Teaching Treasures™

Unschooling Method Good or Not So Good

Many homeschool families have adopted and some continue to adopt the unschooling method so aptly named by a school teacher from Boston because he considered that the confinement and rigid process of the then present day traditional schooling was not working for him or his students. John Holt developed the idea that children needed to avoid most if not all negative things that traditional schooling and traditional classroom learning imposed upon students. In short, the method of unschooling entails avoiding anything a child considers negative for him or her (in the learning environment) and strengthen only those things that are perceived as positive. What that is saying to me is that apparently only those things a student considers as positive would promote learning and increase student knowledge.

The philosophy behind the unschooling method is simply that the child only needs to learn what interests him or her at the time rather than following a predetermined curriculum devised by the parent or some other third party. Parent’s desires evidently don’t matter, so if a child does not want to learn mathematics, homeschool parents simply don’t need to do this at this stage as the child’s interest is not there yet. But when will it be there? Will a child automatically develop an interest for maths at any stage during his or her school years? What if that doesn’t happen?

Perhaps we then have a problem called dyscalculia or in simple terminology, a math disability. Or perhaps worse, we encourage our children to become libertines! Isn’t that what homeschooling is all about? Avoiding all those nasties? So if we encourage children to solely use the unschooling method, I wonder if parents are encouraging a libertine philosophy to grow within their children. Unbeknown to the parents they may encourage the attitude of ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ an Aleister Crowley philosophy.

Now Crowley, who by the way was also bisexual, a recreational drug user, a social critic, against moral and religious values and also known as "the wickedest man in the world" promoted a form of libertinism based upon the rule of "Do What Thou Wilt."

A libertine is one who has no or very little moral restraints. Evidently, those moral restraints are regarded as not required and detrimental to one’s development. Libertines ignore accepted morals and forms of behaviour valued by society in general. They simply place value on physical pleasures, meaning those experienced through the senses.

Is that what unschooling promotes? ‘Learn What Thou Wilt?’

Remember…. according to the unschooling method only those things a student considers as positive would promote learning and increase student knowledge.

Ok… let’s unschool! Only let the children learn what they wish at any given stage. By doing so, would homeschool parents provide adequate opportunities for their children to learn about a wide range of topics? Do parents provide a learning environment for children to develop beyond their personal interests? Will those children have the ability to learn anything else besides cow, cats, chickens, dogs and vegies? Will those children grow up to understand basic mathematical concepts, or understand whether the world is round or flat, or whether the sun revolves around the earth or the other way round?

Unschooling is just one method and should definitely not be used as a standalone method. Children need guidance. Guidance can only come from someone who has more knowledge, in this case the parent. If a parent cannot provide the expertise for their child in a given learning area then they should find a person who can and of course make sure that person is safe to work with their child.

Parents need to guide their children so they can develop their learning and become intelligent, law abiding citizens who can contribute to personal family life and society. I don’t think ‘Learn What Thou Wilt’ philosophy is going to cut it. It is as good as Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of "Do What Thou Wilt." Perhaps that’s why so many children have grown up to be frustrated adults.

According to wikipedia information, Holt's philosophy was simple: "... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it."

Wow, if that statement is true then from a Godly point of view it is one of the most devastating statements any homeschooling parent could adopt. First we’re animals, which is ok from an evolution point of view but definitely not from a Christian point of view.

Secondly, yes… most people like to learn but we may not necessarily be good at it therefore we often need help with what we learn. Not all the time but as children I would say… we need help from someone more experienced.

Thirdly, most of us need to be shown how to do certain things. Perhaps John Holt was an exception to the rule and needed to be taught absolutely nothing, however… most people need someone else to show how certain things are accomplished.

Fourthly, we should not be made to do it. What kind of a statement is that?

Sometimes children need to be made to do things or you’ll find those children out of control doing what they want, how they want it, when they want and telling you or rather yelling why they want it.

Finally, Holt finishes by stating that those interfering with the process of learning are killing learning opportunities for children because they regulate or control the process of learning.

If that includes teaching literacy and numeracy to children as young as three, four, five and even fifteen years of age then I’m guilty. Yes, I’m guilty of interfering with children’s development. I taught them to read and write… I’m doomed. I taught them something they should have taught themselves. I controlled their learning process by introducing one letter a day so they could master the alphabet, ABC and their first reading book within months. With that said, I had the joy of hearing them read and they had the joy of being able to read, and now many years down the track they have become highly skilled adults.

Perhaps if Holt was alive today he would reconsider his statement as many homeschoolers have adopted his philosophy and I have seen firsthand the disasters that it has dealt out; a thirteen year old illiterate child, an eleven year old rebel, a nine year old at Kindergarten level and the list goes on.

Unschooling sounds great but when one delves into the true meaning of this method one needs to consider what they are embarking upon. Have we fought so long and hard to provide freedom for our children or to enslave them back into the bondage of illiteracy and ignorance?

In 1980 Holt stated: "I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were."

And with part of that statement I would have to agree. Home is the best place to learn however, sometimes children need a different place to learn. As parents we can provide these alternate places of learning. If parents are not patient enough or if they think they are incapable of teaching their children… school is not all that bad.

Self-directed learning should be encouraged but not at the expense of a child not being able to read or write properly. The unschooling method adopted by many unsuspecting, first time, homeschooling parents can become a stumbling block for their child’s future learning.


Copyright © 2013, Ingrid Griggs
Published by: Teaching Treasures Publications

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