". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unschooling Reality Check

Good Morning, America recently did a segment on the educational approach known as unschooling. Leave it to the mainstream media to get it all wrong. A quotation from the report:

Ann Pleshette Murphy, parenting expert and "Good Morning America" contributor, questioned the unusual approach. "This to me is putting way too much power in the hands of the kids, something that we know kids can often find anxiety-producing, and it's also sending a message that they're the center of the universe, which I do not think is healthy for children," she said.

"Center of the universe"? That is hardly the attitude of the unschooling parents I know. Instead, their children learn that the world is much bigger than their little piece of it, that it is expansive and inviting and full of many more possibilities than are apparent within the walls of a traditional school building or the limits of a packaged curriculum. They learn that the things that are going on in the world--things beyond themselves, involving real life and people--are more important than arbitrary assignments and deadlines and tests. And yes, they learn to look to themselves for validation rather than to their peers or their teachers. Since when is that a bad thing?

Clearly, GMA was not really interested in promoting understanding of the unschooling philosophy but rather in providing a limited and biased picture that would only contribute to the general public's suspicion of not only unschoolers but homeschoolers in general. Interestingly enough, one of the first people to point that out is a columnist for The Huffington Post:

I know I'm naïve to expect the mainstream media to cover a subject like "radical unschooling" as anything other than a freak show, but the recent hatchet job that George Stephanopoulos and Good Morning America did on the topic was so hopelessly biased that it'd make Rupert Murdoch blush.

(Click here for the full piece by Lee Stranahan.)

We are not an unschooling family. But I think it is a completely valid approach to homeschooling and I have personally met many of its success stories. And the underlying philosophy of unschooling—that children are more motivated by real life than by the created demands of a school or an extremely structured curriculum—is something that informs my husband and me in our own approach to parenting. We give our children great latitude to pursue their interests and passions on their own schedules. We do provide them with books and resources and some general expectations about what we want them to study and when. But we don’t worry much about grades or deadlines or “covering” material. And we never allow the demands of “school” to become more important than the day-to-day of caring for one another as a family.

And you know what? Our kids are not couch potatoes. They rarely watch television or play video games. Yet their days are remarkably full. So what in the world do they do with all that "free" time that's left when they are completed with their "schoolwork"? Well, let me think . . . they read. A lot. They write. They study their catechism and Bible and attend youth group and pay attention to current events. They play piano and sing in choirs and play chess and learn Tae Kwon Do. They help out around the house. They are so busy they sometimes have trouble finding time to do all they would like to do in a day.

We didn't tell our son to become a Master chess player. We didn't tell our daughter to write a novel. Yet they did. And "schooling" had nothing to do with either.


Melrose said...

I absolutely love this post. Thank you for inspiring me!

Cheryl said...

My pleasure, Melrose! I am so glad you found it encouraging.