NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Unschooling" Marks Departure From Home Schooling

May 24, 2000

Concerned about the well-documented problems of some public schools, increasing numbers of American parents are opting to teach their own children at home. But among some home-school families a new educational theory is catching on.

  • It is called "unschooling" or deschooling, eclectic schooling, organic schooling or relaxed home schooling.
  • In this approach, parents respond to a child's talents and interests by guiding their learning -- rather than imposing a conventional curriculum.
  • Educators trace the theory to the late John Holt, an author and school teacher in Cambridge, Mass., whose books "How Children Fail" and "How Children Learn" provoked a national controversy in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • "What is essential to realize," Holt wrote, "is that children learn independently, not in bunches."

Advocates of home schooling contend that a home climate of informal learning need not preclude a structure. But whether a structure is imposed or not seems to depend on the child.

"One might need to be floating," one unschooling mother says, and another child "might need more structure."

Another mother asserts: "I don't want to give the impression that we don't do anything." Yet by allowing her son to set his own pace, he did not start reading until he was 10.

Source: Peter T. Kilborn, "Learning at Home, Students Take the Lead," New York Times, May 24, 2000.


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