Thoughts on Unschooling

I woke up at 2:00 AM, then 3:00 AM, then 4:00 AM, and finally settled with 5:30 AM. It was idiotic to go to bed at 6 PM last night but I was too exhausted to be logical.

This morning, I was compelled to consider the discussion we had at the third session of the pre-conference meetings –– the Unschooling experience of Andre Stern. It is one method of homeschooling that allows the child to learn naturally, organically, in an interest-driven, self-directed way. There is no interference by an adult to dictate the pace at which the child learns or the content and timing of introducing lessons.  There is no “fixed” curriculum. The curriculum is dependent upon what the child wants to do. Unschooling has its origins in educator, John Holt’s theories and observations about children. He claimed, for instance, that they are “learning all the time.”

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” John Holt

I have used this principle when teaching my children by allowing them to pursue their interests, but I am not an unschooler type of homeschool parent. I suppose it is because I don’t “trust” children the same way that John Holt said we must. He was primarily referring to the internal compass children have for learning.  Though I do not disagree with him in this respect, I also believe that children are born with sin natures, making it difficult for them to self-direct their morality.  Left alone, with no guidance, direction, and discipline, children will not automatically seek God. Sure, God’s grace can rescue them as adults, yet much of their values and principles are set before they hit the teenage years.

Having said this, I do concur with Holt’s theories and find them sensible in the aspect of not surppressing children’s natural curiosities and wonder about the world around them in so far as they are not harmful or sinful. We are so much infected by the idea that the school system is correct…that children must learn subject matter and content in a particular order. If not, we fear that our children will be ill-prepared to survive in the world. Yet it was Holt’s conclusion that when we pressure children to learn in an institutionalized manner, they are conditioned to fear failure. And it is this fear that inhibits their natural desire to learn and explore.

As open-minded as I am about education since I am a homeschooling mom, I do, on many occasions, impose time-tables and subject matter on my children. I want to teach them how to read, write, spell, compute, process, and articulate their thoughts and ideas well. Holt, on the other hand, challenges parents and teachers to be a learner along-side their child rather than the the one holding a flashlight to light the way. It’s not like this… “Here child, look at this cocoon. Isn’t this interesting? This is how caterpillars become butterflies. We can read about it in a book I have at home for your Science.” Rather it is more like this…

“Mom, what is this?” asks the child.

“Oh, that is a cocoon!” replies the mother.

“What’s inside?” asks the child.

“That’s for you to find out, but I can tell you this much, it was once a caterpillar. Do you know what a caterpillar is?” says the mother.

“Yes, I think so. It’s like a worm. But what is it doing inside?”

“What do you think it is doing?”

“Is it sleeping?”

“It could be.”

“How can I know, mom?”

“Well, you could read about it. We could research online together. Or you could wait around and see what happens to this cocoon. It’s up to you.”

I am not the foremost authority on unschooling but this seems to be the kind of conversation a child and parent would have in an unschooling context. Is this kind of thing okay? There are aspects of unschooling that I love, but I wouldn’t embrace it entirely because my goals for homeschooling are different. And all parents need to consider their goals of instruction before buying into any methodology of homeschooling. It can get confusing to hear so many great ideas about how children should learn. So we must always begin with a goal.

For Edric and I, we believe that homeschooling is about raising up our children to love, know, serve, obey, and follow God. That is our goal. I’ve repeated this many times in this blog. Therefore, we direct our children’s education towards this end. We allow them to freely explore their interests, but we step in when these interests are harmful to them physical, spiritually, emotionally. For example, Titus was interested in electrical outlets when he was younger. I could’ve let him experience getting electrocuted, in the spirit of letting him learn from his mistakes, but I taught him to obey and not to touch outlets. Okay, that is an exaggerated example. I would never let him get electrocuted!

The point is, however, that unschooling mindset for someone like myself has to be regulated by what God says about children and how they are to be raised and trained. God designated us as the authority figures in the lives of our children for a purpose and good reason. It is our responsibility to teach them to obey and respect that authority.We are called to train them and to direct them towards God. We must consider the spiritual aspect of their development. I do not agree with psychologists who say that children can determine their own morality. There must be a reference point to say that one is moral. In relation to what? Of course my perspective is biased toward a biblical worldview that tells me that parents must provide that reference point by teaching their children who God is, who we are in relation to him, and how he has called us to live.

And this must be taught because the world we exist in is not just a physical world with physical laws, but a spiritual one with spiritual laws. We can consider children as merely human and say, yes, they must be allowed to discover themselves and realize their humanity. Let them be unschooled and let their learning be unbridled. But we must consider the aspect of their fallen nature. There are spiritual forces at work in the lives of our children. So we must teach them certain truths earlier than later so they can be set free to realize their full potential in Christ.

1 thought on “Thoughts on Unschooling

  1. Hi Joy! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts on unschooling. 🙂 Praise God for the great privilege He’s given you and Edric to be at the GHEC now! 🙂 I’m sure your trip there will bless the local homeschooling community in a special way, and bless the global homeschooling movement as well! 🙂

    Anyway, I thought you might be interested in taking a look at this site re: Christian unschooling. 🙂 I also have “mixed feelings” about unschooling and am trying to strike a balance in our homeschooling journey, by God’s grace.

    Thanks again and may God bless you and the whole family abundantly!

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