Unschooling?

(41 Posts)
NadineBeyer Thu 29-Nov-12 15:35:48

I've recently started to read a lot about the benefits of unschooling. Has anyone tried this? what are your thoughts on this?

tiggytape Tue 04-Dec-12 13:59:18

I agree cory - I have 2 DC's like that. One who would take to any form of learning well because of an inherent love of finding things out. And another who, if any element of choice came into it, would do nothing. And, I know the answer to this is probably that after 3 months, most children would get bored of watching TV and start to look around for new challenges but I can assure you he wouldn't. His capacity to never be bored is quite astonishing - in fact it is probably a gift in its own right!
DD reads for hours every night, is teaching herself to play the recorder using YouTube and makes cardboard models of the pyramids they talked about at school even though this is in addition to her homework (a fact that has DS shaking his head in disbelief!). She would be a brilliant autonomous learner but she's happier being around lots of other children constantly.

And as for gaps in knowledge - often that only comes with the benefit of age or the realisation that everything worth knowing isn't interesting. I can imagine a child's choices on what to learn will not always coincide with the things they wish they knew when faced with competing for a job or aspects of adult life that are necessary but not at all interesting. This is probably especially true with the areas a child finds challenging at a young age and becomes put off whereas with a structured school life, there is less scope for opting out of things you find difficult but nevertheless need.

I guess I cannot see it suiting my DCs for very different reasons but that's not to say that there aren't families and children that it works well for.

Saracen Tue 04-Dec-12 15:57:39

Some children lie on the sofa because they've had enough of being told what to do at school and need some down time. tiggytape noted that fans of autonomous education will tell you that once that structure is removed and they are given a real choice of how to spend most of their time they eventually have enough of boredom and move on to doing other things. The trouble with proving this is, for some children this process of "deschooling" takes not days or weeks but many months - so if your child never has more than six weeks off school at a time you won't see it happen. If you just see a child who doesn't seem to make good use of his time during the school holidays, it's difficult to believe that a transformation could occur if you really let him work through it. This is a common theme in home ed discussions: "I took him out of school MONTHS ago and he still does NOTHING!" which is answered by other longer-term HE parents saying that their child was just the same and now does take an interest in things.

If you think your child is fairly uncurious and idle by nature, was this apparent in the preschool years? Did he show no interest in playing and learning but just sit around staring at the wall when not made to do things? It seems to me that human nature is to be at least moderately interested in what's going on, and if someone who previously showed this interest has stopped doing so then it is a sign that something is going wrong for him in some way.

That isn't to say that everyone has the same amount of determination and initiative and curiosity. Many of the school educating families I know include at least one child who could be the poster child for school, plus at least one child who spends much of his time doing something which looks unproductive (or maybe which is unproductive, depending how you see it). Likewise, many of the autonomously educating families I know include at least one child who could be the poster child for AE, plus at least one child who spends much of his time doing something which looks unproductive. But none of them fail to get a good grounding in the areas they need for adult life. They learn to read, sometimes starting with phrases such as "play", "exit" and "high score" and progressing until they can read and write long blogs about how to get to the next level of their favourite game.

lljkk Tue 04-Dec-12 16:12:56

Gaps in education: well it wasn't my statement, it's what other adults said. I get the feeling that they don't know what they don't know, IYSWIM. Just sometimes aware that others have been presented material & find it second nature to know that stuff already, and yet for the unschooled themselves they find it alien information; it's moments like that when they feel out of depth and not sure how to easily make up the deficit. Perhaps it's a kind of embarrassment in feeling ignorant.

Caitlin Moran says she & siblings were all unschooled, no? Would be interesting if she & sibs were more forthcoming about the outcome for them. And detailed studies could be produced on the outcomes for larger populations (controlling for most other relevant factors).

The other thing I wonder about is that there's a lot of tedious stuff in life to do. When kids are unschooled I wonder how they ever pick up the skill to grit their teeth and get on with learning it even if it's the most horrid dull almost seemingly pointless chore. Have to be very good at delayed gratification, I should think, a skill which is mostly innate not something that can be much learnt.

Saracen Tue 04-Dec-12 16:14:27

I don't think I see the connection between not making a child learn things which don't (yet) interest him, and having to support an unemployable 22yo?

Of course a young person has more career options if he has acquired certain skills. But the only people I would consider actually "unemployable" are those with a very bad attitude toward work. There are many things which might motivate your son in the future: wanting to meet more girls, needing money, feeling bored and left out because his friends have moved on to work or further education.

After I'd flown the coop my mum agreed to let her 20 year old nephew come stay with her. Wages were better in our part of the country and he wanted a fresh start. It soon became apparent that he didn't have much drive to get a job so long as his auntie would support him. My mother declared she was delighted to have him around because there were a great many jobs he could help her with: clearing out the garage, putting up a new fence, repainting the kitchen. He somehow found the setup less appealing after that! He soon found himself a job and managed to save up for a flat in less than six months.

Giving a child control over his own learning does not translate into letting him do whatever he wants in your house when he's grown up.

lljkk Tue 04-Dec-12 16:18:05

Come to think of it I have slightly relevant experience. I attended an alternative school on the Summerhill model for 2 years (age 12-13). Summerhill is as close as you can get to unschooling in a school-ed environment. I am so glad I left that school because the ethos of it was to not value education. If learning anything was optional, then it obviously didn't matter whether I learnt anything or not. Nor did it matter how well I did at whatever I did try to learn.

Saracen Tue 04-Dec-12 16:27:10

lljkk, I wonder about Caitlin Moran too. She complains about her education but it's not clear whether she is doing so because it is funny to write in that style or because she means it.

She herself is certainly a "success" by conventional standards, as are at least some of her siblings. I don't remember the careers in which they ended up but I do remember that there were some "high-fliers" among them.

You mention getting through tedious stuff - I wonder the opposite, how children whose education involves being closely directed by other people can ever find the self-motivation to do things off their own back. It was certainly an issue for people I knew at university. They were not used to doing work without being told what and when and how to study, what questions to ask and answer, and what was important.

lljkk Tue 04-Dec-12 16:36:46

That's the Kohn argument, isn't it? That all motivation has to come from within to be sustainable.

I guess it depends how closely directed the education was. The classic Oriental stereotype of rote learning (eg., all those thousands of characters that just have to be memorised) notoriously discourages creativity and any possible deviation from a model of supposed perfection. But that's a long cry from usual education style in Anglo-Saxon countries. Which is still a big jump from the unschooling ideal.

The thing is, plenty of self-directed think-for-selves individuals come out of very bog-standard education systems. So maybe it comes down to individual character more than almost anything else.

I know for me that although I can be very self-disciplined & hard-working, I lack focus, I need extrinsic rewards to achieve anything. Never had a passion for much in my life (wasted gifts?). I needed to be forced to learn many things before I could see the value of them long-term. Like math: I'm good at algebra & calculus but I am (or was, anyway) iffy at arithmetic, which I had to learn in a slogging thru way & only reluctantly. Never would have reached calculus without the slog, though. And on the back of calculus opened the door to many other things that I thoroughly enjoyed learning & doing, but couldn't have understood without the other foundations. Along with other stuff that I found deadly dull at the time (statistics) but turned out to be immensely useful in ways I could have not appreciated in advance.

FlamingoBingo Tue 04-Dec-12 18:21:45

There are massive gaps in my knowledge compared to others of my age, and they have massive gaps compared to me. We all went to school.

The fact is, unschooled or not, you can't know everything because it's just not possible to be exposed to everything in your childhood, or even your lifetime. I am rather shocked at my dh's lack of knowledge about the world wars, but he didn't do gcse history so why would he know, unless he's been intrigued enough to educate himself...which is what we all do when we have an interest in something.

I too don't really get the 'gaps in knowledge' argument as it suggest a very, very naive trust that the national curriculum really does produce a year group of children all with exactly the same knowledge, and we all know that doesn't happen.

chasteroidbelt Tue 04-Dec-12 18:42:46

Isn't it the same for everyone that the older and wiser they get, the less they realise that they know?

bebanjo Tue 04-Dec-12 21:07:40

So OP are you happy with what your son is learning or not?
how old is he?
what is the longest he has been left to his own devices?
has you house ever had a power cut? if so what did he do then?
and what was he like before he went to school?

cory Tue 04-Dec-12 21:26:27

Saracen Tue 04-Dec-12 15:57:39

"If you think your child is fairly uncurious and idle by nature, was this apparent in the preschool years? Did he show no interest in playing and learning but just sit around staring at the wall when not made to do things?"

Yes, I think so. He has always been happy socialising, but if anything involved effort, even in play, then he tried to make sure somebody else did it for him. It was the same with basic tasks like learning to dress or put his shoes on; he genuinely never seemed bothered; if his teachers would do it for him, then fine; if not he'd just walk out with bits back to front or hanging loose.

At 12, he will go out with his friends if they call round for him, but he won't take any initiatives, such as texting them or calling for them; he'd rather spend a lonely half term holiday on his couch than actually make an effort to arrange something.

As for writing long blogs about favourite games, no I can't see that happening anytime soon. Why should he when he can watch television and not have to do anything?

Saracen Tue 04-Dec-12 16:14:27

"After I'd flown the coop my mum agreed to let her 20 year old nephew come stay with her. Wages were better in our part of the country and he wanted a fresh start. It soon became apparent that he didn't have much drive to get a job so long as his auntie would support him. My mother declared she was delighted to have him around because there were a great many jobs he could help her with: clearing out the garage, putting up a new fence, repainting the kitchen. He somehow found the setup less appealing after that! He soon found himself a job and managed to save up for a flat in less than six months."

Your nephew sounds a very conscientious young man if he a) felt obliged to actually do the painting b) did not deliberately make a mess of it so she'd take him off the job before her whole kitchen got ruined. Ds I am afraid would have gone for b.

Anyway, what would worry me is that even if ds did see the light, it would take him a long time to catch up enough to compete with his better qualified peers in an area of fairly high unemployment.

FlamingoBingo Tue 04-Dec-12 18:21:45

"I too don't really get the 'gaps in knowledge' argument as it suggest a very, very naive trust that the national curriculum really does produce a year group of children all with exactly the same knowledge, and we all know that doesn't happen."

I'd agree with you when it comes to knowledge of facts, those are pretty random. But when I talk of gaps in knowledge, I mean more skills based things, such as being able to read and write and do basic calculations. None of which ds is interested in- but a future employer will be.

bebanjo Tue 04-Dec-12 22:57:03

Hi cory, if you are write and your son has no interest in anything, never has had and never will then i do not see how he will ever be employable whether he stays in school or sits at home for the next 4 years. he will know from the tv that some people live on benefits and never work. you will provide meals, clean clothes heating exc.
even if he can read and do basic calculations he will not get a job.

GrrrArghZzzzYaayforall8nights Wed 05-Dec-12 14:59:47

cory - My DS1 is similar to your DS.

Some people prefer the path of least resistance and in our world of easy entertainment, it's very easy for some with those personalities to slip into that world. It can be addicting and take effort to help them get out of it.

I home educated from the start, so my DS has never been to school. He just a very mellow, take things as they come, living in the moment kind of person. He's the child who didn't ask "why?" until he was 6. He's shown me that a person can't be rushed and yet they can still need active help on the steps to get there.

Without that push, he remains stuck. Let him help in making a to-do list with some non-negotiable and something to do afterwards and he'll get things done as long as I'm there to keep an eye on things (not unlike many adult, I do XYZ task, I reward myself with something, but the task normally requires some need that someone else will need or it gets lowered down my priority list).

Also, getting him into the habit of doing certain things at a certain time helps him. He needs to be able to run mostly on autopilot, knowing what to do when, or it's easy for him to get boggled down/wander off.

stilllearnin Wed 05-Dec-12 15:28:17

Hi Cory. It is interesting, how different children can be from their siblings and from us.

Just a couple of things that spring to mind: You say he is sociable - are you sure there isn't a lack of confidence holding him back.

I am not clear whether he can read (sorry if I've missed this) - but if not and he has been at school - then you would suspect a learning problem.

Lastly, I would worry incessantly if this was my son, in the same way as you, that he will end up massively disadvantaged in getting a job, so I am not saying it is easy...but it may just be that he is different from us and it is difficult to accept his very different approach to life. I too was massively motivated (to the extent that faced with a rubbish school i wrote off for the syllabus to many subjects so I could teach myself to pass my GCSEs!), and so far my children are motivated, but I don't think my partner was - staring at the ceiling is probably an admirable quality to my dp. We don't actually know your son will be unmotivated when it comes to his teen years. He may surprise you when it comes to it!!

Probably no help - but just a thought, sorry

cory Wed 05-Dec-12 18:28:32

stillearnin, he can read perfectly well, because he has been made to at school. But has never voluntarily picked up a book out of school. He can also do basic calculations because he has been made to. But has never voluntarily gone to the trouble of working anything out, not even whether he gets the correct change in the shop. His teachers don't actually think there is anything wrong with his abilities at all; they just notice that he won't work unless you stand over him and make him. Typically, he gets his work done in the detention class after school. But no, no reason to suspect SN (he has been tested for dyslexia).

"We don't actually know your son will be unmotivated when it comes to his teen years."

That's 5 months from now, he is 13 in May- so it would have to be a quick miracle!

Seriously, I do believe that it is very likely that he will become more motivated when he gets older and sees all his friends getting paid employment, and we start muttering about throwing him out.

My rationale for keeping him in school is that if he suddenly were to see the light at 16 and then had to teach himself everything including basic reading and writing from scratch, it would be a lot to catch up in one go unless you were exceptionally bright.

Keeping him in school keeps his basic skills ticking over and makes catching up more of a realistic proposition.

And besides, he finds school pleasant and actually wants to go there (for the socialising), so he wouldn't be interested in home schooling. It's just the notion of doing any work he objects to. But then he doesn't want to do that at home either.

Grrr you are describing my ds! The autopilot thing describes him exactly!

tiggytape Thu 06-Dec-12 14:45:35

Cory - I agree. It is important they have all the tools now even if they acquire them through a degree of coercion force at school because if motivation ever does catch up with academic ability, it will be too late to decide at the age of 18 that reading and maths do have some virtues after all.

And if motivation never catches up with ability - well they'll be literate and lazy instead of illiterate and lazy. I figure that this is the bit of DS's life that I am directly responsible for and I don't want him to be short of anything now that he may need later on. If in later life he chooses to waste his abilities (he is top sets despite lack of motivation so he is doubly frustrating right now) and never uses what he knows then that's his choice. There is nothing that school deprives him of that he would rather be learning instead - he isn't a budding Mozart, chef or artistic genius so it is not like I am steering him off his natural path with useless academics (well not unless anyone's natural path involves lolloping a lot!)

If he suddenly decides at age 16 that he has a goal to work for, then he's got all the skills lined up as far as possible. And if he doesn't, he hasn't lost anything by having been made to learn these things.

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