Monday, August 07, 2006

Homeschooling vs. Unschooling vs. Homelearning....

I was reminded that in the early days John Holt didn't use the term unschooling to refer to the radical child-led method of learning that it is considered to be these days. He meant taking your kids out of school and having them learn in a more organic way outside of the constraints of the public system (or perhaps private system). As late as 1998 the editors of GWS still wrote of an unwillingness to divide the movement. In 1998 Susannah Sheffer (then editor of GWS) wrote, "I'm still concerned about the consequences of suggesting that unschooling and homeschooling are distinct and separate movements and practices...."

Papa and I were talking about radical unschooling, and even most people who consider themselves unschoolers don't just turn their children loose after breakfast and gather them up again at dinner time. Beth writes that even choosing homeschooling/unschooling is a momentous choice you make for your child. We make choices for our children all of the time: choices about where they are born, what kind of medical care they receive, the foods they eat, the toys they play with, etc.

It seems to me that at some point the concept of unschooling (as it applied mostly to older children) got heavily influenced by the Taking Children Seriously/Non-Coercive Paretning movement, and suddenly you have 4 year olds who are supposed to instinctively know that they are tired and that they need to go to sleep, or that eating a whole bowl of candy is a bad idea.

I was very interested in TCS/NCP when my boys were little, and I took much from the movement, but in the end my instincts told me that my children needed me to be their guide. They need me to make the big decisions so that they can feel safe. I know that I would be fooling myself if I tried to believe that they could do everything based on their own will. As Beth pointed out, no one is letting toddlers play in the street (okay, unfortunately this isn't entirely true, but as a society we believe that adults should stop toddlers from playing in the street).

I like to think that there are really only 2 things going on out there - schooling or unschooling. Homeschooling as a term is ambiguous at best. If you are doing "school at home" then you still buy into the educational philosophy of schooling. If you choose something else, something alternative that takes away the structure and rules of school and school-based learning, then you are unschooling. Or call it home learning, life learning, holistic learning...the point is that we aren't schooling. We may use the term "homeschooling" so that other people understand what we mean, but for most of us home is not school. We aren't ringing the bell at 8 a.m., saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and then spending 30-45 minutes per subject, breaking for lunch, and finishing at 2:00 p.m. Yes there are people out there doing that, but it is schooling, and the fact that it is at home probably doesn't mean much.

Words have power. I learned that many years ago as I found the feminist movement. Back then we struggled with professors who would grade us down for gender neutral language, especially the singular use of "their" instead of "his" or "her". To write "A person much decide what to do with their life" was absolutely incorrect, and now I see it all of the time. Enough people chose to use gender neutral language that we created change. Now so with learning I see that I must make a choice to eliminate the word "school" from our educational vocabulary. We don't "do school" as my children like to call it, so let's eliminate that! Remember I was struggling on what to call the room we use for focused learning? Forget "school room", because it isn't one! Homeschooling? I will make an effort to change that to, starting with my blog title. (Don't worry, I won't change the URL right away).

Sure, we aren't unschoolers they way most radical unschoolers would define it, but John Holt, the founder of the movement (unschooling, not school-at-home), didn't want the division to exist anyway. If I use Enki to "strew the path", and my son takes off with word families and wants to learn to read, doesn't that still have some element of child choice in it? If he says "I like word families" and I buy a set of word family flip books and he practices them because he wants to, then isn't that child-led?

So for now, I think I'll name the blog Holistic Learning, if the title is available. If not, I'll come up with something else.

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