Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Musing: Homeschooling Vs. Unschooling

We're part-time unschoolers. Unschooling purists will object to that definition, since, for them, unschooling is black and white. You're either unschooling or you're not. For example, if the parent insists on daily math lessons but leaves everything else up to the child, then that's not unschooling. Unschooling is leaving everything up to the child, with no forced lessons of any kind.

We tried the purist's definition of unschooling for a few months last year, and it kind of worked and kind of didn't. It worked in the sense that my kids spent a lot of time doing the things they loved, and they learned quite a bit about their specific areas of interest. It didn't work in the sense that Alex ignored everything having to do with math and both girls forgot a lot of Spanish vocabulary.

I get the unschooling philosphy, I truly do. Let your child completely follow their own interests, whatever those interests may be, guide your child to all kinds of resources, and the education will take care of itself. However, there are a lot of wonderful disciplines that require a solid mathematical background. Hugh and I feel that if you're comfortable with mathematics and if you can read and comprehend a variety of complex texts, then you're prepared for a greater variety of career options than if you choose to do the least amount of math possible and read only the simplest of books.

At the same time, I recognize the value in letting the child decide what's important to him or her, and I do believe kids will learn what they need to know, without any prompting from adults, to get the careers they eventually desire.

Obviously, I'm conflicted. Deep down, I think I want our family to be complete unschoolers. I'm liberal, and I have great respect for the intelligence and capabilities of children. However -- and this is a big however -- I can't let go of that nagging feeling that the girls should have a thorough understanding of math up to calculus and they ought to be able to speak another language. And they should be able to read -- really read. And they should have a basic understanding of a scientific field of their choosing. It's also helpful to have a grasp of the history and prehistory of the world. And so on.

Since I can't completely let go and fly with the unschooling purists, our girls' home education represents a hodgepodge of philosophies. There are days when we go over math, history, science, handwriting, reading, grammar, writing, geography, art, music, Latin, Spanish, etc. etc. Then there are days when the girls do whatever they choose. There are also days when we do a few formal things in the morning and then hang loose (usually outside) all afternoon and evening. This is the best I can do in terms of reconciling what I want our family to do and what my old academic self feels our family ought to do.

I'm going to keep perusing those unschooling websites, though. One of these months we may actually make the leap for good.


Dennis Paul Himes said...

I didn't know the girls were studying Latin. I learnt it in college, and then it got rusty, but a few years ago I decided I would relearn it, which I've done from Wheelock's book. I'm still not nearly as comfortable with it as I'd like to be, but I still read it regularly (I'm now working on Cicero's De Officiis). The only person I know who also knows Latin enough that I can discuss it with him is Mike O'Brien (Amicus).

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Alex is learning Latin. She's very good at it. Picks up patterns quickly and has no trouble translating. Sage hasn't started yet, but she looks forward to it (since Alex likes it). Next time we meet, maybe you and Alex should practice on each other. :)