“Natural ability without education has more often raised a man to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.” —Cicero
Even though Aly is in college now, I continue to think about unschooling quite often.
I have to admit, I sometimes question whether advocating unschooling is a wise idea or not.
I thoroughly believe in the concept, and have seen incredible success with it. However, there are two components that are, I feel, absolutely necessary: 1) an intelligent, curious child, and 2) intelligent, engaged parents. Without these two, unschooling will fail.
Unfortunately, all too many families in our country view education as a cop out. My wife used to work in a grade school, and has heard parents tell teachers, “I tried for five years, now it’s your turn!” That kind of attitude, which I regard as criminally negligent, creates educational failures no matter what instruction strategy may be applied.
Parents must engage in their child’s education. It can’t be left up to the teachers, the clergy, the original sources, or any other entity.
The unschoolers I know have done incredibly well. I point with pride to Aly, but that hurts my thesis, as every parent feels their child is exceptional.
Instead, let me mention a friend in town, who, after unschooling, graduated from Harvard and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Cornell. If you were to meet her and her parents, you’d expect nothing less from them. The same, sadly, cannot be said for some families.
I believe that unschooling requires at least some parental oversight. Parental guidance is a right and a responsibility that cannot be abrogated for any reason. Even the most intelligent child needs advice and perspective from adults in choosing their path.
There will be gaps in an unschooler’s education. In her freshman year, Aly confessed to what she felt was a glaring shortfall in her schooling. She was unfamiliar with a specific writing method that is currently popular in public schools.
I pointed out that since she has learned how to learn, she has the tools and skills to acquire this method independently, just as she will have them to learn the next new fad in the schools. (Eventually I hope to write further on Aly’s feelings about her unschooling. I’d meant to interview her about it while she was home at Christmas, but we didn’t get to it.)
You will find similar gaps in a public or private school education as well. Even the best curricula may not be covered adequately in the course of a school year. I remember years of history classes that began with the discovery of the Americas and made it to about the American Civil War by spring break; afterward, the rest of history got presented in summary fashion to “finish” before the end of the school year.
Unschooling is simply another educational strategy, any of which can be, and overwhelmingly have been botched by people who don’t care enough, and/or don’t take time enough to make them work.
One of the primary memes of this blog is “if I can do it, you can do it.” I generally believe that. And yet, I sometimes wonder if that’s really the case in every instance?