Unlike many other middle schoolers, at eight years old, Sierra Allens quit school. However, her reason for quitting was not to stop her education. In fact, her reason for quitting was to pursue a different way of learning; unschooling. It has been two decades since Sierra quit school. In an interview, she says she does not regret it and even made it easier for her to build her own life. How does one learn outside of school and what does it mean to be an unschooler? Let’s find out!
What is unschooling?
Unschooling is a type of informal learning that focuses on what the student wants to learn as their curriculum. There is no fixed curriculum and students can choose what they want to learn daily. Families who want their children to have a more natural way of learning through curiosity usually adopt unschooling. The learning is through natural life experiences such as personal interests, household responsibilities, play, travel, social interaction, books, and many more. There is no limit to the curriculum. So this means a day’s lesson could include learning to cook, draw, climb, or even hobby skills. A key characteristic that revolves around unschooling is the curiosity of the student.
Unschooling was founded by a teacher, John Holt. After working in schools for several years, Holt realized that many of his students’ motivation for learning was the fear of failure and criticism rather than a passion for learning. After this experience, he started a newsletter through which he started the unschooling philosophy.
Unschooling has become a controversial way of education because of its lack of structure and curriculum. Some of the criticism it has gotten is that it is a form of child neglect and disadvantages children in terms of social skills. Most of these sentiments stem from worries of the child being unable to adapt to society when they are adults. But is it all that bad?
Benefits of unschooling
One benefit of unschooling is that it is more sustainable in the long-run compared to normal schooling. Often one of the many struggles students face in school is that they don’t like the subjects they are learning, but they still have to take those lessons as they are compulsory. Unschooling is driven by the student’s interest in something, which makes it more enjoyable for them and may be sustained through a passion for it.
With a self-directed education, students can learn at their own pace. This may mean taking much more time to go through a topic and looking up additional resources that are not only from textbooks and this can help to broaden their understanding. Compared to unschooling, school curriculums have set dates by which topics must be learnt and does not consider different student learning paces. Unschooling’s flexibility could help to reduce the stress of studying as unschoolers do not have to worry about keeping up with their peers.
As Mark Twain once said
“I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Students often feel quite limited when learning, as schools have a set structure of subjects that they teach. However, the topics that unschooling covers are unlimited as there is no fixed curriculum. It supports creativity and discovery and is a type of education that is really student-centric.
Disadvantages of unschooling
However, there are many concerns regarding children who are unschooled. Some of these include, being illiterate and unable to do necessary skills like reading and writing. In Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel memoir, Gender Queer: A Memoir, as a result of being unschooled, Maia entered public school at 9 years old being unable to read or write and was very far behind other peers. This resulted in Maia feeling a sense of shame and having to take extra classes to catch up.
Other concerns of unschooled children include lacking social skills. Most unschooled children are educated at home and may not have access to peers their own age except for siblings. Thus, it may be difficult for them to adapt to large groups of people should they decide to pursue further education in university or when they enter the workforce.
Is unschooling the same as homeschooling?
At the mention of unschooling, you may wonder if it is the same as homeschooling. Though unschooling is a form of homeschooling, it is not the same. Both comprise educating children outside of school settings and involve parents, but that is where their similarities end. Homeschooling still follows a set curriculum, whereas unschooling does not.
In both types of education, parents are usually very involved. However, unschooling is not directed by a teacher and curriculum. This is because unschooling believes that teaching is done through the child’s experiences rather than knowledge imparted by an authority figure. Parents who unschool their children act as facilitators to guide their children and provide them resources rather than teach them.
If you’d like to find out more about homeschooling, you can check out our article on it here.
Does unschooling have a role in Asia?
Unschooling seems to be the polar opposite of most Asian education systems. Asian education systems are well-known for their high intensity, strict curriculum and huge emphasis on grades such as China’s high stake gaokao examination or Korea’s hagwons (cram schools). Students are often overworked, stressed and little time to pursue their passions.
Most articles regarding unschooling seem to be written by people living in non-Asian countries and it makes me wonder if unschooling can play a role in Asia?
Personally, I feel like there are 2 main obstacles stopping unschooling from gaining popularity in Asia.
Unschooling requires a lot of time, especially on the parents part. It requires parents to be able to spend time their children to guide them whenever needed. Knowing Asia’s strict working culture such as the 9-9-6 work culture (which means working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week), it will be difficult for Asian parents to find time to be at home for their child’s learning. It also requires a lot of creativity and resources to ensure that the child has productive learning.
In Asia, paper qualifications are everything. This means that many companies mainly look at school qualifications like graduation certificates and grades to determine if they want to hire someone. Though some unschooled children may have the skills for the job, they may also face barriers as most jobs require an official school certification as a means to prove that you are skilled. Perhaps unschooled children may trump their peers in jobs that are more skilled based such as coding and design. However, for jobs that require strict certifications, unschooled children would find difficulty getting into them.
Additionally, there is also the aspect of cultural expectations. In most Asian cultures, academic education is highly valued. Acceptance into prominent universities and high academic standing are regarded as success indicators. If a parent does not encourage their child to compete in the academic rat race, they will be perceived as a negligent parent. Thus, it would be difficult to adopt unschooling for most Asian families.
Whether you agree or not with unschooling, one thing for sure is that we can learn so much from it. For one, the focus on a child’s curiosity and fostering passion in them is very key to the learning process. Perhaps not everyone has to adopt this method of schooling. However, schools can work towards adopting such values in their own curriculum to make schooling a much more inclusive and enjoyable experience for all.