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Monday, November 22, 2010

For me, unschooling means as much questioning everything as rejecting everything.

There is a branch of cognitive science known as "eliminative materialism." Basically, the premise is that most of the terms we use to describe cognitive states, such as "love" and "ambition," are "old science" from thousands of years ago. There is no other science that uses such dated terms. Making progress in understanding the brain requires coming up with new terms.
Likewise, my approach to the concept of unschooling is exactly the same. I do not believe the term should be used to mean, "do the opposite of schools." That is giving schools too much power.
Nor do I believe completely in the approach of, "provide a rich environment but never use the directive leadership approach of telling kids what to do." We must tell our children to look both ways before crossing the road. Experiential learning, while effective, can have too high of a cost.
Rather, we have to start over when it comes to school, much as we have had to start over when it comes to packaged foods. I do not reject milk, for example, just because industrial milk has been over-processed to a point of near worthlessness. Rather, I accept the premise of the importance of milk, reject the industrial milk product as much as possible, and get raw milk instead.
I bring all of this up because of two recent reviews of Unschooling Rules, both now available at Bob Collier's "must-read" The Parental Intelligence Newsletter. Both Bob and Wendy Priesnitz have written excellent reviews that bring up many great points. (The best reviews explore not just the text in question, but the broader concepts as well - something both people have done.)
Wendy brought up a pretty important concept. She wondered if any framework of "core curriculum" was anathema. She wrote in her review:
[Clark Aldrich] writes about a "critical core curriculum," all three words with which many unschoolers would disagree.
Wendy's quote refers to two places in the book. First I wrote:
The content you need to know is fairly focused. From the traditional curricula, what you need to know is mostly centered in a few classic school areas such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. What you need to know should also be expanded as well to include areas not covered in traditional curricula, such as stewardship, project management, innovation, and security.
And then later on in the book, I wrote:
Math must be part of a critical core curriculum. It is one of the few subjects (along with reading and writing) worth "forcing" students to know. No one should enter the productive world, nor can they make good life decisions, without a deep and comfortable experience with math.
I am as critical of a directive leadership approach in education as almost all. Yet I believe those two statements are justified, even in the context of "unschoolers," as well as the challenge of "unschooling."


  1. From the next issue of my newsletter, the link to the reviews will be:

    I'll add a link also to the nav bar of my website as soon as I can get to that. :-)