Unschooling Hypothesis

As a preamble to explaining the title of this post, I feel obligated to describe the history of the hypothesis I am going to pose here. A couple weeks ago, I wrote the following:

What I believe is the main philosophy of unschooling is to refrain from teaching a child that it needs to be taught. In the last 5 years, my youngest has learned to feed herself, to walk, to talk, to compose sentences, to communicate complex ideas, to draw, to paint and many other skills. She has a substantial understanding of the world in which she lives and of the functioning of the human body. For many of the things I have listed, she learned them because she saw us doing them and knew that they could be done. For the remainder, our role in her learning has been to provide her with access to resources, to answer her questions and to respond to her needs and wants such as reading to her.

When I wrote that, I sent my mind off brewing an idea for an experiment, however unlikely to be tried, that would demonstrate that the philosophy I described above is valid. While you are reading this, I’d ask you to remember that scientists embarking on an experiment set parameters for the experiment and do their best to observe the parameters. Otherwise, the experiment does not produce useful results. The reason I wanted to point this out is that as you read the parameters you may feel that some of the parameters would be difficult to keep. Those difficulties are one of the reasons this has sat on the back burner for a couple weeks.

Let’s suppose that we could build or create a community which was consistent with a typical community in our society in as many ways as possible except two. The first difference I would like to introduce in this community is that it did not contain a school, college or university. The second difference is that the community would be populated with adults who understood and agreed to the parameters of the experiment, and by young children who did not have a concrete sense of what school was.

  1. The adults would not discuss even among themselves any aspect of their own schooling.
  2. The community would have a community center which included a composite library of the types of materials that would be found in a public library, public school library and a university library.
  3. Children’s television programming would not be school centric as the majority of it is now.
  4. The community would have hi-speed internet access consistent with the typical community in our society.
  5. Children would be permitted or perhaps expected to observe adults carrying out their professions.
  6. Children’s questions on any subject would be taken and responded to seriously.
  7. In general, children would be respected as young people instead of treated as infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary kids, tweenies, teenagers, and adolescents.

The hypothesis I would like to put forward is that children in this community would grow up to to take up many of the professions held by the adults in the community without school. The basis of the premise is described in the paragraph I quoted from 2 weeks ago. If the concept of having to be taught was never introduced to children, wouldn’t they continue to assume that they could do or learn to do the things that big people did. If the doctors in the community never told the children about medical school, wouldn’t the children assume that the doctors had learned medicine on their own. And if, from the children’s perspective, the doctors learned medicine on their own, why wouldn’t a child interested in the field believe that they could as well?

You see, the inescapeable logic in our technological society is that the technology itself is in the end a result self-directed learning and not a result of curriculum based teaching. Consider the telephone, electricity, the internal combustion engine, solar power, and the integrated circuit. All of these things were pursued by self-directed people who had no one to teach them how to invent what they pursued out of personal interest. And from my perspective, until the proponents of compulsary schooling are willing to give this experiment a go, there is no evidence that schooling is necessary or even desireable.

Late showing

Because I was away over the weekend and am still trying to catch up, I’m posting a late link to this week’s Canival of Homeschooling. we are featured in the PHILOSOPHY section.

Carnival of Unschooling #2

Just like dawn rising, snow melting and spring flowers easing their way into the sunshine, many long-term homeschoolers find themselves in a full-blown summer of unschooling, not quite sure how they got there.

But first, for the new readers, WFR at EveryWakingHour will try to answer What is unschooling? A good place to start for a big question, one with many answers.

So that may leave you wondering just what do unschoolers do all day? Play video games? Well, some do. It’s a part of the whole. Everything my son learned about Carthaginians is the fault of Age of Empires.

Perhaps we can stop by Samantha’s and we’ll temporarily interrupt her reading while she highlights some of the learning that goes on. And naturally, one unschooling household learns different things in different ways from another unschooling household. Allison shows us how everyday objects and occurances are chock-full of crunchy learning goodness and all about the word play. And legos. Who doesn’t love legos?

Updated: I missed this link this morning, but oh what a goodie it is! Amelia Earhart / Doc / Butch does a complete breakdown of the practicalities of creating a house, nay, your family, your life, that sets a stage where learning just can’t NOT happen. Even better, it’s part 1 of a series. Thanks, Doc.

Oh, I can hear you now wonder aloud. “But what about basic things like math?” Running2ks has agreed to field this question and shows quite precisely how something seemingly big scary and intangible (for some) like math really is all around us every day.

And there are families for whom unschooling is a season, something that drifts in and out of their routines. Melissa has explained it beautifully, this tidal homeschooling of hers.

Many wonder how something seemingly undisciplined can coexist with a Christian life. Spunky shares her lessons learned while unschooling : four undeniable truths.

After getting past the basics of unschooling, we are often asked deeper and more thought-provoking questions about freedom, choice and responsibility. Daniel talks about subtle differences in the choices we give our children. And in another entry here on site, Ron does a brilliant job of breaking down exactly what any child “needs” to know.

Unfortunately, even unschoolers have to put up with the standard question lobbed at any kind of homeschooler: (say it with me now) “But what about socialization?” Joanne goes further than the pat answers we all give and explains that here too, we give our children choice and freedom.

Thank you for joining us this month! I hope you came away with something thought-provoking, a better understanding of the process of unschooling and possibly some new reads. Tune in next month on the second Thursday, February 9th, for the third round. We are open for submissions until then. Please email the URL of your submission to submissions@atypicalhomeschool.net so they don’t get accidentally missed.

Note: The Carnival of Unschooling has move to Unschooling Voices.

John Taylor Gatto

Gatto’s website, with the complete text of The Underground History of American Education as well as purchasing information for that and his other books. Also includes info about the documentary he’s making.

Preschool by Stormie

Mainly ideas, themes and activities in a sort of loose style. Great if you just need something to go by, or a little nudge. Link.