Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

What is it about the term "unschooling" that causes people to covet it so much? So much that they are willing to wrap it, like a blanket over whatever homeschooling philosophies they might embrace and try to make it their own?

Our local "unschooling" list has erupted into fevered discussions over the term "unschooling" due to my offhand comment when someone posted a recommendation for a flashcard memorization website to the group, that such a thing really wasn't all that useful on an "unschooling" list. I mean, would you post a Monsanto pesticide recommendation on an organic gardening list? The flashcard mentality could hardly be more toxic to unschooling.

Some quotes from the website that was posted:
"The purpose of electronic flashcards is to enable students to master a large mass of course content."

"all courses of study, whether it be mathematics, social studies, science, or language arts, are reducible to tiny fact units "

"The system works very well for 98% of the content taught in schools, from preschool to graduate school."

I especially like that second quote about everything being reduced to tiny memorizable fact units. Yeah, that REALLY fits with an unschooling philosophy, doesn't it???

Of course, if you try to defend any definition of unschooling that remains relatively true to the nature of the philosophy, you're being "elitist" and "non-inclusive". Would it be equally uninclusive to say that eating meat "isn't vegetarian" or praying to the god Baal isn't a "Catholic practice"? Terms or labels only have meaning and usefulness when they have a definition. If I call myself an auto mechanic because I know how to knit sweaters, does that term hold any meaning whatsover? Why not just release all words in the English language to mean whatever they want to. That way if I said "I'm cooking pizza for dinner" my husband could equally take that to mean "I'm taking a train to Guatemala". Wouldn't communication cease to exist without definitions and meanings?

So for the record, unschooling, by definition, means "child-led learning". Not flashcards, not memorization, not grade levels, not curriculums, not a world divided into subjects and reduced to factoids. If that's not what you're doing, fine! More power to you! If you use an eclectic approach and you're totally happy with it and your kids are thriving: GREAT! But please, just don't call it unschooling.


New Unschooler said...

The local list around here was so ate up in overwhelming political debates I had to quit it for the longest time. No meetups, no connections, no inspiration, no ideas, no learning, no nothing.. but argumentative asses. And the moderator basically *refused* to moderate because it wasn't in the *unschool* spirit.

Jody said...

I agree with you...with one caveat. The only way flashcards are unschooling would be if the kid had a goal himself of learning the facts for some reason. (Like, maybe he had some other activity he wanted to do and felt that learning the facts would help himn do it.) At least that's how I look at it. I'm not an unschooler but I think that your descriptions here and elsewhere have helped me to understand what it really means.

Jody said...

Oh, and I thought you'd like this comment by my 10 year old. He had a form to fill out for an activity and it asked him what his favorite subject was. There was this really long pause, and finally he said, "What are subjects?"

Andrea said...

You are sooo funny! And busy! I got a real kick out of this post! I agree, get rid of flashcards! I am new to unschooling, and although I struggle with some of the finer things in the philosophy, I have been clear on where flashcards stand, in my neighbors house!

Kathy said...

On the other hand, unschooling is not unparenting. I will fully admit I homeschool my 7, 9, and 12yo. We started in January after forever unschooling. My 14yo however, has no use for academics. I haven't figured out how to pique any interest other than computer gaming but he did recently decide he wanted to learn his multiplication tables. So each day he asks me to create a table for him to fill in - poor man's flashcards. :)

I've got to say, after a month of homeschooling, it is SO MUCH easier than unschooling.

Robin said...

Kathy I agree, unschooling is not unparenting. And not neglect either, it's a constant interaction with what your kids are doing and are interested in.

Kathy said...

Oh, I'm LOVING the peek at your trip! My comment above is so weird! Where was I going with it? I think my point was that my unscholing life had started to look like unparenting (for the boys) and I needed a change for them and for me. Anyway, I think that's where I was going.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. :)