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A good delineation of unschooling vs. homeschooling (in case anyone was bored)


The text is here for anyone who doesn't want to mess with going to a website:

Unschooling or Homeschooling?

by Billy Greer

What is the difference between unschooling and homeschooling? At one time
they were just two terms for the same thing, so the question was like asking what
the difference is between a car and an automobile. Today, homeschooling has
remained a generic term while unschooling has come to refer to a specific type
of homeschooling. So now the question is like asking what the difference is
between a Ferrari and a car. Just what is it about unschooling that
differentiates it from other types of homeschooling enough to warrant its own term?

Before we look at that question, let's look at a history of the words. At one
time, there was no special term for people who took their children out of the
public school system to teach them at home. If you look at references to
education before there even was a public school system, you will see phrases such
as "tutored at home," "self-taught," or "no formal education" to refer to
people we might now call homeschooled.

Even after the modern homeschooling movement got started, there wasn't a
standard term for what these parents were doing. People simply referred to
teaching their children at home, or not sending them to school. In issue #108 of
Growing Without Schooling, Susannah Sheffer tells us that the first issue of GWS
(published in 1977), did not even make use of the term homeschooling. In issue
#2, John Holt used the term unschooling, but it was used as a general term for
what we now call homeschooling. In issue #118 of GWS, Aaron Falbel tells us
that Holt wrote in issue #2 of GWS (Nov. 1977) that they [GWS] would use
unschooling "when we mean taking kids out of school." Falbel goes on to say that it
wasn't until the early 1980's that the term homeschooling became more popular.

I don't know when it happened or who first used the phrase, but it is pretty
easy to see that if most kids went to public school, then people might say
kids who were taught at home went to "home school." As the term has become more
an accepted part of our vocabulary, it has moved from the novelty phrase "home
schooling" (in quotes) to home schooling (no quotes), to home-schooling
(hyphenated), and now homeschooling (one word).

John Holt is considered the father of unschooling and the person who coined
the term. In Holt's early writings, he seemed to hold out hope that the school
system could be fixed, but he later became more convinced that parents were
better off taking their kids out of schools. I imagine that it then seemed
natural to him to refer to the process of not sending your kids to school as
unschooling, as in not schooling.

While the terms may have been interchangeable originally, that is no longer
the case today. Unschooling has become associated with the particular style of
homeschooling in which no set curriculum is used. Where the split originated
is hard to say, but part of the reason for the division is probably because of
the words themselves. Homeschooling carries an implication of
schooling-at-home, while unschooling connotes that what you are doing is the opposite of
school. People who accepted the teaching techniques of school but wanted more
control over the subject matter, socialization, or morals that their children were
exposed to might readily accept the term homeschooling. People who disliked
the teaching techniques and environment of school might be more inclined to use
the term unschooling.

Currently, homeschooling is considered to span a spectrum from those who
school-at-home to those who unschool. The school-at home designation is
self-explanatory. This group revels in all the trappings of school! They may have the
same desks used in the public schools, some of the same text books, and they may
even start each day by ringing a bell and saying the pledge of allegiance.
The parent assumes the role of teacher, preparing lesson plans, assigning
homework or tests, and grading papers. Their "holy grail" is the search for the
perfect curriculum, the one that will cover everything their children need to

What is it that unschoolers do? Where do you find a curriculum package that
will help you to be an unschooler? The reason that unschooling is hard to
explain and hard for some people to understand, is that it is not a technique that
can be broken down to a step by step process. Rather, unschooling is an
attitude, a way of life. Where most homeschooling puts the emphasis on what needs to
be learned, unschooling puts the emphasis on who is doing the learning. This
makes it a very personalized experience and one that does not lend itself well
to the one size-fits-all approach of a commercial curriculum package.

What are some of the unintended lessons of a "school" approach to learning?
First of all, the student is taught that learning is something that takes place
in a certain location at certain times. From 8 to 3 you do lessons at your
desk. Learning is also unpleasant and often boring, so it is usually a relief
when "school" is finally out. Students become used to the idea that learning
requires a teacher - someone more knowledgeable than them. This follows the old
model of learning in which students are empty cups waiting to be filled and the
teacher is the pitcher full of knowledge that will fill them. This also
emphasizes the idea that students must be taught - in other words, what happens to
you (learning) is the result of what someone else does to you (teaching).
School also reinforces the idea that learning is a linear process. You work and
add knowledge incrementally over time in a steady process. To get from point A
to point C, you must first pass point B.

In unschooling, learning can happen anywhere and at anytime. It is an
ongoing, natural process - part of the journey we call life. It is not unpleasant or
boring anymore than breathing, eating or sleeping are. There is no sense of
relief that school is out because learning is always happening. Students also
know that they are responsible for their learning. They do not need an "expert"
to teach them. If they have an interest, they can go out and pursue the
knowledge they need. This is another fundamental difference between a schoolish
approach and an unschooling model. School is a case of knowledge (that someone
else has determined to be important) in pursuit of the student, while unschooling
puts the student in pursuit of the knowledge (which they have decided is
important). In this role, parents are not teachers who always know more than their
children, they are often fellow learners making the journey along with their
children. (See the side bar for more comments about the non-linear learning of

It is unfortunate that the older term "unschooled" often means uneducated. As
unschooling gains acceptance and its effectiveness is recognized, the
dictionaries will have to be corrected to reflect the positive aspects of someone who
has been educated by unschooling.

School is a case of knowledge (that someone else has determined to be
important) chasing after the student, while unschooling puts the student chasing
after the knowledge (that they have decided is important)

Have you noticed that unschooling doesn't result in a steady increase in
learning? You'll have periods where it seems like nothing is happening. You may
find yourself wondering if your kids are learning anything or if they ever will.
Suddenly, something will click and your kids immerse themselves in a subject.
You can barely drag them away from what they are doing or keep up with the
questions they have.

In pursuing this new interest with them, you will discover they know about
many things that they seem to have just absorbed out of the air they breathe.

In retrospect, those periods where nothing seemed to be happening were
probably laying the foundation for that sudden "knowledge spurt." There are
similarities with physical growth that suggest this is a natural pattern. Studies have
shown that infants do not grow steadily. They may stay exactly the same size
for weeks, then suddenly grow as much as an inch in only a few days. This is
very different from the steady, gradual pattern that growth charts might lead
you to expect.

Where most homeschooling puts the emphasis on what needs to be learned,
unschooling puts the emphasis on who is doing the learning.

Taken from issue 12 of F.U.N. News

Danielle Conger

Unschooling or Homeschooling?

by Billy Greer

Billy Greer and his wife are big names around here. They live in the county just north of mine. I understand they're just incredibly thoughtful, interesting, warm people. They have lots of good things to say, and they're website is well worth exploring. I was excited to see that he was going to be a vendor (?) at the Live and Learn Conference.


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--- In [email protected], SandraDodd@a... wrote:

<<A good delineation of unschooling vs. homeschooling (in case
anyone was bored)>>

Thank you, I have already forwarded this to my DH and my MIL,
neither of whom have expressed a dislike of unschooling, they just
don't really understand what exactly it is. Hopefully, this will