Unschooling is a movement opposed to both public schooling and homeschooling on the grounds that both consist of brainwashing. It generally takes a more anarchistic viewpoint, more specifically, unschooling sees the school system itself—the concept of grading, testing, curricula and so on—as being damaging for children and they do not easily fit into such an institutionalised system. Unschooling completely replaces the structured learning of traditional schooling with almost entirely self-directed learning and natural life processes. Basically, "The University of Life" for all ages.
Unschooling's philosophy consists of the child being free to learn what they want, and pursue their interests. If the child wishes, they can consult a parent for help, but the movement is opposed to a duplication of the public school system at home (i.e., homeschooling). The philosophy tries to promote critical thinking, and has an optimistic view of children, saying that public schools will simply alienate students from the subjects learnt, preparing them for alienation as workers, while children on their own are naturally curious, learn from having fun, and will get a far better education if it is led by them.
Unschooling is often referred to as "homeschooling", though its advocates say that learning happens everywhere, and thus does not promote the parents organizing a schooling system for the children. It is argued that unschooling does not cause any problems for the child in terms of social interaction, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Rather than just advocating "dropping out", unschooling is a movement for an alternative to school, meaning that it also shows a way for students to get educated after rising out of the schooling system, while many dropouts just do it because they need to work for their family, etc. It has often been connected with the free skool movement, which seeks to establish schools (referred to as 'skool' to differentiate from public schools) where all work is voluntary, and things are democratically decided.
The 6 Lessons
John Taylor Gatto is one of the more prominent critics of the idea of a public school system, particularly in the US. His observations and criticisms of the public school system were distilled into 6 "lessons" that the schools apparently teach.
- "The first lesson I teach is: Stay in the class where you belong."
- "The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch."
- "The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command."
- "The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study."
- "In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer's measure of your worth."
- "In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched."
Criticism of traditional schooling
Unschooling supporters make criticisms of public education like that of the founder of the free skool movement, the anarchist Francisco Ferrer, who observed that “Rulers have always taken care to control the education of the people. They know their power is based almost entirely on the school and they insist on retaining their monopoly. The school is an instrument for domination in the hands of the ruling class.”
Criticisms of the public school system include that it teaches students to 'respect authority', by placing a teacher or other bureaucrat in the role of the students’ parent or guardian, the authoritarian figure they are generally familiar with at home. Authority is imposed through a system of punishment for those who do not do what they are told, and rewards for conformity. Strict adherence to trivial rules like always walking on the right side of the hallway teach us to obey no matter how stupid the order is. We are taught that people should be able to tell us what to do, with us having no say in the matter. We are thereby prepared for the world of bosses, politicians, and military officers ordering us around and treating us like we are stupid and inferior. Public schooling is also said to rob us of our individuality by strict regimentation and an emphasis on conformity, which leads to students not thinking for themselves, or pursuing their own ideas.
This regimentation also takes the form of imposing punishments for those who don’t show up at school on time, go to class on time or complete assigned tasks on time. This prepares us for a life in the factory or office where “time is money.” To maximize the degree to which students can be exploited when they enter the work force, they must be conditioned to be nervous or guilty about not showing up on time and subject to the time schedule created by those in authority. Einstein once complained that the "excessive competition" that goes on in the schools, and later the workplace, destroyed individuality.
Unschooling supporters are also against the brainwashing that goes on in the classroom, especially in History and often Economics, teaching students that capitalism is the best system possible and drilling into their heads that it is not worth fighting for something more. Generally, the movement is also against exams, though unschoolers and free skoolers have done better at exams to get into college and GCSEs than the general public, though many don't bother going to university, seeing it as useless. They believe that people learn best at their own pace, working towards their own interests, and that after leaving school, children may take a while to get out of the mindset imposed on them by schools, but once they manage, they will be more effective learners, and actually get an education. They say that it is okay not to get much done for a while, but it will only be harmful if you do not shed the schooling mentality that will make you feel guilty about it, and perhaps force you back to school.
A well known book, 'The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education' by Grace Liewellyn, argues that unschooling is beneficial for all children, and that it is a far better experience, and more educational, than public schooling. It has been said to be a cause of many students rising out of public and private schools to pursue unschooling.
Criticism of unschooling
Criticism of unschooling revolves around the fact that, while the traditional structured school system may not be perfect, to remove it entirely is too big a step and is actually more detrimental to the intellectual development of children than public school. Unschooling advocates almost exclusively rely on attacking the US public school system rather than providing good, solid reasons for which this entirely different concept is a good one. Unschooling as a replacement for traditional schooling removes the downsides of structured learning (genuine or otherwise) but it also removes countless benefits that have been shown. Notably:
- That there are valued qualifications available in the school system that are recognisable. While people should never be judged by their certificates alone, they do help judge a person's ability and commitment.
- That structured public school provides a system of peers and friends. An unschooled individual would have to find peers and friendship groups entirely by themselves (admittedly, unschooling sees that as a feature, not a bug). Similarly, a traditional school provides a framework for children to experience other cultures.
- That structured learning has proved so far to be the best way to intellectually develop a child. It provides them with motivation and puts them on a level field with their peers. While unschooling may be able to tailor education to the needs of an individual, the spread of abilities and competencies across all individuals would be huge.
- That human knowledge, rather than being ripe for the picking out of the world itself, must be taught in the familiar person-to-person fashion, requiring the use of a school in some form. This is particularly true of very simple skills such as reading and writing - which undoubtedly unschooling supporters will take for granted, possibly having forgotten what it's like to be illiterate.
- That unschooling, or lack of any organized structure outside the home, does not prepare children for any type of life away from their parents. Indeed, children will not learn discipline and basic skills necessary for success and will flounder in the regimented structure of a university or college setting.
- That there is a possibility that the child might grow up to be a spoiled brat, considering he or she was basically allowed to do whatever he or she wished to for all formative years.
- That unschooling fosters social awkwardness, alienation from peers, friends, and classmates, and a lack of respect for authority.
- Would a kid really learn by themselves?