Is Unschooling a Fad?

By , February 9, 2011

I recently spent a most unpleasant half hour on a well-known writers’ collective site to which I used to contribute. I read one of their debate topics: “Is unschooling a passing fad or a new legacy?” The unpleasantness came from reading passionate, sometimes eloquent, but largely misinformed arguments that this educational method is a passing fad.

I’ve learned not to contribute anymore to that site. One’s writing becomes forever after the property of the site’s owners. The writer only benefits from his or her own work by continually rating other articles on the site, meeting monthly minimums and maintaining a “percentage” based on a secret adjudication matrix that seems to rely heavily on agreeing with other members of the site. Far better to make my arguments here.

I used to work in education, so I believe I can speak to educational fads. The short answer to the debate is that unschooling will not turn out to be a fad for the simple reason that it is not a teaching method that will be briefly tried, then discarded by institutional educators, as they seem to have done with virtually every good educational idea to come along so far! Since the very beginning of organized education in this country, we have searched frantically, often blindly, for an educational strategy that works. In my lifetime, at least, this has approached a “chicken little” level of urgency that fails to allow the better ideas time to show proper results.

While I personally don’t expect unschooling to become widely practiced, I believe it will, in fact, prove to be a small but important legacy in U.S. education.

I doubt it’ll grow in popularity very much for the simple reason that it takes a certain level of ability, interest, and education on the part of parents. These qualities appear absent from most of those arguing “fad” on the site mentioned above. The key argument appears to imply “I can’t do it, so I don’t think you can, either!” I also note that many crying “fad” are currently working as teachers. Suggesting self-interest might play a part here is wasting my “breath,” but there it is.

The sad truth is that the unschooling concept is too easily abused by people who just don’t care enough to raise their children properly. As I’ve argued before, unschooling will only work if a child has been raised from the beginning to possess self-discipline, and to love and seek knowledge. If a child is raised in front of a television, there’s little reason to think they can be successfully unschooled. The key, I believe, is that one must pursue unschooling as a better path to education, not as an expert-recommended easy way out.

For those relatively few who raise their children properly, unschooling works. I’m willing to bet it will work for their children’s children, and in generations to come.

That’s what I would call a legacy.

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