What is Unschooling?
The Unschooling Unmanual , edited by Jan and Jason Hunt
reviewed by Beverley Paine
Comfortable - at long last - with the idea of homeschooling, the American media is now turning its attention to the concept of unschooling. Displaying the lack of research typical of talk shows, unschooling has recently been heralded by commentators as irresponsible, even labeled as 'unparenting'. This is despite the easily available volumes of information produced over three decades by veteran home educators and other prominent proponents of autonomous learning.
The Unschooling Unmanual , edited by Jan Hunt of the Natural Child Project , is a relatively recent and much appreciated arrival on my bookshelf. This slim volume of easy to read essays is peppered with quotes by John Holt, the school reformer who, in the 1970s, turned his back on schools and coined the word 'unschooling'. Holt's early books How Children Learn and How Children Fail are still considered essential reading for undergraduate teachers and his later work helped to coalesce a handful of home educating families into an international homeschooling movement. Informed by Holt's insights into how children learn and his critique of why schools fail children, the authors within The Unschooling Unmanual bring to light the how and why of unschooling as well as offer explanations for why it works so well.
The cornerstone of unschooling is undoubtedly 'trust'. The willingness to let go of the fear that not teaching children will damage their development, and to trust that that they are innately capable of learning, shines in each essay, as does a commitment to continually questioning what does and doesn't matter. Unschooling is learning 'on the job' in contexts that are relevant and meaningful to the learner. The authors see the parents' role as facilitating this process, rather than controlling or directing it. There is a sense of freedom and joy experienced by the authors as they observe their children as competent and autonomous learners; an unburdening of anxiety and expectations that don't really belong in a family and community centred lifestyle.
Unschooling is 'a way of life' is a theme repeated throughout the book. Education isn't segmented into subjects. Children's appetite for learning ranges across many disciplines. It may look disorderly and chaotic, in much the same way as a jungle does, but everything is interconnected, with a deep structure that is hard to pin down but promotes amazing growth and development. The joy at experiencing this abundance comes through in many of the essays. It is obvious that the authors reflect long and hard at what is happening as their children learn without the need to be taught, perhaps driven by their need to understand and explain to others who ignorantly dismiss unschooling as 'unparenting'.
The Unschooling Unmanual touches briefly but convincingly on the politics of school, familiar territory for readers of John Taylor Gatto or Wendy Preisnitz. Daniel Quinn proposes that far from failing, schooling achieves its goals, though these do not reflect the goals of parents who entrust the care and educational development of their children to the school system. Jan Hunt demonstrates why abandoning school methods of regulating a child's learning achieves the goals of parents and their children. The Unschooling Unmanual reveals what unschooling isn't: a recipe for educating a child. However the reader isn't left without a definition or a path to follow - the essays are very clear on what does work and why it works.
At less than 100 pages, The Unschooling Unmanual is a quick, enjoyable and easy to digest read, a great introduction to a liberating, though often challenging, way of living and learning.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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