Sunday, January 28, 2007


Submitted for your approval: Today's Tennessean article on the latest idea in educating children, a program called "unschooling" that takes the home-schooling concept one step further. The theory behind unschooling is that kids should develop their natural curiosity to learn about the world at their own pace and pursue their own interests, with little or no structure from parents or professional educators:

It's midday on a Friday, and 9-year-old Miyana flips through a book about dragons before her attention turns to making Valentine's Day cards at the kitchen table.

Her sister, Aeyah, 7, across the table, expertly threads a needle and sews a tiny cape for a clothespin superhero.

While other children their age are quietly sitting in a classroom, the Fisher-Miller children have the freedom to pass the time without order and doing as they please in their pursuit of knowledge.

Younger brother Ocea, almost 2, drops marbles into the bell of a trumpet. "He's using it as a funnel," says their mother, Suzanne Fisher-Miller. Brother Khai, 5, plays noisily with two friends, the back door slamming shut as they run in and out.

What may look like bedlam is a radical style of home schooling that the Fisher-Miller parents think is best for their children: unschooling. It's child-directed or child-led learning. Some call it relaxed home schooling. Topics aren't learned until a child expresses curiosity, and they're dropped as soon as the child is ready to move on.

Their curriculum is whatever interests them in life. There are no textbooks in their East Nashville home, nor lesson plans, schedules or tests.

Their parents say this unconventional style of learning shows respect for their children as full human beings who can learn lessons from everyday life.

Children, they feel, don't need to master reading or multiplication tables until they're ready. These families reject the structure of formal schooling that, they say, crushes creativity and curiosity.

I'm not a big fan of homeschooling for two reasons. First, I think children need the socialization experience of school. Second, no matter how educated parents may be, there are bound to be gaps in the parents' knowledge that they can't cover adequately, yet the kids need to know those things. I'm also concerned that a lot of parents are strapped for time as it is, and homeschooling adds one more big job to the list.

I realize that the public schools have their problems, though, and homeschooling and its variants provide a way for concerned parents to have alternatives to what they see as a failed system. I welcome your thoughts on this, presuming that I still have some readers left.