kitchen table math, the sequel: Questions about Unschooling (ChemProf)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Questions about Unschooling (ChemProf)

Most of us who read education blogs are aware that Penelope Trunk has become a radical unschooler.  (For those not familiar with her, she's a business writer who tends toward extreme positions.)  What I found interesting about this, and thought might be worth discussing, is how she got there and how it relates to things we've been noticing like the dissatisfaction at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

Now, most of us at KTM are not likely unschoolers.  We are interested in curriculum (Trunk argues curriculum is stupid) and typically want a rigorous education for our kids.  Those of us who are homeschoolers tend toward the classical.  So why do I care that a person who tends to extreme positions opted for an extreme educational position?  Because she was sent there by the same folks who push Writer's Workshop and Everyday Mathematics -- educational experts!

She starts with the position that the best thing for kids is project-based and individualized instruction, and that research has proven this without a doubt (where have we heard that one before?).  One of the people encouraging her to unschool is head of technology and teacher training for New York City public schools, to customize education for her kids.

I think it was AmyP who said, in another thread, that if kids are supposed to be teaching themselves via projects, then why did they need teachers?  And this is where unschoolers end up.  I think it really is the end game of a lot of the beliefs that feed into constructivism.  How big a step is it from "the guide on the side" to "no teacher required?"  And if you believe (at some level) that teachers are really glorified babysitters, then how can you feel great about your job?

Lest someone misunderstand me, I am NOT saying teachers are just babysitting.  But in a purely constructivist classroom, where everything is student led, how necessary is the teacher?  How much students learn in that classroom is a question for another day!

114 comments:

Crimson Wife said...

90+% of homeschoolers believe in individualized instruction, whether they are classical HS or "unschoolers". I know hardly any HS who don't tweak the curricula they use to meet the needs of their children. That's one of the benefits of HS, to be able to go at the child's pace rather than following the "if it's Tuesday in the 15th week of 4th grade, you must be on page X of the textbook" decrees from some bureaucrat at district HQ.

Barry Garelick said...

ChemProf: See also, Astra Taylor who talks about the "Unschooled life", extolls the ideas in Summerhill, and a laissez faire approach to education.

Barry Garelick said...

Sorry. Forgot the link: It is here.

Glen said...

Constructivists say my kids are more likely to remember things they discover for themselves. I say they are more likely to remember things they discover to be useful.

They don't have to discover their own knowledge in projects. They can be taught a lot more than they can discover. What matters is having projects in which they discover the value of their knowledge and of knowledge they don't yet have.

The problem with constructivist and unschooling projects isn't projects, per se; it's low-value projects. Instead of teaching new skills then challenging those skills, constructivists tend to teach little, then give projects that exercise both low-value and nonexistent skills. For both types of skills, their suggestion is, "be creative!"

Creativity is not a substitute for skill; it's a supplement.

SteveH said...

From Trunk's blog on homeschooling.

"I think by now that you know I think you should homeschool your kids. And I think you should not use curriculum. And I don't care that I am the stereotype of the recent convert who is an intolerable zealot."

"Because you know what? I think it's okay to judge people. I don't think everyone can just do what they want and it doesn't matter. And I don't think most of us believe this, fundamentally."

I judge her to be intolerable too.



"... last week I was at cello camp with my son, and I noticed that the place was split between stay-at-home moms (lots of homeschoolers) and moms who work full-time who took a week off of work to do cello camp. We were all doing the same thing: eating terrible food, wondering how to get the kid to practice better at home, and furtively checking email during lessons."


Let's see how the unschooler deals with getting "the kid" to practice better at home. When the kid decides to move on to a more interesting topic, time and again, what will the unschooler do? Let nature drive everything? Does maturity and motivation evolve naturally? Is natural justified by definition? Anything unnatural will end up with a bad result?

It reminds me of Bernstein's interpretation of Voltaire's Candide; "The best of all possible worlds".

Allison said...

From an outsider perspective, "no teacher" may look a lot like "guide on side".

But from a teacher's perspective, the best constructivism looks like the opposite. The best constructivism happens when 1/x , where the teacher is one, and the number of students is x, approaches 1. The worst is when that fraction approaches 0, as the class size increase. By defn, unschooling is a 0.

Let's take my kids' preschool as an example. The Lab School at U MN is a superb preschool. Highly constructivist in philosophy, it prides itself on its research based program. Its teacher student ratio is never worse than 1:5, usually 1:4, and often 1:1 or better for any child with any special needs.

The teachers are there to facilitate the emotional, intellectual, and social Interactions that the school deems the best for the children. The teachers very carefully design small group constructivist lessons, where they are basically supposed to anticipate all possible paths a group of 5 children might wish to go down intellectually and be prepared to guide them from their questions toward a common destination. A lesson on fast animals requires a teacher to be prepared for kids to want to know about peregrine falcons' eating habits and cheetahs' sleeping hours, and to be ready tomorrow to discuss anatomy of bones and muscles for flight as opposed to running.
All the while trying to teach the children empathy, delayed gratification, etc.

This is obviously difficult. We can discuss the practicality elsewhere, but it seems clear that a ratio of 1:1 is really the desired end point of this philosophy, not 0.

So, it seems to me that the best constructivist schools see the opposite of no teacher. They see a personal tutor for everyone, true differentiated learning. Each teacher then is necessary, and we need more, not less. Again, ignore the practicality for now.

That non educators see unschooling as constructivism has got to be a tragedy for ed schools and child development departments. Assuredly, it would be a depressing thought to the researchers and teachers at the lab school. That educators see the two ad the same, though, is worse, because it means they have failed fundamentally to explain the value of education even to their own. The unschoolers have vastly different ideas about socialization than academic educators do. The constructivists really think the guidance is necessary for the social and emotional pieces.



But that Trunk can't see that constructivist is the opposite of unschooling, well, her level of self delusion is profound. In Trunk's case, Occam's razor says she created the enormous pretense of a philosophical justification for unschooling just to give herself an excuse for not teaching her kids grammar.

Anonymous said...

Here's another way to look at the difference between constructivism in public schools and unschooling at home:

Constructivism just _pretends_ to be child-centered, whereas there really is a set plan of tasks and goals that the kids have to hit on time. The difference between constructivism and traditional education is that the kids aren't told the answer the teacher wants and just have to guess until they get it right. Unschooling, on the other hand, allows the children to set the goals and the schedules as well as figure out things for themselves. They get to figure out the things they want to, which will be useful to them, when they want to - not just the set series of things in the constructivist textbook flowed down to their teacher by the curriculum committees. Constructivism is the failure in praxis of promising theories that are insufficiently developed.

One of the gravest misconceptions about unschooling is that it does not involve teaching - it's just hanging around all day with no goals or accomplishments. If you go back to one of the prime theorist, John Holt, you'll see that he's very much in favor of traditional methods of teaching - just not in favor of forced mass schooling. Unschoolers don't get taught at randomly, they choose their subjects and teachers. Many of them work just as hard at their lessons as any overachiever in school.

The way most homeschoolers I know use curriculum doesn't match very well with the way most schools use curriculum. There are some who do 'school in a box' at home. But most folks I know help their kids study subjects (or teach their kids subjects, or find teachers for subjects) on a one-off, flexible basis rather than a globally planned and scheduled basis.

The reason so many of us believe that teachers are largely glorified babysitters is because of the widespread lack of engagement in schools. I wasn't engaged as a kid, and neither was my son when he still went to school. He was infuriated that they still gave him single-digit addition homework in the middle of first grade. Homeschooling him for second grade, we worked through four years of math and are ready to begin pre-algebra in third grade. Ask him what he likes to study, and he says MATH! That's what engagement looks like.

Yes, he's slacking off on his violin practice this summer (mostly he's tired from three hours of jiu-jitsu every day). So I've taken his lessons over, and am now ahead of him in the books (my Gavotte Mignon is coming along nicely, thank you). Seeing this, he gets fired up again - because we are _both_ engaged in it.

Unschooling doesn't mean you don't have teachers. It means you get to choose your teachers.

TerriW said...

I'm going to start off by saying that I'm a lazy jerk and I didn't read Penelope Trunk's article. It could be she's saying something new, but I've read 100 likely like it in the past and there are so many hours in a day.

I happen to know a LOT of unschoolers, for whatever reason (I have a few half-hearted theories), MN is rife with them. The folks I know pretty much fill the spectrum from trying to live out John Holt's ideal to those who just don't want to teach grammar.

And I also see a variety of outcomes, but a fairly common one is this: it works great in the younger years, but as the child gets older, they decide they really like to spend their time watching TV/playing video games/with the iPad/etc. Now, this isn't universally the case, but I have seen it a lot.

I've also seen people be happy when their bright, radically unschooled kids scored at grade level on a standardized test. Meaning: 50th percentile for their grade level. I would have klaxons and bells and alarms going off in my head, but perhaps that's just wrong thinking on my part. Different values or expectations, I suppose.

Our household is very academic-centered. We have 10,000 books on shelves, we read all the time, my husband is an engineer, I was a unix sysadmin (who got a BS in college and loves math). I mean, we've got the nature and the nurture here.

And I know that if we radically unschooled, my very mathy daughter would be flying ahead in math right now, chewing up texts way beyond her grade level. Because she likes it, she enjoys it.

But you know what she wouldn't be doing? She wouldn't be putting on the throttle and forcing the practice to mastery. I know, because that's the part I have to require in order for it to get done.

She'd be chasing the Aha! like a drug, but not sweeping up the automaticity like a pushbroom behind it. Because that's not the sexy, exciting part.

And that's why we don't unschool.

TerriW said...

RE: why we don't unschool, I should mention that I do leave plenty of time in the day for the kids to follow their bliss, so to speak.

I know when I was a kid, I couldn't wait to get home from school so I could dive into my Greek mythology books.

So, they do have that time to drill down and go nuts with a personal interest.

I just don't trust the 3 R's to that philosophy.

jim h said...

This is a comment from Penelope's blog:

"As a teacher, you can mostly talk or you can mostly listen. You can choose or create structures you think will be best and try to impose those, or you can observe the structures that are forming organically as a result of natural processes.

The latter approach is not something that comes easily for most of us. We want to control and be responsible. We want to make something of our kids rather than provide support for their own process of making themselves. This is one of the ways our own institutionalized learning makes it hard to break out of the pattern. If we let go and watch the process happen, we feel powerless and like we're not doing anything at all.

A child's curiosity and talents and inclinations and choices will build a curriculum. My opinion is that you should struggle mightily to just get out of their way as much as possible."

Oooh boy. Good luck with that.

Jim H said...

I only know of one "un schooling" family. What was odd about them is that they spent years insulting structured education, but as soon as one of their kids "graduated," they were thrilled to announce that he was going to community college.

Isn't that "structured" education and wouldn't he be completely unprepared for it?

Suffice it to say, the child would not have been accepted at any public 4 year school, so they didn't bother applying.

Anonymous said...

I have homeschooled my now teenaged kids their whole lives. We tend to Classical Eclectic and Unschoolers drive me nuts? Why? Because there are actually a value to rules in society. When we as group go out as homeschoolers to do a field trip, it invariably is the unschooler who is NOT listening, running around breaking the rules, making us as a group look undisciplined, etc. Sigh.

One time my son was taking a Chemistry Class. An unschooler came in, and his mom took notes for him, because he had dysgraphia. My dd has dysgraphia and dyslexia from a brain injury. Instead, we fought it by practicing writing even though it wasn't fun. Now that she is in 8th grade, she can take take neat notes. If you saw her handwriting even three years ago, you would have never thought it possible. So the difference I see is:

Unschooler, "It's hard, I don't want to do it.:

Homeschooler, "It might be hard but I want to be able to do it someday"

There is value in conquering subjects that are hard, even if you don't want to do it.

Math, not coincidentally, tends to be the bane of unschoolers. They seem to believe that when the students magically become motivated, they will learn it all. That may happen in a few cases, but its MUCH easier to learn little bits fairly regularly than the expanse of math all at once (especially since you get better at memorizing, by memorizing).

Finally, unschooling does NOT work for kids with disabilities. I could have waited all my life for my dd to "want" to write well, but it would have never happened. However, once she felt success, then she developed the internal motivation and intellectual understanding to keep going herself.

Jean said...

I do think that unschooling can produce some amazing results when done well. I think that in order to do it well it takes a whole lot of work--the idea of the work it would take makes me tired! I'm classical myself.

But I also think you have to be a particular kind of person and family for it to work. I'm not that person.

Glen said...

I should mention that I do leave plenty of time in the day for the kids to follow their bliss

My kids get some time every day to just do whatever they want (TV, etc.), but throughout the school year, I have a special 2-hr block of time scheduled every day for "project time." During this time, my kids aren't allowed any TV, video games, iPad games, card games, etc., but they ARE allowed to work on any project they choose, subject to my veto. It has to be a *project*--even with the TV off they can't just run around--but almost any project that interests them will be approved (for now--they're still pre-middle school).

They've had paper airplane contests, (ab)used my nice soldering iron for wood burning, learned the Greek alphabet, built homemade toys, taught themselves to use Photoshop, etc.

I try to keep school work, my own lessons, house chores, music & sports practice, etc. out of their way, help them obtain the necessary resources, offer a little advice, and I make the older one submit very simple project proposals in writing. As they get older, I'll get more demanding regarding level of challenge, more thought in the written project proposals, more responsibility for obtaining their own resources, etc.

At the end of a project, they have to show me what they've accomplished--"We took these pencils apart and cut and carved and glued and made: a *pencil*!"--and tell me what they would do differently if they did it again.

I think that teaching them *how* to follow their own bliss instead of just turning on the TV is an important part of education.

Auntie Ann said...

Re: SteveH.

I would really like to know how the kid is being taught to play the cello. I assume in an anti-curriculum environment there shouldn't be any step-by-step lesson books, nor any instruction on how to play each note--let the child discover the notes on their own, no lessons on bow technique, and (god forbid!) no music theory!!!

My guess is, the kid is being taught to play in a relatively old-school way.

AmyP said...

"My guess is, the kid is being taught to play in a relatively old-school way."

That's how I'd bet, too.

SteveH said...

"My guess is, the kid is being taught to play in a relatively old-school way."

I wish I knew what cello camp allows parents to hang around. Google her name and Suzuki cello camp and you will get more than you want to read. I guess a curriculum and requirements are OK for unschoolers if you choose them. But then she chafes at being with all of the "Tiger Mothers" at the camp for prodigies. There is no calm inner confidence with her. Everything is an angst-filled analysis. Perhaps she thinks that no other parent sees what she sees. Perhaps she is wrong. Deep down, she is a Tiger Mother.

The real question is not so much about curriculum, but how much control do you give the child? When a child wants to give up music lessons after pushing for them so long and hard, how easily do you give in? I know many adults who said that they wish their parents did not let them give up so easily. I'm sure their parents would give a slightly different view of what happened. Parents continually struggle with how much to push kids in non-required areas like sports and music.

Clearly, Trunk doesn't mean no curriculum. Suzuki is anything but "un".

So, what is the give up limit for reading or math? When do you allow kids to close doors? Is natural learning natural? Is developing a cello prodigy a natural process? Is it natural if the child accepts the terms and conditions? Competition in real life may be a natural process, but you have to compete with others who do not take a natural approach to learning.

AmyP said...

"Is it natural if the child accepts the terms and conditions?"

I was talking to my Korean mom friend today. Her rising 2nd grader plays the cello and is a very competitive child. His group cello lesson recently got a slightly younger child who started cello at 3 and plays as well as he does. My friend's son was complaining to my friend about this and wanting to know why he hadn't started cello at 3, too.

Anonymous said...

Music lessons are a great example for people who are unfamiliar with the concept of unschooling. Unschooling does not mean you do not have teachers; it means you choose your teachers. Music teachers all control their teaching very closely, and in learning from them you will have to display patience, obedience, control, and invest hours of regular practice. There's no "constructivist curriculum" for music (or if there is, it's a joke). You have to learn about music from somebody who knows about it, and you have to adapt yourself to the way they are able to teach it.

This is why incorporating music lessons as part of regular curriculum in schools tends to be a dismal failure, much the same as language study as part of a regular school curriculum. Some few kids will be able to learn musicianship for real at school, but they will always be a small minority who chose for themselves to do so. The majority will be unengaged time-wasters, and the results will follow.

When people who don't send their kids to schools or use comprehensive curricula at home choose to make music a big part of their home and practice (which is, in my experience, very common), there is no contradiction for the kids or the family in learning to play an instrument. Unschooling doesn't mean no learning or no studying, just no school and no set curriculum. Music is - as is recommended in the Suzuki method - part of regular family practice and togetherness. Parents encourage through example, by playing music themselves and with others. This is made much easier by parents staying home to homeschool, which is a big part of why so many homeschooling children of all stripes study music. Most of the homeschooled adults in my extended family still play regularly with their parents (and now their own children).

It seems like Ms. Trunk has ruffled many feathers here. I don't know her and am not willing to disparage her. But perhaps the shock of the unusual could be an opportunity to learn something about the way unschooling actually works instead of pig-piling with unexamined prejudices and second-hand anecdotes.

TerriW said...

I dunno, my prejudices are pretty examined and my anecdotes are close at hand. (Many of my good friends unschool.)

There are a lot of things that can fall under the "unschooling" umbrella, and there is a lot of it I'm even agreeable to. I just don't think math is one of them.

I've told that to people before and I generally get one of two responses:

The first, that their child isn't a "math person," so it's okay, they're not going to need a whole lot of math.

Or second, they "know someone" who wasn't good at math/didn't do a lot of math until they got to college, and then they were able to teach themselves what they needed to know, and they were fine.

Or, I guess the third, that when the child is ready and interested, they'll learn it.

Well, not much I can say about the first. The second is a pretty ballsy Hail Mary pass, and if you want to take that risk, well ... what can I say?

Homeschooling is kind of like what we used to say about the difference between Windows and Unix, back in the day. Unix may not prevent you from doing something totally stupid (like Windows will), but it also doesn't hold you back from doing something totally genius (like Windows will).

I may think another parent's decision on a matter like this is ill-advised, but Ms. Trunk may think it's closer to genius, and I'm not interested in trying to dissuade her. Hell, I embrace it. We've all got the Darwinian imperative to best prepare our kids for life in those 18 years or so we have them for, and I lean towards the greatest parental freedom to fulfill that mission as possible.

But her manifesto just doesn't light my fire.

(What about the third option I mentioned above? I sort of addressed it in my earlier comment -- in my experience, kids will chase the aha! but only embrace the drill required for excellence in a few select passions. I'm not willing to take the chance that the three R's not be one of those passions.)

Crimson Wife said...

I do know an "unschooling" family whose daughter only did informal math activities until she was 12. The girl then decided she wanted to go into marine biology as a field and would need math to get through the prereqs. She then proceeded to work through Lial's Basic College Math for a year of her own volition and then enrolled in a local community college algebra class. Now this girl is extremely bright so she's not the typical student. I wouldn't personally take the laissez-faire approach that her mom did, but it wound up working out all right in this case.

SteveH said...

"It seems like Ms. Trunk has ruffled many feathers here."

Is that how you interpret my reaction?

"But perhaps the shock of the unusual could be an opportunity to learn something ..."

"Shock"?

You don't think many parents go through the same (but less angst-filled) analysis as Ms. Trunk, but come to a different conclusion?


More power to her for her opinion, but she can drop the judging and the self-righteousness. I think she is a Tiger Mom in disguise. She thinks she can achieve the same goal naturally and pretend that the carrot is not dangling in front of her nose.


"Music is - as is recommended in the Suzuki method - part of regular family practice and togetherness."

It's much more than that, and it leads to much more than that. My son started out with "Piano 4 Hands" at 5 years old where a parent plays with the child. It quickly changes after that if you want to stay competitive. I've been involved with a regional piano competition for over ten years and I've seen many of these kids. A few don't seem very happy, but is that what unschooling is about - letting the child be in charge? In charge of what, exactly?

The implication is that unschooling is some sort of natural process. It can be if you are lucky, the child really is a prodigy, or if the area of learning is optional. If you don't meet those conditions, then what? As Terri says, will the child naturally have the ability to reopoen doors when ready? Will we only hear about the successes? If they are not successful, then it's natural? Is unschooling successful by definition?


Is unschooling just the realization that you can't rely on the school to achieve great heights? What else is new? Many don't call that unschooling. There is a definition issue here. Everyone knows that you have to look outside the school system for more challenge and development.


"This is why incorporating music lessons as part of regular curriculum in schools tends to be a dismal failure, ..."

It's not a dismal failure because everyone knows that there are two parts; the private lesson teacher and the school band or orchestra. Each has a different role. If you are a homeschooler, you replace the school with a music school that provides a youth orchestra.

Does unschooling imply no curriculum per subject? Apparently not. Once the child commits to an area to study, the implication is that you find the best teacher or pedagogue. Is this necessary for math and English if you are not a prodigy? It depends on the school. Obviously, KTM is all about how schools can't ensure a proper math track even for average kids. I can see the appeal of homeschooling, but what is the key distinction for unschooling? Homeschoolers try to find the best curriculum or teacher by subject. So, the only difference for unschoolers is that there is no requirement or timetable for each subject?


"Unschooling doesn't mean no learning or no studying, just no school and no set curriculum."

Obviously, unschooling means no school. However, each subject has a set curriculum.

"Music teachers all control their teaching very closely, and in learning from them you will have to display patience, obedience, control, and invest hours of regular practice."

Yes, obedience to their curriculum. Some are strict pedagogues. Being the best, even if you are a prodigy, is so not natural. Being the best you can be at each level is so not natural. Hard work is so not natural.

Allison said...

Penelope Trunk is a person who has created Penelope trunk as a blogging persona. Using her own public descriptions of her own life, I find much to disparage. What of it is actually true is a different question. She takes extreme controversial positions in part because it drives traffic. She thinks all publicity is good publicity. But her cartwheels to justify her marriage, her career, her parenting, her unhappy children, her divorce, her new marriage, etc. Are pretty much all alike. Nothing she has said about unschooling is differing in substance or style from her current zealousness about those.

Anyone saying "unschooling means picking your teacher" might want to check with other unschoolers. I probably know the same ones Terri does, and many of them have never considered using a teacher for math, reading, history, or science.
Can unschooling "work"? Define work. Steve is right: hard work in the face of adversity Is not natural. Not teaching your kids discipline is hobbling their ability to become competent adults. To the extent that unschooling avoids teaching self discipline in face of adversity, then it is poor preparation for living.

Anonymous said...

" ...if you want to stay competitive..."

I guess this tells us pretty much all we need to know about your approach to music, Steve.

If you want your children to stay competitive, they should probably spend all their time either competing or practicing to compete, because you know the Tiger Babies are. You shouldn't bother doing too much deep thinking about it, beyond classifying people as either a potential competitive threat to you or as people you are better than. Of course, your kids will probably only play music until they reach their peak, are beaten by the competition, and then put down their instruments, never to touch them again.

Folks who just want to play music together as a family have different goals. Music for us is part of lifelong learning and enjoyment with the real people we know, rather than a short-term attempt to be better than other imaginary people, which is why it lasts and is compelling for our children. And we're happy not to run into competition-obsessed folks too often. It's certainly one of the benefits of avoiding school.

Barry Garelick said...

Being competitive doesn't make you a Tiger Baby. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to be competitive. Painting it all with one brush is one way of winning an argument, I suppose.

SteveH said...

"I guess this tells us pretty much all we need to know about your approach to music, Steve."

You see only what you want to see.


"Folks who just want to play music together as a family have different goals. "

You need to clarify what you are talking about. Is this part of unschooling? Is unschooling about letting kids reach their potential, or is it just to reach some level that is natural and untainted by competition? Does unschooling reflect some sort of anti-establishment meme? How good is a discussion of unschooling if it has some unknown or different goal?


"You shouldn't bother doing too much deep thinking about it, beyond classifying people as either a potential competitive threat to you or as people you are better than. Of course, your kids will probably only play music until they reach their peak, are beaten by the competition, and then put down their instruments, never to touch them again."

Whose feathers are ruffled? Do you really think anyone will buy this shallow, black and white analysis? It could be possible that my wife and I have thought about this quite a bit and come to a different conclusion. Imagine. At least we are not blogging self-proclaimed intolerable zealots. I don't judge unschoolers.

TerriW said...

Well, the whole thing is kind of silly, in my mind. There really isn't an argument to be "won," per se.

To me, the beauty of homeschooling is that I don't have to bang my head against a wall or shout into the void because I think people are making bad decisions about how to educate my child. I get to put my money where my mouth is, on what is arguably the most important decision of my life: how am I going to prepare my children to be successful in life?

People treat these internet homeschool-style arguments so seriously like they're trying to win souls for Christ, but it's crazy.

If your child goes to a public or private school, you really do need to care which side is "winning" -- because whichever theories your school system buys into is how your child is going to be educated. But does it matter one whit to me how other people homeschool their kids? Not really. The best I can come up with is if the vast majority of folks use crappy methods that don't do a good job, it'll make people have a bad image of homeschoolers. Well, many people already have a bad image of homeschoolers, so I don't lose too much sleep over that.

Because, rationally, does it really matter how Penelope Trunk educates her kids? They're growing up, I'm assuming, upper middle class and white in a first world nation with a very educated mother. As long as she's not keeping them cooped up in a Skinner box all day, they're going to be just fine, pretty much no matter what she does.

My biggest concern is that unschooling "works" because it is free-riding off of the natural advantages of the kind of people who think it is a good idea.

Crimson Wife said...

"I can see the appeal of homeschooling, but what is the key distinction for unschooling? Homeschoolers try to find the best curriculum or teacher by subject. So, the only difference for unschoolers is that there is no requirement or timetable for each subject?"

The difference between homeschooling and "unschooling" is that folks who follow the latter approach allow the child to dictate which topics get studied. "Unschoolers" are fine with letting their child skip reading or math entirely if that's their desire. Few other homeschoolers (even relaxed HSers) are so laissez-faire.

I've gone through times when I've been much more relaxed about our HS. At the end of my 3rd pregnancy and the immediate post-partum period I allowed my DD to choose which math and English she wanted to do with the resources we had at home or through the library. But the difference between that and "unschooling" is that I required her to do some sort of math & English every single day. She was not permitted to skip it entirely.

Michael Weiss said...

I would really like to know how the kid is being taught to play the cello. I assume in an anti-curriculum environment there shouldn't be any step-by-step lesson books, nor any instruction on how to play each note--let the child discover the notes on their own, no lessons on bow technique, and (god forbid!) no music theory!!!

It is not true that unschoolers do not follow a curriculum. Unschoolers do not follow a prescribed curriculum. If the child wants to follow a curriculum, he or she follows one. Otherwise not. What is so hard about that idea?

My own children are all unschooled, and all take music lessons, both with private teachers and in group settings. Because they want to. Likewise tennis lessons, Aikido, swimming.

Honestly, just read How Children Learn and How Children Fail. Pretty much everything you need to know about unschooling is in those two books, either implicitly or explicitly.

Jean said...

"My biggest concern is that unschooling "works" because it is free-riding off of the natural advantages of the kind of people who think it is a good idea."

Now that is an excellent point, and I think you're probably correct about it.

AmyP said...

"Now that is an excellent point, and I think you're probably correct about it."

That is a very good point. A homeschooling family with fewer natural advantages might be much better served with a more formal, out-of-the-box approach.

Some years ago, I think Catherine mentioned that progressive education does seem to have pretty good results...at elite private schools with highly-qualified teachers (you know, the sort of place where they hire people with doctorates in the fields they are teaching). This may be an analogous situation--if you know a whole bunch and your pupils are bright, you can teach a lot just by osmosis.

Glen said...

My biggest concern is that unschooling "works" because it is free-riding off of the natural advantages of the kind of people who think it is a good idea.

I would agree, too, if you changed the word "natural" to "temporary." I know several people who are "upper middle class and white in a first world nation with a very educated mother" who are less-well-educated than their mothers and, living as they are in an era with worsening job prospects for the less-well-educated, are not likely to be living as well as their parents did once their parents' money runs out.

Even for those with some advantages, the future will be a foreign country, and having a useful education could end up being of critical importance.

Anonymous said...

My biggest concern is that unschooling "works" because it is free-riding off of the natural advantages of the kind of people who think it is a good idea.

Does public school only "work" for those who receive a good education at home because of the natural advantages of their family? That's what the "achievement gap" points to.

Does private school only "work" for children whose families have the natural advantages of being able to provide their kids the necessary social and financial capital?

The expression of advantage is present in all of the educational choices. In some choices, the lack of advantage may be better compensated. But in none is it invisible.

It's natural to want to pass down your advantages to your children. As schools dedicate an ever larger share of their resources to compensation for the difference in natural advantages (no child left behind), won't they inevitably become less attractive to parents possessing these advantages who want to pass them on to their children (so they can get ahead)?

Perhaps this is part of the reason for the recent increase in homeschooling. But why should this concern us at all? Are we so dedicated to the democratic ideal of public education that we want to commit our children to Harrison Bergeron High?

A useful education will indeed be critical in the future, and as change accelerates, the most useful skill will be the ability to educate yourself.

SteveH said...

"...just read How Children Learn and How Children Fail."

Apparently, these books have different interpretations even by unschoolers. The interesting aspect is what happens when a child chooses to learn about a subject.

"In How Children Fail John Holt states his belief that children love to learn, but hate to be taught."

Is this really the issue? Some think there is no curriculum, but you can apparently choose to use a teacher that "teaches" and uses her/his own curriculum.

When I want to learn a new topic or subject, I love to be directly taught. I want learning to to be as easy as possible. I'm overjoyed when I find the right book or person. When I taught my son algebra and geometry, he was annoyed at wasted time, not my direct teaching. He loves it when I can explain complex things in a short amount of time. I've seen some big discovery light bulbs go on while I've been directly teaching him. I've also seen times where he thinks he understands, but he is missing some key concepts. He sometimes doesn't react well when I push back.

He loves math, but he doesn't like the slow process and wasted time in math class. However, I expect him to learn how to deal with it. That's an important skill.

He also doesn't care for some aspects of math, but he has to deal with them. How flexible is the no curriculum attitude of unschooling in those situations? You really can't allow students to pick and choose at that level. Not all needed learning is natural. Is this supposed to be covered by a student's natural self-motivation? I suppose it can happen, but so can a student's natural ability to move on to some other interesting topic when the going gets tough.

My son is a sponge for knowledge, but regular school doesn't slow him down. His love of learning also doesn't automatically get him to study the things he knows he should. He also won't know what he likes without a curriculum and teachers, but those things are not limiting factors - unless they are done poorly.

AmyP said...

I wouldn't expect kids naturally to want to learn what they need to know, any more than I expect them to naturally eat what is good for them.

SteveH said...

"A useful education will indeed be critical in the future, and as change accelerates, the most useful skill will be the ability to educate yourself."

Change is a factor of technology, competition, and supply and demand. Success (or just having a job) depends on paying attention to what's happening around you. You can educate yourself, but it might be in the wrong direction.

So, if you have a high tech career and see that Unix is losing to Windows (ugh!), what do you do? How does a lifetime of unschooling prepare you for learning something you really don't want to learn? Someone moved your cheese and none of the choices in front of you look good.

I remember one job where I had to learn AN/UYK-7 assembly language. I thought my head would explode. Where can I go to get an un-job? It took time to move myself into a different position.

Now in my own business, I've lately been confronted with learning UML and Enterprise Architect. These days, I'm trying to avoid unnecessary learning. Generally, the things I want to study have little to do with making money. I don't see how unschooling could have given me any advantage.

TerriW said...

My husband groans whenever he sees articles about successful homeschoolers who have gone on to quirky and cute niche careers.

Says he, "Not everyone can become feminist independent film-makers [an article we actually saw]. I will consider homeschooling a success if our kids can become accountants!"

Tongue only half in cheek, of course.

Anonymous said...

When I want to learn a new topic or subject, I love to be directly taught.

You have that in common with most people, Steve. But how about when you don't want to learn it, and don't see the point in it? What then? Right... you get a new position. Can children not get a new position? Why is it okay for you, but not for children, to "avoid unnecessary learning?"

It's reasonable to imagine that children are bad at determining what will be of use in their future. But why do you imagine that a committee of people thirty to sixty years older should do a better job of it?

Anonymous said...

"Says he, 'Not everyone can become feminist independent film-makers [an article we actually saw]. I will consider homeschooling a success if our kids can become accountants!'"

Of course:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMOmB1q8W4Y

:-)

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

"Why is it okay for you, but not for children, to "avoid unnecessary learning?""

Why? Because...

"It's reasonable to imagine that children are bad at determining what will be of use in their future."


"But why do you imagine that a committee of people thirty to sixty years older should do a better job of it?"

It depends on who those people are. Just because you find that some cannot do the job, you can't assume that the general solution is to turn it over to the child.

Crimson Wife said...

It's reasonable to imagine that children are bad at determining what will be of use in their future. But why do you imagine that a committee of people thirty to sixty years older should do a better job of it?

Because adults actually have a better clue than children about the realistic prospects of growing up to be a starting NFL quarterback or an Oscar-winning actress or POTUS or other celebrity career.

Anonymous said...

Crimson, your kids must be very different from mine. My boy has wanted to be a scientist or engineer since he was five. It's a realistic goal, and part of why he's so enthusiastic about math.

Do your kids really think they'll be celebrities when they grow up? If so, they must watch too much TV. Or are you just projecting about other people's hypothetical kids?

As for the committee of professional PS teachers and administrators, remember who we're talking about. They weren't the best and brightest when they went to college (typically at the bottom of their class in mediocre colleges), and they've been segregated from professionally employed adults for most of their lives. Why would they know anything about what kids should do to prepare for the future?

I remember seeing a guidance counselor when I was in 9th grade. He gave me a test and told me I should be a truck driver. I told him 'no offense, buddy, but I'm not taking career advice from you.'

Glen said...

A useful education will indeed be critical in the future, and as change accelerates, the most useful skill will be the ability to educate yourself.

I strongly agree with this, but we might disagree somewhat on the implications. Just like you, I presume, I want my kids to have a lot of experience teaching themselves new skills. If they've only done what they were told and learned what they were taught, they'll be poorly prepared to educate themselves in the future. That's why I currently mark off two hours a day for "project time," in which they are free to choose what to work on and how to obtain the needed skills and resources. I only require that it be somewhat challenging for them.

But I also want them to be well-prepared, as adults, to learn future skills. Preparation is fundamental to ability to learn. The better prepared they are, the better able to educate themselves. That's why I use the time that isn't their project time to teach them foundational skills that they may or may not feel like learning.

If one of my kids someday decides that he wants to work with some newly-invented technology, I want him to have most of the technical prerequisites already mastered. His ability to come up to speed in something new will depend heavily on how much he already knows.

We can't know what those new technologies, businesses, or life opportunities will be, but we can be quite sure that they will be built atop a stack of math, science, vocabulary, grammar, public speaking, physical health, world geography, good manners, time management, project management and other fundamentals. Making kids memorize their multiplication tables, study some grammar, and eat their vegetables now will make it easier for them to educate themselves in the future.

Anonymous said...

"Where can I go to get an un-job?"

Hah! Best line yet.

SusanS

Crimson Wife said...

Do your kids really think they'll be celebrities when they grow up? If so, they must watch too much TV. Or are you just projecting about other people's hypothetical kids?

It's only now at almost 10 that my DD has finally gotten more realistic about her career goal (a speech therapist or computer programmer). Her previous career goals were fashion designer (unlikely) and before that, playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox (virtually nil chances of that happening).

My 6 y.o. is convinced that he will be POTUS some day.

We don't have cable/satellite and don't get any broadcast reception BTW.

When I was a kid, I was convinced I would grow up to be Miss America and then go on to become an Oscar-winning actress. DH had dreams of being starting QB for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kids don't have a clue about what is and what isn't a realistic career goal.

Anonymous said...

I guess everybody gets a turn with the broad brush today, Crimson.

Many kids really do have a clue about what is and what isn't a realistic career goal. Maybe you didn't and yours don't, but that's not all kids.

There's really nothing I wanted to be when I was a child that I haven't been, at least for a while. I wanted to be, at times, a writer, a model, a linguist, an actor, a world traveler, and a professor... I've been all those things, plus an engineer and now a dad. Missions accomplished.

Maybe grandiosity just runs in your family. I'm glad it doesn't in mine. My son has shown no sign of wanting to be anything but a scientist or engineer. We'll see about the girl once she can talk.

cranberry said...

Does Penelope Trunk plan to send her children to a college with selective admissions?
She links to a NYT choice blog post to buttress her argument that homeschooled children do well in college admissions.
The passage she cites makes it clear that the more selective a university is, the less likely it is to admit homeschooled (let alone "unschooled") students.
The deans of admissions of Pomona and Yale are very careful to stress the difficulty of assessing applicants' credentials.
(http://questions.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/qa-college-admissions/#homeschool)

Having spent time this year visiting selective colleges with my eldest, I'm not detecting enormous numbers of homeschooled enrolled students
at these colleges. One college had a list of students arranged by high school and state/country.
0.4% (four tenths of a percent) of the student body at this US News "most selective" college had been homeschooled.

If she really is unschooling, I predict in 10-14 years, she'll start writing about how useless college degrees are.

AmyP said...

"I wanted to be, at times, a writer, a model, a linguist, an actor, a world traveler, and a professor... I've been all those things, plus an engineer and now a dad. Missions accomplished.

"Maybe grandiosity just runs in your family."

For most kids, your childhood goals would be grandiosity.

There's also the problem of having children whose plans aren't quite big enough. When my daughter was 8 or 9 and a big fan of shaved ice (she still is), her career goal involved working at a shaved ice stand. (Admittedly, she was thinking of teaching 3rd grade and doing shaved ice during summer break, which makes a lot of sense, but I don't think that the shaved ice stand is going to look as glamorous to her when she is 18 or 20.)

Crimson Wife said...

"According to a study of 3,000 kids in the U.K., today’s pre-teens have very, very different goals: Twelve percent want to be sports stars; eleven percent want to be pop stars; and 11 percent want to be famous actors. That means that more than a third of kids today want to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous." Source

Kids’ Career Goals Today

Sports star: 12%
Pop star: 11%
Actor: 11%
Astronaut: 9%
Lawyer: 9%
Emergency services: 7%
Medicine: 6%
Chef: 5%
Teacher: 4%
Vet: 3%


Most of the career goals are not very realistic IMHO.

Glen said...

Crimson Wife's kids sound completely normal to me. They want to do what sounds like fun (and probably eat what tastes good). As their understanding evolves, their goals will evolve, too. She just wants to get started preparing them now for the changes that she, as an adult, can reasonably anticipate, whether that preparation is fun or not. That's wise.

My son loved to build things, so he decided he would get an engineering degree from MIT and become a carpenter.

palisadesk said...

As far as realism goes, the most common occupations (according to WSJ) are retail salespersons, cashiers, food preparation and service workers, office clerks, waters/waitresses, janitors, customer service reps, laborers and freight handlers, secretaries, stock clerks....

And on and on. Those listed so far account for about a third of the work force, and you have to go well down the list to find an occupation that generates a "middle-class" wage.

The point is that the most common occupations are never the ones that children envision themselves entering. I have taught hundreds and hundreds of kids by now and nary a one has expressed the desire to be a waitress, baggage handler, or food service worker. A few have expressed intentions to be truck drivers, landscapers, plumbers or electricians. But in general children's aspirations -- even in middle school, when some sense of reality should be sinking in -- are weakly connected to real-world conditions. My student who was convinced he was headed for a starring career in the NBA, yet was kicked off the school team because he was too lazy to get to practice, comes to mind. He was sure that his star potential would be miraculously recognized.

I've seen more realistic thinking kick in when the students get to high school. They become more aware of courses, prerequisites, required credits for this and that, and grasp that if they have no skills whatever in some areas, they are not candidates for certain fields.

TerriW said...

Cranberry:

Judging by observations of my friends, the panic of homeschooling teens seems to set in right around 9th grade -- right about when you realize that a "Mommy transcript" (as they are referred to) isn't going to take you much farther than, say, the local Community College. (Though there are exceptions.)

A lot of my friends look at me like I have two heads when I mention that we're doing things *now* (while my oldest is a rising 3rd grade) that lay a foundation for the SAT, but that score is going to be key if that's all the 3rd party ranking you're going to have.

So, my prediction is a future railing against the SAT.


(Yeah, there are other options besides the SAT, but I still have a few years before I have to panic about them. Heh.)

AmyP said...

Extracurriculars are another source of unrealistic expectations. I don't know how you go about explaining to a passionate child that they have a very small chance of becoming a ballerina or a professional classical musician, but it must be very difficult 1) to create realistic expectations and 2) to keep practicing anyway.

SteveH said...

So, let's say that a child is interested in a subject. I'm still stuck on how unschooling can really use a curriculum if you pick that kind of teacher. Who chooses the teacher, the child or the parent?

When children are 5, do they say: "I want to learn to play the cello"? In Ms. Trunk's case, since she thinks music is so important, she probably asked her son what instrument he would like to play. Hint, hint. Don't pick the viola!

Don't get the wrong idea, my wife and I think music is important and got our son started on piano when he was 5. We also got him started in soccer and baseball at the same time. When he showed no real ability or interest in either sport when he was 10-12, I could have complained about how everything is getting so competitive; soccer three times a year; kids can only do one sport. It's either all or nothing.


So, did she then ask her son to pick the music teacher? OK, so how did she pick one? The teacher can't be too pedagogically strict or that would seem too much like a curriculum. We started with "Piano 4 Hands" in which a parent plays with the child. This sounds much like our junior sports - a nice mix of skills and fun. Everyone stays at bat until the ball is hit in play. After a few years things change.

What happens whens little "Johnnie" loves playing and words like "natural" and "prodigy" start being used? Curricula covering rigorous development of technique, musicality, ear training, and recitals start to sound pretty good, especially when opportunities like youth orchestras appear. (The travel team and summer soccer camp also sound pretty good.) How exciting would it be to get accepted into something like the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra?

Is unschooling driven by how bad some regular public schools are, or is it driven by Holt's philosophical view of teaching and learning? I see a lot of issues with Holt's ideas of how kids like to learn but they don't like to be taught. Perhaps they just don't like some kinds of teaching.

I find the talk of no curricula disingenuous. It's one thing to get off the bus in K-8, but quite another to continue that process for much longer. One can claim the ability to get back on the bus whenever, but I don't buy it. The person is more likely to claim that he/she didn't like where it was going anyway as it passed out of sight.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I think you're stuck on a definitional problem. You're using an idiosyncratic definition of curriculum. Curriculum, as most commonly used, means a set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university.

At the grade school level, an example would be:

Grade 3 Curriculum:
Language Arts 300 minutes
(English
Spelling
Handwriting)
Reading 450 minutes
Mathematics 300 minutes
Science 100 minutes
Social Studies/Geography/History 100 minutes
Art 75 minutes
Health / PE 100 minutes
Music 125 minutes
Recess 125 minutes

(Plus the content of the topics, i.e. Soc. Studies includes some soporific babble about pilgrims. And of course, John Holt would say a bell ringing every 50 minutes to make you stop whatever you're doing and do something else is part of the curriculum too.)

One could replace the public school curriculum with another curriculum for delivery at home, which includes a comprehensive set of topics, plans, and content. This is sometimes called "school in a box." Or one could not adopt a curriculum but determine courses of study or topics of study on an ongoing basis. This is the sense in which unschoolers (and many other homeschoolers) eschew a curriculum, and if you do not understand the word in that common sense, it's no wonder you are confused.

The outline of a single course is most commonly called a syllabus, not a curriculum. All unschoolers I know take courses at some point, which usually involve a syllabus (I'll be teaching a course in basic electricity at our coop this fall, and I am developing a syllabus). But courses or classes need not involve a curriculum.

It seems like you have a lot of questions for Penelope Trunk, who has not been conjured here. From her blog, it appears that studying music was her idea and her son is relatively compliant to it. And he is studying using the Suzuki method, which indeed has a syllabus (that every teacher seems to embroider). To this extent, she is not simply letting him do what occurs to him; however, following the Suzuki program does not involve a curriculum.

If little Johnny really loves playing and uses his unschooling time to practice for hours on end, he's may at some point want to be associated with a school or course of further development in music (or to form a band or to show up at all the local jam sessions). Johnny may even end up studying full time at a conservatory, and at that point may end up encountering a curriculum. If Johnny wanted to pursue a career in playing classical music, he'd do well to follow a classical music curriculum (Suzuki lessons through Book N won't be enough).

As for what motivates unschooling, one could differentiate it from homeschooling in that it is much more driven by Holt's philosophical view of learning and teaching. Most homeschoolers in general (from classical to unschooling) are motivated by the sickness of our public schools. Different varieties of homeschooling just disagree about the nature of the malady. But it seems you have a lot of misconceptions about what Holt says as well. He's all in favor of teachers when they teach something kids want to learn. I recommend actually reading some of his books. You'd find them interesting.

SteveH said...

Yes, it is a definitional problem and I'm getting different definitions from different people about unschooling. Having a curriculum is not necessarily about having 450 minutes for reading, 300 minutes for math, and bells that ring. I can't believe that unschoolers allow kids to chose zero minutes for each of those things over long periods of time. There has to be some minimal curricular expectations. Since your son wants to become an engineer, you must have a plan (or does he?) about a math "curriculum" that prepares him properly. Besides, you can't get into engineering school if you flunk English. Where's the overall plan?

"Johnny may even end up studying full time at a conservatory, and at that point may end up encountering a curriculum."

He is going to need a whole boatload of structured and very specific learning to prepare for the auditions to get into a conservatory. If a syllabus covers one class, what do you call a collection of syllabi that leads to a specific point of development in a subject? What if Johnnie decides that he still wants to go to the conservatory, but is really not interested in practicing technique? Curriculum or no curriculum; schooling or unschooling, the problems are the same. It's not a natural process.

"If Johnny wanted to pursue a career in playing classical music, he'd do well to follow a classical music curriculum (Suzuki lessons through Book N won't be enough)."

There's that curriculum word. What happened to waiting until the conservatory to see a curriculum? Also, who is helping him with the unnatural and competitive process of "he'd do well to"?


Also, making a distinction between syllabus and curriculum does not clarify the issue when Holt talks about how kids like to learn but don't like to be taught. Holt's issues are not just about curricula. You say that Holt is in favor of teaching when they teach something kids want to learn. Is that any kind of teaching? What if the teacher starts talking about Pilgrims and your son likes it, but you don't? Don't tell me that you are neutral in this process.

I will have to read Holt because I'm not getting any answers here.

Crimson Wife said...

"I can't believe that unschoolers allow kids to chose zero minutes for each of those things over long periods of time."

Unfortunately, it has been my observation from going on 6 years of homeschooling in an area where "unschooling" is popular that many do absolutely this.

"Unschooling" seems to work okay for a certain type of bright, self-motivated student.

My oldest would probably do fine "unschooling" everything except for math (which she would avoid entirely if given the option). She's the kind of kid who reads reference books and does workbooks "for fun". My 2nd child does math, science, and history "for fun" but would choose to avoid writing, spelling, and grammar entirely if he were permitted to.

AmyP said...

"I can't believe that unschoolers allow kids to chose zero minutes for each of those things over long periods of time."

I can. In the worst case scenario ("forgetting" to teach kids to read or do math), you have a handy philosophy behind you applauding your shirking of your parental responsibilities. (Some people manage to screw up without that help, of course--a cousin's wife "forgot" to teach reading to a number of her kids, and one of my relatives had a community college student who had missed out on basic arithmetic due to a career as a child athlete. I've since gotten suspicious of non-college graduates as homeschoolers, as well as people who homeschool for non-educational reasons, i.e. to free up time for the gym or the rink.) It's a good thing that there's no parenting philosophy I know of that glorifies letting your kids eat exactly what they are interested in right now.

I think Anonymous is using very idiosyncratic definitions of syllabus and curriculum. There's way more semantic overlap between those terms than A's definitions permit. I don't think I've ever heard of curriculum as meaning the actual minutes spent per subject--in my experience it refers to the topics covered. At least in high school or college, the minutes devoted to each subject would be "graduation requirements," not "curriculum".

Barry Garelick said...

"Unschooling" seems to work okay for a certain type of bright, self-motivated student.

Oh, now we're back to the high IQ argument that Cal espoused in another thread in which she felt that very bright people learn vocabulary organically and not through reading or other means. So for very bright people, they pick up what they need to know.

AmyP said...

"Oh, now we're back to the high IQ argument that Cal espoused in another thread in which she felt that very bright people learn vocabulary organically and not through reading or other means. So for very bright people, they pick up what they need to know."

Not quite--"bright, self-motivated" is a smaller subgroup of "bright."

TerriW said...

Barry: There's a reason I put the word "works" in quotes in my original comment.

I was under the impression (though it may be mistaken) that genetics determines a potential range, and environment/education/training determines where a person ends up within that range.

So, there are a few ways you can look at this. In this thread, I'm talking about people whose range is, due to genetics, probably pretty higher up anyway, and due to environment, they're not going to be at the bottom of their potential range, even if they use educational methods that are suboptimal. So, by "works okay," I mean that they're going to be able to read, write and figure well enough to get along in life and support themselves. They'll be accepted into college and get a job. Well, in a normal economy, at least.

On the other hand, many unschoolers would argue nonetheless that the method is not suboptimal, but, well, that is the flag they're staking into the ground, I suppose.

On the third hand, there's also an argument to be made that the methods required to get someone to the peak of their range may also well be suboptimal. Many unschoolers I know personally are reacting to this other extreme.

I prefer the middle of the road. Perhaps that will get me run over by a truck, like the proverbial armadillo, but I like my chances.

Crimson Wife said...

"Oh, now we're back to the high IQ argument that Cal espoused in another thread in which she felt that very bright people learn vocabulary organically and not through reading or other means. So for very bright people, they pick up what they need to know.

Not at all. But a bright child who is a voracious reader of reference books "for fun" is going to learn quite a bit from doing that. Ditto for the child who asks the parent to purchase workbooks and then works through them himself/herself "for fun". It's not "organic" but rather self-directed learning.

My oldest is teaching herself computer programming. She asked to learn, and I've located resources to help her accomplish it. At its best, "unschooling" is like this.

At its worst, "unschooling" is educational neglect.

I've seen both extremes, and a bunch of families who are somewhere in the middle.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Cranberry said "The deans of admissions of Pomona and Yale are very careful to stress the difficulty of assessing applicants' credentials."
Despite that, I know one homeschooler (who I was teaching physics to this year) who was accepted into Pomona. (It wasn't his first choice school, but Stanford didn't accept him.)

He is highly self-motivated and very bright, and I'm sure he'll do well at Pomona. His parents were not unschoolers, but I believe that they allowed him a lot of choice in how he would educate himself. Mostly he took community college courses, starting in 7th or 8th grade, when he started homeschooling.

Homeschoolers are well advised to take a number of standardized tests (SAT, SAT 2, AP, …) and some graded courses if they want to get into selective colleges. Even more so if they want to get into large state schools, which have the most bureaucratic admissions procedures.

allison said...

Steve, I haven't read Holt in ten years, but they were more musings and memoir than worked-out philosophy. It is easy to read them and take away whatever you want, or whatever you resonate with.

What I took away was not that children didn't like teaching per se, but didn't like teaching that was based on coercion. I really resonated with Holts observations that childrens' actions in school settings are largely motivated by fear. they aren't interested in mastery or learning; they are interested in doing whatever it takes not to be afraid of looking dumb, feeling stupid, being humiliated. For some, those fears successfully motivate them to perform. For others, those fears lead them to quit or act out; for others still, they learn to game the system.

If in the end you come to believe that schools must coerce, and that such coercion is bad, then unschooling becomes the name for whatever isn't coercive, I guess.

But limiting a child's experiences to only what they want in the now is going to lead to coercion, too. And if you don't believe that schooling must be coercion, then you find a lot of straw men to knock down.

allison said...

---I can't believe that unschoolers allow kids to chose zero minutes for each of those things over long periods of time.

Really? Can't believe it? come on, it's not that difficult to imagine someone afraid of math thinks her children "learn math" by counting out seeds in the garden once a year, and coloring a special hopscotch with chalk where the child counts by sevens. Or a parent who believes a child is learning math if he is learning how to write 12 in Roman Numerals during the child's year spent playing Centurion is it? Well, they exist. I've met them.

allison said...

--So for very bright people, they pick up what they need to know.

the sentence is true if you add the word "some".

For SOME very bright people, they pick up what they need to know.

how this is either a shocking statement or a statement upon which to base action or inaction, i've no idea. true statements are true.

the above is true, but few people fit the set described, and even those who do usually have at least two traits they don't just pick up: humility, and tenacity in the face of adversity, both of which are values parents would do well to instill in their offspring to whatever extent possible.

Jean said...

The reasonably successful unschoolers I know do require certain things around high school. My friend requires government, for example, and they all seem to do OK at math. A lot of them seem to end up in open-structure-type high schools or taking CC courses as teens. One family I know unschools all year and then spends all summer doing intensive math.

My bet would be that P. Trunk loves unschooling until after 6th grade, and then she will start looking at college admissions and will leave unschooling for serious academics.

Michael Weiss said...

The basic presumption of all unschoolers is that all children, if provided with a resource-rich environment and are surrounded by thoughtful, caring adults, will be naturally curious, industrious, and intelligent, and will learn all sorts of things, including math, because those things are interesting.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, that has been the case.

Some folks in this thread seem to believe that children are naturally indolent and dull, and that math is the kind of thing that nobody learns unless you have to.

I don't know any unschoolers who think that children will learn in the absence of resources and support. That would be recklessly naive. So of course it only "works" if certain preconditions are met.

I have also never met any unschoolers who are pro-ignorance. Unschooling parents (in my limited experience) are people who are themselves always working hard at learning about something new; that sets a tone in the family that children naturally pick up on.

I can't believe that unschoolers allow kids to chose zero minutes for each of those things over long periods of time

Well, I'm sorry you can't believe it, but it's true. But we also allow our kids to "binge" -- to devote weeks of nearly non-stop attention to one thing that fascinates them. It tends to average out -- again, in my limited experience. So a kid who spends six months not doing any math will then tear through two years' worth of math workbooks in a couple of weeks time. The kid who has not written anything in recent memory will one day sit down and start writing a 250-page novel, which will occupy his full attention to the exclusion of all else. And then something else.

Michael Weiss said...

Holt talks about how kids like to learn but don't like to be taught.

I may be mistaken, but I don't recall ever seeing this in any of Holt's writings. What he does say is that kids don't like to be forced to learn. Not the same thing, unless you assume "to teach" means "to force to learn", which apparently some people do?

There has to be some minimal curricular expectations. Since your son wants to become an engineer, you must have a plan (or does he?) about a math "curriculum" that prepares him properly.

Here's how it works in my family.

Step 1. "I want to be an engineer."
Step 2. "Okay, you're going to need to learn a lot of math. Why don't you try reading this book? [hands over an Algebra textbook] Make sure you actually do the exercises at the end of each section, not just read them over."
Step 3. [kid goes away with the book]
Step 4. [kid comes back] "I don't understand this part."
Step 5. [Parent provides help]

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Again, this straw man argument that unschoolers don't follow a curriculum is silly. Unschoolers don't follow a prescribed curriculum. Is the difference really that hard to understand?

Maybe this analogy will help. Some people (incorrectly) think that free verse is a form of poetry without rhyme or meter. But in fact free verse uses rhyme and meter in very sophisticated ways -- just not according to pre-defined template. The rhythmic and metrical structures emerge in patterns that change and combine throughout the work.

So too with unschoolers and curriculum. There is no intended curriculum, but there is an enacted curriculum, or maybe emergent curriculum is a better phrase.

(Aside: Last year I wrote a multi-year grant proposal for a study of how math education actually happens in home- and unschooling families. Such a study has never been done, despite the fact that the home education population is now larger than the population of our 18 smallest states put together. One of the goals I was after was a post hoc reconstruction of the emergent curriculum. I also was going to study how parent-teachers compare to school teachers along on various measures -- of teacher knowledge, beliefs about learning, attitudes toward mathematics, etc. Sadly, the funding agency declined to support the research, otherwise I'd be able to actually give some answers that aren't framed by "in my limited experience".)

AmyP said...

"The basic presumption of all unschoolers is that all children, if provided with a resource-rich environment and are surrounded by thoughtful, caring adults, will be naturally curious, industrious, and intelligent, and will learn all sorts of things, including math, because those things are interesting."

Your description of your practice is very attractive, but I don't think it would be adequate for special needs children (who have to be considered as part of "all children").

Michael Weiss said...

Your description of your practice is very attractive, but I don't think it would be adequate for special needs children (who have to be considered as part of "all children").

My experience with special needs children is zero, so I can't comment on this. You are probably correct. Although I am fairly certain that schooling, as it is normally practiced, is also inadequate for most special needs children. No? So the proper question is not, "Does unschooling work for special needs children?", but rather "Which educational approach is more effectively adapted to special-needs children, one that is tailored to their aptitudes and enthusiasms or one that is prescribed and standardized?" I am not sure which comes out ahead in that comparison.

Michael Weiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AmyP said...

Michael Weiss said:

"Some folks in this thread seem to believe that children are naturally indolent and dull, and that math is the kind of thing that nobody learns unless you have to."

Let's say that some things come easier to some children, and that they are not unlikely to shirk what doesn't come naturally. If everything comes naturally to a child, then of course that won't be a problem.

After having a daughter who learned to read quite nicely at 4 and became a fluent independent reader in the next couple years, we were very surprised that her younger brother was on a much slower reading trajectory. Only now at well past 7 is he reading chapter books with some fluency (he has an excellent vocabulary and very strong background knowledge). On the other hand, my husband recently started doing (very) simple algebra with two unknowns with him and he's not stumped by it at all. From my reading on gifted children, it's quite usual for there to be radical discrepancies in their abilities in different areas. And some things (like reading) have to be non-negotiables. When you have a 7-year-old who is balking at reading, the responsible thing to do is to take action, not wait indefinitely for him to become interested at some later date. Our little boy is so interested in everything that his non-reading stood out like a sore thumb and was obviously forming a major bottleneck for his education.

(The public library summer reading program seems to have done the trick on his fluency--he's almost finished the fourth Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.)

ChemProf said...

Crimson Wife, what did you wind up deciding to do about high school? I admit, that's one of my concerns about homeschooling: preparing my kids for a selective college and/or to be competitive for scholarship money (bearing in mind that mine are ~15 years from college and I don't know what the higher ed landscape will look like then).

AmyP said...

My limited experience of the lighter side of the autism spectrum is that the bottlenecks are a big issue. I can't speak to language acquisition problems myself, but I think that is probably an example of one such bottleneck, and one that is pretty much by definition not responsive to treatment by rich environment--if just environment and exposure would do the trick, the child would already be verbal.

We dealt with a lot of motor issues with our current 10-year-old daughter 3-4 years ago. Around the time she was in 1st grade, we realized that she didn't want to run, her balance was off, she walked into stuff and fell out of chairs, she had trouble dressing herself, buttoning buttons and her handwriting was laborious. Given her lack of success in these areas, she was not at all interested in spontaneously working on these problem areas herself. She worked on some areas in physical therapy and some at home. Did she want to? No. Was it interesting to her? Not after years of failure and struggle it wasn't. Did we teach her anyway? Yep. Was it worth it? Yep.

I'm not saying that we didn't all do our best to keep it light and fun, but it wasn't at all her idea and she wouldn't have chosen to work on this stuff, not in a million years.

Michael Weiss said...

When you have a 7-year-old who is balking at reading, the responsible thing to do is to take action, not wait indefinitely for him to become interested at some later date.

Well, I don't know. I admit that I have never been in this situation myself so I am not sure how I would handle it, and I would probably be rather panicky. But I know, anecdotally, of more than one unschoolers who were in precisely that situation, and chose to wait it out. In every case the kid was reading voraciously by age 10 and caught up to wherever he or she probably would have been if they had started reading at age 6.

I don't think anybody has ever collected hard data on this, but there are quite a few reports of this nature at this article from Psychology Today.

Jen said...

While I've read all the comments, I have to admit that I'm still just savoring the hilarity of Anonymous' comment:

"There's really nothing I wanted to be when I was a child that I haven't been, at least for a while. I wanted to be, at times, a writer, a model, a linguist, an actor, a world traveler, and a professor... I've been all those things, plus an engineer and now a dad. Missions accomplished.

Maybe grandiosity just runs in your family. I'm glad it doesn't in mine."

Grandiosity may not "run" in your family, Anonymous, but that would be because it stopped and stuck with you!

Jean said...

I was going to be the first woman president. I guess it's still not too late?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Jen. I try not to be too grandiose. My dreams as a child were immodest but ultimately achievable. I'm sure you're not truly interested in my biography. I have had a good time of it.

The point is that there are actually millions of people who have traveled around a lot, millions of people who are fluent in multiple languages, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who have worked as models or actors or professors, etc. None of these goals is the same as the "superstar" goals of being a famous movie star or sports star (or professor). There are only a handful of such positions to go around, and wanting to be Lady Gaga when you grow up is much more grandiose than just wanting to be a singer. My brother-in-law is a rock musician, but he's not a rock star. I've never been a star at anything, just good at lots of things.

It's perfectly reasonable for any child of mine or yours to aspire to the things I've achieved. It's in general reasonable for children to aspire to achieve goals learned from friends and family. That way they can learn what work goes into achieving them.

When children's dreams become unreasonable is when there is a huge disconnect between them and real life - when dreams are learned from the TV and reinforced in the lord of the flies child culture of public school. Most children in the US spend the majority of their waking hours between school and TV. This is where idol worship comes from. I'm very glad my child doesn't participate in this culture. He's more likely to take his goals from the people around him, who can show him how to get there.

SteveH said...

"But I know, anecdotally, of more than one unschoolers who were in precisely that situation, and chose to wait it out. In every case the kid was reading voraciously by age 10 and caught up to wherever he or she probably would have been if they had started reading at age 6."

"I admit that I have never been in this situation myself so I am not sure how I would handle it, and I would probably be rather panicky."

But on the other hand, you expect us to believe. Are you trying to convince us or yourself. I don't buy it as a general working principle in spite of a not-so-convincing article in Psychology Today.

The question is how "work" is defined. My son could be the poster boy for unschooling. I've always called him a sponge for knowledge. He loves almost everything. However, schooling doesn't slow him down, so what's the problem? Is unschooling a solution to a problem or an end in itself? Besides, there are many benefits for requiring my son to learn to do things on a timetable different from his own.

I can imagine that for K-8, it's easy to recover with just a passion for learning (that's more a reflection of the very low expectations of K-8), but I don't see that happening much in high school. It depends on one's definition of "work". One can always find examples of how it can work, but you can't expect parents to bet the ranch on it because it's somehow natural. Some seem to accept that it works by definition - the best of all possible worlds.


However, there are the fussy issues of what you allow an unschooling student to do if she/he does not like a few topics in the curriculum/process provided by a teacher in an area where the student chooses to study. Can the student bail out at any time? Can the student force the teacher to change the process?

My son loves math, but when I taught him algebra and geometry at home (the school allowed me to do that) using a textbook, he balked at various topics. He wanted to breeze right past them. I said no, they were too important. What would an unschooling student be allowed to do?

What happens when the student wants to get onto the unnatural college bus? Will un-students now naturally accept the rules and naturally work towards meeting the requirements according to a timetable because they choose to do so? Or will the students want to bail out? I've seen too many kids bail out of college because it's not relevant. Of course, there are ways around this unnatural college process (and I can understand why many want to get off that bus), but is the question about different ways to the same goal, or two different goals?

So no, I don't buy that beyond a basic K-6 level, there is much natural about fitting into a competitive world. There may be alternate paths, but they go somewhere else.

You can reduce unschooling down to some sort of vague guiding principle, but you could then say that I want it all. My son learns self-control at school, but still has so much free time to follow his interests at any level he chooses.

AmyP said...

I think I would be most worried by the independent reading and background knowledge the child was not getting in between 6-10, if I went with waiting for the child to want to learn to read fluently. Also, we can't know what any particular child would know 1) if we made an aggressive push vs. 2) we wait until they are interested.

There's also the possibility of accidentally ignoring a real learning disability during those years.

Michael Weiss said...

Steve,

The problem with answering your questions is that there is no data. Nobody has ever done a longitudinal study of home-educated children (let alone the subset of unschooled kids) that attempted to pay attention to what actually happens. There have been "input studies" (Who chooses to home-educate and why?) and there have been "output studies" (How do home-educated children do on standardized tests and in college?) but everything in between is a black box. All we have are self-reported anecdotes -- and most of those, unsurprisingly, are from success stories. The people who try home education (whether of the unschooling or home-schooling variety) and bail out because they decide it is not working (whatever they mean by that) don't usually end up writing books about it or filling out unscientific surveys on Psychology Today.

So no, I am not completely convinced by the available evidence, because the available evidence is so scant. But what can you do? If the data isn't there, you go with your instincts. My instincts tell me that my children can usually be trusted to make defensible choices for their own education. Sometimes those choices differ from the ones I would make. Sometimes they are maddeningly frustrating. Sometimes we get mad and say, "Look, if you're just going to waste time all day you might as well go to school like normal kids!"

But so far it has worked out.

You also seem to want to know what the "rules" of unschooling are, so that you can find contradictions in those rules and then yell "Aha! Caught you!". The thing is, there are no rules. Unschoolers do not follow a handbook. That's kind of the whole point, you know?

Regarding the specific issues you bring up:

But on the other hand, you expect us to believe. Are you trying to convince us or yourself. I don't buy it as a general working principle in spite of a not-so-convincing article in Psychology Today.

These are existence proofs, not universal laws. Nobody has ever claimed that everything will always work out for the best. But then, schools can't promise that either. What these (self-reported) anecdotes tell us is that it can work out for the best. Unschooling is a leap into the unknown; you are always keeping your fingers crossed and hoping to avoid disaster. Really though, isn't all parenting like that?

I apologize if you are disturbed by the fact that I don't claim to have all the answers, or to be able to predict with confidence exactly what I would do in a hypothetical set of circumstances. If one of my kids could not read at age 7 (or 8 or 9 or 10) I think what I would do is seek out other parents who have been through that set of circumstances and who have come out on the other side with well-read teenagers, take reassurance from their experiences, and hold my breath hoping for the best. I hope that I would have the courage and confidence to wait it out. I imagine that I would try to maintain that precarious balance between, on the one hand, offering help, support, and encouragement, and on the other hand not pushing. I'm pretty sure that if I did all of the above, eventually things would work out. But you know what? I'm human. Maybe I would cave in. I'm sure I would find it stressful and I would often question whether I was making a terrible mistake. I would worry about unintended consequences. Welcome to parenting.

(continued...)

Michael Weiss said...

My son loves math, but when I taught him algebra and geometry at home (the school allowed me to do that) using a textbook, he balked at various topics. He wanted to breeze right past them. I said no, they were too important. What would an unschooling student be allowed to do?

Well, I would probably say something like "This topic is important for X and Y and Z, and if you don't learn them now you'll have trouble doing those things later." At which point one of two things would happen:

(1) either my child would begrudgingly say "Okay, if you say so", and hold his nose and do it, not because I made him do it but because I persuaded him that it was worth his time and effort; or
(2) he would say "Well, I'll come back to it when I need it."

And you know what? Either of those responses is totally fine with me. If I can't convincingly persuade a student that something is worth learning, then maybe it isn't worth learning, or at least not worth learning yet. If you can skip Chapter 4 of the textbook but still make it through Chapters 5-12 unimpeded, then maybe there really is no reason why Chapter 4 has to be placed where it is. And if you can't get through Chapters 5-12, that tells you you need to go back to the stuff you skipped.

(continued...)

Michael Weiss said...

What happens when the student wants to get onto the unnatural college bus? Will un-students now naturally accept the rules and naturally work towards meeting the requirements according to a timetable because they choose to do so?

Again there is only anecdotal evidence here, no real data, but you can read lots of accounts of unschoolers in college
here and here and some of the people here.

But if you pause for a moment and think about it you might realize that college is in many respects more like unschooling than it is like traditional schooling. Many college freshmen crash and burn precisely because they are, for the first in their lives, expected to take responsibility for their studies. They don't have somebody telling them when to go to class, when to do their homework, when to stop hanging out with friends and when to go to bed. They have freedom, for the first time ever, and it can be really, really hard not to go crazy. But unschoolers have been taking responsibility for their own education for years. Making sensible decisions about when and how to get the work done? Old hat to them.

I think your questions all are stemming from the same misunderstanding, this mistaken idea that unschoolers don't follow rules and/or curricula. Homeschoolers choose to follow rules and/or curricula. When an unschooler decides to study cello (to take an example that was raised earlier), they know that the freedom to make that decision carries with it the responsibility to follow through and work hard at it. Parents aren't going to waste their money paying for group classes or private lessons if the kid isn't going to practice, and the kid knows that. But the point is the child chooses what classes to take.

In response to Amy:

Also, we can't know what any particular child would know 1) if we made an aggressive push vs. 2) we wait until they are interested. There's also the possibility of accidentally ignoring a real learning disability during those years.

Yes, but we also can't know what damage we might be inadvertently causing by making an aggressive push before a child is developmentally ready. We never know what might have happened if we did something different than what we did. It seems at least plausible to me that some learning disabilities may be at least in part effects of schooling. Certainly I know personally of children who were labeled ADD or ADHD in school but who have done just fine as home-educated kids. The problem wasn't the child; it was a mismatch between the child and the milieu. The mismatch is only a "dysfunction" if the milieu is assumed to be inevitable.

SteveH said...

I don't buy the idea that "the child chooses what classes to take" is something that any parent can take to the bank because it's somehow more natural or that it develops a better attitude towards learning. We are now at the level of trying to figure out the point at which a child can stop the learning once it has started - when the prepaid year of cello lessons has ended? Maybe the teacher will drop the student because she/he is not practicing enough. I've talked with a number of music studio teachers about the problem of kids being involved with too many things and not doing any of them well. They don't want those students.

There is clearly a wide difference in unschooling implementation; to the point where it's almost a waste of time to talk about.

Virtually all parents allow kids to choose areas where they can go as far as they want on their own. Most parents support these activities. Based on this general philosophy, all parents unschool. Very few students do only that which is required by a school. Going to school doesn't turn my son into someone unable to take responsibility for his education. He's been doing that for many years. Going to a school didn't make that happen, but only the details of how unschooling is done will reveal whether that will happen. There is a chance that the opposite will happen.

"...you might realize that college is in many respects more like unschooling than it is like traditional schooling."

I disagree with that unless you find one of the colleges that let you define your own curriculum. However, the unschooler should at least have practice not being allowed to bail out of a semester's worth of learning. Then there is the issue of how often the unschooler changes her/his overall plan. It can depend on personality. My brother was well-known for his intense study in areas he liked. He was also known for dropping them and never touching them again.

It seems that unschoolers are swapping one set of risks for another. It seems that the risks increase with how natural you think the process is. Rather than adopt a process that somehow avoids potential problems by definition, my philosophy is to find the good and weed out the bad in all opportunities.

palisadesk said...

Obviously the "unschooling" route doesn't work for everyone -- no particular pathway does. But, can an "unschooled" student get all the way through college and a highly-ranked professional program?

Yes, surprisingly (to me). I have lots of homeschoolers in my extended family. Some lean much more to "unschooling" but, as in Michael Weiss' descriptions, they can choose particular curricula on an ad hoc basis as the need arises.

The oldest child of a close relative selected an online college degree program (after 12 years of rural home/un schooling), one that allowed a lot of flexibility in choosing courses and time frames. I rather wondered (to myself) whether this route would pass muster in the graduate school system, when the student wanted to go on to a demanding professional degree program, one that is highly competitive.

Of course, the GRE and the required professional school admission test were taken (and aced!), then the student was accepted at EVERY professional school s/he applied to, and these included 3 of the top schools in the eastern U.S.

I was as surprised as anyone here could be; I thought homeschooling/unschooling is fine through elementary, but not high school.... or college. The danger is that other student will not fare as well, perhaps due to less initiative, self-discipline, or aptitude.

Some other family members were quite concerned that the path this student was on would not lead to long-term opportunities. Well, we were wrong. That doesn't mean anyone else needs to go the same way (not many families could or would want to, especially with six kids).

Parents can make the best choices for their own circumstances, which may not be best for someone else. One thing this family member said about homeschooling (and online college courses) was the advantage of not being held back by the less capable or the uncommitted. I'm all for helping the less capable, but it's true that the inclusive learning community often holds back the most capable, even if not deliberately.

Crimson Wife said...

"Crimson Wife, what did you wind up deciding to do about high school? I admit, that's one of my concerns about homeschooling: preparing my kids for a selective college and/or to be competitive for scholarship money (bearing in mind that mine are ~15 years from college and I don't know what the higher ed landscape will look like then)."

My oldest is entering 5th grade so we have some time but right now the plan is for private high school. Either online like Stanford's EPGY Online High School or a brick-and-mortar prep school. If finances are tight, we might do Kolbe Academy's "summa" diploma program.

Michael Weiss said...

I don't buy the idea that "the child chooses what classes to take" is something that any parent can take to the bank because it's somehow more natural or that it develops a better attitude towards learning.

Um, I certainly never said that "any parent" can or ought to do this. Did someone else say that?

All I'm saying is: This is what we do. It seems to be working for us, at least so far.

I don't see any reason (yet) to worry that my kids will be unprepared for college. I've heard and read enough stories like palisadesk's family member. And you know what? Most colleges or universities lets you define your own curriculum, at least to some degree. When I was an undergraduate math & physics major the requirements were spelled out like this: "These (8 or so) courses are required for everybody. In addition, you must take a minimum of X credits. At least Y of them must be from the following list, and at least Z of them must be from the following other list. The rest can be chosen from any course at the 300 level or higher. In addition, you must take Q credits of electives from other departments. Etc."

That sets up a broad range of options, so much so that very few students in the same major end up taking exactly the same courses in the same sequence.

And before you ask "What happens if an unschooled student gets halfway through the requirements for a major and then decides he doesn't want to finish the rest?" -- well, students change majors all the time. It's a very common experience of college. What's so terrible? But in any case the formerly-unschooled college student knows what the requirements are going to be before declaring a major, so would presumably have already given some thought to whether they really wanted to take those courses.

Michael Weiss said...

Virtually all parents allow kids to choose areas where they can go as far as they want on their own. Most parents support these activities. Based on this general philosophy, all parents unschool.

Well, I guess you could say that based on this general philosophy all parents unschool from the time that the kids get home in the afternoon until the time that they leave again in the morning, yes. The difference is that for us the self-directed learning is not interrupted by 6+ hours a day of compulsory hoop-jumping. That makes a pretty big difference.

Sometimes when people ask us what our kids do all day, I say, "What do your kids do on weekends? We do that."

SteveH said...

"Um, I certainly never said that "any parent" can or ought to do this. Did someone else say that?"

We're continuing to dance all around the details. What are the parental requirements for unschooling? Sure, unschooling "can" work, but what's your message, give it some thought? Give what, exactly, some thought?

"All I'm saying is: This is what we do. It seems to be working for us, at least so far."

Is that all you're saying? Would an unschooler ever admit that it did not work? Is the discussion only about how it could work in some not-well-defined cases? What's the point of discussing "could" without details. "I don't believe it!" is probably a normal reaction to unschooling, so success must have to do with the details. Therein lies the important information.

I guess I've confirmed that unschooling doesn't allow students to change their minds in the middle of something like a semester of material, and that the student has to do what the teacher tells her/him to do in that timeframe. It's still not clear how the larger game plan is laid out. It's one thing to change one's mind while following a plan, but quite another to not follow a plan. It appears that unschoolers vary widely in this area.


"The difference is that for us the self-directed learning is not interrupted by 6+ hours a day of compulsory hoop-jumping."

That seems to be your general assessment of school, not just an assessment of your own school system. However, regular schools "can" work too. Is your view based on philosophy or details?


"Sometimes when people ask us what our kids do all day, I say, "What do your kids do on weekends? We do that.""

That's cute, but not informative and probably not true.

AmyP said...

Back to Penelope Trunk--I don't read her homeschooling blog, but for a variety of reasons, her family is a particularly bad fit for unschooling. At least one (and maybe both--I forget) of her boys is an Aspie. What that means in real life is that she probably has kids who have very deep, narrow interests. While that may be a very good thing in the future (the modern world is very kind to specialists), there are definitely challenges. (One of the posters here has a teenage boy who obsesses about ceiling fans.) The trick with this sort of child is to broaden them out and to make them more flexible in their dealings with the outside world. In this situation, the problem with unschooling is that while it does allow the child freedom to strengthen their strengths, it also strengthens their innate weaknesses. It would be interesting to see how Trunk addresses this issue (although there's too much weirdness around her blog for me to want to check myself).

AmyP said...

The thing about high-functioning autistic children is that they can't be allowed just to follow their interests, because 1) their interests are sometimes very narrow and eccentric and 2) they will devote far more time to these interests than is justified (how much time should you spend on manhole covers and paperclips?) 3) they will not get a well-balanced academic diet if left to their own devices. I'm not recommending steamrolling over these kids (the special interests can eventually be quite important), but I am saying that laissez faire is a bad idea with them.

Crimson Wife said...

"It's still not clear how the larger game plan is laid out."

From what I have observed in my dealings with "unschoolers" over the past 6 years, most do not tend to have a larger game plan, and are instead content to allow their children to flit from interest to interest upon the child's whim.

Now, this is not true for 100% of the "unschoolers" I know IRL. The girl I mentioned earlier in the thread who is interested in becoming a marine biologist definitely has a plan. I'm not worried about her- she's doing fine at community college as a dual-enrolled student.

Catherine Johnson said...

Have read NONE of the comments, and basically none of Penelope Trunk after finding this line:

Do you ever hear parents who send their kids to school talking about curriculum?

No. Right?

Do you know why? Because it doesn't matter.


So right there .... I'm stumped.

Do I ever hear parents who send their kids to school talking about curriculum?

ummm, yes

Not only do I 'hear' parents who send their kids to school talking about curriculum, I have been witness to, and a party to, annual parent uprisings over Math Trailbazers.

A few years ago, I was an admiring member of the audience when the PTSA actually presented and proposed its own K-12 ENGLISH CURRICULUM.

Catherine Johnson said...

Agree fully with chemprof who says unschooling is the logical conclusion of public school constructivism.

In terms of institutional structures and needs, I often see constructivism as a means of evading accountability.

Can a "guide on the side" be held accountable for student test scores?

I don't think so.

I think ed schools believe in constructivism for reasons ***other*** than 'institutional needs,' of course.

I'm persuaded by E.D. Hirsch's argument that constructivism is a direct descendant of Romanticism. ("America was born in the Enlightenment and bred in Romanticism" - Hirsch's best line, as far as I'm concerned.)

I think that with constructivism you see several things coming together at once:

* intellectual history (Enlightenment vs Romanticism)
* accidents of education history (ed schools being created as separate from 'content' courses)
* institutional 'needs' or 'defenses' (to evade accountability, perhaps to persuade yourself that heterogeneous classrooms work, etc.)
* and, finally, as a ***response*** to the problems that all of these things produce.

Constructivism creates problems and then is embraced as the solution to the problems it creates.

btw...this is semi-speculative. I really don't understand how 'bad knowledge' and 'bad practice' win.

I mean....you've got Morningside Academy sitting there in Seattle, with its 25 years of money-back guaranteed learning, and ..... Bill Gates, sitting just FIVE BLOCKS AWAY, is funding galvanic skin response bracelets.

AmyP said...

I was in the lab this morning doing blood draws, and I got to see one of the morning news hosts interviewing Bill Gates about why Microsoft is losing money right now. Then they switched over to talking about his philanthropy, and he was talking about the need he feels to give back.

One way to give back would be to keep Microsoft on track making money, but that somehow doesn't count.

(I don't generally feel that way about philanthropy, but Bill Gates and Microsoft are a special case.)

Michael Weiss said...

What are the parental requirements for unschooling?

"Requirements" is the wrong word. But I don't think anybody would choose unschooling in the first place unless they are, first of all, present -- somebody has to be home with the kids, all day, and AVAILABLE to them, all day. Second, curious -- parents who are themselves not interested in learning would be unlikely to choose an educational model in which their children are expected to take charge of their learning. Let's see, what else. Patient, I guess. Trusting. Confident enough to face the scorn and mockery of others with aplomb, but not so arrogant that they think they think they always know better than their child does what he or she should be spending his or her time on.

Sure, unschooling "can" work, but what's your message, give it some thought? Give what, exactly, some thought?

My "message"? I entered this conversation because I wanted to reply to a straw man argument -- that unschoolers don't follow curriculum. That's not true, and I wanted to clarify the way in which it is not true. I think I have still not made myself clear, though, otherwise you would not have interpreted me like this:

I guess I've confirmed that unschooling doesn't allow students to change their minds in the middle of something like a semester of material, and that the student has to do what the teacher tells her/him to do in that timeframe.

No, no, no! The phrase "unschooling doesn't allow" makes no sense. You are still working from the presumption that there are rules. There are no rules That's kind of the definition of unschooling, right there: Everything is played by ear.

Look, think about it this way. Suppose you, Steve, sign up for an adult guitar class through your local community Rec & Ed (or whatever they call it where you live). After two class meetings you decide you aren't getting out of it what you had hoped for. What do you do?

The answer is -- It depends. If the problem is that you don't like the teacher or the style, maybe you see if there's a different class taught by someone else that you can switch into. If the problem is that you just have too many other time commitments to really focus on your gutter playing, maybe you see if you can get a refund for the class and decide to take it another time in the future. If the problem is that you realize, belatedly, that what you REALLY want to learn is banjo, not guitar, maybe you see if it is possible to switch into another class.

Or maybe you just say, "Well, I already paid for it, I guess I'll just stick it out and hope it gets better."

Whatever you choose, it is your choice You can quit if you want to. You can persevere if you want to. Either decision has its upsides and downsides. You have to weigh them and make a choice.

That's what an unschooling family does in these circumstances. The parents talk to the child about why the child wants to change his mind, and they make some suggestions, and point out alternatives, and then they decide what to do. There are a lot of competing values at stake: the values of persistence and delayed gratification, the value of not wasting one's money and time (which cuts both ways -- don't overlook the opportunity costs of staying in a class that you are not getting benefit from), and on and on. And then a decision is made.

It's just parenting, you know? You fly by the seat of your pants.

Michael Weiss said...

It's still not clear how the larger game plan is laid out.

I know you are having a hard time believing this, but there is no larger game plan. Honestly. We make it up as we go along. There are short-term game plans that come and go, but there is no larger game plan.

"Sometimes when people ask us what our kids do all day, I say, "What do your kids do on weekends? We do that."" That's cute, but not informative and probably not true.

I admit I don't know what you and your kids do on weekends. If you watch a lot of TV on the weekends then no, we don't do that (we have no TV in the house). But in fact, this description is probably very close to true. We hang out, read, play boardgames, go on long walks, read, go on bike rides, volunteer, garden, read, play music, do puzzles, go to the library, go to a museum, read, swim, sing, canoe. We cook, 18-20 meals every week, and eat almost every one together (the lone exception is me, who often eats lunch at work). We do word puzzles and math puzzles. We draw and paint and sometimes sew and rughook. And read. And TAL:K. We talk all day, about everything. Politics, physics, math, chemistry. Poetry, literature, nature. Current events, religion, art. We talk during our meals, we talk during our walks, we talk while gardening. Talk talk talk, read read read, all the time. That's what we do, every day. That's it. Are those the details you keep asking for?

Anonymous said...

But Michael, don't you have a preplanned curriculum for these talks? Who is accountable for them? Is there a test afterwards?

SteveH said...

"entered this conversation because I wanted to reply to a straw man argument -- that unschoolers don't follow curriculum."

"There are no rules"

"It's just parenting, you know? You fly by the seat of your pants."


Well, then eveything can be a strawman about unschooling. It can be everything and nothing.


"We talk all day, about everything. Politics, physics, math, chemistry. Poetry, literature, nature. Current events, religion, art. We talk during our meals, we talk during our walks, we talk while gardening. Talk talk talk, read read read, all the time. That's what we do, every day. That's it. Are those the details you keep asking for?"


No. How do you get the gob done? Is there no job or goal? What if your kids are just content to talk about stuff? It sounds like "active learning". What if they choose a career goal for themselves? Does your seat of the pants plan start to look a lot like a regular homeschool or school curriculum? There may be some advantages to getting off of the bus, but we're missing a lot of the dirty details. Maybe you haven't gotten to that point yet. Maybe that point does not exist - by definition. You can avoid it in college and avoid it in life.


"Confident enough to face the scorn and mockery of others with aplomb, .."

No, it's disbelief that just choice will maximize one's potential. Choice might seem like you are in control, but choice can close doors and leave you with fewer choices. It's unrealistic to think that choice can then open those doors again. The cost can be huge. Then again, unschooling, since it is undefined ("no rules"), is never less than the dream.

Michael Weiss said...

How do you get the job done? Is there no job or goal? What if your kids are just content to talk about stuff?

There is no job and no goal. We talk about whatever stuff they are interested in talking about. And yet they still learn everything that they would otherwise be compelled to do in school, and much more.

I know you just can't believe that's possible. I'm not sure why. Maybe you and the kids you know have been conditioned to think of learning as a chore, something that you have to do despite its unpleasantness. That's just a different world than the one we live in.

What if they choose a career goal for themselves? Does your seat of the pants plan start to look a lot like a regular homeschool or school curriculum?

Yes, I have been saying that for days now:

Step 1. "I want to be an engineer."
Step 2. "Okay, you're going to need to learn a lot of math. Why don't you try reading this book? [hands over an Algebra textbook] Make sure you actually do the exercises at the end of each section, not just read them over."
Step 3. [kid goes away with the book]
Step 4. [kid comes back] "I don't understand this part."
Step 5. [Parent provides help]

Lather, rinse, repeat.


The difference between this and school is that it is not compulsory. You are focused exclusively on the list of topics and the scope and sequence and what I have been talking about is the locus of authority for decision-making. The kid makes the choices and can change his mind.

Choice might seem like you are in control, but choice can close doors and leave you with fewer choices.

Hasn't happened yet. That's all I can say. My oldest is 15, and I have yet to ever hear him or any of his four younger sisters ever say "I don't want to know about that." My kids like to know stuff. The world is interesting, and knowledge is much more fun than ignorance.

Michael Weiss said...

Anonymous said...

But Michael, don't you have a preplanned curriculum for these talks? Who is accountable for them? Is there a test afterwards?


Well, we used to use a clicker system for real-time formative assessment, but it was too hard to carry the Smartboard around everywhere we went. :)

SteveH said...

"My kids like to know stuff. The world is interesting, and knowledge is much more fun than ignorance."

Same with my son. He learned about Fourier Analysis on his own. We talk about calculus and all sorts of things. He is a sponge. School doesn't slow him down.


"Lather, rinse, repeat."

How about lather, rinse, and wander off to some other topic. Generalized learning is easy and fun.


"Hasn't happened yet. That's all I can say."

That appears to be the case.

Michael Weiss said...

Same with my son. He learned about Fourier Analysis on his own. We talk about calculus and all sorts of things. He is a sponge. School doesn't slow him down.

How do you know school doesn't slow him down? If he is a sponge for learning, how much more would he have learned if he weren't spending six hours a day at school? Have you ever considered the opportunity costs of attending school when you could be learning other things in other ways?

How about lather, rinse, and wander off to some other topic.

Is that what you do when you want to become expert in something? Why do you assume that kids will?

Generalized learning is easy and fun.

So is working hard at something and developing expertise. Do you disagree?

Honestly I feel like you are beginning from premises about learning that are deeply cynical: That nobody will work hard at anything for a long-term payoff unless they are forced to, that given choices children will prefer to remain ignorant. I am not sure where those assumptions come from, as your own son seems to be a pretty good counterexample.

AmyP said...

"Maybe you and the kids you know have been conditioned to think of learning as a chore, something that you have to do despite its unpleasantness. That's just a different world than the one we live in."

Michael, you sound like a really good guy and a fun dad, but it also sounds like you've never dealt with any truly difficult parenting or educational situation. To give a small but vivid example, neither of my kids was very enthusiastic about the potty-training thing. A lot of the parenting books talk about how kids will just do it themselves, because somehow they'll grow to dislike the sensation of wet diaper or wet underpants, but that proved not to be the case. The kids became potty-trained 1) after nearly 4 years and 2) after nearly 4.5 years, coincidentally just weeks before starting full-day pre-K. It required massive effort and massive inputs of My Little Ponies and Thomas the Tank Engine friends to bribe them into potty training. Would they have potty trained at their own pace? Maybe, but I really would not have liked to discover experimentally how long that would take. There certainly are higher-need children who never potty train, ever.

I'd just like to see some small print (like on pharmaceutical ads) saying that: UNSCHOOLING MAY NOT WORK FOR YOU UNLESS YOUR CHILD IS REALLY SMART, COOPERATIVE, AND DOESN'T HAVE ANY SERIOUS PROBLEMS.

SteveH said...

"How do you know school doesn't slow him down? "

How do you know that unschooling isn't limiting your kids? So far so good is your answer.


Generalized learning is easy and fun.

"So is working hard at something and developing expertise. Do you disagree?"

Alwasy easy? Always fun? What dream world are you living in? Your kids never balk? You never push? You're still arguing with generalities. You're not defining expertise.


"That nobody will work hard at anything for a long-term payoff unless they are forced to, that given choices children will prefer to remain ignorant."

You are throwing up strawmen. Who ever posed that black and white tradeoff?


Honestly, I feel like you are beginning from premises about formal schooling that are deeply cynical. My son is a good example of how you can try to have it all. I'm off to Interlochen to pick him up after 6 weeks of hard work that he chose to accept. Don't think that I don't know the fine line between choice and push. I would never bet the ranch only on choice. By the way, we had to push a little to get him to send in an audition tape the first year he went. Left up to his choice, he never would have gone. I recall so many key moments that really were not his choice.

Anonymous said...

So Amy, would you put an informative sticker on public school saying "For best results, use with children who are stupid, uncooperative, or have serious problems?"

Crimson Wife said...

No, the public school warning would be, "for best results, your child should be perfectly average in all subjects and have a high tolerance for busywork."

Glen said...

I believe that, given complete freedom of choice, most kids would choose lower-quality diets, both nutritional and educational, than their parents would choose for them. I would measure quality by usefulness for the future, and my kids would likely measure it by flavor and fun in the here and now.

Having said that, I have to acknowledge several things.

1) This is only a belief. I don't have anything I would consider quality scientific evidence to back it up, as is the case for most educational controversies.

2) All kids are different, so there are inevitably some kids who prefer broccoli to ice cream. My older son is starting to. I just wouldn't let Eat What Tastes Best become the exclusive policy for most kids.

3) I think most kids would gravitate toward wiser choices, both dietary and educational, as they got older, given good parental examples and advice. It's possible that they would do so quickly enough to avoid long-term harm from poor choices in the early years, or that some long-term benefit of always following their own urges would more than compensate for any harm.

4) Kids need to learn to make wise choices, and doing so requires practice. They also need to be able to teach themselves things, which also requires practice.

5) The school diet is so far from optimal that any number of other approaches may be preferable if the choice is limited to X vs. typical school.

With these ideas in mind, it appears to me that the ideal approach is to combine some required learning (probably outside of school) with some free choice. The former, like the minimum daily requirements for nutrition, will lay a useful foundation. If it's true that as kids get older, they'll make better choices, they'll be happy to have this foundation later. This foundation will make options available to them that they wouldn't have understood when they were younger.

The latter, the free choice, will also lay a foundation: experience taking responsibility for making good choices and accomplishing their own objectives. They'll also know more about the kinds of work they most enjoy doing, which will help guide future career choices.

The two extremes where parents either make all the choices and ruthlessly schedule every minute of the kid's life or let the kid make all of the choices, trusting the unrestrained natural urges of the seven-year-old to be deeply wise, are both preposterous from what I've seen.

By your definitions, Michael, my kids are unschooled during meals, bedtime talks, two hours a day during "project time," and for large parts of the weekend. This is not wasted time; it's very important educational time, as you claim.

But this is not all they do. I also take part of each day to make them learn things that they may not feel like learning but that I, with the benefit of decades of hindsight, know will be of use to them later. These skills have already opened up additional options for them that they have freely chosen to pursue during their project time.

I'm not sure I understand why you unschoolers believe (unless I'm mistaken) that all learning, not some but ALL, must be chosen by the kid and dropped as soon as the kid loses interest. Do adults gain no wisdom over years of experience that can compare to the natural wisdom embodied in the urges of a child?

Michael Weiss said...

Look, I never said (and I hope I didn't imply) that unschooling parents do nothing to shape what choices their kids make. "Talk talk talk," remember? We suggest, critique, encourage or discourage, cajole, and (sometimes) push a little. Way back up there earlier in the comments I said: Sometimes those choices differ from the ones I would make. Sometimes they are maddeningly frustrating. Sometimes we get mad and say, "Look, if you're just going to waste time all day you might as well go to school like normal kids!"

We also demarcate the field of available choices. I mentioned already that we don't have a TV; that limits what they can choose to spend their time on. To take Glen's nutrition analogy, my kids don't eat junk food because we don't buy junk food. When we cook dinner, we don't cook different meals for each kid. Having said that, if a child doesn't like what we have cooked, and if he or she is old enough to cook something for him or herself, they are free to do that.

Steve said he pushed his son to send in an audition. We have done much the same: "Look, just try the orchestra for two weeks. If you don't like it, you don't have to continue." But ultimately we rely on persuasion, not coercion. If he sets himself firmly against it, we aren't going to make him go.

I am pretty sure I never said that kids in an unschooling family live without parental supervision, as if they were raised by wolves. Part of the point is that we are constantly interacting with and shaping our children's characters. But we try to do so non-coercively. And, in particular, if my kid wants to read about the French Revolution for six hours straight in the middle of the day, I don't stop him and say "Sorry, it's time to study Science now." That is what distinguishes unschooling from schooling. In school, your attention is supposed to be focused at any given moment on what the teacher thinks you should be thinking about in that moment, not what you are actually interested in thinking about. And an hour later it has to change to something else. And then again to something else. That's what we are trying to avoid.

AmyP said...

I suspect that there may not be a huge difference in actual practice between Michael and Glen. Michael's methods remind me of the traditional "would you like to wear your blue shirt or your red shirt?" method often recommended for dealing with toddlers. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it offers the appearance of freedom, more than the reality. Again, NTTAWWT.

Anonymous said:

"So Amy, would you put an informative sticker on public school saying "For best results, use with children who are stupid, uncooperative, or have serious problems?""

Unschooling and the worst public school you can imagine are not the only options. There is an endless spectrum of permutations. We do a small private classical school, lots of summer camps, therapeutic riding lessons, my husband's woodworking and astronomy hobbies (which he often shares with the kids), lots of library visits and lots of informal chats (recent ones have covered elephant trunk anatomy, conjoined twins and gestational diabetes), aided by the internet. We used to do a lot of Kumon workbooks, but I've taken much of the year off.

I'm very happy to have outside help with my kids, although I'd have to say that my husband is probably the most important intellectual presence in their lives. If the school closed tomorrow, I would be very sad for many reasons, but it wouldn't be the end of the world.

Again, sometimes there are things that kids don't want to do that are so important that there has to be an ultimatum. My kids, for instance, were very unenthusiastic about swim lessons to begin with, but they were informed that they would need to take a Red Cross swim course every summer, and that that was non-negotiable. Once we got past the initial trouble, they eventually got to love water and swimming very much. I can't leave something that important up to their choice. Knowing how to swim could mean the difference between life and death, plus it's just fun, once you know how. (I probably didn't need to torture my 3-year-old and me by doing swim classes at that age, but live and learn.)

Earlier this year, my daughter was telling me she didn't want to go to gifted classes. She loved the gifted camp she went to as a younger child and didn't want to do the classes that they offer for bigger kids, because she figured they couldn't possibly be as fun. We told her that she needed to do at least one class. She was tempted by the course catalog and chose two. She loved it, of course. (Our son wasn't as happy, but that had a lot to do with the yellow squash smoothie and other veggie items that got served at his camp.) So, in general, the fact that a child doesn't want to try something new doesn't weigh very heavily in my opinion. (Kids on the autistic spectrum tend to HATE new things.)

(My examples probably make me sound like a real ogre, but I'm actually quite a pushover.)

Crimson Wife said...

"if my kid wants to read about the French Revolution for six hours straight in the middle of the day, I don't stop him and say 'Sorry, it's time to study Science now.'"

I don't know too many homeschoolers who would do this. The difference between them and "unschoolers" is that homeschoolers would not allow a child to blow off science indefinitely, while "unschoolers" would.

Allison said...

Michael, do you parent without limits beyond suggestions and persuasion too?
as in, do you enforce eating vegetables, cleaning their room, having s set bedtime? Curfew?

Michael, I am closer to Glen and Amy than you in philosophy though probably not as far on practice, but just want to highlight one thing where I think I strongly disagree with you:

I don't think it's an unalloyed good to let a child do regularly one thing for six or 12 or 100 hours to the exclusion of all else, because I think it fails to teach them how to handle transitions, the ability to let go, and respect for others.

My kids would play lego or read books or stay at the park forever if I let them. They would not stop to eat even if starving. They would not stop to drink, or use the bathroom either,no matter how urgent the need. They consistently say "I love the science museum, but let's go later " and then they would cry when its bedtime and they didn't go by their own choice. They can't yet evaluate future self's happiness.

That may be their age, but it is also their temperament. These kids can't transition from legos to the library without wailing, even when they will love being at the library, just as they couldn't self soothe to sleep, couldn't transition to a babysitter without a lot of pain.
So for us, unschooling would put my kids at big disadvantage for coping with the world, the one where bills are due on certain days.
They naturally are disinclined to handle the world, and will have to choose how they want to live. Need to equip them to be able to choose.

Another big part of that is learning to have empathy for others. Too little practice moderating ones desires and you can't understand how relating to others works. It requires give and take, setting aside ones intentions now to accommodate some one else. Relating in a healthy way means being able to set aside what you want and do what someone else wants. And you need to recognize that's happening, which takes practice.

Glen phrases it as keeping his children's future selves in view. I phrase it as navigating to a point on the sea out of view. Small deviations in course will make us hundreds of miles off course. That is different than intentionally taking a side excursion.

AmyP said...

Allison,

That all sounds really familiar, right down to the reluctance to take bathroom breaks or drink or eat. (Fortunately, I've only had one of those so far and she has developed enough self-awareness that I don't have to worry anymore that she'll forget to take bathroom breaks.)

I think something very important to bear in mind is that education is not just academics, but also self-care and home training and those two areas include many, many non-negotiables. As I said, I'm really a pushover in many respects (being pregnant has taken a lot of the starch out of me), but my kids don't get to turn their rooms into junior hoards and helping bring up and put away groceries is not optional.