Thursday, January 3, 2013

What Do You Mean by "Unschool"?

Unschooling is probably one of the vaguest descriptions ever. By itself, it doesn't really mean anything. This is because every single person that has anything (good or bad) to say about unschooling has a very specific definition...that doesn't match up with anyone else's definition. I'm sure they'll all disagree with me and insist their definition is right, everyone else's is wrong, and I clearly have no idea what I'm talking about. More power to them.

Unschooling can mean anything from "I let my children help pick their curriculum" to "I think it's offensive and demeaning to ever correct, guide, or in any way parent my child".

I usually use the term "homeschooling" unless I'm dealing with other homeschoolers. Then describe us as "unschool-y" because they undoubtedly have a strict idea of what unschooling is, and we most likely don't meet their criteria.

A better term for what we do would be "Child-led Learning" but people just clarify by saying "you mean unschooling?" when I use it. Being stubborn about my language is something people really tend to hate, so this is an area I kind of translate myself.

So what do I mean by Child-led Learning? I mean the children are essentially responsible for and in control of their educations. I'm still their parent. I still nag them to clean their rooms and do their chores. I don't decide what they are capable of or interested in and then expect them to comply, though. We've moved a lot over the years. When we lived in very permissive states, that meant they were free to study what they wanted, when they wanted, or not to study at all. Because they were never pressured to learn what someone else wanted them to, they never learned to be resistant to knowledge. If they wanted to spend all day trying to dig to China, so be it. When +Liam Shepherd decided he wanted to read and work out of my college statistics textbook at age 7, so be it. He worked 3 chapters with 100% accuracy before tiring of the subject and focusing his attention on the culinary arts instead.

When we lived in areas with fewer freedoms, we handled things differently. Even when they were very young, I would sit down with the kids and explain the laws of the land. We would discuss, together, how they wanted to go about abiding with those laws. That could mean as much as annual testing and choosing curriculum for a variety of subjects. I know a lot of unschoolers just do what they want and try to evade detection, but that doesn't align with my personal sense of morality. As such, it's not a behavior I want to teach my children.

Now, we're back to a fairly permissive state. The kids can basically spend their days outside playing if they'd like, so long as they don't test incredibly dramatically low on standardized tests every few years. That's not what they want, though. The local high school offered to let Liam attend part time and he accepted. So, he's enrolled as a Freshman for Algebra I and P.E. He has enjoyed the academic discussions with his teachers, but finds all the disruptive and immature demonstrations by the students to make 2 classes per day his limit. A couple months ago, he asked us to enroll him in American School of Correspondence. Cora mostly plays with the cat and knits or crochets scarves right now, when she's not reading Shakespeare or something. I suppose I could have just entered that last sentence instead of this whole long thing. It sums up what I mean by "unschooling" quite well all by itself.