Thursday, April 22, 2010

But What If Unschooling Doesn't Work?

After posting about the unschooling piece on ABC, I got into several conversations IRL and on email and Facebook about the potential issue of unschooling not working. What if parents choose to unschool who then DO park their kids in front of a screen and feed them donuts? What if parents choose to more or less neglect their kids' education, and use the notion of unschooling as an excuse to do so? What if kids are being unschooled who then aren't exposed to a wide enough variety of things, or their parents don't bother following up on their interests? These are all valid concerns. And honestly, they probably do happen somewhere or other in the world. People wouldn't be human if some of them weren't screwing something up somewhere. There are two real questions that need to be answered when we think about unschooling not working:
1. Does the regular public school system ALWAYS work?
2. Should one educational path be closed to all if it doesn't work for some segment of the population?

On question number one, I think the answer is fairly clear. Our traditional public schooling option serves most of the population fairly well, and depending on location, school, and a family's goals and involvement levels can be extrenely successful. But there is no doubt in anyone's mind that children can and do fall through the cracks. A one-size-fits-all educational solution really doesn't work for every child. There can be a variety of reasons for this: classroom management issues, teaching to tests, the fact that a standard age-based curriculum will not always fit every kid's developmental level, bullying in schools, drug use in schools, the culture that is created when kids (and especially teenagers) are largely in a same-age peer group for a large percentage of their day, lack of parental involvement in children's lives and educations. Currently, the graduation rate for U.S. students is about 70%. So, depending on location and ethnic group, somewhere between 10 - 50% of kids in any given school are not "succeeding" even according to the schools' own definitions of success.

Ask yourself, if 1/3 of all homeschoolers were unable to complete their education, what would the reaction be in the press and the government? Would homeschooling even be allowed? I've met large numbers of unschoolers along our journey, and overwhelmingly they are interesting, engaged kids who are passionately following their interests in life. If I had to hazard a ballpark guess, I'd say that far more than 70% of them go on to fulfill their goals and ambitions.

For question number two, you have to really think long and hard about question number one. Because if you want to limit unschooling and/or homeschooling because there might be a few families it's not working for, you then need to think about what you're going to do about our current educational system. I live in the community that spawned Kip Kinkel, who not only encountered many problems (bullying, etc.) in the school system, but whose parents were both teachers in the system. Should his school have been permanently closed for such an egregious failure that resulted in loss of life to so many? If people are worried so badly about unschoolers who (as stated in the video) are not exposed to things like different sports, they need to be equally concerned about the things kids are exposed to when they attend school.

Sure, my kids haven't been forced to play ten different sports in a P.E. class. They've also never experienced bullying first hand. They've never heard someone be teased about what they're wearing, never seen a fight between two kids, never been afraid of another child. So, there are trade-offs to everything. Unschooling is not school. Unschooled kids will have a far different experience than a schooled child. Some of that difference may be a net positive, some may be a net negative. By only focusing on the supposed "deficiencies" of unschooling, the media can throw out a red herring to distract us from the drastic problems in our educational system.  When they get that one fixed up, maybe I'll take their concerns about unschooling to be slightly more credible. Until then, it just doesn't worry me.

1 comment:

Toni_F said...

Well said!!!! I didn't see that piece on TV, and I'm glad because it would have made me angry. I have no idea if the family profiled in that piece is an example of responsible and thoughtful homeschooling, but like you, I am constantly amazed that the homeschooled kids I meet are sweet, interesting, and generally more mature than schooled kids. I recently read an article in Time that sort of pleaded with homeschool families to "come back" to the mainstream because the public school needs smart, involved parents. Um, no thanks. You'll have to give me a better reason than that!