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lead article from the 2/06 issue of the HEADSUP Newsletter

Wayne Walker here with the lead article from the Feb., 2006, issue of my free, monthly e-mail homeschooling newsletter, HEADSUP (which will be moved to  yahoogroups later this year and be renamed Biblical Homeschooling).  If anyone wants to receive the whole thing, just contact me at the e-mail address given.  The theme for the issue is unschooling, and following my summary, there follow two other article, one for unschooling and the other against it, along with other items.


Monthly newsletter of general interest, encouragement,
and information for homeschooling Christians
% Wayne S. Walker, 9024 Amona Dr., Affton (St. Louis), MO  63123
E-mail: wswalker310@juno.com; phones: (314) 638-4710 home, 544-1612 office
February, 2006; Volume 8, Number 7 
1. UNSCHOOLING by Wayne S. Walker
4. POETRY CORNER: The Ballad of Trees and the Master by Sidney Lanier
8. QUESTION AND RESPONSES from the HomeSchoolers list
9. RECENT PROBLEMS SOLVED BY HSLDA from Home School Legal Defense Association
12. ANOTHER RESPONSE by Wayne S. Walker
by Wayne S. Walker
     Previous issues of this newsletter in earlier years (c. 2000) set out to provide some articles with information on all the major “methods” or “approaches” of homeschooling–the traditional “scope and sequence” method with textbooks and workbooks, referred to by some as “school at home”; the habitual method of Charlotte Mason with its emphasis on living books; the “classical” method following the trivium; the “project” or “integrated” method of unit studies; and the “principle method” whose curriculum is provided by the Foundation for American Christian Education.  One important approach that was not discussed was “unschooling.”  The reason for this is that although I had heard of it, I really did not understand it and so did not know enough about it to feel that I could say anything useful.  Since then, I have read more about it and met several homeschooling families who pursue what they call unschooling, so while not claiming to be an expert I do feel that I have a little better handle on it than before.   Some would assert that this method is actually the oldest form of homeschooling, especially in the modern homeschooling movement.  What is “unschooling”?
     The word “unschooling” means different things to different people.  To some, it simply refers to the process of taking children out of traditional schools and getting away from the “September to May, eight a. m. to three p. m.” structured classroom model of education.  The word “deschooling” is now more commonly used to identify this concept.  However, there is also a specific method or approach that is known as “unschooling.”  As we began making our plans to homeschool, some friends of ours gave us a copy of The Big Book of Home Learning, Volume I: Getting Started (copyright 1990) by Mary Pride.  Let me just say a word about that here.  In the years since we began homeschooling, I have seen many other excellent books on the subject–Cathy Duffy's Christian Home Educators Curriculum Manuals, Debra Bell's works, and others.  However, it was Mary Pride who helped us get started, and we shall forever be grateful to her.  As a result, we just personally tend to prefer the format and tone of her books to the others.
     Anyway, here is what Mary said about unschooling.  “Along with traditional and classic schooling, 'unschooling' is one of the most popular homeschool formats.  To avoid confusion, I should mention that the word 'unschooling' is used for two separate things.  Some people refer to the act of removing one's children from the schools, or refusing to enroll them, as 'unschooling.'  But 'unschooling' also describes a very popular homeschooling philosophy: that children learn better from doing real things than made-up exercises.”  Generally, those who identify themselves as “unschoolers” consider John Holt the father of unschooling, especially with his books, How Children Fail, in 1964, and How Children Learn, in 1967,
     Concerning Holt, Mary said, “John Holt is the prophet of real-world learning.  For years Mr. Holt quietly but insistently taught that children can learn all by themselves, without any well-intentioned adult interference.  He sees the idea of programmed learning as positively evil….[H]e fiercely defended the right of children to tackle the real environment….John Holt's motto was 'Trust Children.'  Based on his own observations of children learning and not learning, garnered in real-life situations, Holt believed children really want to learn and that they will learn what they need to know if left entirely to themselves.  In actual practice, Holt advocated involving children in our adult activities rather than begging them constantly, 'What do you want to do today?'  Still, his theory almost eliminates 'teaching' as a profession, other than a master/apprentice type of relationship where the apprentice is eager to learn a particular difficult skill.  What a person can learn on his own, Holt says, he should learn on his own–our teachers are not there to tyrannize us, but to offer the help we need.”
     In Searching for the Ancient Paths Resource Guide (Elijah Co.), Chris and Ellyn Davis wrote, “The Unschooling Approach is defined by John Holt, a 20th century American educator who concluded that children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it.  Holt believed that both desire and curiosity are destroyed by the usual methods of teaching.  In his book Teach Your Own, Holt wrote: 'What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.”
     Many people today often consider homeschooling as a “right-wing Christian phenomenon.”  However, some of the very first encouragement toward homeschooling came from John Holt and his newsletter Growing Without Schooling, begun in 1977, and Holt was anything but a “right-wing Christian.”  He was a card-carrying member and supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union–that is, until he appealed to the ACLU to help defend the “civil liberties” of some of his followers who began pulling their children out of traditional schools and providing for their education at home.  The ACLU turned him down flat!  Still, for the most part, although there are exceptions, those who openly identify themselves as unschoolers tend to come from a more liberal perspective.  Holt died in 1985, and his newsletter ceased publication in 2001.  However Home Education Magazine, while not exclusively devoted to unschooling, continues to be the magazine of choice among this wing of the homeschool movement, and even has a regular column on the subject of unschooling.
     Concerning Holt's push for unschooling, Mary Pride wrote, “Unschooling is a far more radical approach to education than enrolling in a traditional home correspondence course or following a planned curriculum.  It requires more creativity and flexibility (some say this is also one of its rewards!).  Some people find unschooling more stressful, as they are constantly worrying whether Johnny really is learning all the math he needs to know, or whether someday they will discover that he is eighteen years old and still has never heard of George Washington!  Others, more confident, think unschooling is the most relaxing, friendly way for children to learn.”
     Not all unschoolers necessarily come from the left.  There is a book called Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ by Teri J. Brown and Elissa M. Wahl.  Concerning the “better late than early” philosophy of Raymond and Dorothy Moore, former Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries who also were early promoters of homeschooling, Mary Pride wrote, “Followers of Dr. Raymond Moore adopt an 'unschooling' method for their youngest children.”  Chris and Ellyn Davis also wrote, “On the other hand, unschooling refers to any less structured learning approach that allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance.  The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books, learning resources, and adults who model a lifestyle of learning and are willing to interact with him.  Formal academics are pursued when the need arises.  Christians who favor less structured schooling, but with defined goals, prefer to be called 'relaxed home educators,' not unschoolers.”  Mary Hood, in her such books as The Relaxed Home School and The Joyful Home Schooler, takes the more unstructured idea of unschooling and approaches it from a Biblical standpoint.
     Therefore, there will be many different kinds and levels of “unschoolers.”  Mary Pride wrote, “Unschoolers are generally shy of tests–not that their children don't know anything, but because testing is one of the 'school' things they dislike….Experienced homeschoolers, even those who use curricula, often incorporate unschooling into part of their program.  'Total' unschoolers, those who use no set structure at all, seem to be a minority (this is my guess based on what I see homeschoolers writing about themselves).  Parents generally feel less nervous about unschooling 'skills' (e.g., carpentry, cooking, sewing) than academic subjects.”
     Like all other methods, there are strengths and weaknesses to unschooling.  Chris and Ellyn Davis suggest, “Some questions to ask before trying the Unschooling Approach”:  “Am I comfortable with few pre-set goals and little structure?  Do my children have strong interests in particular areas?  Does my family have a lot of natural curiosity and love learning?”  Under strengths of the Unschooling Approach, they list: “Takes little planning.  Captures the child's 'teachable moments.'  Children have access to the real world, plenty of time and space to figure things out on their own.  Children are less likely to become academically frustrated or 'burned out.'  Children can delve into a subject as deeply or shallowly as they desire.  Provides a discipleship model of learning.  Creates self-learners with a love of learning.”  Under weaknesses, they list: “May neglect some subject.  Hard to assess level of learning.  Lacks the security of a clearly laid out program.  Is extremely child-centered.  Difficult to explain to others.  May be overly optimistic about what children will accomplish on their own.”
     In the homeschooling movement, unschooling has had its proponents and detractors, even among those who identify with a Biblical worldview.  The September, 1990, issue of Family Times: A Newsletter About Homeschooling for New Testament Christians contained the following letter.  “Family Times has provided interesting stories of other Christian families and I appreciate this forum very much.  I am glad you are providing a way for Christian home educators to connect with each other.  Many homeschooling Christians seem to feel that it is necessary to set up a sort of school at home with mom as 'teacher,' purchased curriculum, assignments, tests, subjects, and textbooks (often denominationally produced), with encouragement from such publications as The Teaching Home.  I have no quarrel that these can be resources for home educators.  If these ways make a joyful family life for all involved, then wonderful!  These parents have removed their children from the amoral unbiblical influence of a humanistic school system.  They are also minimizing the effects of peer pressure.  These are extremely important reasons for Christians to home educate and certainly have played a part in our decision to avoid traditional institutional schooling.
     “However, I am concerned that a New Testament Christian whose 'educational philosophy' leads them toward 'unschooling' would feel a lack of support from other Christian homeschoolers.  It needs to be recognized that those who have come to think that traditional, commonly practiced educational methods are folly and harmful are exercising a responsible decision by not employing them in the home.  It is not unscriptural to say that John Holt and others with similar messages have much to offer a responsible Christian parent.  (Some books are Teach Your Own, Learning All the Time, and How Children Learn by Holt, and also David and Micki Colfax's Homeschooling For Excellence.  The newsletter Growing Without Schooling, and Home Education Magazine are also informative and encouraging.)”
     One of the editors, David Pratte, replied, “Family Times has no editorial policy regarding any particular format for homeschooling.  We can see advantages and disadvantages for both highly structured and unstructured approaches.  It is true, for example, that all teachers will find that the books they use contain some error, denominational or otherwise.  It is also true, we understand, that Holt held many humanistic ideas.  In either case, the advantage of homeschooling is that the parents are able to help children distinguish truth from error as we teach….Regardless of the teaching approach, we encourage Christians to obey the law, teach God's word, and give a good education.  Within that framework, there will always be differences of opinion and viewpoint.”
     Therefore, I do believe that those who want to please Christ should be careful in following the philosophy of unschooling so as not to be influenced by some of the humanistic presuppositions that underlie it, just as we must be careful in using textbooks, or unit studies, or “living books,” or any other resources provided by fallible men, so as not to be influenced by any error, denominational or otherwise, contained in them.  Terry Dorian, in Anyone Can Homeschool that she co-wrote with Zan Peters Tyler, called unschooling “existentialism,” and wrote, “John Holt, the well-known educator who is considered the father of 'unschooling,' 'free' and 'invited' learning, has written what many of us consider to be classic works in the areas of homeschooling and educational reform….John Holt's books were the first homeschooling books that I read.  I read them during my master's program in reading.  I recommend them to Christians who are rooted and grounded in God's word.  To those who are not rooted and grounded in the word, I recommend nothing except Colossians 3:6-9….Many of John Holt's ideas are inconsistent with the biblical principles, but if we walk by the Spirit we can learn much from this gentle man who loved teaching children.”
     So, with regard to unschooling, am I “fer it” or “agin it”?  The truth is, I am neither, at least in an absolute sense.  I am not an unschooler nor am I a proponent of unschooling.  As a result of what I have studied about unschooling, I see in it seeds of concepts which could be detrimental to many families' long-term educational goals and, if applied without great discernment, damaging to the spiritual upbringing of children.  Therefore, our family has rejected it, and I really could not encourage strict unschooling.  At the same time, there have been many families who have followed unschooling (or some form of it) quite successfully–David and Micki Colfax, mentioned earlier, whose unschooled sons were accepted to Harvard; Cafi Cohen, a well known and respected name among homeschoolers of all stripes, who unschooled her two children to scholarships at the Air Force Academy and Agnes Scott College; and an unschooling mother whom I know here in St. Louis with children who also received college scholarships.  The beauty of homeschooling is that each family can choose the path that is best for it.  Whatever path we choose, the most important question that Christians must ask is, “Are we doing what is pleasing to God according to His word, and will it bring honor to Him?”

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