(2) the stuff they teach in school is terribly important but so obscure that no one in the real world is likely to stumble upon it anywhere else, and if they do they won't be able to figure it out on their own, and (3) learning the terribly important things must be insisted upon, enforced, and even coerced.
Viewed from that belief system, I can see why unschoolers look like lazybones. We skip the hard part, let our kids play video games if they'd rather, and don't seem to care very much about the terribly important stuff (obscure or not).
But let's take a closer look...
Teaching is hard.
You bet your ass. Teaching is damned hard. Classroom management is hard. Engaging one or two little brains that would rather be playing video games is hard; engaging 25 to 30 of them is all but impossible. Butting up against district policies that get in the way of that engagement is hard. Sacrificing class time to idiotic curriculum choices is hard. Hurting kids to make a living is hard (see the last paragraph on the first page of that link, which is the resignation letter of John Taylor Gatto, who at that time was NY State Teacher of the Year).
And at home? Sitting your kids down at the kitchen table with a lesson plan and standing over them until they complete it is hard. In many cases, it is so hard that the kids end up back in school because neither the kids nor the parents can take it anymore.
Do unschoolers skip all that? You bet your ass.
The stuff they teach in school is terribly important...
Let's do a little experiment. Yesterday, somewhere between playing Minecraft with some friends from Not Back to School Camp and looking at vlogs, Chloe learned about Queen Ranavalona the First.
So, let's pretend I'm the school board and I have determined that it is terribly important for people your age—yes, your age, the exact age that you are right this minute as you read this blog post—it is terribly important for you to learn what Minecraft is and how much it costs, what the policy is on bedtimes at Not Back to School Camp, and all about Queen Ranavalona and why she might be of interest to an unschooler.
What's that? You don't think those things are terribly important? Welcome to the life of a schooled child.
But since we're pretending, let's pretend that one of those items in my little curriculum has piqued your interest. Maybe you're a teen or the parent of a teen who is interested in attending Not Back to School Camp and you would actually like to know about the bedtime policy. Or maybe you've never heard of Minecraft or Not Back to School Camp or Queen Ranavalona or vlogs, and I've made you curious.
Welcome to the life of a lucky schooled child.
But what about the basics?
They call them the basics for a reason. To reach age 15 without learning everything that is taught in elementary school is virtually impossible, provided no one has gotten in your way.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the typical course of study for grades 1 through 5.
But what about math?
At the very first LIFE is Good, my friend Mary Lewis gave a talk about math in which she discussed the work she was doing teaching math to math-phobic adults—that is, adults who had been through 10 to 13 years of school math and were so traumatized by it that they would freeze in terror if someone asked them to add some numbers together. Mary said these people would be far better off if they had never had a math lesson. This article by David Albert certainly makes her point.
But what about core concepts/a balanced education/learning history so it doesn't repeat itself/etc.?
I could argue (and if I can find an article I read recently about the origins of the phrase "balanced education" I just might). But let's say I concede the point. Let's say there is a core set of knowledge that an educated person must have. Terribly important stuff.
...so obscure that no one in the real world is likely to stumble upon it anywhere else...
But the obscure stuff—like Queen Ranavalona to your average American—is stuff that doesn't belong in the core set.
...and if they do they won't be able to figure it out on their own.
The rest? The not-obscure stuff? Kids will encounter it in the real world. When they do, they will have a reason to learn about it, and they will seek out the latest information about it instead of relying on some possibly propagandized, probably censored information they got a decade or more ago.
How will they do that? Well, let's go back to our pretend school and find out. I am your teacher now, working from the curriculum I've received from the school board, here to give you your assignment for the day: Open a new tab right now and find out who Queen Ranavalona was. If you already know who she was, find out the bedtime policy at NBTSC or how much Minecraft costs.
Everybody, get to work! You have two minutes.
Two minutes later... I suspect at most a third of you have done your assignment and the rest of you are faking it and hoping there won't be a test.
But even the fakers should be able to get my point here: what a person needs to know, she finds out.
Learning must be insisted upon, enforced, and even coerced.
Today, after hearing a radio snippet about the U.S. cutting aid to Egypt, Emma asked why we send money to other countries instead of spending it here. Why did she ask me that? Because she didn't understand. Because she was curious. Because it's relevant to her life, being related to current events that we've been discussing a bit here and to the financial situation of people she knows who are struggling in the recession.
Also today, Chloe finished reading "Lord of the Flies." Why? For entertainment. Because it's relevant to her life, having been mentioned in a vlog she's been enjoying. Because it's classic fiction that gets mentioned occasionally and she was curious.
Also today, you are reading the blog of an unschooling parent. Why? Why are you here? You don't have to answer that. Just think about it. What drove you to come to this page of the Internet? No wait, I changed my mind. Leave me a comment and tell me why you're here. I am curious.
And that's the answer to the test we're not having: Human beings are inherently curious. We seek out new information instinctively, even greedily. Learning does not need to be coerced; it is a given.
The school system is not what it appears to be. It is past time to start looking beyond the disguise.
Point, meet counterpoint.
The other origin of unschooling as "the lazy parent's approach to school" is the idea that unschooling is easy. Umm, no. Unschooling is fun, make no mistake, but it is also quite a lot of work. My post The cons of unschooling describes some of the work that is involved.