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Misconceptions about unschooling

post #1 of 220
Thread Starter 
I chose that light-bulb icon because this is an invitation for unschoolers to help shed some light on the all the misconceptions about unschooling that we keep coming across - much like the thread we've had dealing with misconceptions about the broader subject of homeschooling. This isn't for debate, please - this is just for some thoughtful discussion. I started a thread on this topic recently in an email list, and it was fascinating - there were a number of differing and thought provoking ideas shared.

I'll start:

Misconception #1, to me, is that there's one set, narrow definition of unschooling. I've found that that there are pretty much as many ways of unschooling as there are unschoolers - in the same way that there are as many ways of homeschooling as there are homeschoolers. Although not everyone agrees with me - that's something that's come up here.

The term "unschooling" first started with John Holt - his word for homeschooling before anyone was using the word "homeschooling" - referring to not being in school. Then, through observations, he began to think more and more in terms of what is today referred to as unschooling. People have taken those original thoughts and observations and gone up various paths with it.

Another misconception I keep coming across is that unschoolers "don't do anything" - that we just leave our kids to their own devices and hope for the best. I don't understand why that one keeps hanging on.

As I was recently wrote in another thread, I moved to Seattle last summer, and I've had a few visitors from out of town. I don't just meet guest at the door and say, "Well, just go ahead and do whatever you want." No. I tell them about all the great things there are to do, I take them on walks, show them literature (tour books, pamphlets, etc.), tell them about cool day-trips to choose from, fix them special dinners, and generally try to help them enjoy their stay. I act as a hostess and tour guide, and it's a collaborative effort in making our choices. We walk till we drop, and we have a great time.

I know them well, and know a lot about the kinds of things they like, and vice versa - so we have a mutual understanding as we discuss the possibilities - and they value my opinions. The tour books are written by professionals who don't live here but have toured Seattle and done research - they're stating their own opinions. But since I actually live here, I can add a lot more.

I suggested a comedic tour of Seattle to one friend, and she was really excited - we had a ball! - complete with buying the little rubber duck bill whistles to blow duck calls out the bus window. Another friend is not at all that type, and I mentioned that tour but added that there were others that might be more her taste - she quickly and adamantly chose another, more sedate type, and she loved it, came back and told me about some of the things she'd learned. In both cases, my friends were grateful for the tips.

By the time they leave Seattle, they have a pretty good acquaintance with it and ideas about what they want to pursue when they come back.

Unschooling can be like that. It's not such a radical idea.

If there are any others here with unschooling experience who have some light to shed on some of the misconceptions you've come across, please chime in. Lillian
post #2 of 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lillian J

If there are any others here with unschooling experience who have some light to shed on some of the misconceptions you've come across, please chime in. Lillian[/COLOR]
I'm not all that experienced but I'll chime in! Apparently if kids aren't forced to learn what someone else deems important...THEY WON'T LEARN ANYTHING!!!! Because at the magical age of 5 (or is it 4 now?) children suddenly stop learning what interests them and must be told what they NEED to learn at any given time. My kids have never gone to school, and yet somehow they learn new things every day. It's a miracle!
post #3 of 220
The thing that I hear often enough is that unschoolers "won't learn how to follow the rules/schedules/requirements" that are found in the real world. I always ask where this mysterious real world is located? The idea that unschoolers can and do learn about societal, professional, and cultural structures and/or codes of conduct just like everyone else is apparently lost on some folks.

I hear "what about when he has to get a job and wake up early? What's he going to do tell his boss that he doesn't feel like coming in at 7 am?" The answer is more like that he will understand the expectations and schedule of the job he applied for, and is therefore willing to accept what comes with it. He will change his schedule (and buy a good alarm clock lol) in order to get what he wants. A job, experience, money, food, housing, etc.
post #4 of 220
Quote:
I always ask where this mysterious real world is located?
(Far, far away from the land of "DoNothing." )




When we talk about the kids following their interests, I hear, "But what if they NEVER become interested in ________?"

My feeling is, if they've not found a reason to study _____ then, apparently, they don't need to know it.

Sometimes my kids pick something up because they find it fascinating, other times they learn it because they see a need to learn it. There are thousands of things the rest of us never become interested in and never study, but people only seem to think this happens to unschoolers. I try to explain that, if it's important to their life, they will set about to learn it, but that's usually met with the attitude that that's a very dangerous method.
post #5 of 220
My "favorite" is "It might work for your kid, but my child needs structure." I get this one from my best friend. I agree that different kids need varying amounts of structure/guidance, but isn't this about 2 steps away from saying "My kid can't manage himself and needs to be controlled"?

This comment also makes me roll my eyes, because who says unschooling and structure are mutually exclusive? My 9 yo belongs to a book group and a service club. He takes karate lessons and plays team sports. He even has a pt job as a "mother's helper," playing with younger kids. How much more structure does a kid need?
post #6 of 220
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joan
I try to explain that, if it's important to their life, they will set about to learn it, but that's usually met with the attitude that that's a very dangerous method.
Yes, this is a big one. It's as if they're not being raised with any common sense. I hear stories all the time of unschoolers coming to a point where they need to know one thing or another and then just go about learning it.

Maybe they even have a head-start advantage in having been able to learn things in the way they learn best instead of having it spoon fed the whole time - so the idea of setting about learning something isn't particularly daunting.

When my son knew (from a sample test) that he was going to need a lot more algebra in order to do well on the SAT for college applications, he simply gathered some good algebra books,went to a tutor and told her specifically what areas of algebra he wanted help with, and went about learning what he wanted to know. Did well on the SAT. I asked him about this the other day, because I was having a discussion about whether kids need to grow up being taught that learning can be hard work. He said that was work, but it wasn't learning - it was jumping through a hoop. He said he probably doesn't even remember much of it, and that his professors at college (he only has a few at a time with the way his college is set up) have said that they don't find that things like that learned in high school generally carry over as learned material, because of exactly that - they were just hoops kids were jumping in order to get from point A to point B.
Learning is a whole other thing. Lillian
post #7 of 220
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by UnschoolnMa
I always ask where this mysterious real world is located?
Oh, I like that! I'm going to have to try to remember that one. It's SO TRUE! Lillian
post #8 of 220
The biggest misconception I've heard is something Lillian already said - that unschooling means you leave the child alone and never give a suggestion, never introduce them to anything, never show them a book you think they'd like, never ask them if they'd like to go to a museum exhibit, never talk about your interests or offer to include them, etc. Basically, they grow up in a vacuum with no adult input unless they ask a specific question and then you give the answer to that question only and then stop talking ASAP I've seen this idea all over the net, MDC too.

Oh, here's one. Some people seem to think that unschooling means just not using textbooks. So if you tell the child what, when and how they will study but you use "creative" methods to teach it, it's unschooling (met someone IRL who briefly practiced that method of "unschooling" ) And that if your child *wants* to use a textbook, and you "let them" it's not unschooling.
post #9 of 220
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ShannonCC
And that if your child *wants* to use a textbook, and you "let them" it's not unschooling.
:

-Lillian
post #10 of 220
I'm new to this too, but here's my list (these are mostly former misconceptions of mine ):
  1. Anything public schools spend several years teaching requires several years to master, and so there's a real danger in not formally teaching every subject every year.
  2. Any activity kids really enjoy isn't "real" learning.
  3. Anything that's traditionally educational can't be fun (my sister once started to correct my dd when she was talking about playing a great math game-- "That's not really a game..." I cut her off, before she could finish, because it was a game, and I didn't want my dd to think she shouldn't be enjoying it.)
  4. An education is judged by whether or not the student goes to college, and how good a college they attend.
  5. The unschooling horror story you heard from your mother's aunt's neighbor has any relevance at all to me and my family.
  6. The spelling and grammar errors in what I've written prove that I should not be allowed to unschool.

ZM
post #11 of 220
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by zeldamomma
[*]Anything that's traditionally educational can't be fun (my sister once started to correct my dd when she was talking about playing a great math game-- "That's not really a game..." I cut her off, before she could finish, because it was a game, and I didn't want my dd to think she shouldn't be enjoying it.)
Wow - this is a new one on me. I'm so curious - what sort of game was she playing? I thought you were going to say, by the way, that she was talking about playing a great math game and your sister said, "that's not really math."

Quote:
[*]An education is judged by whether or not the student goes to college, and how good a college they attend.
And that whole mystique around getting into a "good college" is such a crock anyway. Here's a page I've been building that has a lot of interesting articles about all that - Teen years...college...

-Lillian
post #12 of 220
don't know if this has been said.... If you are an Evangentical Christian you can't unschool. I have heard this and can say that it's not true. Heck I believe that using the real world to teach is very biblical and Jesus did so w/ His teachings.
post #13 of 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lillian J


Another misconception I keep coming across is that unschoolers "don't do anything" - that we just leave our kids to their own devices and hope for the best. I don't understand why that one keeps hanging on.

I think it keeps hanging on, because I know from personal experience, some people who my FIL knew through the church he pastored, they said they were homeschooling......yet their kids did NOTHING, she literally let them do whatever, whenever, never talked to them, took them on feild trips etc. So those few parents who do that spoil it for the real "unschoolers", therfore creating the stereotype.

BTW her kids were total brats, couldn't even speak english very well, let alone write their own names. I felt so sorry for them....PS would have been better for them than being at home with that particular mom.
post #14 of 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by UnschoolnMa
I hear "what about when he has to get a job and wake up early? What's he going to do tell his boss that he doesn't feel like coming in at 7 am?" The answer is more like that he will understand the expectations and schedule of the job he applied for, and is therefore willing to accept what comes with it. He will change his schedule (and buy a good alarm clock lol) in order to get what he wants. A job, experience, money, food, housing, etc.
OMG! I went to PS, and got up at 6am to catch the bus for high school......AND I DONT WANT TO GET UP AT 7AM!! Which is why I kinda like being a SAHM ......except on the days when DS wakes up with the sun..:

I also hate any type of schedule, because I was stuck in one for sooooooo long. The second I graduated, I stayed up late, ate when I wanted, slept until I wanted to wake up, did whatever I felt like, even if it was staying on the net for 15hrs a day ....I was LAZY as a rebellion from 12yrs of school!

I still live without a schedule, and I refuse to homeschool with one as well I like my son to set his own personal schedule that fits his personal body and spirit. Hes only 7mths old now, but he just started going to bed 2hrs earlier, and waking up regularly at 8.30am.....he pretty much sleeps through the night....without ANY coaching from me. From day 1 I let him set everything, if he didnt want to go down to bed until 2am....we didnt, and we got up at 11am....which suited my lazy still slightly rebelling self lol. But I've got used to it now, if he sleeps in, I'm laying there wide awake in bed with him....of course, I can't get out, or he will wake up instantly, so I lay there and relax, and watch that cute little face.

I shall stop now, I've got off topic and babbled lol.
post #15 of 220
Hey, I like this thread. :
post #16 of 220
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by blbcHelvsme
don't know if this has been said.... If you are an Evangentical Christian you can't unschool. I have heard this and can say that it's not true. Heck I believe that using the real world to teach is very biblical and Jesus did so w/ His teachings.
Oh! That's a good one to mention, because there's a big book called Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ, by Teri J. Brown, Elissa M. Wahl. Comprehensive information, and ideas to inspire the (Christian) homeschooler in the subjects of language arts, history, math, science and more.

And it was interesting what happened with an e-book project edited by Tammy Cardwell - the idea being a collection of encouraging success stories from families who had already finished homeschooling. Tammy's part of the Christian homeschooling world, and most of the 18 contributors that volunteered from all our invitations all over the Internet were people whe already knew her from those connections. I think there were only three of us from the secular world - myself, Mary Griffith (Homeschooling Handbook, and Unschooling Handbook), and Marsh Ransom (The Complete Idiot's Guide to Homeschooling). Tammy was really surprised to find that all the contributors had ended up more and more on the unschooling side of things as they went along. She pondered whether she should keep digging around to get a more "balanced" picture, but finally realized that wouldn't be a natural outcome - because we had already beaten the bushes for contributors, so the body of material we came up with was more descriptive of the reality of the situation.

The e-book is See, I Told Me So, edited by Tammy Cardwell. None of the authors are getting paid for their contributions - all our part is going to charity, so I feel okay about posting about it here. Lillian
post #17 of 220
This has been touched on already, but one I hear regularly is that unschooling and structure are incompatible. "I'd love to unschool, but my son really needs structure." Or "we unschool as much as we can, but I can't let go of the need for some structure in our lives."

Tell that to my 12yo who has fixed herself a bedtime and an awakening time, who has a nightly routine of reading and journal-writing, who expects herself to do some writing work on her novel every day, who practices violin and piano every day, does math and Latin work three times a week and music theory work once a week, who has seven out-of-home activities a week. All because she likes this kind of structure and because over the years I have helped her develop the tools she needs to provide herself with it.

Tell that to my 3yo who lately loves the regularity of having everything happen at particular times. She is extremely curious about clocks and time and has decided that seven o'clock is getting-up time and eleven o'clock is practicing [violin] time. Noon is lunch for her and bath time is eight in the evening. And so I help her do those things at those times at her request.

Miranda
post #18 of 220
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joan
(Far, far away from the land of "DoNothing." )

When we talk about the kids following their interests, I hear, "But what if they NEVER become interested in ________?"

My feeling is, if they've not found a reason to study _____ then, apparently, they don't need to know it.
And of course the fear behind the question - the fantasy - is that they might not realize till it's way too late that they'll need to read, know some math, and all sorts of other things by the time they find themselves in the adult world - since they're living in a vacuum and all... And you'll certainly never call it to their attention, because you're too afraid of damaging their precious...their... Hey, what IS it that people think we're so afraid of anyway?

Lillian
post #19 of 220
I think there is a relationship between two of the misconceptions that have been mentioned -- that some kids *need* more structure than unschooling provides, and that unschooling is just doing nothing. I think that true unschooling would provide as much or as little structure as a kid needs, but like Lillian's example of giving her friends suitable tour guide information, it does require the parents to be if not structured, then at least organized and setting an example of going out and following your interests and enjoying learning. I'm probably one of the people who in the past have said that unschooling wouldn't work for my kids because we need more structure. In truth, I see now that *I* need more structure or I'm not able to respond to my kids' needs. Which is where the other misconception comes in -- that unschooling means parents do nothing with their kids. I would be full of good intentions, but never actually find out where the museum/park/nature trail/etc. is, and never actually get out the books about airplanes my ds is interested in, and never actually go seek out lessons, etc. And that wouldn't be unschooling, just doing nothing. That's about me, not the kids. Not that what we're currently doing is far from unschooling. We work and play and read together. We have set times for chores, meals, outings, and reading, because I tend to get distracted and goof off all the time without that, and the kids get cranky and bored. That's not to say that it's a rigid time, more like an order of things.

Hmmm, did I have a point? Maybe that parents who say their kids need more structure really mean that they need more structure, because they don't yet understand that unschooling isn't doing nothing with/for their kids.
post #20 of 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lillian J


And of course the fear behind the question - the fantasy - is that they might not realize till it's way too late that they'll need to read, know some math, and all sorts of other things by the time they find themselves in the adult world - since they're living in a vacuum and all... And you'll certainly never call it to their attention, because you're too afraid of damaging their precious...their... Hey, what IS it that people think we're so afraid of anyway?

Lillian
Yeah. I think this is connected to the time issue that someone else mentioned--that, if a school child needs to be studying math for 12 years, then it MUST take 12 years to understand math, yk? I think that's where the "it'll be too late" worries come from.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brisen
Maybe that parents who say their kids need more structure really mean that they need more structure, because they don't yet understand that unschooling isn't doing nothing with/for their kids.
I can see this. But I agree that even if the CHILD needed structure, they can still unschool. To me, the difference is that I'm not imposing structure on my kids--any structure they need comes from their own needs. This reminds me of the "learning styles" conversations that go on. You know when someone asks if you've taken your child's learning style (who was it who wrote about that--Gardner? Armstrong?) into consideration before choosing a hsing "method?" Unschooling seems to me to be the ultimate in that. I didn't label my kids' styles according to anyone else's prescription, but really, isn't unschooling all about their individual styles and needs?
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