A small but growing movement known as deschooling, life learning, unschooling, and edu-punk is home-schooling returned to its postwar progressive roots, far from the Bible-thumping mould that has come to dominate the modern image of home-schoolers.
Unschooling takes children out of schools, but, unlike a lot of home-school approaches, it doesn’t import the classroom into the home. It does away altogether with educational clutter such as curricula and grades.
Unschoolers maintain that a child’s learning should be curiosity-driven rather than dictated by teachers and textbooks, and that forcing kids to adhere to curricula quashes their natural inclination to explore and ask questions.
Unschooled children can organize their knowledge in free and better ways. They never need to feel they are through learning, or past the point that they can begin something new. Each thing they discover can be useful eventually. If we help provide them with ever-changing opportunities to see, hear, smell, taste, feel, move and discuss, what they know will exceed in breadth and depth what any school’s curriculum would have covered. It won’t be the same set of materials—it will be clearer and larger but different.
To an outsider, unschooling may sound like pedagogical tofu: a shapeless, idealistic substitute for an education. But there’s a growing consensus that unschoolers might be on to something. Their ideals have been quietly infiltrating public education.
“An unschooling family mostly just looks like a family living life … hanging out on the weekend,” says mother Pam Laricchia, a former nuclear engineer who lives in Orangeville, Ont. “But there is lots of learning going on when you take the time to look at it from the kids’ point of view.”
Home-schoolers – and unschoolers in particular – are by nature difficult to count. But observers say that, thanks in part to social networking and the blossoming of Internet resources, their movement is growing.
One sign is that dozens of unschooling families will converge near Ms. Laricchia’s home this weekend for the fifth annual Toronto Unschooling Conference. Another is that since 2002, unschoolers have had their own publication, Life Learning Magazine. (More recently, it has metamorphosized into LifeLearningMagazine.com.)
Meanwhile, school boards and education ministries are embracing experiential learning.
There was a time when students were drilled and heavily tested on rote memory, such as the names and dates of British sovereigns. But research suggests that this is a temporary, limited form of learning: Kids gain more when they can ask questions and learning is tied to emotion.