Thursday, October 23, 2008

Unschooling FAQ

My step cousin first removed (Ronnie) has posted wonderful things regarding Unschooling - and this post was amazing and thought some of my readers may enjoy learning and/or reading it.

(Posted with permission)

Frequently Asked Questions About Unschooling

When we first started unschooling, I would get on the (now defunct) message boards and ask at least one question just about every day. These quickly became "Dragonfly's Question of the Day," and the women and men who answered me showed considerable patience and creativity in their replies.

Nowadays, I answer a fair number of newbie questions myself, primarily on the message boards. I mostly enjoy it, and I am mostly patient in my replies. Creative? Not so much. There are only so many ways to answer the same questions.

So, here are some FAQs and my answers to them, with some answers swiped (from myself) right from the boards.

1. How will my kids learn anything if I don't teach them?

They will learn the way adults learn. Something will catch their interest, they will explore it until they are satisfied (for now), and then they'll move on. Later, they'll learn something else that reminds them of that thing they learned before, and they'll make a connection. "Oh, hey, that's like..."

True knowledge is made up of those connections, and that's what unschoolers value.

2. I'm ready to try unschooling, but my spouse isn't convinced. What do I do?

Remember that your spouse's concerns stem from the same place that your interest in unschooling does: concern for your kids. Then, from that place of shared concern, ask to be given some time to explore this intriguing way of homeschooling. Share some resources. Encourage participation. Ask for a moratorium on criticism of how the kids' time is spent.

As an aside, I'm not entirely sure why Frank went along with it. It was a big leap for such an academically minded guy. Maybe it was faith in me, maybe it was faith in our kids, maybe it was a simple desire to be agreeable and get me to be quiet. :-) Whatever. He signed off on the experiment, and no more than three months later found himself in the role of stay-at-home unschooling dad. And here we are...

3. How do we start?

Relax. Take your summer vacation now (even if it's the dead of winter). Say "Yes" a lot. Have fun. Play with your kids. Watch. Wait. Stay calm.

Get it.


From March 2006:
[Strewing] involves making a wonderful variety of resources available to your kids with no expectation or requirement that the resources ever be used. These can be books, toys, or supplies left casually on tables or in bathrooms or presented quietly or with fanfare directly to your child. They can be posters hung on walls, craft or music or gaming activities that *you* start, Web pages left open on the computer, magazines subscribed to, alternate driving routes taken, etc. It is SO fun to do, and it creates an environment of discovery and fun in your house.

The things you strew can be in support of interests your [child] has expressed or about just any old thing you think of. In the recent past, I've strewn my daughters' paths by:

Leaving open on the computer to the page outlining the origins of the phrase "mind your p's and q's," which my daughter had asked about in passing one day. (She read it and then continued surfing the site.)
Taking the whole family to a dirt-bike event. (Fun for all four of us.)
Bringing home some bargain books on poetry and art, plus a history book called "Lies My Teacher Told Me," that really grabbed everybody's attention! :-) (All three books have been flipped through, but it was my dh who read the history book cover to cover.)
Bringing home a new XBox game called Gotham Racing or something like that. (We've all played, the girls laughed SO much together. The XBox was on for at least a couple of hours every day for a week or so; now it's been off for days.)
Leaving out a book I already own about building catapults. (No takers yet.)
Inviting over a friend and her 12yo son whom my girls had never met before. (A very fun evening. One of the highlights was my friend's son completely un-self-consciously demonstrating a folk dance he'd learned.)
All this happened in and around all our usual activities. Actually, there's been nothing usual about our schedule these past few weeks, which goes to show how little time strewing can take! But never doubt that your usual activites can provide a lot of strewing, too. In our case, we've been making arrangements for my younger daughter's departure to England (lots of history and geography and tidbits gleaned), and I've been doing a lot of networking to arrange some get-togethers with local unschoolers because my older daughter wants to meet more people. And then there's work and going to watch my dh earn his first Iaido (Japanese swordsmanship) ranking and, oh yeah, HOURS of prep work for my younger daughter's 12th birthday party on Saturday — she wants to do about a dozen projects out of this wizard party book she found at the library. We're making candied rose petals today — a first for me in several ways, and yet another example of how they strew *my* path with interesting things.

4. What is deschooling?

From Feb. 2004:
Your son needs to deschool... He *needs* to play those games. He needs it the same as he needs food to eat and air to breathe. Try thinking of the time he spends on those games as chemotherapy. If he had cancer, you wouldn't begrudge him his treatments, right? Well, the schooling has been eating away at his joy, sense of self, curiosity and creativity, much like a tumor eats other cells.

Deschooling is an ongoing process whereby kids and parents recover from the sort of brain cancer that happens in school.

For kids, the cure for this cancer is simply time spent doing just whatever they want. Ideally, they have the unflinching support of their parents during this time.

How much time? The usual rule of thumb is one month of deschooling for every year spent in school. So, for example, I knew MJ was going to need approximately 5 months of deschooling time when we pulled her out of school in 4th grade.

Of course, "knowing" this and actually staying calm while it is happening are two very different things. My daughter watched TV for four months straight. Scary? You betcha. Did I offer unflinching support? Umm, not exactly. I probably artificially extended her deschooling with my periodic (frequent) "Don't you want to do something else?" comments.

Then it was summer and she went outside to play. But in September, when the neighbor kids went back to school, she returned to the TV. This time, however, she had her sketchbook on her lap and sketched while she watched TV. It was a change, and, fortunately, I recognized its significance and kept my big mouth shut.

Nowadays, MJ is still video-oriented, just like her dad. She probably always will be. But the TV is simply a tool that provides entertainment, learning, social opportunities, what have you, on demand (or On Demand), when she feels like it.

For parents, deschooling can take much longer. Or it comes in waves. We've been unschooling for more than five years, and Frank and I still have to monitor our thoughts, speech, reactions, expectations, etc. We still explore unschooling concepts regularly and talk about them with other unschooling parents. For us, living this life requires regular refresher courses. So to speak.

5. What do I tell the school district?

That you're homeschooling. You are! Recordkeeping requirements vary from state to state, but the most rigorous is probably New York, with its IHPs and portfolios and I don't know what all. And yet many unschoolers thrive in New York, without telling a single lie.

Start keeping a journal of your kids' daily activities. At intervals, translate what they've been doing into school-speak. You'll be surprised at how many age-specific learning objectives they touch on, naturally. Others, they'll touch on at different ages (oftentimes much earlier than the schools would introduce them), but they'll still get them.

They don't call 'em the basics for nothing. And a perusal of World Book's Typical Course of Study will show you exactly how basic the basics are.

6. That's fine for elementary school, but what about high school?

First off, question your assumptions. High school does not look the same for every student, and the high school years will not look the same for every unschooler. Some end up taking some courses. Some get intrigued by a subject and read college-level textbooks that Mom found for $1 on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books that have been gathering dust on the shelf at home for more than a year. Some learn skills on their own by following interests that lead them into jobs that become careers. And some do a combination of these.

Higher math. Chemistry. Foreign languages. Unschoolers study these things, because they want to or because they have a goal for which studying these things is a requirement. How do they study them? Just the way an adult would if the adult wanted or needed to study them.

Remember that MJ signed up for a credited community college class at 14!

A big part of an unschooling parent's job is finding ways for our kids to learn what they want to learn. It's just something we do. In our case, we're in an urban area with lots of resources, so it's not even that hard.

7. What about the ACT and SAT? Can unschoolers get into college?

Yes! To a college, an unschooler is a homeschooler. Homeschooler entrance requirements will vary from college to college. Cafi Cohen has written a good bit on the subject of homeschoolers getting into college:

The ACT and SAT tests are open to homeschoolers.

In some states, a diploma can be issued by your school (your parents). Again, the acceptability of this document will vary from college to college. As will the acceptability of a GED.

The better question here is, how can this particular unschooler get into The School that will help her achieve her dreams? You can't plan for every college in the world. Pick the few that you are most interested in, learn their requirements, and then go from there.

And keep in mind that there's no law that says the applicant has to be able to meet their requirements by age 18 or any other magic number.

8. What about socialization?

More assumptions revealed. If you've got some time, I expound on this topic at length here.

9. Will my child fall flat, or fall short, if I don't push/encourage/expect?

Will your child fall flat if you *do*? It's possible. You can do damage with pushing and expectations.

But unschooling parents encourage our kids all the time, so I wouldn't group that with push/expect.

10. How will my kids learn self-discipline?

What do you mean by self-discipline? Do you mean the ability to stick with a plan? Do you mean the ability to do something unpleasant that just has to get done? Do you mean taking care of hygiene every day? All of those?

Ask yourself: How does schooling *really* contribute to any of that? Is schooling what made you into a responsible adult? Or was it real life (or natural inclination) that did that?

Both of my daughters have completed major projects. Both have faced frustrations and disappointments and persevered anyway. Both shower regularly and are "presentable" most of the time. Both have messy bedrooms that they have, at one time or another, voluntarily cleaned.
Both have helped us get ready for houseguests. :-)

Sound like regular kids, don't they?

11. I'm okay with unschooling for academics, but the radical unschooling lifestyle seems like too much! How do I relax about:
food choices
time spent indoors/outdoors
time spent on TV/computers/video games/reading/etc. etc. etc.

For me, most of these boil down to societal expectations ("the shoulds"). Sure, some of them can be couched in terms of the child's health and welfare or future happiness, but I found when I examined them closely, and actually tried the unschooling way, that there wasn't any evidence that the societal way led to any better outcome than the unschooling way.

My biggest weapons for stripping away societal expectations and getting down to what was right for our family are "Why?" and "Why not?"

"Chloe should have her hair brushed (even though she hates it and it makes her cry)." Why?
"MJ shouldn't wear that skimpy top?" Why not?

Anytime the reason behind a "should" boils down to any form of "what will people think," I throw it out. That reasoning is simply not valid in our lives.

"But if I let them..." - Sandra has a great collection of the horrors that various parents have imagined over the years. Well, folks, I know a whole lot of unschoolers and not one of these dreaded outcomes has come to pass.

12. I've heard unschooling described as "unparenting." Do you neglect your kids?
(this is not usually asked outright but regularly implied)

You know, this is probably in the eye of the beholder. I don't force my kids to brush their teeth, so one might say I neglect their dental hygiene. This dad didn't force his daughter not to skip school, so a judge decided he was neglectful and put him in jail.

But in both cases, it comes down to the choices of the teens in question. In neither case are the teen's choices limited by a lack of supplies, options, or information.

Sure, I could run around screaming, "Respect my authoritah!" Okay, I admit it, that happens from time to time. The result is general hilarity and, yes, the respect I deserve. :-)

But I could do more than that. I could punish, withhold privileges, nag, threaten, shame, tease, and generally make a nuisance of myself. But what would it get me? Kids with cleaner teeth? Maybe. Kids with fewer cavities? Unlikely, since they have a total of about 3 fillings between them.

What I *know* it would get me—because I have lived it—is battles. A home full of battles.

No thanks.

13. What if we decide to unschool and it ruins our kids' lives?

What if you leave them in school and that ruins their lives? How is that path any safer than the unschooling path, when taking a quick spin on Google will show just how fraught with peril is school?

One of my earliest steps toward embracing unschooling was brought about by someone on the old boards asking me if I was sure school would prevent any of the things I was fearful of. The answer, of course, was no. (I should have known this better than anybody, since I'd already had a suicidal six-year-old by the time I asked.)

There are many people who force their kids to Do Everything Right who end up with angry and rebellious kids, kids who drop out of high school, unhappy-but-successful kids, or some combination of these. There are no guarantees. All you can do is choose how you will respond to the reality of life today. All you can do is choose the kind of parent you want to be today, the kind of life you want your kids to have today, and the kind of relationship you want with them today.

Everything else follows from that.

1 comment:

Ronnie said...

You can see the missing links in the original post here: