My wife and I home-school our children, Linus (8) and Daphne (2).
The type of homeschooling we do is most widely known as ‘Unschooling’.
I’m not a big fan of the term because it defines what we do as chiefly in opposition to the most well-known type of schooling, public schooling. While it’s true that I have a lot of beef with institutionalized schooling, my bigger fight is with the philosophical underpinnings of the way we think about schooling and education in North America.
Plainly put, I think that compulsory learning1 is highly damaging to humans, and particularly to kids who are particularly vulnerable and underprivileged compared to the adults around them. There are three ill effects of compulsory learning that comprise the bulk of my objections:
- Kids who are interested in something have their interests interrupted to move on to other subject matters;
- Kids who are not interested in something are forced to listen to something that does not and largely will not have any importance in their lives (and the inverse: kids who detest math instruction go out of their way to avoid math); and
- Learning is conducted at the pace of the teacher, not the pace of the individual pupil.
So if those things trouble you as they do me, what does a theory of education that embraces the opposite look like?
- Kids who are interested in something should be free to pursue it as they want, at their pace, at their interest;
- Kids who are not interested in something should not be forced to learn it.
- Because the teacher is not involved in the pacing or the subject matter, it’s more correct to call them a facilitator. And then their role is to assist where necessary, but perhaps even more importantly, serve as an interface between what the child knows and does not know.
Serving as an interface between what the child knows and doesn’t know — what does that mean on a practical level? It’s part reference librarian, part tour guide, part philosopher. My role (and my wife’s role) in our homeschooling journey is to answer questions and direct our kids to spots where they can learn more, to take them to places and things or to bring things in that broaden their horizons, and really just to ask them a whole heck of a lot what they mean by something or what they think of something.
Because of this, I’m particularly fond of the term “facilitated autodidactism”. We aim to enable the kids to teach themselves.
(Footnote 1: I am opposed to compulsory learning as oppposed to compulsory education. I support the idea that every person in our society is entitled to a high-quality education; I don’t, however, subscribe to the notion that just because an adult knows more, that such knowledge entitles them or makes it a good idea to approve or reject or even set the schedule of what a child learns.)