Unschooled

I just read about this thing on Yahoo called “unschooling.” It’s kind of like homeschooling….except that there’s no formal structure whatsoever….. About 10% of homeschooled kids are unschooled. They don’t use textbooks or take tests. The philosophy is to let them pursue their own interests and “trust” that if they need something like algebra, they’ll go out and learn it on their own. If they’d rather play video games or surf the internet, that’s fine too.

As someone who doesn’t support homeschooling, I really don’t support unschooling. I can see the main benefit of homeschooling—the kid can learn at their own pace—but I think the social handicap it imposes on them outweighs this benefit. I’ve yet to meet a homeschooled kid who wasn’t socially awkward. You can’t simulate the kind of interaction you get in public schools. Unschooling also imposes this social handicap, along with giving no formal training. The kids might become experts at creative writing, but know nothing about history, math, or science. Even if you don’t actively use that information, knowing it is part of being “cultured.” If you don’t know it, people will think you’re an idiot and you will be judged. Maybe even discriminated against in favor of someone more “well rounded.”

One of the arguments of unschoolers is that we don’t use most of what we learn in school and we’re not really learning at all, we’re memorizing, so it’s better to let kids explore what they want. But how do they know what they want? They’re kids! You have to be exposed to many different subjects to know what you like and what you don’t. Even in college, I wouldn’t have chosen to take economics or finance if I hadn’t been forced to, yet I discovered that I really liked them! The family in the article bragged about how their kids experienced more by being able to travel the world and “making friends everywhere” since they weren’t constrained to school hours. While I envy them their travels, that really only applies to families with money, and it still doesn’t mean you can socially function in life. Having friends you see every couple years and email or talk on the phone with in-between is not the same as having friends you see every day.

The unschooling family stated that many unschooled kids go on to college or successful careers, but who’s going to hire kids without high school diplomas or GEDs? That approach may have worked decades ago, but it doesn’t seem feasible now. At least, not if you want a decent job. I feel bad for these kids, though. They enjoy it now (obv) and may not regret it in the future, but they were never really given a chance. The last time they went to public school was in first grade, so it’s not like they were in middle school and had experienced what it was like for long enough to make a decision. And even then, what does a 13 year old know about school and the future? Very few of us at that age would choose to go to school if we had the option to do nothing instead.

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