I’ve finally reached the last in my series of blogs addressing a reader’s questions. The other posts can be found here, here, here, here, and here. This post covers two questions, mainly because one of them has already been answered in a previous post.
6) Many of the blogs/ articles I’ve read about unschooling demonize public schools. Why is that? Can’t one choice be good for one child and another choice be good for a different child?
I talked about public schools in Are Public Schools REALLY that Bad? and I think it should be pretty clear what my answer to this question is. However, to elaborate a little, I do think some kids do fine in public schools. They may be motivated by extrinsic rewards and happy to jump through hoops. I was one of those kids. I was fine. But, those same kids would still, for reasons I laid out in the earlier post, be better served in an unschooling or free schooling environment. There really are very few kids for whom traditional schooling would work better than free schooling. In fact, Sudbury Valley School, a prominent democratic school and one of the first of its kind, has pointed out that they have never seen a child who wouldn’t thrive in their environment. It is usually the parents who have a hard time with it.
7) Just as all public school teachers may not be at the top of their game, I’m sure there are some unschooling parents who aren’t at the top of their game. That being said, child one who goes to public school may have one bad year, but child two who is unschooled faces the possibility of 13 bad years.
Is there any accountability for unschoolers?
A few years ago, a friend of mine, after seeing a rather poorly done news report on unschooling, asked me something along the same lines. She said that it seemed a lazy way of parenting. Just let your kids do whatever. She even envisioned drug-addict parents letting their kids roam free and then call it “unschooling.” My answer to her, and it went over like a lead balloon, was that actually sending your child to public school is probably the laziest option (I am not saying that every parent who sends their child to public school is lazy. But, that if you are a lazy parent, you would probably choose that option of schooling). Just think, you can do whatever you want while your child is locked up for 7 hours, and you aren’t even responsible for his/her learning or behavior.
But, I digress. Yes, some parents may not be “on their game.” But, in terms of unschooling, that might mean that they don’t strew materials around the house. Since the locus of learning lies within the child, and their internal curiosity, the parents abilities and effort don’t matter as much. HOWEVER, that is not to say that a parent has nothing to do with their child’s learning. They definitely positively affect learning by modeling, by exposing their child, by strewing resources, taking trips, etc. And, from what I’ve found among unschoolers, most parents are very thoughtful about the model and are more likely to be involved in their child’s education than a typical traditional school parent. They have chosen this path thoughtfully and educate themselves on the philosophy. They often attend conferences, read (and write) blogs, devour books and magazine articles, and join communities of support and discussion. You would be hard-pressed to find such investment from public school parents.
As for the second question regarding accountability, this is completely dependent on each state. Some states require portfolios from their homeschoolers, others don’t require anything. Some ask for kids to take tests, but usually don’t act on the outcome. Regardless of who is looking over our shoulders and how they do it, I would have to ask what the measure should be. How do we assess whether a child has had a good education at home? Most people just assume that standardized tests would give us that answer, but once we evaluate what we actually WANT from to see in an educated child, those tests are worth less than the paper they’re printed on. I don’t really care that every child knows the history and contributions of ancient Kush society (yes, that’s a Federal standard). What I want is for them to be passionate, respectful, thoughtful, creative, and independent. There is no test for this.
So, Zoemaster, I hope I have answered your questions. I’m sorry it took nearly two months to do so. The path toward such a radical paradigm shift can be a long one, and not usually a straight one. But, I’m glad you’re here asking the questions. That is exactly what we all need to be doing.