The Unschooling Movement

What is The Unschooling Movement?

The Unschooling Movement is an informal learning approach. It encourages learner-chosen activities over adult-chosen ones. 

The Unschooling Movement was inspired by John Holt, widely regarded as the ‘father of unschooling.’ He served in the military as a World War II submariner. As a civilian, he served as a dissatisfied elementary school teacher.

Coining this term in the 1970s, Holt came to the conclusion reforming the American school system was an impossibility. He began recommending to parents to keep their children at home; to let them decide what to learn and when. 

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Adapt or Die

Believe it or not, we are rapidly nearing the one-year anniversary of the 2020 pandemic stay-at-home orders. A full year later, our nation is still grappling with whether schools should partially or fully reopen. There seems to be a great divide. Some say life must go on despite the risk and uncertainty. While others believe until the virus is contained, life as we had once known it is not obtainable. Therefore, safety should always come first.

Many of us are experiencing ‘pandemic fatigue,’ looking to that faint light now visible at the end of the tunnel. My strategy has always been, life is hard and will always be. Sometimes I simply need to put my head down and continue to slog on. Putting it bluntly, adapt or die.


Even more, I reason that this journey never had to be a battle between these two opposing viewpoints, placing us in an unwinnable ‘us vs. them’ scenario. Unfortunately, career politicians and mainstream media have only ever really offered these two options. I believe the answer must lie somewhere in the middle.


A Renewed Interest and Movement
Toward Learning at Home

Over this last year of virtual and hybrid schooling, we’ve observed many new things about the effectiveness of conventional and screen learning. Some have referred to it as the great virtual learning experiment. 

Parents have asked my opinion about veering from the traditional route and opting for homeschooling instead. This includes both temporarily and permanently. 

Not knowing as much as I would like to about homeschooling options, my canned response to their inquiry has been this: If your family is committed to it and you remain consistent throughout, there is no need to think their child would automatically ‘fall behind.’ In fact, in many cases, it might actually accelerate their learning. I also made a personal vow to educate myself on homeschooling options. 


What is Homeschooling?

The basic concept behind homeschooling is quite simple: Parents accept total responsibility for the education of their children rather than giving this responsibility to an institution. These institutions of course would usually be a public or private school.

The home becomes the center of a child’s education, rather than a school. Caregivers become the primary educators for their children. Homeschool educators guide children through their mental, emotional, and physical development. The parents choose an educational path for their children based on each child’s personality and gifts. 

This differs from an institutional school in which a student’s educational path is managed by many different individuals. Unfortunately, when parts of a child are partitioned over many different people, it becomes much more difficult to see a child as a whole.

Are you a homeschooler?

I would love to hear from you! Feel free to share with me a little bit of your experience: grumble.services@gmail.com.


How is Unschooling Different
from Homeschooling?

This past summer, a parent introduced me to a movement called ‘unschooling.’ She encouraged me to learn more about it, so I have been! Unschooling is often seen as a cousin to homeschooling. 

Unschoolers discover knowledge through their natural life experiences. Examples include through family and household responsibilities, playing, books, personal interests and curiosity. Older unschoolers might learn through internships and work experience, travel, elective classes, mentors, and social interaction. Courses may occasionally be taken. It needn’t be all or nothing!

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Until the spring 2020 stay-at-home orders, unschooling had received little media attention compared to advocates and critics of homeschooling. Now, the unschooling movement is becoming increasingly more popular. 

As with homeschooling, unschooled children don’t attend public school. Unlike homeschooling, unschooling is both lesson- and curriculum-free. Instead, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves. 

The thinking is, the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.

Are you an unschooler?

I would love to hear from you too! Feel free to share with me a little bit of your experience: grumble.services@gmail.com.


The Pros and the Cons

Unschooling challenges the effectiveness of standard curricula, fixed times at which learning should take place, conventional grading methods and standardized testing. 

Further, it questions the usefulness of forced contact with children in their own age group, the compulsion to require homework, the value of listening to and obeying the orders of one authority figure for several hours each day, and other features of traditional schooling.

Proponents of unschooling believe self-directed education in a non-academic, often natural and diversified environment to be far more efficient, sustainable and child friendly. Most importantly, the feel it preserves the innate curiosity, pleasure and willingness to discover and learn new things.

Unschooling, they argue, shows children how to deal with their surroundings and own existence in a self-determined and yet responsible manner. Children will come to understand why certain skills, abilities, values and norms are important through experience. This is opposed to just telling them to obtain and adhere to them. Put simply, children will be better equipped to handle the ‘real world’ outside of the institution.

Predictably, critics of unschooling believe the opposite. They see it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will be neglected and will miss many things important for their future. They further argue students will not experience what it’s like to have to do something you do not want to do. Additionally, those learners will lack the social skills, structure, discipline, and motivation of their schooled peers.


What Can Parents Do in the Meantime?

Deciding to leave institutionalized learning and opting for a home education is not a light one. This choice is very personal, and a lot of external factors come into play. Maybe you have decided that for now, you will keep your children engaged in virtual and/or hybrid school. But what about all this extra screen time?

Screen time is an unavoidable reality of modern childhood, with children of every age spending hours upon hours in front of tablets, smartphones and televisions. Technology pervades our culture and continues to be encouraged at younger and younger ages. 

Just to make things more fun, Rona (that’s my pet name for the coronavirus) has upped the ante. It’s no longer an option for parents to enforce strict rules at home about screens on their children. Virtual this, google that, many parents and caregivers have thrown up their hands in defeat.


When the Time Is Right, Begin to 
Limit Your Child’s Screen Time Again 

I understand why we have thrown our rules about screens out the window. Kids have a keen ability to figure out how to push their parent’s (and sometimes even their teachers!) buttons to get what they want. They want screens. All day long. And they don’t want you to tell them, “5 more minutes.” Instead, they get agitated and angry, maybe in a way you have never seen your child react before.

Dealing with this pressure from your children all day long is exhausting. And now, just to make things more interesting, Rona has put many schools behind those screens and have asked you to regulate their usage over many hours, every day of the week.

However, all the previous research still remains true! Too much screen time impedes the development of the abilities parents are so eager to encourage in their children. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to be attentive, to sense other people’s moods and to communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary. Unfortunately, screen time harms all of these.

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According to recent research, 97% of youth play video games; nearly three quarters of them have an online social networking profile (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.); 91% have a mobile phone; and the typical teen sends an average of 10 text messages per hour!

Experts are beginning to believe children are even exhibiting some key signs of addiction.

It’s no surprise parents repeatedly hear their children complain about how boring school can be. Compared to its competition, formal education doesn’t even come close to holding a student’s attention. 

Let your children know, virtual school is NOT the new normal. Rather, it’s only a temporary fix. It might not feel like it now, but balance will be restored in our Universe one day soon.


The Outcome 

The outcome of the renewed interest in the movement toward learning at home is still undetermined. However, I try to check in with those parents who have chosen to veer from the traditional path of schooling, at least for now. I am happy to report these families seem to be doing very well and do not regret their choices. 

The key to their new-found success is commitment and consistency. When things got hard, they were willing to put their heads down and continue to slog on. Jobs were left, both willingly and unwillingly, their lives were rearranged to make it work and difficult decisions were made. 

They have found ways to share responsibilities with grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and learning pods. They have also sought guidance from the already established homeschooling communities among us. And of course, in a time of uncertainty and bad fortune, these families were able to receive a little bit of good luck. 

They have adapted.


Read More: Upward social mobility:  Is it still possible?

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References:

What Is Homeschool?

The “Unschooling” Movement Lets Kids Direct Their Learning—And Shocker, It Works

The ‘Unschooling’ Movement: Letting Children Lead Their Learning