In some circles, un-schooling is all the rage. It offers supposed academic emancipation: just let the child follow after his own curiosities. What its proponents may not be aware of, however, is that unschooling is an experiment that has already been tried, with dismal results. It has been around since the 1960’s.
Unschooling is great for appropriate chapters in life. It is, in fact, what any set of parents does with their toddler up to age five. They run around after the child, giving parental oohs and aahs and affirmations galore. At some hour, though, the application of cognitive discipline is advantageous for a developing human. Just ask any Olympic coach, or a violin virtuoso who has been training since the age of three, or a trainer of Lipizzaner horses. You can be sure that those horses aren’t allowed to change out of their pajamas any time they feel like it, or that they are born knowing how to proceed to dance on their hind legs to classical music at some future hour. They are led by bit and bridle into magnificence. Coaches hover over beginning details, just like misers counting their diamonds. They know, down in their very gizzards, that victory is in every highly disciplined detail.
Another chapter where Unschooling might be a preferred choice, even an advantage, to some, would be college. When a student reaches that age, he has acquired enough skills to be able to chase around after his curiosities, with some real progress, given a gifted mentor or two. (This is not true for some disciplines, such as engineering and mathematics, but surely is true for the humanities.) Apprenticeships, outside of a classroom, are also very expanding at that age. For the in-between years, however—i.e. all of elementary, jr. high and high school—there is a sink-hole in this theory of un-schooling. Students, so trained by the hundreds in the homeschooling movement, or by only “experience-based-novelty” private schools, are now embarrassed at all that they don’t know.
Unschooling lulls its followers into a false dichotomy. It baits its proponents with the misguided idea that if one actually schools a child, that child will not get to chase around after his own curiosities. Huh? How many hours do we have in a day? Does it follow that if we sequentially and progressively train our children in competent cognitive development for 3 or 4 hours a morning, in vital areas like phonics decoding skills, mathematics, and essay writing, that they, then do not have the remainder of the day to chase after anything they would like, be that the biology of butterflies or youthful “brilliant” military strategies? Since when does one limit the other?
Unschooling presupposes that the bulk of Western Civilization training is mostly worthless—that the body of knowledge that has been built up over the centuries and has been meticulously passed down from generation to generation, by conscientious tutoring (even down to basic first penmanship strokes, multiplication facts and historical dates), is superfluous. The root of the one type of education is humanism; the root of the other is revelation. We either start from ourselves and fashion the world as we want it, or receive with humility from God himself the vast unmovable principles of his universe. There is a body of knowledge outside of ourselves that is worth setting our hearts to acquire with discipline.
Is it not arrogant to think that we don’t need to progressively learn geography or real history, even in the hours when we don’t want to learn them? Is it not good for a child to have to put his own immediate will under, to gain a larger long-term self-capacity and objective understanding of the world in which he lives?
Go talk with coaches and see how much of their training is undisciplined and wandering. It will be an eye-opener for some, but wholesomely obvious for others who have been trained by progressively tougher and tougher cognitive disciplines all of their lives. Educated adults are glad they didn’t wind up like their peers who can’t spell, can’t locate China on a map, can’t subtract in their checkbooks, or measure their lumber to cut it accurately.
The sooner you can jettison the unschooling theory and get busy educating your child, incrementally and progressively, the better.
For more on this topic, read our eBook of The 2 Most Common Pitfalls in Home Schooling, and How to Avoid Them.