Sunday, August 28, 2005

Argument for Unschooling

I have been rereading Homeschooling with Gentleness and the second time around, I'm reading it with slightly different eyes. I wanted to point out her "Argument for Unschooling" on p 23, because I just skimmed it on the first reading and the second time, it jumped out at me:

Why Unschooling Makes Sense:

--What a child needs to learn (ie the 3Rs I suppose) is not hard in itself.
--A child has a natural ability and inclination to learn.
---A child also has a strong desire to imitate his parents: to know what they do and do what they do.
---A learner is the primary agent of his learning -- and acknowledging truth that avoids the danger of over-teaching or teaching things before the student is ready to learn.

These things are all said often, so often that I suppose my eye skipped over them the first reading, but I believe she supports them quite well with examples. Plus, I've seen all these principles at work in my own homeschool. They ring true with me.

I suppose the main thing that stills worry me a bit is:

Granted that learning the 3Rs is not difficult, are the basic 3Rs "enough"? Catholics have a long honorable tradition of intellectual excellence, involving the study of Latin and Greek, logic and rhetoric, etc. While not every student can or should be a second Thomas Aquinas, isn't there a sort of heritage beyond reading, writing and 'rithetic that we owe some sort of responsibility to?

I think Suzy Andres answers this by saying that her unschooling way is a "little way" -- not that it CAN'T produce scholars, but that it will suit itself to the individual child and his circumstances and gifts. IOW, many unschooled kids DO end up at Stanford and Harvard etc, but that path isn't for everyone and unschooling doesn't guarantee that kind of results.

But then the methods that DO claim to equip every kid for Harvard certainly don't produce 100 percent results, and basically the blame ends up with the homeschooling parents for doing it "wrong" or the kids for being unmotivated and lazy or dullwitted, etc.

In other words, unschooling has a POTENTIAL to produce scholars, and so do other methods -- but none of the methods ASSURE those results, so unschooling is honest about acknowledging this as a good thing and gearing itself to the unique child. Plus, the world does need some Catholic scholars but mostly needs well-formed and informed Catholic laity, and that's a lot more reachable goal.

I can see that -- but I suppose I worry that this more "classical" form of education takes years and years of work. A child can't just start up in his high school years -- or maybe he or she can?? I don't know -- my father spent his first 8 school years or so mostly wasting his time in a small rural school, then went to a rigorous academically oriented high school and excelled, and went on from there. He could do that because he was intellectually gifted and also hard-working and eager to take advantage of his academic opportunities, and those aren't things that are acquired by years of drudging through intellectual labor -- it's a matter of capability, and desire/will.


Oh, I think another way Suzy addresses the question about the 3Rs being "enough" is by her chapter on books as friends. A less bookish unschooler might address the question by pointing to community involvement, or historical re-enactments etc.

The 3Rs are "tools" for further exploration, but the "cultural heritage" part is addressed by exposing the child to, well, a cultural heritage. Whether books or whatever the parent WANTS his kids to grow up knowing and valuing -- those are the things that will be part of the family's life (hopefully).


Suzie said...

Hi Willa et al!
I followed the links from the Catholic Unschooling Board to this set of blog moments...and was pleasantly surprised to see your August reflections on my book!

I have a comment to add re. our rich Catholic heritage, classical learning and their relation to the unschooling child/family.

For us, as it's turned out, Latin has been a big part of Joseph's high school years. He's now in his senior year and not doing too much with it (just awaiting starting again at Thomas Aquinas College next year where everyone takes a two year Latin language tutorial). But for his Soph and Jr years he chose to take Latin at Christendom College, and got a fantastic immersion into the ancient poets, patristics, etc. He knew he wanted a liberal arts education, and so with the suggestion from us and the opportunity for the Latin, he was off and running.

He's also read a ton of C.S.Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and some Ronald Knox...and this year has started a Shakespeare reading group that meets once a week (about a dozen teenagers read through the plays).

I'd have to say I can't imagine anyone being much more "relaxed" than we are...(don't get me wrong, I'm often interiorly a nervous wreck, but on the outside I cultivate 'relaxed'!)...and yet much of the Catholic/classical stuff has been going on in our home, and with great freedom and joy.

Often to my suprise (!) unschooling really seems to work--and can be as rich and varied for us as are the children themselves.
God bless,

Willa said...

Thanks very much for your comment, Suzie. Your book was a big help in helping me to deal with the interior side of homeschooling. "Cultivating" is about the right word for what I felt took place as I delved into unschooling; I felt that I grew and dug up some fallow places in the process.

My oldest son Liam will be a senior at TAC next year. He has done very well there, which indicates to me that this cultivation or culturation that comes with Catholic unschooling can be very successful by the measurements that seem of most value to me.

I love the idea of the Shakespeare reading and wish we had that in our area, but most of the play readings we do, we do in our own home or with friends that we meet a few times a year. I am glad though that God provides so many diverse environments!

Thanks again for commenting.