Monday, May 19, 2008

List -- Classical & Unschooling Comparison

The discussion at barefoot meandering has been closed by KathyJo now (after 93 comments, no wonder!), but during the course of it, an interesting sub-thread developed about the possibly different worldviews and goals of classical homeschooling and unschooling (particularly radical unschooling).

In the combox, I wrote a list of ideas which seemed to me to overlap between the two, and I am reposting it here since this blog actually started with the thesis that Catholic classical thinking on learning coincided more than one would think with some of the ideals of unschooling.

So here goes:

  1. –”All men by nature desire to know”. Aristotle. It’s a strong desire that’s inherent in people.
  2. –Education (however defined) is more than equipment for the intellect — it ought to involve the whole person.
  3. –The learner is the primary agent in learning, NOT the teacher, who is secondary.
  4. – Education is not a matter of degrees pasted on the wall, but rather something that forms the individual, something that he or she acquires internally.
  5. –Informal methods are more effective than formal — discovery leads to a higher quality of knowledge than instruction.
  6. – Knowledge is interconnected and one of the highest goals of knowledge is to see the connections between different areas.
  7. – Traditional education (meaning educational practices since pragmatic, utilitarian turn to standard public education in the early 1900’s) is often misguided in its aims (to create good servants of the economy) and correspondingly in its methods.
  8. –Education (learning) is a lifelong process. You don’t stop — it becomes a habit of mind, a way of life.
  9. – Wisdom begins in wonder, as Socrates said. Learning ought to be valued for its sheer intrinsic worth, not for where it gets you.


  • Classical education encourages looking at the principles behind the rules, and so does radical unschooling.
  • And one final one that came up which overlaps with the one just above -- classical types and unschoolers both tend to think of authority as something to be complied with only when it is right. In other words, neither values obedience (say to the State) as more important than virtue. Obedience, properly understood, is focused towards compliance with the good.

Now, surely there are many points of divergence too but that is for a different post.

Notes on the list:

One commenter said she would change education in #4 to "learning" since education unfortunately has become a loaded word, meaning something like "standard-based outcomes". That does seem to be true. I like the word but I probably would not if I had only heard it from the mouths of politicians and the NEA.

Drew Campbell thought that #1 and #5 were true only partly and in some circumstances, not true at all times absolutely. I am paraphrasing his comment below but you can find it in entirety in Kathy Jo's combox.

With #1, he agreed that we are "neurologically wired" to learn and make sense of our world but did not think it followed that we will all learn what is best to learn. People's reason can be misled by their appetite or spirit (to use Aristotle's terminology in Nichomachean Ethics) . Aquinas says that studiousness, the desire to learn and know, can be pulled off course by curiosity (interest in what is dangerous, trivial, or unsuitable in some other way) or by sloth (indifference, laziness, disinclination to put out the work necessary). Article here. There is also probably a difficulty with ignorance (I think Drew pointed this out somewhere else). You need to find out what is valuable to learn before you can learn what is valuable.

With #5, he thought that it would be correct to say broadly that students should "own" their knowledge, but he did not agree that to a classical educator informal methods are always better than formal, or that discovery necessarily leads to a higher quality of knowledge. This article that he wrote gives more detail. To quote:

So freedom, yes, but within limits. We may legitimately use methods of discovery, both empirical and Socratic, to educate our children where those methods are proper to the field of endeavor. We must use didactic methods in disciplines where they are appropriate. But we must never substitute the child's nature, his free will, for a wise teacher. We cannot abandon our responsibility to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, including the natural orders of knowledge and authority that God has ordained.
I suppose the terms I used, "discovery", "formal", "informal" were not really carefully defined in my listed item. I got the "informal/formal" terminology from Kolbe Academy's Implementation of Ignatian Education in the Home and you can find it stated in this pdf "Synopsis of Ignatian Education". The exact words are:

The informal agencies are more effective than the formal.
But if you asked me, I find I would have to make up my own definition of the meaning of this. It could be that it would differ from what Kolbe means by the sentence. I took it to mean that most of the formal agencies have to rest on the foundation of the informal. So yeah, it would definitely not be the same thing as saying "therefore only informal agencies should be used".

The discovery/instruction terminology is from Aquinas's De Magistro. I quoted the relevant part before on the blog. I'll just pull out a small part:

Now if someone proposes to another certain ideas that are not self-evident or if he does not manifest how they follow from self-evident principles, then he does not cause knowledge in that person, but rather opinion or belief. For those ideas that follow necessarily from the first self evident principles have to be true, and those that are contrary to them have to be false. But to all other ideas he can give his assent or not.
It is by no means a bad thing to have belief in something you are told on others' authority, particularly if you have reason to trust that authority, but it is not the same thing as knowledge.

There is more here on the distinction between knowledge and belief according to Aquinas. A couple of quotes:

Knowledge begins in sense and is completed in the intellect...

There are two different types of knowledge: sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge. Sense experience is the beginning for all of man's natural knowledge. It begins in the senses, and is completed in the intellect (Bourke, 1960, p. 12). There is a dual operation to the intellect. One operation is the understanding of indivisibility, where the intellect grasps the reality of each item in itself; the other operation relates to combining and distinguishing (Bourke, 1960, p. 14).

The second type of knowledge, intellectual knowledge, is abstract and general....The general ability to understand covers simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning. Simple apprehension is when the mind accepts an object without affirming or denying it. The issue of judgment is the reality that two objects are in agreement or disagreement. Reasoning is the production of new judgment by means of two others.

From reading Drew's article I am thinking that he is saying that formal agencies are useful in teaching the second type of knowledge (depending upon how the word "formal" is understood). Aquinas says of how to guide in matters of reason:

Now in those things that come about by nature and art, art works in the same way and uses the same sorts of tools as nature.... in the acquisition of knowledge, the teacher leads the student to the knowledge of things the student previously did not know in the same way that someone leads himself to discover what he previously did not know.

The process of discovery begins with applying common self-evident principles to particular subject matters, and then proceeding to some particular conclusions, and then from these moving on to other conclusions. In light of this, one is said to teach another, when he makes clear through certain signs the path (discursum) of reasoning he himself took. Thus the teacher's presentations are like tools that the natural reason of the student uses to come to an understanding of things previously unknown to him.
If you define this process of instruction by the teacher as "formal" then probably yes, formal agencies are valuable and effective in guiding a student to knowledge. I just read something about that recently; I can't remember where it was but if I find it I'll add it to the blog.

If you are a classical educator or unschooler who has a problem with any of the things I put on the list, or can think of another to add, I would really really like to know.


Laura A said...

Willa, I find this very, very interesting. I have been wondering for years where unschooling and Classical education intersect, because there are things I feel enthusiasm or reserve about with each, and for years I have been trying to integrate the best of both. I will print it all out, read it, and let you know whether I come to any conclusions. I'm not at all sure that will happen, and whether it will be worth reading if it does, but I'll respond ;-).

Faith said...

This is very interesting and useful. I think in my own mind I get so bogged down in the differences in world view that the whole rad. unschooling vs. classical gets very murky. So this really brings clarity to the debate.

One thing I note just off the top of my head, is that these scholars (Aquinas, Aristotle, Ignatius, Drew Campbell!) you quote are all products of formal schooling as far as I can tell. In fact long and profound formal schooling. They seemed to have really flourished in an academic environment. And also of an age when discovery or informal learning was not playing video games without limits. Informal learning might have been reading books that were not assigned or having long dynamic discussions on matters of interest. So maybe we are taking their words out of context when we try to apply it to what a radical unschooler in today's America would think of as informal learning. Not that the ability of learning has changed but that the starting point of the informal learning might be very different in kind and therefore not as easily seen to be addressing education's higher goals.

I'm not phrasing things very well. Lots of distractions!

Drew said...

Faith, I just want to say that this is probably the first and only time in my life that my name has appeared on a short list with two saints and the Philosopher! ;) Thank you - you made my day!

I need to go back and re-read De Magistro to help me put my thoughts in order, but so far, this post makes very good sense to me.

Willa said...

That is a great point, Faith. I think you are probably right, though I do know of some unschoolers who went on to higher formal education. I don't know if they were "radical" or not though.

I am not a radical unschooler myself so I don't know how they would answer that. If the answer was that scholarly achievement is unimportant, that would not really be in line with my goals. I would most definitely want to keep further education in mind with my kids and I have high hopes that even my delayed child Aidan will have a lifelong interest in learning and ability to explore interests.

On the other hand, I don't think the Church necessarily insists that all parents give their kids the same kind of education. So just saying "radical unschooling doesn't usually lead to academic achievement" isn't a critique of the method in itself as long as the products are reasonable law-abiding competent citizens in their own sphere of life.

Most conventionally schooled children don't achieve high academically either, and the jury's still a bit out on classical homeschooling.

Wandering off your point, however. m

Willa said...

Sorry about the extra "m", I'm not sure how it got there but I am only halfway through my first cup of coffee.

Stephanie said...

"On the other hand, I don't think the Church necessarily insists that all parents give their kids the same kind of education. So just saying "radical unschooling doesn't usually lead to academic achievement" isn't a critique of the method in itself as long as the products are reasonable law-abiding competent citizens in their own sphere of life."

And therein is the source of the uncomfortable nagging thing at the back of my mind whenever I engage in a discussion at this level. I like to talk and read and learn all about the things you've analyzed so well - it's a favorite topic of mine.

But - ... well, I do have a problem with the way these discussions often tend to go. It's KIDS we're discussing here. Not lab rats. Not trees. Not genomes. Children. Humans.

And humans are most human when they are good - not when they are educated. In any sense of that word. Being educated has nothing whatsoever to do with being good, and can just as easily be used for evil as it can be otherwise.

We cannot make anyone else (not even a child) good any more than we can make him educated. Both things happen completely outside our say-so as either parents or as educators. I think this is because God Himself never says "let there be holiness" any more than He ever says "let there be educated intellect."

If even God doesn't MAKE anyone else be good (or educated), but merely offers the situations to each human in which that human may or may not choose Him, then we get a bit above ourselves when we speak as if we can analyze, define, and/or design such a pristine philosophy or pedagogy (or home habits of holiness) that our children will give us the guaranteed outcome we demand.

I'm not saying you're doing this, Willa. You've got a bit too much Reality in your life for you to be able to pretend you have that much power. But the conversation always bugs me at that level - even when I'm engaging in it, I mean. We just can't MAKE our kids happy, holy, or educated. It's not possible. All we can ever do is fumble around, praying our own way through our parenting (which is the thing we'll have to answer for - not ultimate outcome), making the decisions we can find to make that seem to be the best ones we see, and ask God to bless the mess.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading these blogposts and comments and the discussion at KathyJo's site with interest and I would like to ask something. I hope I'm able to explain this well, English is a foreign language to me.

Willa wrote:
"So just saying "radical unschooling doesn't usually lead to academic achievement" isn't a critique of the method in itself as long as the products are reasonable law-abiding competent citizens in their own sphere of life."

I agree that judging radical unschooling only on the academic achievements is sily....there is however always this uncomfortable feeling with me.

I'm from the Netherlands, homeschooling is barely legal and parents have to go to court quiet often to defend their choice to homeschool. A lot of parents are terrible dissapointed in the schools and when they are homeschooling a lot of them choose to unschool.

When you ask the parents and/or older teens what their passions are, what they are going to do when they are 18+....they almost all answer that the children want to become 'computer game engineers'. I have never met an unschooled teen who wanted to become a doctor, architect, astrophysicist or politician. I'm not saying that these proffesions are better than being a computer game engineer, but the desire to heal people has been a passion for people throughout the ages. Idem with being an astronomer (understanding the univers) or with becoming a leader. I find it extremely odd that among these teens, with very supportive parents, with soooo much freedom, so much opportunities....there is no-one with a passion *away* from computer games and such.

I can understand that it (maybe?) are the more 'creative' parents who choose unschooling, so I can understand a larger proportion of teens choosing 'art' (and I'm willing to include computer games among that) but *no* enigineers/doctors/etc indicates to me that something is not in balance.

My questions is this: do you see the same thing among the much larger group of unschoolers in America or is this somehow related to the small group of teens in the Netherlands?


Stephanie said...

Catharina, I know the phenomenon. It's here too. And mostly among what we'd probably call "radical unschoolers" - in other words, I have seen it myself people who see no value in "classical" education at all. The near total void of any sort of "passion" is the worst of the "unschooler" results, in my opinion.

Talking to a teenager who told me "I don't know" and "not really" to any question I asked her was nearly the most horrifying and depressing experience I've had with any home educator! It stunned me.

I suspect the difference is all in the context. And the context has to include a wider world than the mere declaration that classrooms are bad for kids. That's not enough to be going on with.

(Don't mean to take over, Willa. I'll retire quietly to the corner now. ;-))

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherina!

I think you're onto something. Children can have narrow interests. But to be fair, I think unschoolers, radical or not, try to give their kids a smorgasbord of experiences. Videogaming happens to be one that is easy for a teen to latch on to. But if you ask lots of teens back in my day (and probably still today) they'll tell you they want to be rock n roll stars! So I don't know if asking a teen what he wants to be when he grows up is actually accurate!

However, the danger lies in that because a rad unschooling child might be behind in academia and for whatever reasons not able to catch up, they might not have as great a choice about what they can be when they get older. I mean they might have more hurdles to jump in order to become a doctor. If for example you haven't had any higher math or in depth science. So in a way, even though rad unschoolers see their children as just living their lives and that being a broader way of living, because they may lack certain skills that take a lot of sustained effort to acheive, they might not aspire to as many career choices. Not unless they have a lot of ambition and drive.



Willa said...

Don't retire into your corner, Stephanie. I like your comments. I think you're right that these conversations can get divorced from the reality of the particular child, home, family. On the other hand, I also think they can be valuable if they don't simply polarize.

Catharina, it is an extremely interesting question. Without knowing much about it, I am wondering if there is anything in the Netherlands educational structure that would make it difficult for kids without "formal" educational credentials to enter med, law, architectural school?

When I went to high school in Switzerland, admittedly about 30 years ago, European schools seemed to "track" kids into technical or academic secondary schools depending on how well they were doing in school subjects. From what I understood, it was very difficult to change "tracks" as you got older.

Just something that comes to mind.

If you go to this site
Life Learning Magazine you can download back issues for free, and if I'm remembering right there is a regular feature devoted to telling about the adult career and life of former unschoolers.

Willa said...

Just a couple more thoughts:

I would make a distinction between "radical unschooling" and "X-treme unschooling". Radical unschooling, if you look at the online articles, tries to "examine the roots" (radix, meaning roots). It tries not to decide things reflexively; rad unschoolers use words like "mindful" and "principle" and "active" and "abundance". It is not parental neglect -- one of the primary focuses (foci???) is to avoid compulsion, bitterness, artificial methods.

Extreme unschooling (I just made the term up to make the distinction) would be basically raising kids in a vacuum. Not that this is really possible but some people misunderstand unschooling and think it's simply passive permissiveness or anarchy. Some of these Xtreme types might call themselves radical unschoolers, but according to what I've read they would be misunderstanding. I've seen radical unschoolers correct these type of folk many times ("no, you do not let Johny hit his playmate or run around unclothed at age 10 when Grandma is visiting just to respect his personal autonomy.")

Sometimes I admit the boundaries get blurred. And the radical unschooling philosophy is usually expressed in very secular terms so it's difficult to sort out the semantic issues from the real points. I was trying to do something of that sort in this post.

So in my mind there is a difference between the "ideal" form and the extremes that some people take it to. I mentioned the same sort of thing irt classical homeschooling. There are "radical classical" who try to find the principles and raise their children with what Drew called "holistic humanism" and what Rosie of Dragons in the Flowerbed described as a view to eternity. Radical means going back to the roots, examining principles. Then there are extreme classical homeschoolers, and I won't describe any, but I've encountered them online through the years.

Again, sometimes the boundaries get blurred.

The extremes are a defect of the mean and shouldn't be used to condemn the philosophy unless the philosophy itself falls into an extreme. Or that's what I'm thinking. Hmm.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie, I was hoping I had somehow missed the unschooled teens with great passions and great plans, be it medicine/woodworking/music or their own company. I find it scary that you are seeing the same lack of passion.

Faith, you are right about teenagers wanting to become a rockstar :-) I don't think it is fair to expect every teen to have a driving ambition and to have great plans. But among teens who have been to school from age 4, there are still quiet a few who have passions. I would at least expect to find the same percentage of unschooled teens to have a passion, if not a lot higher percentage! Unschooled teens have so much more time, freedom and support from their parents.

Willa, it depends on what kind of track you mean. Everyone can go to university, even without a high school diploma. Without a high school diploma you have to do a seperate entrance exam, but this contains of (I think) one or two subjects at most (say, math and english for entering anything engineering related). Medicine is different. There are always way more applicants then there are places, so you have to have a high school diploma (preferrable with straight A's) and then it is still a lottery.

For other schools, like becoming a hair dresser, you have to have a high school diploma (lower level than for university entrance) or you can do a state exam for the required subjects. On the other hand, when you have chosen a study, it is difficult (but not impossible) to change.

What worries me when I hear about the unschooled teens, is that there is no desire to do any of these things I mentioned above, and there is *also* no desire to start their own business (which I think would be a great idea for someone with an unusual passion) or any other desire/idea/plan. They are at home, play games, chat with friends on the computer etc, and that is it.

If the schools -with all the rules and coercion- kill all the drive and passion in children, how come these unschooled kids don't have any drives/passions??

That is usually where the discussion suddenly halts :-( I was hoping you would have an idea. It is quiet difficult to discuss these kind of things in the Netherlands, because there are so few homeschoolers. If I am critical of unschooled teenagers, that is perceeived as a direct attack on one specific teen, which of course I don't mean to. I would just like to really understand this aspect of unschooling, because it really bothers me. On the other hand I'm totally fine with unschooling young children.

Sorry this post is so long.


Susan L said...

I'm afraid I might be rushing in to comment too early (I'm printing these comments now so that I can read them more thoroughly), but I'm not sure I'll be back online today... So, if I'm misunderstanding something, or if I say something in my post that you've already adressed, I'm sorry.

Stephanie, I was thinking along the lines of what you said in your first post (about education and goodness). I liked what you wrote there.

We were unschoolers (I avoid using that label), but our family was not NCP. So,we were not quite radical unschoolers. In high school, I really didn't make educational decisions at all for my kids. They did what they wanted, how they wanted, when they wanted. My stipulation was that they'd do something, and that our days were about becoming educated (this doesn't mean I expected the kids to put themselves through a particular course of study). I had boundaries (computer limits, for one), but as far as what was going on in the kids' learning lives, it was up to them.

My kids have passion. They are some of the most motivated, engaged, enthusiastic learners I've ever seen. They read the classics and classical works on their own. Some of them went all the way to calculus and physics. It wasn't uncommon to see them working hard at this into the night and on the weekends (because they wanted to).

They got very good SAT scores (without prep), and they were awarded academic scholarships for college.

In college, professors often praised my kids for their ability to think well and for their excellent work in their courses. More than once, professors took them aside to ask about their educational background because they saw in them something unique and unusual in today's students (a true passion for learning). I could tell you many stories about this kind of thing.

My daughter has an English degree, which is not math or science, and she's not planning on going to med or law school, but she's got plans for graduate study and is right now working hard at making some things happen with her writing. She's a learner and a doer and is very determined.

My son is at the end of his junior year at university, majoring in Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies. He his GPA is higher than a 4.0. He transferred to the university he attends now, and in his first year of Linguistics studies, jumped straight into 400/500 level courses that included some PhD students. He has *excelled* (worked very hard, on his own, on the side to learn as much as he can because he likes to master and thoroughly grasp all that he does). The PhD students and professors have been surprised to find out that he's a junior, just starting the Linguistics courses (many students assume he's in graduate studies because his interaction in class is so knowledgable). He *chooses* to do extra work, to attend Friday afternoon colloquia for graduate students and professors (and finds them fascinating-- he tells me all about them). :-)

I could go on, but I need to run. I'm only saying this because some unschooled students do have passions, they do have goals, they do love to study, they do work very, very hard. But maybe an unschooler would reject the claim that we unschooled because, while I gave no assignments, I did set parameters (mostly rules for what was not allowed).

I need to say that teaching my own children would have seriously dumbed them down. For one thing, they're much smarter than me. And also, there's no way I could have begun to have kept up with their passions and interests (passions that included math, science, intense reading, writing, and so many other things). For me to latched on to those to try to direct them would have taken all of the life and momentum out of them.

Unschoolers who were a "success" (in the eyes of the world, anyway):

- Eric Demaine (traveled all over with his dad while growing up, played with origami all the time, and eventually became the youngest professor ever at MIT at age 20).

- Barnaby Marsh. Unschooled. Ended up at Cornell and became a Rhodes Scholar.

- The Colfaxes. Do they count?

I could find others, I'm sure, but I can't think of them now and don't have time to look. And these are just the ones the really famous ones.


Susan L said...

Um, I don't think my son would like that I wrote that. :-/

Susan, feeling badly about that...

Stephanie said...

Susan, I've thought and watched and wondered and thought some more over the past decade or so (especially after keeping my own kids home and then sending them out into various options at about age 16 for each one). I honestly think that the two groups make the same mistake.

"Radical unschoolers" being defined as people who believe it's "school" itself that's the problem. Conventional schooler tend to be people who think "school" is our best and only real answer. But both make a mistake and I think it's the same mistake.

The mistake is, I think, the belief that it is possible to set an engineered and synthetic stage, and within this, the product will develop to specs. In both the "whatever you want" and the "because everyone is doing it together and all good students join the group" mentalities, the whole point seems to be to get the kid to comply and go along with the setup. Further, it seems to me to have everything to do with the ego of the adults involved, who have invested themselves so heavily in the setup and need the kids to play their parts.

I think that's why it doesn't work to have kids utterly undirected by anything except whatever strikes their fancy, OR to have its opposite.

Isn't that the same for the correcting and discipling of a child? Isn't there a popular proverb about that? It harms a developing child either to always have his own way, or never to. In either case, it tramples the child.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps you've just had a bad sampling of teen homeschoolers, not to question your observations but just how many have you talked to that said they were only interested in becoming computer game engineers? Just statisically, if the sampling is too small it is not going to reflect the full population accurately.

In my smattering of knowledge of unschooling teens the other top career of choice seems to be to become a Vet. Often the kids grow up with lots of pets and that leads them into becoming interested in that line of work. Apparently it is pretty easy to get an internship with Vets, at least in the U.S.

My own kids aren't radically unschooled but we are very relaxed about things. My oldest did very well on her SAT and wants to go to college. She wants to go either into youth ministry, communications (she'd love to run a radio station or produce TV shows) or she sometimes thinks she wants to be a social worker.

My 15 yo wants to be a priest who plays in a rock n roll band (he's crazy good on the guitar!).

My 13 year old wants to be a biomedical engineer.



Willa said...

The mistake is, I think, the belief that it is possible to set an engineered and synthetic stage, and within this, the product will develop to specs.

You mentioned something like this before Stephanie, and I was going to say that this is another area where classical ed and unschooling in "ideal" form have overlap.

---The child is not an "educational product" and education is not a factory for "engineered humans" of whatever type. ----

Sure, there are abuses. People get caught up in their method or ego investment, and don't look at the kid and the unique circumstances of their own home. They think that "doing everything right" will output into "good results", by which they usually mean the results they happen to want.

However, this is another defect of the mean.

I don't think it follows (I don't think you're saying this, Stephanie, but just following my own train of thought) that we should never try to examine our methods and see if there are any universals.

Stephanie said...

Exactly where I was going in my own train, Willa! In fact, I think that's the answer to the Methods question.

If we look at the various ideas, and we see where each one DOES work for the good of the student (the actual student - the human one, not the theoretical one), then we can figure out the Truth behind the theory.

Humans are aggravatingly diverse; need both limits and structure, AND freedom to move about within them; and respond best to living ideas but will respond to merely useful ideas if that's going to be more advantageous.

There's a fascinating book about the way children acquire language, called The Scientist in the Crib. I think that's a helpful way to look at what the child is doing - and what we should all be doing. The child posits a theory, tests it, adjusts it, and then tries again. (Thus he keeps only the language bits he hears coming back to him - the rest is thrown out as anomalous data.)

If educators (parent educators, especially, I think) would be willing to adjust pet theories in accordance with ongoing data, the poor kids wouldn't be stuck fulfilling adult fantasies -- either in conventional schools or in parenting-by-opting-out home schools. In the end, it has to work, and it has to work for that person.

It doesn't have to produce results today, of course. But if it's killing the human desire for growth and learning and invention and creation ... well, then it doesn't matter any more how beautifully formed it is in its pedagogy or theory. You know?

But I've just fully shown my own theory of education, now haven't I? :-) I believe (obviously) that the aim of education is to give the student entrance into his own life, and what that life is going to be isn't up to me.

Ironically, educating children seems to me to be a kind of socializing project. The educator performs introductions, teaches and practices the proper manners, and then allows the introduced members to form their own relationships. It's just that the introductions and all are made to the whole of the wide and amazing world, all of history, and "all the company of heaven" -- not the neighbors.

Stephanie said...

I should say, "not merely the neighbors." I just read what I wrote and realized it sounded snotty. If our education doesn't make us more ready to love our neighbors as ourselves, then a serious error has been made. But you know what I mean. It's not about peers - parental peers or classroom ones - it's much bigger than that. That's what I was trying to get to.

Willa said...

Susan, I know what you mean about your son. Sigh... whenever I happen to use my son as an example of how classical unschooling can work, I wish I hadn't. Yet he is doing well too, and I was really interested in hearing about your son and indeed all your children. I think success stories have their place, as long as it's not a "show-me work" on the part of parents, rather than a recognition of the success of the child -- and the boundary can get blurry with that, too.

Some other examples of unschooled "successes":

---Christian McKee -- Last I heard he had been accepted to a competitive liberal arts college.

--Also, the Wallaces -- Ishmael and Vita, concert musicians.

---And David Albert's daughter -- I can't seem to remember her name, but another young musician who is at a competitive college right now.

--I know a local unschooler who last I heard had graduated from some master's program -- I think it was something to do with educational or psychology.

Now obviously this begs the question of what constitutes "success". Hey, I'm married to a computer game engineer ;-). He thinks it's pretty funny that his profession is the "new rock star". He used to amuse himself by proposing "concerts" where computer geeks could sit and program frantically and sip Coke or eat a Snickers every now and then for an interlude. Not quite as thrilling as Bruce Springsteen, wonder why?? LOL. His job reminds me of a novelist's -- he has to use all kinds of discipline, time management, creativity, mathematic rigor. A slushy-minded person can't do it well.

More to the point, I am raising a crew of gifted children -- but one of my gifted children has an IQ of about 60. He had a stroke in infancy. Honestly, there is nothing about him that is any more "ungifted" than with any of the other children. When I look at how well he learns in spite of problems with short-term memory and so on, it reminds me again that achievement is primarily a matter of a well-lived life according to one's capacities.

Whatever my educational goals are, they have to be wide enough to incorporate a philosopher/intellectual child, an artistic/creative child, a naturalist/historical-encyclopedia child, a "let me help with EVERYTHING" hands-on child, a practical child, and not least, an athletic/efficient child.

Our jobs are cut out for us! -- certainly not an undertaking for the faint-hearted. No wonder we look for support systems, analyze methods, gather up evidence, worry, pull out hair, look for testimony of results, etc.

I seem to be using my combox as a sort of Irish-Spring soapbox, pardon me. It's just interesting to get to talk about this and once I get started talking, I can go on forever.

Stephanie said...

Yeah ... "success" ... that's probably where all the problems come into the discussion anyway. It does depend on ultimate aim. (That's certainly why my personal soap box issue is adults who pretend it's about the kids' success when it's obviously about an idealistic goal of the adults and a fantasy life they've got going.)

Anyway, Willa, I just wanted to say that any mom who can describe her kids the way you just did is a mom who will know what to do with them. Thanks for the discussion!

Willa said...

By the way, Drew, if you are still reading this, once you read De Magistro I would love to hear what you think about it. No pressure of course, I realize you have a book and lots of other things going on.

Thanks Stephanie for the compliment. I later thought I should have written "measured IQ" with Aidan -- which would be a redundant phrase but would qualify it better since I think the jury's still out on those kinds of tests and what they indicate.

Anonymous said...

Susan, your children's life and passions sound wonderful. I am realy glad to hear that your unschooled teens are doing so well. Oh, and please, don't think that I look down upon a degree in English. I mentioned medicine and astronomy, because these have been passions for a lot of people throughout the centuries. My interest was in teens and their passions, be that woodworking, medicine, theater, English or astronomy.

Faith, my sample of unschooled teens is indeed very small. Homeschooling in the Netherlands is barely legal, there are some concerns about it staying legal, there are maybe 200-250 families total. A lot of them unschool, and a lot of them have still small children. So, not a lot of teenagers ;-) That's why I asked about your experiences in the US, to understand if I was seeing a true picture or not. Anyway, these teens are happy, their parents are happy, so I will just keep my concerns to myself and try to learn as much as I can about unschooling before my own kids are teens :-)


Drew said...

I finally got around to re-reading De Magistro with these questions in mind. I'm still mulling it over, but here are my initial thoughts.

I think the part of De Magistro that most directly applies to unschooling is Article 2: Can someone be called his own teacher? I can't find an English translation of this online, but the Latin is here (scroll down):

In the sed contra section of this article, TA gives objections to the idea of a man being his own teacher that will sound familiar to those who followed the classical/unschooling debate:

(1) "...the teacher must have knowledge where the learner does not. Therefore no one can teach himself or be called his own teacher."
(2) "Moreover, master [magister], like lord, implies a relation of being placed above. But relations of this kind cannot obtain between a thing and itself. No one is his own father, or lord. Therefore, no one can be called his own teacher."

These arguments speak to the need for someone other than the child to direct learning (because the learner, by definition, cannot know what he needs to know) and of the legitimacy of authority and hierarchy in the teacher-learner relationship.

In the Responsio, he goes on to affirm that natural reason can discover knowledge on its own, "without any external aid." But he denies that, based on that, one can "properly be called his own teacher or be said to teach himself.":

"But teaching implies the perfect act of knowing in the teacher or master; hence it is required that he who teaches or is master should have the science he causes in another, explicitly and perfectly, as it is acquired in the learning through teaching. [...]

"The one teaching, who explicitly knows the whole science, can lead us to science more expeditiously than anyone can be brought to it on his own because he foreknows the principles of the science in some generality."

This points back to what I just about the need for guidance in a child's learning. The teacher, on the other hand, must actually have knowledge to teach; a teacher does not just facilitate another's learning by providing material, but arranges and presents that material to maximize "expeditious" learning. The teacher must know and must order that which is to be learned. Had TA not held this to be true, he would certainly not have spent all that time lecturing, debating, and writing textbooks - even if he came, at the end of his life, to hold that there were other things more important even than teaching.

On the subject of formal and informal methods, I'd need to know more about what was meant by those terms in the Ignatian framework. I see the Ratio Studiorum as the crown jewel of Christian classical pedagogy, but it is a highly prescriptive, structured, "formal" method. So I'm wondering what the Kolbe folks meant by their statement.

Willa said...

Drew, thanks very much for those quotes and thoughts. By the way, Education at the Crossroads came from my library and it is an excellent book. I am so glad you mentioned it.

I happen to agree with your "take" on the De Magistro quotes, with some quibbles, which makes it extremely difficult for me to try to bring out the pure unschooling POV on this. You may well be correct that this is the essential difference between unschoolers and classical educators and in that field I am completely with the classical educators.

I tend to focus more on the similarities, because I do think that the unschoolers (particularly the earlier ones) brought out some truths that needed to be brought out, that had been forgotten in our "utilitarian" day and age. Maritain's book deals extremely well with this issue, and I'll probably be putting up some quotes in those nice blue blogger boxes.

My guess is that you are getting your definition of unschooling from the Wikipedia entry on unschooling but if I am wrong please correct me, but knowing the source and how the terminology is being used is always helpful.

Now one of the quibbles I would have is that "expedition" (expeditiousness???) as Aquinas used the word does not formally imply necessity.

In other words, it might be one thing to say ----"It is beneficial in several respects including that of efficiency to have a curriculum, a magistra, a definite goal," ---But saying that is not the same thing as saying:

---"It is *necessary* to have these things"---- or even further,

----"It is wrong NOT to have these things" ----(ethically and/or procedurally wrong)

Does that make sense?

I think you demonstrate the first point extremely well, but there is still a gap between that and the second and third proposotions.

However, I don't know if you are actually trying to prove the second and third statements as conclusions -- that unschooling is morally or effectively wrong -- or simply show that a classical philosophy of sequential, integrated, liberal education is BETTER. I am pretty much with you on that last, though my "methods" might *look* a bit more unschool-y in some regards, but I think there is some work to do on the two others.

If anyone has any thoughts on that (or is still reading, indeed : )) I'd love to hear them.