Is Unschooling Educational Neglect?

Homeschool mom Shez has started writing for the Examiner and one of her articles calls out unschoolers for raising monster children and hindering their kids by not teaching them to read.  She later wrote a follow-up clarifying her position.  On the surface, this one is her attempt to make nice to the “good unschoolers” but it’s just as preachy and judgmental.  She goes on to tell those unschoolers to tame down their rhetoric so the bad unschoolers can’t hide amongst them.

She also brings up an issue that this article immediately raised with me.  Do we really want homeschoolers to be publicly talking about huge groups of other homeschoolers being deadbeat parents who are educationally handicapping their children?  She says yes.  She says we have to be willing to talk about the bad amongst us or we end up being cult-like.  I worry that this will be an invitation to legislation and oversight to make sure we’re HSing “the good way.”

We are not unschoolers here.  We are not school-at-homers either.  We are our own happy blend of child-led, mama-led, daddy-led and life-led.  It works for us and we’re all happy (and I dare say, well educated).

I always get a bit of a stomach ache when people start judging homeschoolers.  When it’s homeschoolers themselves doing the judging, it is even harder to take.

I have no doubts that Shez is doing a great job with her kids.  I was on a HS list with her a few years ago and I know she’s a passionate, intelligent, dedicated mom.  I do take issue with the notion that her way is the only “right” way, though.

I also hope that outsiders don’t get the impression that her article accurately reflects homeschooled and unschooled kids.  She is writing about her impressions of a small group of children she interacts with in a Virginia playgroup, yet she is calling out the entire world of unschooled children based on her limited experiences.

I also wonder how the unschooling parents in her playgroup feel about her this week!  I’m guessing the next meet up could be a bit awkward!  😉

What do you think?


7 thoughts on “Is Unschooling Educational Neglect?

  1. “She is writing about her impressions of a small group of children she interacts with in a Virginia playgroup, yet she is calling out the entire world of unschooled children based on her limited experiences.”

    I think you have it exactly right. Had the lady written her original article in terms of “I don’t like unschooling because …”, I’d say she has every right to her opinion, and, in that context, her observations on unschoolers who give unschooling a bad name may well be perfectly reasonable. But she would need to do a lot more homework before she’s qualified to comment on unschooling in itself.


  2. There’s a lot I could comment on, but it all comes down to this:

    I don’t have a problem with people’s differing opinions, I do have a problem with how it’s said. I can’t respect someone’s opinion when they are going to severely criticize like that and call names.

    It was sad. 😦


  3. I struggle with understanding and accepting the unschooling idea. I think it has merits providing the kids are enthusiastic about learning. My son isn’t. I think the two and a half years of public school taught him that any amount of schooling is ‘work’ and therefore unpleasant.
    It bothers me, however, when I encounter kids who are older than my son who can’t read. How can they learn without the skill of reading? I think that is the single most important skill a student needs to learn anything else.
    Thanks for the post. You make very strong points here.


  4. I agree. I have “met” Shez in cyber-space, a number of times, and I like and respect her. But these sort of judgmental statements don’t sit well with me either. On the other hand, the attitudes expressed by some unschoolers — who feel there is one “right” way to unschool — bother me just as much. I would love to see more *respectful* dialogue among home educators of different persuasions, because we have a lot to learn from each other.

    I also think we need to work to help our society get past some of the misconceptions I saw reflected in the article. One misconception, in my opinion, is that all kids are ready to start reading at the same time. And I don’t think the message of unschooling is that if the child doesn’t initiate the learning, then it is coerced learning. Unschooling parents initiate learning all the time. (What is strewing, after all?) It is not all about taking a laissez-faire approach, at least not indiscriminately.

    I recently wrote this on my blog:

    For me, a big part of unschooling has always been, in the words of Charlotte Mason, developing the habit of attention. The more I attend to what is going on, the more I see that I don’t need a curriculum or a timetable to ensure that the kids are getting a developmentally appropriate education. In the words of my wise friend Jennifer, it is “child led and seemingly casual, but actually closely observed and deeply thought out.” Unschooling is really a form of mindfulness. We hang out with our kids, really watch and listen to them, and play with them. When we see their passions and developmental skills poking their tender heads out of the soil, seeking the sunlight, we nurture them.


  5. Finally got around to reading her articles. Ummm….wow. My life has not been improved by spending my time on that–very judgmental: kids should read by age 6 (and I actually agree with her that if kids aren’t reading by a certain age, the parent should check out why not, but NOT by age 6!); kids who look disheveled are not being properly parented; real learning is sequential and planned by someone other than the learner; certain subjects do not constitute “real learning / knowledge”; and children’s success at HS is due (or not) to the teaching parent. And there is a part of me that wondered, re: her daughter’s passion for horses, if working (career) with horses in some capacity would be met with severe disapproval from Shez. Since, “Shira knows more than should be legal about horses” “but that’s not real homeschooling/learning, that’s just fun on her own time” will it follow that “working with horses is not a real job (just a hobby)?” I hope my children are able to make their passions their work, even if it means they work an unconventional job outside the doctor/lawyer/businessperson triad.

    And lastly, there is a huge difference between coerced/forced learning and offering/strewing. I don’t think forcing my kids to learn certain things is productive in the long run–we all can think back to tests where we memorized, spat back, and promptly forgot the info–but does that mean I sit back and let them lead with everything? No! That’s an absurd view of child-led homeschooling (a strawman argument, IMHO). We offer, take children new places, introduce them to new people, books, DVDs, ideas….and then see what catches their passion and build accordingly. In my experience, a child’s passion for a subject–e.g., dinosaurs–can be extended into all kinds of “traditional” subject areas: art (dino crafts!), math (size, weight, timelines), science (food chains, how scientists work from imperfect data to form theories which are then tested against new data / finds), geography (where were the fossils found? What did the Earth look like millions of years ago?), literature (check your library), writing (dino stories created by my kids), etc. And those interests lead to others (lots of dinos are found in China, and we eat Chinese food a lot. What else can I learn about China?)

    And has she spent any time in a conventional school? If you want to know why Holt felt kids are natural learners but coerced school kills that, go check out ANY kindergarten, grade 3 and grade 6 classroom, and play “spot the difference!”

    Gah. Stopping now.


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