The entitled classes
Gaby, 9, and Sydney Billings, 7, with their toddler
brother, Dylan, make their own decisions about lessons.
Home Schoolers Content to Take Children’s Lead
Sally Ryan for The New York Times
By SUSAN SAULNY
Published: November 26, 2006
CHICAGO, Nov. 23 — On weekdays, during what are normal school hours for most students, the Billings children do what they want. One recent afternoon, time passed loudly, and without order or lessons, in their home in a North Side neighborhood here.I'm no fan of home schooling. I don't know anyone who can afford to do it. Unless you're willing to be poor or have a really good job, it ain't happening.
Hayden Billings, 4, put a box over his head and had fun marching into things. His sister Gaby, 9, told stories about medieval warrior women, while Sydney, 6, drank hot chocolate and played with Dylan, the baby of the family.
In a traditional school setting, such free time would probably be called recess. But for Juli Walter, the children’s mother, it is “child-led learning,” something she considers the best in home schooling.
“I learned early on that when I do things I’m interested in,” Ms. Walter said, “I learn so much more.”
As the number of children who are home-schooled grows — an estimated 1.1 million nationwide — some parents like Ms. Walter are opting for what is perhaps the most extreme application of the movement’s ideas. They are “unschooling” their children, a philosophy that is broadly defined by its rejection of the basic foundations of conventional education, including not only the schoolhouse but also classes, curriculums and textbooks.
In some ways it is as ancient a pedagogy as time itself, and in its modern American incarnation, is among the oldest home-schooling methods. But it is also the most elusive, a cause of growing concern among some education officials and social scientists.
“It is not clear to me how they will transition to a structured world and meet the most basic requirements for reading, writing and math,” said Luis Huerta, a professor of public policy and education at Teachers College of Columbia University, whose national research includes a focus on home schooling.
There is scant data on the educational results of unschooling, and little knowledge about whether the thousands of unschooled children fare better or worse than regularly schooled students. There is not even reliable data on how many people are unschooling, though many experts suggest the number is growing.
Here in Chicago, a group called the Northside Unschoolers has 100 families registered on its online list. There are similar organizations coast to coast, including the San Francisco Bay Unschooling Network, Unschoolers Unlimited in Guilford, Conn., and the Unschoolers of the Ozarks, serving Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, although accurate figures for the number of families they serve are hard to come by. Adherents say the rigidity of school-type settings and teacher-led instruction tend to stifle children’s natural curiosity, setting them up for life without a true love of learning
“The important things that you need to know are important because they’re useful to know,” Ms. Tucker said. “We all desire to get up and learn to walk because it’s a useful skill to have. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that, just an infant. Will had never been given a lesson in reading, but he read at 7. I tell people it took him seven years to learn to read because all of his experiences added up to learning how to read.”
But here's my point, well two: you sometimes have to do things you do not want to do, want to learn to do, but must learn. Also, you never know what you'll need to know.
Yes, some of these kids are very bright, but what if they have learning disabilities or even poor vision? How do you detect that?
One of the things I find is that kids need to develop their character away from adults. If your entire childhood is defined by adults, when do you learn to deal with your peers. Scouts and sports are adult directed activities. When do you learn to trade lunches or video games. How do you form bonds with your peers when no adults are around?
These parents seem obsessively involved in their kids lives. They don't have any room to breathe.
Even more disturbing, where is the parental leadership? Oh, do what you want and hope for the best? What if he wants to frag aliens, day after day, for months on end?
My best memories of school, and where my self esteem was developed, came from the ability to execute tasks I didn't want to. It was a challenge and I had to do more than I thought I could, to meet standards from people who didn't love me.
Everybody does things they're interested in well. Sometimes life isn't like that.
Mkay Jen here again...wildy overtired; Gilly, sorry to be a bug's ass and piggyback on your posts but this one is just too juicy to pass up. So, while I digest my vegetarian Thai tofu (man, that was hot...) and try to get un-overtired at 1:30 AM, let me speak thusly on the topic at hand:
1) Why does this come as a surprise to anybody? Rich, self-entitled white folks already seem to make a cult in some cases about not restricting or disciplining their kids, or providing any "adult time/kid time" divisions. Shit, I've met more yuppies who would let their precious fertility-drug crotch droppings run through a bridal store with a cherry sno-cone than you could shake a Taser at. This kind of "schooling" is just a more extreme version of the "I'm too tired/bored/stupid/selfish to parent properly so I'll just say I'm letting them find their own boundaries" parenting method.
2) These kids are going to grow up to be unemployable, unsocializable freaks. Case in point: One of my best friend's siblings has a child with obvious speech and neurological disabilities. He's very bright, but has a palette defect that would require surgery to correct. Well, Mom is too nuts to take him for an MRI. Or any other diagnostic test. This may upset the little darling, after all. Oh, and she refuses to vaccinate him. So, she is leaning towards "homeschooling" even though she has zero qualifications, and even less than zero RE the speech impediment. This kid will NEVER have any friends outside of his front door at this rate. If anything, this is a model case for saying that some kind of regulation of homeschooling needs to hapen, and at the most extreme, the kids' situation here could be seen as child abuse.
The sprogs in this particular story are already becoming functionally retarded compared to their peers.
Let me add that public schooling also helps point out where kids' deficiencies are, as they have a peer group to be compared to. I was reading at 18 months. No shit. Spoke in two-word sentences at 11 months. Freak of nature, yeah? Well, kindergarten changed that when it became clear that I couldn't do division or multiplication for shit compared to my age group. Yes, I got advance reading development at my public school but also the help in math when I needed it. Had I been homeschooled, I'm sure that folks would've just cooed over my verbal skills and let the crappy math slide. In "unschooling" I never would have had the challenges of pushing my limits early RE advanced reading and writing assignments.
Coddling kids and telling them that whatever they do is perfect is not an epiphany; it's just lazy parenting.
Then again, I'm sure that the 'rents here went to some tiny liberal arts college that cost a fortune but gave out lots of A's. Slide through life on excuses for your shortcomings and you certainly wouldn't want any objective measures for your kids.
posted by Steve @ 1:36:00 AM