(Can't get my response under the quote...I've figured out how that happens, but I still screw up sometimes.)
This is part of the key to all of this, I think. I recently read some anti-homeschooling (unschooling didn't even come into it) response to an article. I can't remember the exact words, but it was something like "what did centuries of homeschooling give us? People who were illiterate and ignorant. How can someone who is ignorant teach anything to anybody?". I remember reading it and thinking the commenter was thinking from within a very narrow cultural context.
I'm currently reading "Farmer Boy", from the LIttle House series, to dd1. There's a lot of content about Almanzo helping on the farm...harrowing the fields, cutting ice to store for the summer, sowing seeds, breaking calves - all kinds of things like that. And, about his sisters and mom doing all kinds of cooking, baking, sewing, weaving, spinning, etc. (The limited gender roles make me cringe, probably partly because I'm not naturally gifted at most of the "women's work".) While reading this, it struck me that Almanzo was better educated than many modern children his age (nine), not because of whether or not he could read and write, although he was getting schooling in those skills, but because he already had an impressive knowledge base of the things he needed to know to survive in that particular place and time.
The man who made the comment I mentioned above was totally ignoring context. While I would love to see everyone learn to read, that's largely because reading offers people an ability to learn things outside of their own situation/context, and is often a/the key skill to move on to something better or less limited. That doesn't mean people who can't read are ignorant. It means they have knowledge of different things. Plunk me down in the rain forest, and my reading and writing skills aren't going to do me any good at all....but knowing which plants/animals are edible, which are poisonous, which are medicinal, and the habits of predators that may want me for lunch would keep me alive. In that context, I'm the one who's ignorant, and the half naked tribal people that man's comment was so disparaging toward are the ones with an extensive, sophisticated knowledge base.
I'm kind of rambling, but I think homeschooling has a long, solid history of providing a good education for most people throughout human history (and prehistory). I think formal schooling filled a very real need, as the world (ours, at least) began to shift from one where literacy wasn't all that important, to one where it's essential. Parents and families couldn't very well teach their children to read and write, when the parents and families themselves didn't know how! The comment that made me feel so frustrated just reflected the commenter's ignorance, because he was criticizing homeschooling (of a historical kind) for not teaching the "students" things that they didn't need to know in the first place. Those kids - millions of them - have received extensive educations, in the skills and knowledge that mattered for the time and place they were living in. And, I'd bet they absorbed a huge percentage of that knowledge just by watching and playing.
Originally Posted by Piglet68
Here's my take on the question:
Since humans spent much of their evolutionary history in societies that did not send their children to an institution to learn, I can't imagine how anybody could assume that kids don't have an innate developmental ability to learn.
And because the skills valued and needed in each culture differ across geography and time (think Inuit child versus African savannah tribe child) kids have to be able to learn any given set of skills, in other words they are flexible in what they can learn. It must be based on exposure to the lifestyle of the culture, rather than innate information that comes pre-programmed, to have this ability to be specific for the culture in which they are raised. Which is why I have no problem believing that kids can learn to read and write without instruction, even though reading and writing came relatively late in our evolutionary development.
It is my conviction that any child who is an active participant in the daily life of their culture is going to be developmentally able to acquire all the skills and information they need to become a productive member of that society. It's a little harder in our modern society since we can't exactly bring our children to work with us and have them learn by doing (think farmers bringing their children out in the field with them each day, like the Amish) but that's where the importance of the unschooling parent comes into play.