Archive for April 22nd, 2010

Homeschooling, Unschooling…

Sharon April 22nd, 2010

Note, somehow a draft version of this post went up before it was supposed to – apologies for the weird bit.

Crunchy Chicken is exploring the topic of Unschooling at her blog, with a lively discussion in the comments thread.  Her questions about unschooling, (which for the most part seem to go unanswered in favor of easier answers from the unschooling advocates) are whether it is possible for most children to consistently get a good education in some subjects without the discipline of some kind of driving adult force behind them.

The relevant question that underlies this seems to me to be “what are the ultimate limits of auto-didactism for most kids.”  IMHO, neither attacks on bad public schools (which may make the case for some kind of homeschooling or alternative, but don’t make the case for unschooling per se) nor the occasional genius offers a really compelling answer to the question of whether we can ultimately trust kids to lead their own education.

I say this as a homeschooler who uses some elements of unschooling, but who wouldn’t call herself a full unschooler. My own take is that some subjects – music, math, language chief among them – are subjects that can be difficult for older children or adults to pick up without routine and habitual practice.  Moreover, with some of them, there’s an intellectual window at which it is easier to learn them. It is manifestly easier to learn languages when you are young than when you are older – so if they don’t come your way until you suddenly realize their utility later in life, you’ve missed an opportunity.

There are also elements of my life that I simply don’t have a problem with making non-optional.  My kids are part of a Jewish community, and like all the kids in that community will be expected to have a level of Jewish literacy.  I’m glad my kids are interested, but if they weren’t, that wouldn’t matter, because not learning this stuff isn’t optional, and IMHO, it shouldn’t be.  I don’t feel, for example, that a child not required to learn the language, prayers and culture of their people can make a fully rational choice about whether they consider that knoweldge to be of value. 

On the other hand, I’m an auto-didact in some respects – certainly my field of expertise now, environmentalism, is nothing I was ever trained in.  My research and learning curve involved apprenticeships (informal) to other people who knew more and independent research.  Eventually, I started out participating casually and later, wrote as someone with some small expertise. 

My children continually astound me at how huge a range of material they cover on their own – my eight year old reads Arabic and Hindi  and is learning Mandarin- because he thinks they are cool. We require him to learn Spanish and Hebrew, but he picked up the others on his own.  Many things that we might believe he wouldn’t be interested in are of interest to him – in part, I think because he’s never gone to school and joined into the culture of disdain that goes with them.  So I’ve heard my child actually ask my mother, with some excitement “Nana, what’s your favorite punctuation mark?”

There’s something important to be said about preserving children’s enthusiasm and energy in teaching.  And something also to be said about encouraging discipline and participation. I honestly don’t have a dog in this hunt, so I’m curious – what do you think?