Unschooling and Social Change

It is common to find support in academia and the media for many of the concepts and principles embedded in unschooling, such as self-directed learning; respect, understanding, and trust for children; building effective family and community connections; replacing standardized testing with authentic learning assessments; getting parents to be more involved in their children's education, and so on. However, it is quite rare to find outright support for unschooling from these same sources. They turn the research and studies back to how they can be used to keep children in school longer and make them more amenable to school techniques and requirements. In short, school advocates use the research and studies to support the existing school model by thinking that giving a child a curriculum with options they must choose is the same as allowing self-directed learning for a child.

To suggest, as Holt and Illich do, that society itself needs to be deschooled/unschooled is beyond the pale. Indeed, many educators grasp the importance of letting children learn through their own joy and passions, but almost none recommend that unschooling can be a sound way to do so. Even fewer dare to be education heretics and question why we need to box children into schools and how else they might learn and grow in today's world.

Fortunately, not all educators and academics are buying into this notion any more. I maintain this list of scholarly research about unschooling and don't often find things to add to it, but in just the past two weeks I had the pleasure to read two articles where the value of unschooling for society overall is seriously considered.

This essay, by Prof. Jeffrey Nalls, is a good description of how Holt's work with unschooling contains a strong stance not just about how children learn, but also about how society can be changed for the better:

Whatever one may think of homeschooling, let us at least recognize the radically progressive moral and political motivations of one of the movement’s principle founders, John Holt. Failing to do so, we may overlook an important, if not fundamental, avenue for significant social change, as well as dishonor the life of someone who spent much of his adulthood laboring for a better world.

The second article is an interview with Prof. Jennifer Vadeboncoeur and its title says it all: Better Schools through Unschooling?

I hope you enjoy reading them and that you'll let me know what you think about unschooling as a force for social change, not just a force for your own family's change.