I'm not necessarily an unschooler, but the idea is very appealing to me. I think that my younger kids will have a fairly unschooling life; I think my oldest child (due to her unique circumstances) will have less of one. Perhaps, because I am not necessarily an unschooler, I am not the right person to answer these questions. However, perhaps because I am not firmly committed to it at this point, I can see more of where your concerns are coming from. Anyway, here's my best shot at answering.
|1. If you're an unschooler, aren't you concerned that your child will never learn some of those skills that are fairly fundamental to almost every other form of learning -- and I'm thinking specifically of reading and math?
I'm not worried about my kids learning the basics because they are the basics for a reason. Schools graduate lots of kids who can't read or do basic math. Because I will be spending lots of time with my kids, I can introduce them to these things in a variety of natural ways that remove the pressure and heighten the relevance. Simply living a rich life brings along these skills. I am not concerned that my kids won't be able to read or do math to a degree that will hinder their ability to live a full life. I took pre-calc in high school, and honestly, I remember NOTHING about it. I remember very little from geometry, either, and I don't think I suffer for it. I remember a lot about the things that interest me and are relevant to my life. I don't need to know a lot about everything. A lot about some things is enough for me. If I suddenly got the desire for higher math, I could enroll in a community college class, or take some books from the library, or ask my math major friend for help.
|2. If your answer is something along the lines of, "I want my child to decide for him- or herself what's important," what about the fact that she or he may decide they need a particular skill long after the optimal "window" for learning it is gone? For example, research very clearly demonstrates that optimal foreign language learning takes place before about age 12, and that after that approximate age, you can pretty much count on never speaking without an accent and (probably) never being truly fluent.
Regarding your specific example, I don't really care whether my kids ever become able to speak a language with no accent. I don't think there is much advantage to that (I do believe there is a HUGE advantage to being able to speak another language, but the accent factor doesn't concern me). (In fact, no one in America speaks English without an accent! We have regional variations all across the country but it doesn't affect our ability to communicate with one another.) I lived in Belgium for a while and spoke decent (not fluent), accented Flemish. I got along fine. I had rich relationships with people, could travel independently, and could meet my daily needs with my imperfect Flemish. I probably couldn't have read heavy philosophical tomes in Flemish, but, if I wanted do that, I could have studied Flemish more intensely. Unless I want to be a spy, my ability to speak a language with no accent is inconsequential to the other huge benefits of speaking that language decently.
I think that people can generally learn whatever they want to learn whenever they want to learn it. I don't believe that you have to cram it all in before a certain amount of time or you're doomed forever. The human brain is flexible, and furthermore, even if we study the most intense curriculum ever created, we will never learn EVERYTHING there is to know, and there will ALWAYS be the chance that we will want to know/learn something later in life that was not covered earlier in life. I think that when people have the chance to decide what is most relevant to them, they will learn it better and what they learn will more naturally reflect where their interests and skills lead them in life.
|3. What if they decide at, say, age 17 that they want to go to college, but the unschooling method has left them very much unprepared to do that in terms of basic skills?
They can always enroll in a community college to get up to speed. They can always attend night school to get up to speed. They can always hire a tutor to get up to speed. They can always study independently to get up to speed. Many, many colleges and universities really don't have that stringent of entrance requirements, and I think that there is a way for virtually every person who desires to go to college to do so. Now, if a 17-year-old unschooler who is barely literate and can do only basic addition and subtraction (one or two of those kids may exist somewhere) wakes up one day and decides that he wants to go to Harvard in three months, that may not be possible, but then again, MOST kids who go to school can't go to Harvard either. I don't see the purpose of "education" as a hedge against all future possibilities, an insurance policy that, now that you have learned A-Z, you will be able to do absolutely anything you want to do and, if you can't, you've somehow failed. I would have liked to join the Peace Corps. I didn't have the skills they were looking for. Oh, well, I found something else that I wanted to do.
|4. What if your circumstances change, as in the example I posted above, and you now are faced with the fact that your child is considered "behind" when he or she gets into school?
Give the child extra help at home, hire a tutor, avail ourselves of the school's resources for helping students who are "behind," trust that my child will rise to the occasion, find another friend or family member who can continue to provide my child with an unschooling environment, find a school that is flexible and willing to work with us, there are many possibilities. ETA: Or not worry about it, because I don't think poor performance in school reflects poorly on a child.