From home schooling to ‘unschooling’

If I had to choose between this (either as a student or as the parent of a student) and the regimented, structured, learn-by-rote system that we call “public education,” I would opt for the unschooling option.

From The Baltimore Sun:

Many parents consider Patapsco State Park a leisure destination. Suzy Provine of Millersville views it as a classroom.

As children headed back to local schools this week, she and her four sons explored the park’s craggy earth and tossed large and small rocks into standing water to test the laws of gravity. Venues such as Patapsco are why Provine, 38, has never sent her children to traditional school, opting instead for an eclectic approach to learning known as unschooling.

A byproduct of home schooling, unschooling incorporates every facet of a child’s life into the education process, allowing a child to follow his passions and learn at his own pace, year-round. And it assumes that an outing at the park – or even hours spent playing a video game – can be just as valuable a teaching resource as Hooked on Phonics.

“It’s different from sitting in front of a desk all day,” said Provine’s oldest son, Marcus, 8, adding that his friends in traditional schools say they would rather be unschooled.

Zoa Conner of LaPlata, co-organizer of the Enjoy Life Unschooling Conference to be held near Frederick this month, said the approach is about helping children discover what they’re really interested in.

“If most [people] think back to their own school experiences, how much of the information you were expected to learn do you know today?” added Conner, an unschooling parent. “We cannot know beyond the shadow of a doubt precisely what our children will need when they are 10, 20, 30 or 80. We do all want what is ‘best’ for our children and we want our children, now and when grown, to be poised to accomplish whatever they may decide is important. This is where unschoolers excel.”

While unschooling parents say the method is growing in popularity, some education experts question its effectiveness.

Joyce L. Epstein, director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at the Johns Hopkins University, had never heard of it. She knew of no research on the topic, “and research would be needed in order to justify it.”

Teri Flemal, director of Quality Education by Design, a New York-based program that helps parents hire personal teachers and build home curriculum, said she believes unschooling has its place. But she says it’s most useful for a child in a crisis transitioning from traditional schooling to home schooling, not as a regular teaching method.

I’m reading e-mail from unschooling parents who think having their kids remodel their house with them is ‘school.’ I’m sorry, but it’s not,” Flemal said. “Painting, hammering, measuring – hey, that was great in primary school. I love that stuff.

“But I can tell you that it will not hold these kids in good stead as they compete with home-schoolers who are creating model video games, requiring them to know the ballistics of how fast and at what angle the bullets need to travel to create an impression of a certain size on the wall, or perhaps the home-schooler who has written a symphony.”

The term “unschooling” was coined by the late educator and home-schooling advocate John Holt, whose 1964 book, “How Children Fail” and home-schooling magazine Growing Without Schooling are among the cornerstones of alternative learning.

It is uncertain how many of the nation’s children are unschooled, since statistically they fall under the category of home schooling. The U.S. Department of Education estimated that 1.5 million students nationwide were home-schooled in the spring of 2007, or 2.9 percent of the school-age population.

Unschooling parent Billy Greer of Pasadena estimates that about 10 percent of all home-schooled children are unschooled. He and his wife, Nancy, founded the Family Unschoolers Network 15 years ago.

Read the rest:,0,7747410.story


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