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 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.

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!

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

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.

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.

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 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?

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?

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.

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.

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 16:18:05

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 16:14:27

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 16:12:56

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 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.

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.

cory Tue 04-Dec-12 08:36:24

This is what I find interesting, behanjo, because everybody who speaks of the successes of unschooling seems to be describing a child who is very different from my ds, but like my dd, a child who is interested in finding out more about a subject.

So how would you deal with a child who wants to lie on a sofa and watch the same re-runs of Top Gear over and over again but has no interest in learning how a car works or anything else about it? A child who literally only wants to be entertained and who does not want you to tell him things?

If ds is left to his own devices, he doesn't bother to get dressed, he makes it as far as the television and there he watches the same no-effort programmes over and over again. For a child who only wants to be entertained and is given a free run of the home entertainment systems (which I suppose is what autonomous means) there is absolutely no need to learn anything beyond how to work the remote controll.

It doesn't bother him at all, because he doesn't have any "ends" in mind. But I don't fancy the idea of having to support an unemployable 22yo.

bebanjo Mon 03-Dec-12 23:11:47

we follow autonomous education in our house, this does not stop me from parenting and from talking to my DD and telling her things.
we had our first visit from the LEA last week and he was very happy with how DD is doing.
i fail to understand how anyone that has been "unschooled" could have gaps in there education that bothers them, that goes against what "unschooling" is/means.
it is for the child to learn any and all things that the child finds interesting, useful nessersery for there own ends. if they want to know more they simply do, they ask for help as and when needed and get on with it. if this is not the case then they have not been "unschooled"/ followed an autonomous path but simply been ignored/ neglected.
my DD can not read yet but she will ask me to Google something, she knows there are many ways to find things out.

lljkk Mon 03-Dec-12 18:37:42

(Deep Breath) I have lurked on other websites, online, where folk ask "Were you unschooled and did you like it?". The replies are a range of opinions just like anything else. But the one thing that jumps out is most folk saying that they have noticeable gaps in their education. They feel those strongly & often feel quite strongly about it (feel quite insecure as a result). They seem to feel that the gaps are quite formidable.

I know a lot of HErs and None of them unschool, several of them (no matter how passionate they are about HE) express considerable skepticism about unschooling. It is a hotly debated topic within HE circles.

cory Sun 02-Dec-12 10:38:20

I can see the rationale of autonomous education- but how long would you be prepared to support an adult child who had not yet seen the benefit of getting himself adequate skills and a job?

cory Sun 02-Dec-12 10:37:10

I am afraid he relies on his friends to keep track of when things are on etc, Saracen. Whenever he has wanted to take up an activity and his friends haven't organised it for him it has come to nothing; however keen he seems he just can't go to the effort of doing it.

He goes out when they call for him; left to his own devices he will lie on the sofa all day.

This works at this age, because he is quite popular and his friends enjoy mothering him. I can't see it working in the workplace. In fact, I can't see it getting him a job.

Saracen Sun 02-Dec-12 10:06:25

cory, does your son not want to find out when his favourite programmes will be on or when the next film in the series is being released? How does he download the music tracks he wants? Do his friends not text him or want to make social arrangements on Facebook? Does he not find it awkward to catch the right bus to town to meet them?

If he has found clever ways to deal with all of these situations then perhaps he genuinely doesn't need reading right now. That's not to say he never will need and want to do it. As he gets older he will discover more interests, he will want to more things, and it's quite likely that reading will play a part.

I know this is a frustrating answer but: I think that with autonomous education it isn't a case of the parent "making it work". It is a case of waiting. Waiting, and ensuring in the meantime that he isn't in an environment where people are trying to force him, at the risk of teaching him that he can't do it and that reading is all that matters. Autonomous education isn't something you do, it's something you refrain from doing.

Saracen Sun 02-Dec-12 10:03:43

"Would you really have been happy if he had been your son and still unable to read at 12 and showing no signs of wanting to learn?"

Happy, no. I'd like to think I'd have the courage of my convictions and keep waiting, but it wouldn't be easy. Reading is very important to functioning in our society, and there is a lot of emphasis on doing it young. Someone very wise, who had two children who learned to read in their teens, once said something along these lines in a discussion about autonomous education: it's easy to let children come to reading in their own time if they choose to do it at four or six, but it takes nerves of steel to do it if they happen to become ready after ten!

But in return, let's consider a worst-case scenario when it comes to non-autonomous education. Picture a 12 year old who has not had success at school. It all started when she was four and everyone kept on at her about reading and writing when she wasn't yet ready and would rather have been doing other things anyway. After a while she shut off and stopped trying. The harder her teachers and parents pushed, the less she seemed to understand. Would you have been happy if this had been your daughter?

What's the difference between these two children? Neither can read. There's no guarantee that either of them will ever read.

The first child probably feels a bit down about this. He's not oblivious to his grandparents asking his parents regularly about whether he can read yet, and a couple of kids may have noticed and teased him about it. It's inconvenient that he can't look up the TV listings or figure out a new computer game without help. Still, his inability to read doesn't dominate his life. He's had time to get good at other things, so he is confident. He can do lots of things and has never bothered to invest much effort in learning to read. He knows that nearly everyone is capable of learning to read at a basic level. So he is fairly confident that he'll manage it whenever he gets around to tackling it. The rest of his education isn't affected much by the fact that he doesn't read. He learns from documentaries, from going places and talking to people. He listens to audiobooks. People will read him things if they have time. His friends are barely aware of the fact that he can't read, since they aren't sitting in a classroom alongside him. They think he is a pretty bright kid. He knows a lot about science and history and archaeology.

The second child is confronted by her inability to read in a painful way on a daily basis. Everyone at school knows she is in the lowest sets - not just in English but in most everything else too. There's no chance of producing a geography essay or passing a history exam when she can't read. She's pretty sure she is thick: people have been trying to get her to read for eight years now and she hasn't got it, so she "knows" she can't do it. There's no point trying any more. School takes up a lot of her time, so she doesn't have much time to master other things which might have boosted her self-esteem.

One other difference: everyone will criticise the parents of the first child and blame them for his inability to read, whereas everyone will blame the school for the second child's problems. But it isn't at all clear to me that the first child's problems are caused by his parents' decision to let him decide when to learn to read, or that the second child's problems couldn't have been avoided if she hadn't been made to attempt reading for years when she didn't want to.

As risks go, I think the second scenario is a worse risk. I know Child A well... that is to say, I did - he can read moderately well now. I don't know Child B. My mum, a schoolteacher who specialised in teaching teens who had very low maths attainment but no diagnosed learning difficulties, said that most of her pupils had terribly low self-esteem. The almost insurmountable problem was that they thought they were incapable of learning.

cory Sun 02-Dec-12 09:07:15

Flamingo, I'm not disputing that it works: more wondering how you would make it work with a youngster like my ds who simply isn't interested in anything that reading could give him. I'd be very grateful for any hints. I might be able to use them.

FlamingoBingo Sun 02-Dec-12 09:02:53

Yes, we do it. Works very well in our family of four very different children who all learn very differently and have different strengths and interests (to dispel the 'it only works with self-motivated early readers' myth).

Unschooling doesn't mean you don't get qualifications if you want them. I know unschooled kids who now, as adults, have PhDs.

When I have my regular and healthy 'omg what are we doing!?!?' wobbles and frantically compare my kids with their schooled peers, I find that they're behind in some aspects, but not by much, and way ahead in others. Therefore, I am usually shown that the whole school/unschool thing is swings and roundabouts. My kids may well be fine in school, but it appears that there's not much point in being there when they have way more time within the family to learn what they want how they want in much greater depth and without the distraction of the bad bits of school, so as I'm happy to have them home educated, what would be the point of sending them to school?

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now