This article is reproduced from the website, “The Best Schools“. “Homeschooling: Which Model Is Right For You” contains much of the text reproduced below. Please see the website and the article for more information.
Based largely on the work of homeschooling pioneer John Holt, Unschooling is a free-form learning model which is student-centered, unconventional, and individualistic. Learning plans and study projects focus largely on the student’s interests but with high priority on experiential, activity based, and learn-as-you-go education. Unschooling will consist of some systematic and rigorous teaching when it comes to basic skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic, but this is often administered with a variety of technology and materials, and typically without conventional testing/evaluation. Unschooling allows homeschool parent-teachers to question most everything about conventional schooling whether public, private, or homeschooling. In this model, parent-teachers tend to be facilitators rather than lecturers, instructors or otherwise “conventional” teachers. See also: JohnHoltGWS.com and Unschoolrules.com.
Adaptability: This method is easily the most flexible methodology out there. Unschoolers might even be uncomfortable calling Unschool a “method” at all, because it’s so adaptable to the needs and interests of each unique student and teacher.
Passion Driven: Unschooling allows students to academically explore their own passions—like skateboarding, whales, baking, gardening, medieval weaponry, African folklore, or mixed martial arts—so their study aligns with their interests.
Loose Structure: Parent-teachers can direct education loosely, by providing minimal structure and an array of options from which students can choose their unique course of learning.
Multi-Dimensional: While conventional schooling, and some of the other homeschooling methods, are two-dimensional, focusing almost exclusively on “flat” book learning and written words, Unschooling favors experiences, wholism, and interaction, all of which can facilitate richer learning. Unschooling typically incorporates lots of books, but adds a depth of experience through living encounters and access points for students with different learning styles (i.e., multiple intelligences).
Dignifies Diversity: Unschooling treats each student as a unique and creative individual. Unschooling is to conventional schooling as freelance art is to factory production. Unschooling savors the individual creative expression over assembly line efficiency.
Modified Parenting: Unschooling dovetails well with parenting. Both are typically free-form, both adapt to each child, and both invest in the child’s development according to their unique personality and gifts. Unschooling essentially adds an intentionally educational dimension to parenting.
Reactionary: While Unschooling offers an exciting alternative to other schooling methods, the very term “Unschooling” is reactionary. That’s not surprising. If you read Unschooling books by John Holt or Clark Aldrich, you’ll note this connotation. Unschooling reacts against the limitations and failings of other school models. This fact isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does however carry the risk of being negative in its most basic orientation, as if backing away from the mistakes of others is a safe guarantee against making parallel mistakes in the other direction. Parent-teachers need to be careful that they aren’t just reacting against conventional models and throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
Lack of Structure: Students may need more structure and rigor than this (un)method provides. Unschooling allows for facilitators to implement added structure where needed, but it may not be sufficient order or oversight for some students.
Humanism: Underneath a great deal of Unschooling theory is a broadly humanistic view of children. This humanism can be a good corrective against overly mechanistic and industrial models of education. But if you don’t agree with that psychological theory, then you may find yourself questioning the wisdom of such a “free-flowing” and “student-directed” education.
Knowledge Gaps: Unschooling can be sporadic and un-systematic in covering content. This pattern permits knowledge gaps for students and can leave them without important core competencies which they may need down the road.
Redundancy: Parent-teachers can be left “reinventing the wheel.” By rejecting schooling generally, one is left trying to remake ways to address the same timeless problems which school used to address. Sometimes, the “old-fashioned” way actually represents proven wisdom, not to be discarded lightly.
- You are pretty cynical towards conventional/traditional schooling.
- You think classrooms basically teach kids how to be in a classroom.
- You believe that most of what we learn in school is useless information, soon forgotten.
- You believe learning is richer, better, and more indelible when it’s aligned with our immediate needs and interests.
- You trust your student, generally, to know what’s best for him or her, provided there’s a little structure and a lot of freedom.
- You or your student tend to think like entrepreneurs, try new things, learn about distant and often unrelated subjects, and you like to invent things from scratch.
- Your student already tends to create learning projects for himself or herself such as learning all the dinosaur names, memorizing baseball statistics, doing crossword puzzles, or cooking casseroles.
John Holt & Pat Farenga, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, 1st Paperback Ed. (De Capo Press, 2003).
Clark Aldrich, Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011).
Mary Griffith, The Unschooling Handbook: How To Use The Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom, 2d ed. (Three Rivers Press, 1998).
“The Master List of Unschooling Resources” by WeedemAndReap