For a while now I’ve felt that something needs to change in our current mainstream education system – I’m just not convinced that it’s working the way it should. I’ve seen the flaws from both perspectives: For the most part the kids I work with are completely disengaged from the content they are expected to “learn”. Many have increased levels of anxiety, decreased levels of attention, very little motivation and take almost no responsibility for their own learning. At the same time teachers feel overwhelmed, frustrated and powerless. The current education system and parents are both guilty of expecting teachers to take sole responsibility for a child’s academic performance (or lack of performance) and teachers have to draw on every last available resource in trying to support the child. No longer are they just expected to teach but many also take on the role of social worker, disciplinarian, remedial expert, parent, coach, mentor … All of this results in burnt out teachers spoon-feeding children information that they simply cannot relate to.
Because of all this I’ve been researching alternative methods of education and so enter … unschooling.
Although it seems to have gained in popularity in recent years unschooling is not a new concept. A teacher name John Holt first started using this term in the 1970’s.
Basically, unschooling is a type of homeschooling with NO set curriculum. Yes, no set curriculum! Freaked me out the first few times I read that last part – thinking surely you need a definite plan and structure? Surely there are specific things that children need to learn by a specific time in a specific way? But for the life of me I couldn’t justify to myself why children would need to learn a specific set of data by a specific age. Or even what exactly they need to learn by the age of 18. Climatology? History of the first world war? Anatomy of a frog? Sure all these things are interesting and there is a lot we can learn from them, but to be honest my eyes glazed over during these lessons in class and I only really became interested in these topics again as an adult.
Proponents of unschooling list the following benefits of this method of education:
- No one tells the child what to learn or how to learn
- Children are their own authority and learn at their own pace
- Children learn how to deal with uncertainty – there is no set plan, no right or wrong “interest”
- Children learn to motivate themselves.
Personally I LOVE the theory. I agree completely that life = learning and that the two should not be separated into different spheres called “school” and “life”. I love that it encourages children to be curious and to explore. To take responsibility for their own learning – that they should find their own answers to questions and that they should be encouraged in the things they are excited about.
But I foresee a few problems with the reality of this method. For the most part I worry about the quality of learning for children who are not encouraged. Lets face it – parents are busy, very busy and children generally need to be guided in the right direction before the flame of their interest is ignited. I also worry about the social implications – before I even wright this I know that I’m going to sound like an old fashioned disciplinarian, but here goes – more and more I come across children who feel the world owes them something. That they are entitled to only the good things in life, that they’re “worth it” like the L’Oreal commercials teach them and they do not need to work hard for the things they want. That they should get things, now! simply because they want them and need not listen to any one else or take the opinions of other, more learned people into account. The entitlement generation. What are we teaching our kids by letting them pursue anything they want, and drop things they have no interest in? One of the most criticized components of the mainstream education system – teachers who make kids do things they’re not really interested in – might also in a way be the one thing that teaches us to persist with tasks in our daily lives. To realise the value of hard work and a good work ethic.
Will I be unschooling my kids one day? Who knows – but it certainly does hold some appeal … I’m no expert on the subject and would love to hear your thoughts about unschooling.
Anel Annandale is a prominent Educational Psychologist with a passion for early childhood development and a special interest in neuropsychology.
She is experienced in the field and has established herself as an expert, often appearing on television shows such as Exspresso. She is also available as a guest speaker at relevant events and functions.