John Holt, a 20th century American educator and author, coined the term "unschooling" and is considered the father of the movement. He argued that the formal educational system is flawed and that children are best served by an education in the home. However, he cautioned against home schooling children with an equally inferior educational method. Holt contended that children should never have education imposed on them against their will.
Within the culture of home schooling today, unschooling can refer to a few different things. For some, the term is used in a broad manner to refer to any method of education that's different from traditional public or private schools (in particular, education that doesn't teach primarily in a classroom setting and with the aid of textbooks).
Most people use the term in a more specific manner, however. For many parents, unschooling describes a method of home schooling in which parents don't actively and authoritatively determine the course and pace of their child's education. Instead, they allow the child the freedom to explore the world and to learn however he or she pleases. In this context, unschooling is also sometimes called the natural learning method.
Getting to the Core
The key assumption behind the unschooling method is that no formal education can supplant the rich experiences of discovering the world through real life experiences. Simply put, it's the idea that children learn the most from doing something. For example, a subject like math is taught not through assigned problems, but through something like a card game. Games are also used by parents who primarily use other home schooling methods, but the difference is that parents who use unschooling don't impose such activities on their child.
Some of the main tenets of the unschooling method include:
- Co-operation. Parents are encouraged to join their child in living freely and allowing themselves to discover their surroundings.
- No authority. There is no absolute or predetermined body of knowledge that's necessary to impart to all students. Texts or lectures may be used, but only if the child chooses so.
- Flexibility. Grade level and a schedule of learning are concepts that are completely disregarded. Learning can happen anywhere, at any time of day.
Don't Get Confused
Unschooling is not related to the term "de-schooling," which refers to an intentionally anti-institutional approach to education, and which may involve attempts to reverse the "programming" children received in a formal educational setting.