Should we be ‘Unschooling’ our kids?

A new education movement showed up on ‘Good Morning America” this week and parents are up in arms about the story. The movement is called “Unschooling.”

Based on what I read and watched on the “Good Morning America” web site, it sounds like a cross between extremely lazy Montessori and homeschooling. The basic gist as far as I can tell is that the kids choose what they want to study and how they want to study. But that they may mean they just watch TV or play video games that day. (I’m only comparing it to Montessori because kids get to choose what they work on to some degree – but in Montessori kids have and actual curriculum and lessons to choose from.)

The report estimated that of 56 million school children, 1.5 million are homeschooled and of that 150,000 are “Unschooled.”

From the GMA web site:

” ‘We find that we don’t need a whole lot of rules,’ Phil Biegler said in the segment that aired Monday. ‘They might watch television,’ Christine Yablonski said. ‘They might play games on the computers.’ ‘They might read,” her husband added. Most children will choose television over reading every time, but Yablonski said that “the key there is that you’ve got to trust your kids to … find their own interests.’ ”

In our house, that’s called summer.

Here are two videos about the movement called Unschooling. The first video is the original story that aired on Monday. The second video is when the parents came on to defend themselves because so many people wrote into “Good Morning America” outraged by the concept.

Original report

Defending themselves – second appearance.

So what do you think? Is this a legitimate way to educate your kids or are they just letting them play hooky as the reporter joked in the piece?  Are there variations of this that could work?

What did you think of the parents in the first video who said they really have no rules and let their children choose when, where and what to eat and don’t make them take care of hygiene issues? (Go back and watch the first video if you missed that.)

128 comments Add your comment

nikki

April 25th, 2010
4:43 pm

Oh, and did anyone else bother to go back BEFORE Maeve’s comment and read the wonderful punctuation in JATL’s entries (I believe a few days prior)? Way to go TEACHER! Let me guess: public school teacher for 10+ years?

JATL

April 25th, 2010
5:14 pm

Nikki, dumb Nikki -that was one of my points -this is a BLOG, but if you’re going to turn in an essay and have it be about how fabulously educated you are by being “unschooled,” then you really need to make sure it’s properly written. So glad you spent your Sunday afternoon checking up on my prior posts though. I spent mine out in the sunshine with my precious, sweet and adorable children! And you don’t know me, my age, my current profession, or ANYTHING about my children and by implying something about my children, you’ve gone as low as a person really can on a blog. Sounds like you’re a homeschooler who isn’t quite confident in her ability to really get the job done.

Maeve

April 25th, 2010
5:47 pm

First, I want to thank everyone who looked pass my grammatical errors and punctuation mishaps to see the message I was trying to get across.

JATL and Catlady, I am sorry that my errors lead you away from the point I was trying to get across. I did not proofread my post (not essay, but post) and obviously it bothered you. Next time I will proofread and run spell check.
I will answer some of the things my errors might have made unclear. I am a high school senior, eighteen, and I am soon to graduate from an accredited unschooling program. Also, I have taken college level courses at the local community college and have not received anything lower than A as my final grade.
So, I think I am ready to go out in the world. I think I am ready for college in the fall. It is obvious that neither of you do, but that doesn’t really matter. What it comes down to is I will be going to college in the Fall and I will keep my high GPA, because I work hard as a student to do so. Your petty remarks and your picking at my post will not make it less so, it will not deter me. I am confident as a student and as a person. If you find my way to be dissatisfactory, well, don’t unschool your children. But I do hope that you also teach them to be civil and polite because that is a real show of character and of intelligence.

John Wycliffe

April 25th, 2010
6:10 pm

We have unschooled our children for more than a decade. Unschooling is a great approach which rather than using a fixed curriculum allows the flexibility of following the child’s interests. If the child is obsessed with dinosaurs, you ride that interest, getting books and videos on dinosaurs, making trips to museums and meetings with archaeologists, and so forth.

Lately the term unschooling has been taken over by the philosophy of radical unschoolers. Radical unschoolers believe that it is oppressive for the parent to teach the child at all. Even if the child requests to be taught something, the parent takes a hands off approach and hopes the child will “discover” how to do division, how to read and so forth. They also are opposed to “coercing” the children to brush their teeth and it is not uncommon for their children to have rotten teeth from drinking soda all day while other radical unschooler friends support the parents decision to forgo dental hygiene and claim the cavities are due to a genetic condition that they are helpless to fix.

Crystal

April 25th, 2010
6:32 pm

I’d like to see a follow-up story showing what happens to these kids in a number of years – when they have their own bills and have to support themselves. Additionally, I understand this isn’t a new idea… there are unschooled individuals raising families, etc. I’d like to hear from these individuals.

catlady

April 25th, 2010
9:26 pm

Best wishes, Maeve. Be sure when you “put yourself out there” you do it in the most polished way possible. In your private writings, anything goes! Remember you cannot make a good point about the efficacy of your education if you demonstrate that it did not provide you with the skills you need. (Sort of like the tea party folks who claim they don’t want the government to take over health care, yet they receive their health care through Medicare).

Hope you do well in the world. Meow!

Haha

April 26th, 2010
9:07 am

@Maeve, don’t worry about the pettines on this blog. You sound like a very bright young lady. The owner of the company that I work for has a college degree, reads books every day and still has some issues with spelling and writing. Not everyone is perfect in everything, so enjoy your time in college. If you let the pettiness of others upset you, you will be unhappy the rest of your life.

nikki

April 26th, 2010
12:59 pm

JATL, if you think it took my entire Sunday afternoon to read through a few posts (seriously, there are less than 100 comments on here), then YOU MUST READ VERY SLOWLY! It took me a few minutes to read through, then a few more to RE-read your posts prior to see how many mistakes I could find (a few). Just like it only took me about 5 minutes of my day to check this forum to see what you had posted, knowing you’d be interested enough in your boring life to keep check on this, which is strange since you have no vested interest in homeschooling or unschooling.
Oh, and before you ask, YES, I will probably check this again later tonight just to see what petty response you posted because I love to read ignorant people picking apart what they don’t understand.
You mentioned that I must not be confident in my ability to homeschool my child. If I told you I was 100% confident, I’d be lying. That being said, as a teacher, could you honestly tell me you are confident of your ability to teach every child every thing they need to know in their future? Can you tell me you are confident in the public school system to teach YOUR child everything they need to know? If you say yes, not only are you a spiteful person, but you are a LIAR. My child is very bright and already challenges me to teach her more every day. Of course I worry about giving her enough knowledge. More importantly, I worry about giving her BALANCE. Life isn’t all about learning 2+2. It isnt’ all xyz. It is a wonderful journey through places and time, full of wisdom, opinions and truth. It has many paths to choose, many forks in each path and many roadblocks. It isn’t just what you learn; it’s how you learn those things. When you think of ALL the things emcompassed in learning (not just scholastics), the possibilities are overwhelming.
That being said, let’s change your question. Let’s pose it “Do I think I can teach my child better than the public school system?” and see what the answer becomes. YES. Yes, I DO think I can teach MY child to respect others in life, to respect God and all of His creation, to think for herself, to look to the Bible for truth before she looks to science for opinion and to do so at her own pace all while learning the three “Rs” (which again is a tribute to our wonderful school systems since Writing and Arithmatic neither start with an R).

nikki

April 26th, 2010
1:01 pm

Oh, and Catlady, sorry I included you in my earlier discussion. Your last post to Maeve was very nice and polite. Yes, Maeve, we all wish you the best in your future just as I’m sure we all wish JATL’s kids. :)

ABCs123s

April 26th, 2010
4:26 pm

I believe that if you have no first hand experience, you probably shouldn’t judge an entire population from a 3 minute biased news story. Obviously they were attempting to rile up the masses, and GMA did a good job with that. Their journalism was sorely lacking, however. On the site the parents have had a chance to rebut the poorly edited piece. For example, their family rarely watches tv, but the reporter requested they film them doing so. Instead of talking about the sport of fencing that their son is heavily involved in, the reporter decided to make him seem like an oaf with no interest in any sports. The questions in the interview were leading and contrived. Answers to open ended questions were interrupted with additional leading questions. It was truly a horrible example of journalism. How could you possibly base your opinions of unschooling on this?

ABCs123s

April 26th, 2010
4:31 pm

BTW, I do unschool part of the year (and use curriculum the rest). I still have rules, discipline, and fix well balanced meals for the entire family. But we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that kids need formal lessons in order to learn. Yes, they need guidance, but they don’t need to be spoonfed all knowledge. Odds are good that schoolkids will forget the content of a test only a day later, even if they aced it. Why? Rote memorization is a poor method of learning, as is learning to perform on a test. When you have true interest in a subject, you want to learn everything there is about it. You are able to tell others in your own words all about it. Sometimes, it leads to a career choice. Yes, you can experience this pursuit of knowledge while also attending school, but I see school as the distraction. Our lives are far more peaceful, and a whole lot more interesting now. YMMV, but relaxed homeschooling and unschooling work for many of us. Don’t knock it till you try it.

TheMoreYouKnow

April 26th, 2010
8:31 pm

Radical unschooling has been around for a while. Much longer than more people think. Thus far, I have yet to hear of a radical unschooler working at McDonald’s or going to jail. Statistically, it must have happened at some point, but so far, haven’t heard of it. If someone finds an example of this actually occurring, the argument that radical unschooled children are more likely than public school kids to fail like this would have some weight. Until then, it’s a made up story.

There are a lot of weird radical unschoolers. Really weird ones, doing weird things. But there are also weird people coming out of public school, doing weird things. Oh well. So they are weird. Who cares? I thought public school was supposed to teach us to get along with all different kinds of people.

I’ve been on a news segment before, and they took over three hours of footage of our family. They used exactly 2.5 minutes of that footage, cut into bits and pieces. When they have an entire day’s worth of footage, anyone doing a show like this is at the mercy of the reporter and how they want to make you look. We are such suckers believing anything that the TV tells us is true when most of the time it’s fabricated specifically to get a rise of some kind out of us. Sure, this family does things differently, but the way they cut it was intentionally meant to discredit the family and their choices, all the way down to their “expert” comments. CNN did an interview with the same family a few days later, and it was much different presentation. Same family, same material, different story.

Unschooling, let alone radical unschooling, is impossible to wrap up in short segment on TV. But we expect everything to be wrapped in little packages for us in a way we can understand. That’s what we’re taught in school, too. So it’s not surprising that so many people see this show and immediately feel that they are an expert not only in this particular family’s errors, but in radical unschooling, and in unschooling, and in homeschooling! All from a short clip on TV!

Unschooling is not perfect, but it’s certainly not the demon so many people make it out to be.

FCM

April 27th, 2010
10:50 am

nikki–that is mighty big of you to be saying we “all” wish Maeve well. You have no right to speak for “all” of us. Now get the chip off shoulder and take a nap…your rant sounded like you need on

FCM

April 27th, 2010
10:54 am

Maeve I do wish you well. Education is important. I just don’t like when one person elects themselves to speak for the group.

Haha

April 27th, 2010
2:28 pm

Think it could be that everyone is tired of all the bickering over stupid crap that this blog is not getting as many responses as it has in the past?

Aubrey

April 27th, 2010
4:20 pm

It should be noted that the Good Morning America film crew was with that family for upwards of eight hours, and then created an edited one or two minute video, highlighting anything that would paint unschooling in a bad light. I think if any of you had the chance to meet this family (which I have), you would come to a completely different conclusion. The parents are not at all lazy or uninvolved. On the contrary, the parents spend quality time with their children, playing games and having discussions, etc. When I met this family (only the mother and two kids), the Mother sat with the kids and a few of their friends for over an hour, having intelligent conversation. The mother also always made a point of asking the teenagers their opinions and asking thought-provoking and insightful questions.

Of course people are going to have a couple of bad moments when a film crew, who is openly against your philosphy, comes into your home for an entire day! The edit was comprised of only these bad moments and highlighted only the points Good Morning America wanted to make. I think the parents demonstrated a great understanding of their educational and life philosophy of unschooling on the follow-up interveiw.

The unschooling philosphy is not “let your kids do whatever they want and hope it works out.” As I interpret it, you give your kids the freedom to choose, knowing that humans are a naturally curious species with the ability to reason. Once children realize they have the freedom to do what they want, it’s natural, I think, for them to watch television, play games, and eat snacky foods. But once they’ve done that for awhile, they will realize the natural, internal consequences and have a better understanding of why watching tv for 24 hours or eating an entire bowl of candy probably isn’t the best idea. Instead of the parent saying, “Don’t eat the candy because it will make your stomache hurt.” or “Because I said so,” the child learns on their own that they will most definitely feel ill after eating an inordinate amount of candy, and they probably won’t do it again. If they do choose to do it again, they’ll learn the lesson a second time, and on until the lesson hits home, and they understand. Giving them this freedom isn’t laziness or neglect, and it doesn’t (in most cases) generate a lack of ambition or an inability to make decisions for the child. Instead, the child is capable of making logical decisions based upon an internal sense of consequence. Many unschoolers, and all of the young adult unschoolers I’ve met, are logical, intelligent, ambitious, talented, and have the ability to be indepedent. Having the option to chose for yourself from the beginning, one quickly (or not so quickly in some cases) learns how to reason things out, analyze situations, and apply critical thought. When unschoolers become adults, go to college (or not), and get jobs, they aren’t overwhelmed by the no-parents, no-rules freedom many formally educated young adults feel when they move out and set off into the *real* world.

That is by no means a full description of the unschooling philosophy, but I think it addressed the points most commonly brought up. If anybody disagrees with something I’ve said, wants to know more, or thinks I’m an idiot, I welcome feedback/constructive criticism and discussion, but I am not here to argue. I say this because in leau of all the recent media coverage on unschooling, I’ve taken to these discussion boards in an attempt to provide at least a little bit of honest information on the topic, and some people are being downright hostile. I’m not trying to attack anyone’s personal educational or parenting philosophy, please do not make unwarrented attacks upon mine. :)

Unoptimistic

April 27th, 2010
6:11 pm

Jan, I have little faith for kids who’s parents are either doormats or just as bad as their bratty kids. That said, this is a step back. A terrible step back. Yes, some kids are active learners but kids do not know how to know what they should know to succeed in the world. You put me against a similar person who was unschooled and I will tromp them academically and socially simply because I was exposed to more opportunities to learn because of school. But as the system stands right now, this alternative will not produce optimal results. Discussion should probably center around how to incorporate the benefits of unschooling into the school system.

Betty

May 4th, 2010
9:12 pm

Are you kidding me? You can’t tell me the first video was not heavily edited. I just love all of the self-righteous, indignant people on here who are saying things like “Those parents are comitting child abuse!” and “Unschooling and homeschooling are the lazy person’s way out!” and on and on and on. Meanwhile, your biggest cities have graduation rates at 50% and below. Your public schools are graduating kids that are barely literate, if at all. Public schools are notorious for violence by students – to the point of having to have “resource officers” on hand – and teachers who take advantage of their young, impressionable minds. Have you been in a public school classroom lately? Yeah…thought not. You have self-absorbed parents sticking their kids in day care at six weeks old, then preschool, then kindergarten, then school and after school programs, and then scramble in the summer time to sign them up for whatever “day camp” they can find, while mommy and daddy chase the American dream. These people never play a game of Yahtzee or Monopoly with their kids. They have no idea what their children like or dislike, because they leave it all up to someone else – or worse – to the State. Then you spout off nonsense about a subject you know absolutely nothing about based on some heavily-edited video from a highly-biased show that only wants to push their ratings higher by taking the most sensationalistic view of the subject at hand. There are so few children whose parents are able to take such an interest in their education that they’ll make the fewest possible number of people mad at them, while boosting the egos of those who choose to outsource their parenting. Never mind that their children will become drones who waste their lives getting their world view from clowns such as George Snuffleuppegus and Juju Chang, Oprah Winfrey, or Dr. Phil. Pathetic.

You can be sure little “Harper” and “Elliot” don’t attend public school.

ILuvTeaParties

May 4th, 2010
9:23 pm

catlady said: (Sort of like the tea party folks who claim they don’t want the government to take over health care, yet they receive their health care through Medicare).

Off the subject, but it’s worth mentioning that these people have paid into Medicare all their lives – whether they liked it or not – with the good faith promise from the government that their medical expenses would be taken care of when they reached a certain age. That is different than Obamacare, which will take drastic cuts from Medicare (500 billion, I believe) – taking from people who have actually been paying into the system – as well as make healthy young people buy a product/service they may not want or need. Obamacare does nothing to cut the actual cost of providing medical care, but does cut reimbursement. The

ILuvTeaParties

May 4th, 2010
9:28 pm

(Continued) poor already have access to medical care through their state’s Medicaid programs. So, who needs medical insurance? The “working poor” – people with families who are earning too much for Medicaid, but find the price of insurance at 12K+ per year to be too much. The CBO has recently come out with a report that says Obamacare could DRIVE UP insurance rates for single people as much as 17%…not lower the cost.

Hopefully, Obama will be a lame duck in November, and a one term President in 2012, and Obamacare will go the way of Hillary Care…

Diane

May 8th, 2010
12:48 am

Enter your comments here

Diane

May 8th, 2010
12:50 am

Unschooling is not new! Do some research before publishing. The phrase was coined at least twenty five years ago.

Corrine

May 14th, 2010
12:39 pm

This is not that radical or out of the norm for the unschoolers I have encountered. I have a child who is now a junior in college, and while homeschooling our son, many of his peers were unschooled in this same fashion. Where are they now? Two are at a state school, eight are home with their parents continuing their unschooling experiment, although at some point I think it is safe to say they have transitioned to unemployment. What a sad waste of potential.

soni

May 15th, 2010
10:58 am

Unschooling is not new. There are tons of unschooled adults. Unschooled can even mean kids do go to school, but it would be the child’s choice to go, not the parents. Many unschooled kids don’t watch TV and play video games as their parents don’t, and most kids can’t afford to buy TV’s or the such. Want to see an unschooled adult talk about her experience? Astra Taylor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwIyy1Fi-4Q if the skip the first ten or so minutes it gets more interesting. A friend of mine’s son just won a physics award at Harvard. He was unschooled as well. Unschooling doesn’t subscribe to the idea that “one size fits all” as our education system does, so it is hard for many to really understand.

soni

May 15th, 2010
11:03 am

Oh yeah, I will add that I am a “College Skills” teacher at the junior college. There are soooooo many of us on staff. You know why? Public schools don’t prepare kids for college. So many kids have very little conceptual and critical thinking skills who come through the public school system, I really don’t see how sending one’s child to public school should make one feel so much superior to someone who keeps their kids home. The unschoolers who sit home all day and watch TV are really just the fringe of unschoolers.

Jordan

June 24th, 2010
3:33 am

I am having a hard time understanding why anyone would call parents who unschool “lazy”. These parents have to be constantly playing an active role in aiding their children in learning and fostering each child’s desires and interests. This seems to be a far more involved, and much less lazy style of parenting than resigning your role as parent, teacher, and nurturer to a formal school system which takes the children off of the parent’s hands for a majority of the child’s waking hours.

rick.

August 16th, 2010
8:59 am

Enter your comments here

rick.

August 16th, 2010
9:03 am

You really put your faith in GMA as a news source? Are you serious?

You certainly have some gall to criticize the educational avenues that others choose, as you can barely construct a complete sentence.