Unschooling: Criticism of an ABC News Report

This post was written on April 22, 2010.

The other day I watched this news segment from Good Morning America, “Extreme Parenting: Radical Unschooling.” I could not have been more astonished at such an extremely biased news report.  The reporter obviously did not do her homework, and she seemed more than ready to paint a negative picture of this alternative form of education.

Let me be clear.  I’m not saying that unschooling is good or bad.  I don’t have enough knowledge or experience with it to make that call.  But I have read enough about homeschooling and unschooling to know that it is a worthwhile option to look into.

This report focuses on what the children have not been exposed to as well as some irrelevant issues, in my opinion, like a teenager staying up all night.  Teenagers tend to keep crazy hours, and I don’t think this is going to reflect on what kind of adult they become.  I saw a very short image of many garden plants the teenagers were cultivating, but nothing was said about them, and in fact, the reporter never bothered to ask what the children have learned and what they are ready for.  Furthermore, the interviews with the family seemed edited and their answers were truncated.  There was a short blip about another family who unschools, but in all, I did not get a clear picture of what either of these families look like.  When I listened to this report, I could hear the reporter’s negative questioning much louder than anything else.

The report also indicated that the unschooling parents also used a relaxed structure and little or no discipline with the children.  Though unschoolers may use a relaxed parenting style, I think it should be noted that every homeschooling and unschooling family looks different.  Again, I think these families were unfairly misrepresented, but no one should look at one family and think that every unschooling family does things the same way.

I recently read The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.  It’s just one of many books about homeschooling/unschooling that I would like to read.  From this book and the many testimonies it offers, I know that there are many unschooled children who are capable learners who can effectively live in society.  I would wager that most unschooled children are much more willing and able to do the hard work it takes to accomplish something because they know first-hand why it is beneficial and rewarding to work hard at something.

I was particularly struck by one example in the book of a twelve year old boy who decided for himself that he wanted to try public school when he entered junior high.  (His siblings chose to remain at home and continue unschooling.)  He said he liked the challenge of school, and when he was presented with a group project, his attitude was “let’s have fun and see what we will learn.”  The classmates in his group, on the other hand, had the attitude of “let’s finish this as quick as possible so that we can go home.”

Indeed, I remember having this same attitude in school, and all my friends had it too. My husband, a college professor, is dismayed by the lack of motivation of his students.  Many of his students cannot write, and he deals with a large amount of plagiarism each semester when his papers are due.  He often comments to me that he is unsure these kids are ready for the real world.  In other words, why question an unschooled child’s future when there are so many children in our current system who are not prepared for college or other “real” jobs?

Whether or not one agrees with “unschooling,” we must admit that our current system is losing a vast number of students.  Children begin life believing that the world is an exciting place, and they are eager to learn.  Now that I’m nearly forty, I also know that there is so much out there to explore and wonder about.  What can be done to help children not lose this spark?

At least these parents are taking their children’s education into their own hands.  They are trying something different.  I absolutely believe that if children are given a nurturing environment, exposed to the world through real-life experiences (and not just sitting in a classroom all day), and offered a variety of resources, they will want to keep learning and they will love learning.

I support and admire these families.  They have the right to do what they are doing, and I will look to many more (expanded and unbiased) examples of unschooling before I decide whether or not it is good for children.

***

For another good post regarding this news report by a father of an unschooled child, click here.

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