Unspooling 'Unschooling'


The Web is alive with unstructured structuralism. The latest wrinkle is "unschooling." Kids divine their own instructional curricula. If a 6-year-old wants to play with a box on top of her head for an hour, that is as qualitatively beneficial a learning experience as an hour of Latin, according to unschoolers–perhaps even more beneficial.

Go to unschooling.org or unschooling.com, and you enter a world you would never imagine could have existed. Unschooling is the antidote to home schooling. By some estimates, 20,000 American children are unschooling themselves as the latest form of education, or, shall we say, uneducation.

The Family Unschoolers Network describes the goal of unschooling thus: "Our primary purpose in unschooling is to keep alive the spark of curiosity and the natural love of learning with which all children are born." Fair enough. Certainly, No Child Left Behind (or as the late Ann Richards called it, "No Child's Behind Is Left") has imprisoned public school curricula to a level not seen since Victorian-era knuckle-rapping. Teaching to the test rules. Free thought declines in "No Child" American public schools.

My hunch, however, is that very few parents are practically equipped with the teaching skills necessary or the stores of information required to help a child build a strong foundation in grammar, history, physics, biology, languages, physical education, math, etc. For that, it seems one must attach some sort of structure to intrinsically unstructured unschooled learning. It's an entirely larger question whether "unschooled" kids can enter the real and highly structured (or schooled) world and succeed without the requisite navigational skills.

I wish unschoolers well and hope these children become the creative, individualistic thought leaders their parents are preparing them to become. But if they don't, it should be the parents, not society, who cover the cost of teaching them to function productively in society. That is, if unschooling fails to prepare them for life in a structured world.