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Unschooling: The Ultimate in Lazy Parenting

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The popularity of homeschooling has been skyrocketing. As most people know, teaching your kid at home isn't easy; it takes time and patience. Maybe that's why a small faction of renegade parents have turned to "unschooling" their kids. It's easy enough: All you have to do is ... well, nothing actually.

Christine Yablonski and Phil Biegler of Massachusetts are part of the movement. The couple's children -- Shaun, 13, and Kimi, 15 -- do not attend school (and haven't since first grade). They have no textbooks or lessons to get in the way of whatever they want to do -- which is to watch TV, play video games or maybe (but only if they feel like it) read a book. How do they get an education, you might ask? Christine explains it this way: "If they need formal algebra understanding ... they'll find that information," she says. Yeah, right.

Sounds like this kind of hands-off training should be illegal, right? It isn't. According to ABC News, most families who engage in this unorthodox approach register their kids as being homeschooled... then give them no rules at home.

The Beigler kids, for example, don't have bedtimes or chores. And their parents, it seems, don't have any common sense.

What do you think?

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105 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris April 20, 2010, 10:51 AM

I think when it’s done right, unschooling is actually more work than regular home schooling or sending your kids to school. Good unschooling involves a parent at home interacting with the kids all the time. If the kids show an interest in castles, for example, the parent would then help them build a castle or look up information on castles or read a book with them. Good unschooling lets the kids take the lead, but it isn’t about watching TV all day.

bekah April 20, 2010, 11:04 AM

I believe that school is not for every child but you have to allow them the chance to realize that! also Im a firm believer that if your not in school you need to be doing something with your life.
Maybe this “unschooling” is just not my thing but personally I dont think its a good idea.

Shari April 20, 2010, 11:04 AM

I think it’s crap & it’s ridiculous. The parents in this story aren’t teaching their children anything, other than how to be lazy. Who wants to bet these kids will still be living at home at 30?!

too old April 20, 2010, 11:04 AM

Black Iris, you are an embarrassment. Seriously? Parents, send your kids to school. It’s their job. Make them do it. Simple as that… geez. I cannot believe anyone would buy into this “unschooling” as anything buy child neglect.

LizM April 20, 2010, 11:09 AM

We homeschool vs unschool but I know of parents who unschool very successfully. What that family in the story is doing is NOT what most people call “unschooling.” Like BlackIris said, unschooling is more of a child interest directed learning than a preset curriculum.

amber April 20, 2010, 11:12 AM

I do use some ecclectic curriculum, but I believe in child-led homeschooling. I believe in the hands-on approach that most unschoolers have. For example, before I go grocery shopping my 4.5 year old sits with me and sounds out the words for my shopping list. Sometimes she prints it out while I sound it out. Then we go grocery shopping and she tells me what’s on the list (yes, she can read) Then we count the products as we put them in the basket. We talk about choosing local rather than imported produce. We discuss the food groups and how much of each one we should have. She pushes her own cart to the check-out and places all the food up herself. In a month or so I will teach her how to count change so that she can help me pay. By the time my child is six, she will be able to write a grocery list of well balanced food and pay for it herself (with money I give her uncounted) and all I will have to do is follow her around to make sure she is safe. So in that way, I guess unschooling is for the lazy. How many kids in college can grocery shop properly for a well balanced diet I wonder?

Barb Desmarais April 20, 2010, 11:20 AM

I coach parents and one thing I emphasize is the importance of looking at the long term consequence of what they’re doing or not doing. It’s our job to prepare our kids for LIFE. They need to be able to function well in the real world and that means understanding the structure of things, managing relationships, dealing with disappointment, knowing about process and how it works, accountability, and so much more. I would want to ask the parents of these children, what life skills they’re giving them to be able to be high functioning, productive, contributing members of society.

Misti April 20, 2010, 11:36 AM

I am far more a classical (Latin based) homeschooler than an unschooler, but I am with Black Iris and Amber.

Done well, any kind of at-home education is better for a lot of children than mass-education is. After several years in conversation with and observing my friends who are unschooling parents, my husband and I are sold on the value of child-directed learning and have integrated many of the principles into our own homeschool.

Like Amber’s daughter, my own six year old is better grounded in both education and the real world than many of his mass-education peers are.

He can add, subtract, and multiply and is now working on division. He reads at the 7th grade level, and knows a lot more about Paleolithic and Neolithic cultures and lifestyle, Mesopotamia, and Ancient Egypt, than most adults. He can play chess. He is learning to read music and play the piano. He can point to many places - in the news or otherwise of interest - on a world map, and has explored (though not seriously) six languages.

He not a genius — he’s a normal kid who has parents who have taken the responsibility for his education from the first. If he shows an interest, we are quick to help him get more information. And he isn’t surrounded by other kids telling him “boring” learnign is for six lost hours per day.

Will every parent want to do this? No, nor should they have to.

But since our family wants to, tell me again how a system that loses a large percetage of kids along the academic way, turns out drug addicts and adolescant pregnancies is *better* for my kid than this.

Misti April 20, 2010, 11:43 AM

Barb, those are excellent questions for *any* parent to ask themselves.

The average homeschooling family has given a lot of thought to “what life skills they’re giving their children to be able to be high functioning, productive, contributing members of society”.

Many — perhaps a plurality of - parents who send their kids to schools have abdicated their responsibility for preparing their children for life and are far more likely not to have thought about it, since they figure “that’s the schools job”.

Maybe it would be a good idea to get to know some homeschooling families - all kinds, not just the dysfunctional ones who need to seek out coaching.

amber April 20, 2010, 11:47 AM

Barb, I completely agree with you. Unschoolers (most of us) are more concerned with teaching skills. Through a single trip to the grocery store a child can learn to write, read, learn to be environmentally aware, count, weigh, sort, balance a nutritious diet, budget, and purchase. If a parent is willing to take the time to do that. My daughter also has her own blog (which she can only access when I’m with her), she writes it herself, picks the pictures, places them, does spell check. She has amazing computer skills. She can sprout plants to feed herself. She has several friends of ALL ages, some homeschooled some not. She does not believe that someone is smarter than her or has more knowledge just because they are older. She respects and expects equal respect from all ages. My child is learning skills that public school just can’t offer, and while living REAL life, real life does not consist of sitting in a room all day with exactly the same 30 people all the same age from the same neighborhood, doing exactly the same thing then being tested on it.

L U April 20, 2010, 11:56 AM

Unschooling is not about letting your children stay up all night watching TV or playing video games. Unschooling is about helping your children follow their interests. In our unschooled household, we read every day and watch very little TV. We spend very little time doing “schoolwork” (workbooks, blatantly educational computer software) and most of our time in activities like sports or trips to zoos and museums.

Priscilla Benfield April 20, 2010, 11:59 AM

The family that was portrayed on GMA can only give “unschooling” a bad name. It shocked me how ignorant the parents are and it seems that they are not teaching these kids responsibility at all. As a parent who had 4 children go throught the public school system with a 5th currently struggling through, I believe in some ideas of unschooling, if you actually do them.
Many parents may want to homeschool or some other alternative to formal school but due to finances cannot. It is good to have the option but these parents are not teaching their children anything positive. Encouraging your child when they have interests is great but I haven’t seen where anyone gets paid to lay on the couch and watch tv.

Amy April 20, 2010, 12:02 PM

“Unschooling” as described here is a form of child abuse, IMO. It should be illegal. Why is it that when I was a kid, my mom got threatened that her kids would be taken away from her if we were truant too often? I don’t want to go back to that era of limited options, for sure, but too much permissiveness in allowing parents to do nothing and call it “education” is clearly not the answer either.

Those of you who teach your children without textbooks and do a good job of it, I applaud you. The lazy, passively abusive parents have taken over the term “unschooling” and made you all look bad. Maybe it’s time for a different term for the REAL parent-educators.

Angela April 20, 2010, 12:08 PM

I am about to homeschool my own children, pulling them out of the public system once this year is finished. I looked at unschooling as one of the many options and discovered it wasn’t right for us at this time. Mostly because my kids like rigid schedules, but we can move at our pace. Unschooling from what I read is NOT what was portrayed on GMA. I am not sure if it was editing on GMA’s part, the parents presentation or a combination of both. I found it to be disappointing peice to be honest.

Sol April 20, 2010, 12:41 PM

I wish GMA had done a more extensive interview with the couple with the younger children. They appeared to be a better example of successful unschooling.

Bev April 20, 2010, 12:45 PM

Wow folks get real. Half of this story was cut off. What they didn’t show was the families travels all over the world, to France, Spain, or the children’s community work at the soup kitchen and the project they did for water conservation. Know that whatever show you watch on homeschooling is only going to show part of the story that will sell the story. Get the facts before judging. This story was not the facts. Homeschool mom to 3.

Jen Downey April 20, 2010, 12:51 PM

The ABC piece that this blog post is based upon, was pretty flagrantly biased, as well as misleading. Both the interviewer and the studio personality essentially start from the patronizing place of, “unschooling is crazy”. The piece focuses on one family which HAPPENS to have chosen to leave all limits, chores, and rules behind, as well as to choosing an unschooling approach to education. Viewers unfamiliar with “unschooling” are left with the impression that to “unschool” is to live family life with no expectations, limits, rules, or chores for the non-adults in the household. The nuts and bolts of the process of “unschooling” gets pretty much lost in the “would you look at those freaks” sauce, that this piece of “journalism” is soaked in. Seriously folks, read at least a book on unschooling before you weigh in with such assured judgement on its lack of merit!

Frank April 20, 2010, 12:53 PM

“What do I think?”

I think your bias is showing. Please learn at least a little about a subject before ponitficating on it based on a 5-minute entertainment show’s hatchet job.

To respond to your title, unschooling requires more parental effort than any other form of education. Period. I’d opine that farming your kids out to the public school system is the true “ultimate in lazy parenting.”

Frank (who has a degree in Education and unschools because he actually knows what he’s talking about)

Dana Hoffman Ellis April 20, 2010, 1:00 PM

If you think unschooling is for lazy parents, you’ve obviously never tried it. Being present for your children, not just there in the room but helping them follow their passions, 24/7, is A LOT of work. It would be so much easier, if I were lazy, to just ship them off to public school for someone else to worry about. Helping them through problems rather than making rules and doling out punishement—also the lazy man’s parenting? Following your kids, where they lead, through their ideas and passions and interests, no matter where they lead? Oh, yeah, and *WHEN* do I get the chance to be lazy? While I’m driving them across the country to conferences about topics they’re interested in? Or while I’m helping them research Japan for a trip they’re getting ready to embark on? Or while I’m helping them start a business to make money for said trips? Or when we’re watching a cooking show together so we can learn to make Creme Brule, or reading a book together so we can learn to crochet, or….yeah, I feel so lazy. ;)

Shay April 20, 2010, 1:06 PM

“The Ultimate in Lazy Parenting”? Turning kids’ education and rearing over to an institution.
Unschooling is not for “lazy” parents; it is parenting with the volume turned up! It’s having kids at home 24/7, without the “free babysitting” obtained by putting them in public school.
Family life is the best place for children to learn the concepts of teamwork, giving back, and how to make and attain goals in life.
The Beigler family may be the current unschooling poster child, but they do not represent all unschooling families. There are as many kinds of unschooling as there are unschooling families.
My kids have chores, and are expected to contribute to the family. They determine their bedtimes, but are smart about it, because they learned they cannot stay up all night and be in good form for the morning’s activities.
MomLogic’s post is nothing but sensationalism and conjecture. Ah, well, it’s a free country.

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