States receive homeschooling for religious reasons. The religious aspect is what I find most unsettling. I wouldn't be surprised if my cousin ends up being "sheltered from" evolution, thus quashing what could have been a keen interest in biology. Of course, Phil points out that my cousin's parents "are simply DOING IT WRONG". Indeed, I would go so far as to say that nearly all religiously motivated homeschooling (and to an extent, private schooling) is gone about wrong. But I guess what I ask in this point is this: do you not agree that homeschooling is not for everyone?

Scott said...

I don't know why it did this, but it seemed to post my blog name and not my username.

Just know that scott = spm and viceversa


David Friedman said...

spm asks about the distinction between home schooling and unschooling. Unschooling involves letting the student control his own time, learn (or not learn) what he wants. It can be done in a school--Sudbury Valley School and schools patterned on it are examples.

Home schooling can be unschooling, but usually isn't. My impression is that the typical home schooled student has a list of things he is supposed to learn, textbooks he is supposed to read, and the like.

Home unschooling and home schooling raise many of the same social issues--but unschooling in a school doesn't.

I would say that for the parents to "actively conduct the children's education" doesn't describe unschooling, since it could easily mean that the parents decide what the child is to learn and then try to make him learn it.

Spm is concerned that online interaction isn't a perfect substitute for realspace interaction, which is true. But it's also true in the other direction--it is unlikely, in real space, that two of my daughter's friends would be a French Canadian couple. And even home schooled kids can have lots of opportunities for realspace interactions with people.

He suggests that one can get the benefits of both approaches. To some extent that is true--and I did. But that means letting school eat up a lot of hours which one could spend instead on getting educated--hours in school, hours doing makework homework.

He raises the issue of religious reasons for homeschooling. To begin with, if the Wikipedia figure is based on the poll I saw, the percentage is those parents who gave religion as one of the reasons for home schooling. The total percentages in that poll add up to about 200%--the average parent reported about two reasons.

Beyond that, I'm not sure how practical it is to keep children from hearing about evolution. And while I happen to believe in evolution, I'm not happy with the idea that the reason everyone should go to school is in order to make sure they all learn the (same) right things. Some parents, after all, might think their beliefs are more nearly correct than what the schools teach--and be right.

On the final question ... . People vary a lot. I expect there are families that would do a bad job of home schooling and kids who would learn more in a school. There are probably also kids who would learn more with the conventional approach, at home or at school, than with unschooling.

My claim is merely that for many kids both home schooling and unschooling work better than the alternatives, and that there are reasons why that is not surprising.

Alasandra, The Cats and Dogs said...

Great post.

In response to Scott said...
The undiscussed issue which deserves attention here is that the valuable material that children learn from interaction with other children at school cannot be obtained by homeschooling/library visits/ample online access/etc.

I know socially retarded public school students. Nobody blames their lack of social skills on the public schools.

Blaming your cousins lack of social skills on homeschooling is unfair. More then likely he would exhibit the same lack of social skills even IF he attended public school because of how you Aunt & Uncle are raising him. But the bottom line is as his parents they get to make the choice.

I am a secular homeschooler and my children are no different then their public school peers other then they have had the opportunity to do more things.

Anonymous said...


Great post. You have presented a very good utilitarian argument for unschooling. However, you neglected the strongest argument, the moral one. If our philosophy of individual rights is correct it must apply to all, even children. Therefore coercing children to "learn" for "their own good", because parents know best, or for any other reason is simply wrong. Unschooling is the only method of education compatible with a libertarian philosophy.

Anonymous said...

In order to make a better education system, we really need to define what the role of education is. The standard k-12 education has no bearing on what children need to learn as they develop. The skills, tools, thought process and most important, self esteem and confidence. Helping a child by nurturing creativity, imagination, teaching morality and respect for other people, far outweighs a curriculum. In most cases, these useful things can be taught with no curriculum at all.

Anonymous said...

Historically, education has been limited by geographic communities where a central "education system" or school aggregated students, segmented them into groups (typically by age) and taught standardized curriculum with the goal of providing students with enough "knowledge" to succeed as adults and contribute to a mostly industrialized world.
The landscape changes drastically with a network such as the Internet. There are infinite subjects and infinite "education" streams with online social networks that transcend geography. This opens up worlds of opportunities for "education", in terms of knowledge, interaction and community.
I would treat education as separate from social interaction, leaving that for art, music, and physical activities where human contact/interaction is the key "education" aspect.

Both are critical, both are beneficial in different ways and both are not addressed effectively in either unschooling, homeschooling or traditional schools...although unschooling is probably the closest.

Michael Roberts said...

I'd like to un-school my kids, but I don't feel I have the resources to provide them with enough oportunities in certain areas: Technical arts and Lab sciences are the main examples.

I don't think I will always be my kids' best educator, but I also don't think my community is set up to help much. And I can't afford to build a TV studio in which to pass on my understanding of the subject.

How do you cope with these types of issues?

A personal experience, just because:
I've recently started a degree after a 6 year period of studying the same subject in thoroughly un-schoolish fashion.

I'm pretty sure the going-back-to-school thing is reducing the amount of knowledge and understanding I will gain over my lifetime by a noticable amount.

Too much time spent learning the course's preferred simplified versions. When I'm in a position to learn the more complex versions just as easily (simplifications being somewhat arbitrary, it's a lot of work to learn them)

I'm definitely learning stuff I didn't know before. I'm just learing it in an incredibly inefficient way, after having spent a long time teaching myself to learn efficiently.

Also, has your daughter considered corespondance for university? there are good programmes, although not recognised as well as they should be... What are your thoughts on this?


Anonymous said...

Great post about homeschooling and unschooling - thank you!

I'd like to respond quickly to three things Scott mentioned in his initial comment, even though others have already responded to some of his comments.

Scott said: "He lacks basic social skills that most kids his age have already acquired in their early years in school by being forced to interact with other kids (among them difficult and mean kids)."

Oh my. Kids learn social skills by being forced to interact with other kids - even mean ones? I'm sure they learn many things under those circumstances, but I doubt the things they learn are positive. Like the time another child - older than my son - taught my son how much fun it is to pull down your pants (underwear included) in front of the class. Yes, children do learn great social skills at school!

Scott said: "In addition, he has a quixotic view of the world that is very unhealthy even for a twelve-year-old; he thinks that most kids in America live in the same comfort and luxury that he and his family enjoy."

Many private school and public school students - particularly those with affluent parents - think the same thing. In fact, my own anecdotal evidence comes from my friend's niece, who grew up in two affluent suburban communities. She attended a h.s. in a community where mansions are not uncommon. My friend simply could not convince this girl that she was not living in the real world. Her ideas about money and about the poor were quite sad. But then, this fall, the girl went to college. After about two weeks she figured it out. She's admitted to my friend that my friend was right. Even at a small elite school, this girl now sees the economic diversity of America - girls who are on full need-based scholarships, who don't get allowances, and who can barely afford their books, never mind afford to go shopping in the bookstore for outrageously priced school schwag.

And one more: "He can't even understand why someone his own age would disagree with him. Presumably this is because it's been ages since he had an argument with one of his peers."

Or maybe, as my friend's niece did, he associates mainly with a group of people who share his experiences and world view.

Schools sometimes help expose children to a variety of opinions and ways of seeing the world. But not always. You can live in a bubble whether you homeschool or not.

Dawn said...

Unnr said:
"I'd like to un-school my kids, but I don't feel I have the resources to provide them with enough oportunities in certain areas: Technical arts and Lab sciences are the main examples.

I don't think I will always be my kids' best educator, but I also don't think my community is set up to help much. And I can't afford to build a TV studio in which to pass on my understanding of the subject."

I think you're making mountains out of molehills here. You don't need an expensive lab to learn about precise measurement, procedures for conducting experiments or critical thought processes that will allow you to translate data into theories. You need kitchen utensils and space to explore. No, a kitchen doesn't allow you to do some of the experiments a high school lab but it's not bigger toys that make interested and skilled students.

Of course many homeschool parents DO find ways to get access to labs.

As for TV studios, what about a digital camera, high speed internet and YouTube? Again, the toys aren't as fancy but the basic skills will be the same. I'd also venture to say a kid with the fredom to make videos for YouTube all day would likely come out ahead of a kid with limited and controled access to a fancy school TV studio.

Honestly, you just have to get creative.

Anonymous said...

Interest post.

One argument against homeschooling (and perhaps by extension against unschooling) is that establishment figures (teachers, the educational system, etc.) know more about what is important for a student to learn than the student or his or her parents.

The counterargument (which David makes) is that much of what schools teach is not important or interesting. Granted. But the flip side of that argument is that much of what schools teach (1) IS important and interesting, and (2) is something that the parents or student might not otherwise learn. This is a Type I / Type II error problem.

This issue arises even at the college level. For example, the U. of Chicago has a highly structured set of requirements for the first two years of college. I went to law school there (and had David as a professor), and realized that I should have read many of the books that the undergrad students were reading. I just had no idea that I should have done so when I was in college. I think the theory is that the faculty at the U. of Chicago knows more about what 19 and 20 year olds should study than 19 and 20 year olds do. And that might be right, even after taking Type I and Type II errors into account.

I'm sure that David and Betty would do (and apparently have done) a better job than most schools of suggesting interesting material and topics. But many parents might not be in the same position, and many schools might be quite good at it.

Anonymous said...

"Unschooling" seems a little too cute, and a lot of the commenters are not figuring out what exactly you mean by it.

It sounds more like "flexible curriculum" or "open curriculum". -Daublin

David Friedman said...

Daublin asks about the term "unschooling." I believe it was originated by John Holt, who used it in our sense.

"Flexible curriculum," to me, still suggests a much larger element of parental control than unschooling involves. I would have said that our curriculum is so flexible that it doesn't exist.

David Friedman said...

Bruce raises the argument that schools may know more than teachers or students about what students should learn. For a college student majoring in a particular subject that might well be true.

But at the high school level, judging by my observation, quite a lot of the curriculum consists of things that most students won't use and don't learn--trig, for example. I'm not convinced that the actual mix of subjects is better than, or even as good as, what a student will get by following his interests with a fairly low level of parental guidance.

David Friedman said...

One point Bruce makes by implication is that we are not average parents, which is true. And our children are not average children.

But then, we aren't comparing the result of home unschooling with the result of going to a random local public school and then a community college, or perhaps Podunk U. I went to one of the best private schools in Illinois (University of Chicago High School) and we currently live very close to a top California private school (Harker Academy); if we wanted our kids to have a conventional K-12 experience that's probably where they would have gone.

Our experience suggests that unschooling for bright kids with bright parents is better than conventional schooling for bright kids with bright parents. We only have second hand information, largely from Sudbury, to support our suspicion that it is also better for more average kids with more average parents.

Michael Roberts said...


But that's exactly my point... the skills aren't the same.

Do a well though-out experiment with cruddy equipment, and you'll learn one result -- that your results never match what the book said. Toying around with some good, accurate equipment, you'll make up a hundred tiny experiments and get results which are actually consistent.

In a TV studio it's even more different. Dealing with sync and switching is... well basically unrelated to working with single-camera footage in an avid.

If a kid was interested, I'd be at a loss, even though I actually have a good sence of how to help in these areas.

Anonymous said...

My unschooled kid chose to take advanced biology at the community college this semester, with formal lab equipment and procedures. Before high school age and into high school, we did plenty of "labs" that any homeschooling parent can do. There are tons of resources. Learning, loving, and understanding science requires more observation and testing than anything fancy during the early and middle years, and there are materials, equipment and ideas readily available to homeschoolers.

When my son wanted to build a sophisticated computer from scratch (and I don't mean Walmart Plug and Play) - way beyond my technical skill - we simply asked at a computer sales/repair business. The business owner was more than happy to trade his expertise for some help in the store from an "apprentice." I still don't know anything about computers, but my son is quite technically proficient and an excellent math student, and is actually considering pursuing a degree in computer engineering.

Son learned HTML and game programming (using existing software) from books, computer experimentation, and working with other geeky kids. Then he took networking and other technical classes at community college, very successfully. Instructor there took additional mentoring steps with our son, for which we were grateful.

My kids belonged to an engineering club run by a homeschool/dad engineer, and they attended a great science program (JASON) conducted at a homeschool co-op.

And so on.

Unschooling and homeschooling don't mean hiding at home. "The world is your classroom." As my older kids have gotten older, my job became that of facilitator - to help them figure out how to get the education or experience they require to meet their goals. Because I'm the adult, I generally have more experience and knowledge about how to network to make that happen, but believe me, by the time they are older teens, they are pretty clear that whatever they want to do and need to learn, someone is out there who can provide that, either formally or informally. And, they begin to take on more and more of handling those arrangements themselves - something that is often overlooked when people are listing the advantages of homeschooling -- it is great for developing initiative and allowing parents to model productive, functional ways of working in the world.

I meet homeschool parents all the time who find creative ways to facilitate all kinds of technical and specialized education for their kids. Often those who think of the school model as the default for education have a difficult time with true "outside-the-box" thinking. However, homeschoolers, who are accustomed to flourishing in the margins, are quite adept at finding unique and effective ways to meet children's INDIVIDUAL needs, thus preparing them well to be productive and contributing members of their communities.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog mentioned on the Sudbury Valley Discussion group today, and have been reading with fascination the various comments made about unschooling, what knowledge all 'need' to have, who is the best 'decider' of what that knowledge is...yadda. yadda, yadda :). As the mother of a 10 1/2 yr old daughter who has been unschooled in a school for 5 years (The Circle School in PA, a sudbury-type democratic 'un' school)I truly, with love in my heart, encourage those with questions and interest in unschooling to look much more deeply than wikipedia. Beyond an 'educational' method, I have found the core concepts upon which unschooling is built (respect for children, viewing children as capable people, albeit with less life experience, allowing young people the responsibility,along with the freedom, to make their own choices-for how else does one learn how to make 'good' choices?...and so much more)to be so much more than concepts that apply to 'education', but as core concepts that apply to life, and parenting. Who knows better than oneself what one needs to know? How to get the information one desires is just one skill at which unschooled folks I know excel...a book, a website, a person...the options are limitless. Just as people learn to walk and talk without 'schools' lessons' and properly certified 'teachers', I see young people learning all sorts of things, from reading, to math, to complex problem solving- all through merely living their life everyday, interacting with other people, functioning in society, at home, and at their 'unschooling' school. How did my daughter learn to write her numbers? Well, she had to sign in and out everyday at school-legibly enough not to get written up by the attendance clerk-she saw the skill was something she needed, and wanted, and she learned. No teacher, no flashcards, no test. Her reading and math skills are developing in much the same way...she wants to know or do something she can't, so she figures out what she needs to know, and learns it- sometimes seeking outside resources, sometimes not. Most of all, she is learning that, not just now, but ALL her life, to trust herself, to figure out what she needs, and how to get it. To be responsible and make good choices- how- through practice everyday- all day long she decides what to do with her time- no one is telling her what she must do or learn or be throughout the day. Her school has an extensive law book, there are rules upon rules for the use of just about everything available to her in school, but those laws are ones voted upon by all school mtg members- one person-one vote whether one is 4 or 44. Wow, all I really meant to do is recommend further reading if y'all really want your questions about unschooling answered..I'd start with John Holt's books as a basis, then move on to the books published by the Sudbury Valley press...check out Life learning magazine, Paulo Friere, too 'Pedagogy of the oppressed' in particular...it could change your view of child rearing, education, your life itself! Peace, Stef

Anonymous said...

That explains your superintelligent daughter.

David Friedman said...

EliezerYudkowsky said...

That explains your superintelligent daughter.

Mine, or Stef's, or ... .

Holly said...

I just found your blog and enjoyed this post very much. I am a former high school Biology teacher and am now unschooling with my daughter(7). I'd like to invite you and your readers, especially those who've expressed faith in the value of school socialization, to read my post called 'The Decision to Unschool'. It explains how my experiences as a public school teacher convinced me that unschooling was the best path for my family.

Lucy said...

For those who wonder how to access resources for science education, I recommend "The Teenage Liberation Handbook" by Grace Llewelyn. In many states, your children have a right to use school facilities and resources even if they do not attend the school.

I think others have pointed it out, but I want to join the chorus. To assert that the only remedy for social awkwardness in a child is school is to pose a false dichotomy. If school is the only answer, how do children learn to socialize in cultures where school does not exist? A great treatment of this subject can be found in a short book called "Hold On To Your Kids." I don't want my son to learn to socialize the way many American children socialize these days- with name calling and trashy music and status symbols. No thanks.

Caeseria said...

I really like this explanation of homeschooling. On the socialization aspect, my son went to preschool one semester, purely for speech therapy. His speech improved. He also came home with some obnoxious behaviors that we have, a year later, trained out of him. Nothing big, he wasn't cussing, but just annoying bratty "three-year-old stuff" he'd NOT done before he was around 10 others the same age, five days a week. You don't let teens teach driver's ed - why let preschoolers, or second graders, or fifth graders, teach each other social skills? The home-schooled children we know are all exceptionally well socialized, because their PARENTS have taught them social skills. They are confident, polite, and just plain sociable with all age groups. Now I will say, when I was growing up, I knew a grand total of two homeschooled girls, sisters, both of whom had social problems, and the family was just strange. I've since learned, that was homeschooling done wrong. They rarely interacted with people outside of their church, and the younger of the two, my friend, is still not self-sufficient in her late 20s. But that WAS homeschooling done wrong. That's not the norm, by any means. And institutional schools turn out their own share of dysfunctional kids. And both the family I grew up knowing, and the family I know now, were/are homeschooling for "religious" reasons as well as academic. But the family I know now is obviously doing it right.

I think the importance of deadlines and work/study ethics are also more readily absorbed when there's a "real" reason - not an arbitrary-seeming, "end of semester" type one. Get them used to the idea through real world experience (having to practice for lessons, prepare for recitals, seeing parents pay bills on a schedule, etc) and then by college, they'll accept, "Okay, Prof says this is due on this date, I'd better have it in on this date." They won't have that 12 years behind them of, "Oh, but I was sick/lost my book/etc," dickering with teachers over deadlines, which in my opinion erodes respect for both the teacher and the concept of school in general. They'll have learned deadlines and schedules in a context that fits the real world. This is just what I think, for what it's worth.

Studying random subjects of interest to their hearts content and learning a ton of other stuff along the way... I just spent most of the waking day on the computer looking at satellite imagery, 17th and 18th century maps, a globe, and Wikipedia-ing for things I didn't know (like the population of Greenland), for the benefit of a seriously insatiable four-year-old. He's obsessed with maps, and everything to do with geography. EVERYTHING. Now mind you, that my four-year-old can tell you the population of Greenland is really not that useful. But in the process of learning everything his brain can hold about our planet, he's learned to read a mind-boggling number of place names, knows his cardinal directions, can find a country on his globe by my saying, "Check northern Europe", "Look in southeast Asia near the Indian Ocean" and so forth, obviously has a more than adequate grasp of spacial relations, and if he continues in cartography, he'll learn A LOT of math, just out of necessity. And it's all because we indulge this cartography thing to the MAX.
The "throw books at them and see what sticks" method is EXCELLENT (love that description), best started early while they're bombarding you with hundreds of questions a day anyhow. I think unschooling is how we'll go for a looong while.