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Sunday, February 27, 2011

How Unschooling Compliant is Unschooling Rules?

For some dedicated practioners and theorists, there is an approach to childhood education called "Unschooling" that strives to eliminate all forms of coercion from the process (see my post [here] and [here] for some reasons why). This approach can overlap, but is not synonymous, with "homeschooling" which can be seen as a broader umbrella concept that focuses on transferring the primary responsibility for the education of children to their parents, who may or may not then use other organizations to help them out, such as libraries, camps, workbooks, and youth groups.

Given that, there is a valid question about my new book Unschooling Rules from some that basically asks, "How Unschooling compliant is Unschooling Rules?"

My goal in researching and writing Unschooling Rules was not to define a pure take on any one of these alternative approaches (including Unschooling) but to consider the broader (and heretofore under-researched) concept of, "how are people outside of the day-to-day influence of schools framing the challenges of a) identifying the genuine best practices of schools, while b) leaving behind ineffective legacy processes and industrial conceits, and then c) filling in the considerable gaps, as they create a rich education?" The research definitely included a fair share of Unschoolers (big-U) to create a take on what might be called unschooling (little-u).

To highlight the differences, the idea that most betrays the hard-core Unschoolers is included in Unschooling Rules #2: "Focus on Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic." As much as Unschooling Rules strives to eliminate a directive and coercive leadership style and provide numerous alternative approaches (as well as shed away the curricula bloat that is suffocating many traditional schools), it does frame out a few core skills that really have to be developed by the time a child enters the productive world. And if the infinitely more powerful techniques of collaboration, participation, and self-direction are failing, either in a few targeted areas of these core skills for any student, or potentially broadly for some sliver of the population, more directive and coercive techniques (similar to a school approach, for example) should be used. This perspective is consistent with and derived from the majority of people I interviewed that met the criterion of people striving to deconstruct schools and reconstruct education in total, but not those who self-identified with Unschoolng.

It would be unfair of me to attempt to co-opt and possibly undermine an established term. Similarly, it would be tricky to invent new terms to further muddy the waters. So perhaps the best I can say is this book is more about unschooling than Unschooling.

Regardless of definitions, it will be the spectrum of options and real diversity of paths that is our best approach (more effective and actually affordable) for education for the families of any country moving forward. (And note: both Unschooling and Tiger-momming take a lot of parent work.) And, hopefully, by taking the path it does, Unschooling Rules even avoids the hypocrisy of attempting to coerce people to be uncoercive.


  1. "Unschooling compliant?" How silly! There are no rules. ;-) I look forward to growing the concept and expanding the "spectrum of options" through dialog and each family's personal experiences.

  2. Unschooling compliant--now there's a term I never expected to hear. I'd be happier if we could just talk about learning without throwing labels in there. If we start capitalizing, people will be really confused.