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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
Donna April 20, 2010, 1:08 PM

These people are a joke most of us that homeschool or unschool have some type of structure. These people are just lazy parents period. Especially the ones who forgo chores and rules. Everyone has to have rules at some point in their lives period. I homeschool but what chaos my house would be if my kids had the same power as me and on the same level. I have jobs to do at home so should they just as family members. School I do at home also thats part of my job as is theirs.

Win April 20, 2010, 1:11 PM

My unschooled oldest kids are in college, run their own business, and also work jobs for employers. They live independently and manage their own affairs. Unschooling prepared them very well for this life even though it was a lot of work for me to facilitate interest-based education rather than using a canned curriculum that did not have relevance to their learning styles or their lives or outsourcing their education to an institution. I think that lazy parents “check out” and send their kids to school; parents who want authentic relationships with their kids interact with them for many hours each day, arrange meaningful learning experiences in the world and with other mentors, discuss their reading and music in great detail with them, and take responsibility DIRECTLY for preparing them for adult responsibilities. The unschooling families I know who have grown kids are families that have produced successful competent adults. This compares very favorably with the thought that 1 in 3 students who start public schools do not finish and that in urban schools among minorities, the dropout rate is 1 in 2.

Yeah, all that “laziness” among unschoolers is really creating a problem.

It is unfortunate that the media once again chose to depict extremes among people who are not making the default choice in society. The stereotypes that are perpetuated will create doubts among people who could benefit from helping their children create a meaningful, seamless learning lifestyle. Such a shame. I encourage anyone interested in unschooling as a legitimate education choice to do more research. The mainstream media has made a mess of it.

Jeff April 20, 2010, 1:16 PM

As an unschooling parent, you have to constantly double check to ensure that your children’s decisions to reject or embrace certain things are indeed their decisions. There is indeed a fine line between modeling your passions, and restricting information or exposure in an effort to get a child to see things your way; that’s coercion. Let’s throw out the “unschooling” label for a sec and look at this pragmatically - we’re trying to raise our children to think for themselves, to make their own assessments of good and bad, to see the world in terms of what makes sense to them. Only through truly free choice will our children learn a lesson in all it’s nuances and subtleties, and therefore learn it deeply and permanently - and be able to decide, therefore, where their boundaries are and what can still be a moving target.

To do this as a parent requires a great amount of faith, with little real hope that our children will turn out to share our values. But for me, I don’t want my kids to share my values necessarily - I want them to define their own values, and learn to question, and be anything but the sheep that so many of us become because we’ve not been entrusted with the responsibility to think for ourselves. The passion that we all model for our children needs to be unconditional - a true reflection of ourselves and our values, our likes, and our beliefs. THAT’s what we’re modeling - not the values themselves, but the joy of having and expressing them. Doing this is hard, no doubt. Many observers see us allowing our children to eat what they want, watch what they want, say what they want, etc, and make the natural assumption that we are indulging our children. They believe that these indulgences are short-sighted; that we are choosing the easy path of least resistance by being overly permissive now, but setting our children up for long-term difficulties as they try to adapt to the “real world.” I understand that. But I think it’s bullshit. I think that when you truly adopt unschooling, you’re taking a long-term view of your child’s life and setting them up for success beyond your wildest dreams. How? By setting up an environment in which we model the pursuit of our own passions without expectations or conditions; by allowing and encouraging our children’s passions and exploration without judgment; by trusting that our children will do what’s right for them even if it’s not what we would choose for them or for ourselves. Doing this authentically and wholeheartedly helps our children understand that their views have value, that their passions have value, that their thoughts have value - that they have value. And that builds a confidence that enables them to try new things and explore their passions as well as their fears. But most critically, it enables them to see the world through their own eyes and to define success on their own terms. I’m no unschooling expert, but that, my friends, is a long-term view. And it is a beautiful journey.

De April 20, 2010, 1:20 PM

What do I think, you ask? I think I am tired of people spewing hate and misinformation on topics they know nothing about - other than a 7 minute, edited-for-ratings piece on a television show.

Just because something is different from what you (or tens of thousands of others) do, doesn’t make it worth uneducated, hateful derision.

In no state homeschooling laws are “rules in the home” required. Rules (or not) inside the home have nothing to do with homeschooling or education.

Textbooks are not required for many, more formal ways of homeschooling, either. It is very presumptuous to speak in such a public forum on something you don’t know very much about.

Unschoolers haven’t just decided to “be lazy”, pull their kids out of school and “do nothing”. We’ve researched almost every type of education (if not all types) before coming to the decision that unschooling was best for our child(ren). It is long, arduous and time-consuming finding all this information and learning how it might best work for an individual child. And that is just what comes *before* unschooling.

I *would* go on to describe some of what unschooling is about, but you obviously don’t really have an interest in learning what it is about, just taking a skewed opinion from a micro-edited parenting piece so that you can stand on your soapbox and get some attention. Any writer with “common sense” researches before putting a piece out in public, because no writer wants to end up looking ignorant in permanant black-and-white.

Cat April 20, 2010, 1:23 PM

Amber— How is it that you feel qualified to teach your child basic written English skills when your own post is full of grammatical errors? This is the weakness of many homeschool parents, in my experience. I can even support homeschooling for elementary kids, but by middle school and high school, most kids will benefit from science labs and a variety of competent higher-level instruction that cannot, by it’s nature, be experienced at home.
Also, not to burst anyone’s bubble, but encouraging children to explore their interests and teaching appropriate life skills is not the exclusive domain of homeschoolers. Just because we send our children to school doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility for their education. It is precisely that attitude that produces drop-outs, pregnancy, ignorance and irresponsibility in children. Similarly, keeping kids at home without taking any responsibility for their education should not be acceptable. I don’t believe interest-directed learning was intended to be used as an excuse for complete parental abdication.

Spunky April 20, 2010, 1:36 PM

“Sounds like this kind of hands-off training should be illegal, right? It isn’t.”

Just as some may believe the parents in this clip haven’t thought through the consequences of this, I don’t many who oppose them have thought through the logical consequences of making this illegal.

How do you make it illegal? Do you write in a statute into each state saying “unschooling” is illegal. Well what is unschooling? Is it those who don’t use textbooks but the parent selects appropriate activities? Or is those who don’t use textbooks and the child selects the activities? Or what if its a combination of the two?

And if we ever come upon a legally acceptable definition, how do we enforce it? Do we allow state officials to come unannounced to a parents home and search around to see what the kids are doing and they’re getting the proper training? Can’t do that without a search warrant, so that won’t work.

I know let’s make test the kids to make sure they are doing what the state thinks they ought to be doing? Well that’s a possibility but what if they flunk because the parent doesn’t teach to some arbitrary standard. Do we make them go to public school? Well then what do we do with all the kids who are in public school who flunk the state test? Make the parents homeschool because the state failed to adequately train them? But somehow we can’t call the teachers lazy, no instead we blame the parents and everything else but the teachers and the system.

Honestly, what’s going on in many inner city schools should be of more concern than what’s going on in this small minority of homes. These kids are at least play fighting in this video, it’s real and it’s deadly in the Detroit Public Schools and the grad rate is less than 30% last time I checked. And they are doing it all w/taxpayer money. At least this family is footing their own bill. Can these kids turn out any different than Dylan Kliebold who was a straight A student in school but became on of the Columbine killers? He even wrote an essay week’s before the shooting painting with words the very scenario he then acted upon. It was read and graded by his teacher. A huge massacre and yet no one is calling for public school to be illegal! Why not?

In fact, violence in our schools is become so common it rarely makes headline news anymore. And it’s not just violence but all sorts of behavior. Just yesterday I read about middle schoolers sexting during school. Where’s the outcry against too much free time and activity in the public schools?

Yet, let a parent exercise a little more freedom than what others find acceptable and we demand government intervention and a ban on unschooling.

ABC puts out an EDITED clip of what THEY want you to think and right on cue they get exactly the response they desired. George S. and Co. set up the bias from the very start of this and most lost all objectivity.

But look at the clip again and you’ll see normal teenagers actually enjoying each others company in the same house. That’s POSITIVE. I see two teenagers looking at a reporter and making eye contact and responding well in a pressure situation. That’s POSITIVE. I see a home filled with activities, plants, games, and parents who love them. That’s POSITIVE. And it’s a far cry from what’s going on in a lot of other homes.

It may not be what you or I want for our home, but it is far from criminal and most certainly should be illegal.

Jeff April 20, 2010, 1:41 PM

I just blogged about this, but suffice it to say that Let me start by saying that I am not the parent who essentially turns my children over to local and state-run school programs for ten hours a day while I go to work to earn more money so I can buy more consumer goods that give me pleasure. I am not the parent who doesn’t participate in my child’s learning. I am not the parent who places blind faith in an education system that all Americans know is broken and has lead us to lose pace with the remainder of the world. And I am not the parent who sits back idly and recognizes that it is broken but uses it anyway.

No, I am the parent who cares enough about my children to learn about how children learn and adjust my own paradigms accordingly.

Spunky April 20, 2010, 1:50 PM

“Sounds like this kind of hands-off training should be illegal, right? It isn’t.”

Just as some may believe the parents in this clip haven’t thought through the consequences of this, I don’t many who oppose them have thought through the logical consequences of making this illegal.

How do you make it illegal? Do you write in a statute into each state saying “unschooling” is illegal. Well what is unschooling? Is it those who don’t use textbooks but the parent selects appropriate activities? Or is those who don’t use textbooks and the child selects the activities? Or what if its a combination of the two?

And if we ever come upon a legally acceptable definition, how do we enforce it? Do we allow state officials to come unannounced to a parents home and search around to see what the kids are doing and they’re getting the proper training? Can’t do that without a search warrant, so that won’t work.

I know let’s make test the kids to make sure they are doing what the state thinks they ought to be doing? Well that’s a possibility but what if they flunk because the parent doesn’t teach to some arbitrary standard. Do we make them go to public school? Well then what do we do with all the kids who are in public school who flunk the state test? Make the parents homeschool because the state failed to adequately train them? But somehow we can’t call the teachers lazy, no instead we blame the parents and everything else but the teachers and the system.

Honestly, what’s going on in many inner city schools should be of more concern than what’s going on in this small minority of homes. These kids are at least play fighting in this video, it’s real and it’s deadly in the Detroit Public Schools and the grad rate is less than 30% last time I checked. And they are doing it all w/taxpayer money. At least this family is footing their own bill. Can these kids turn out any different than Dylan Kliebold who was a straight A student in school but became on of the Columbine killers? He even wrote an essay week’s before the shooting painting with words the very scenario he then acted upon. It was read and graded by his teacher. A huge massacre and yet no one is calling for public school to be illegal! Why not?

In fact, violence in our schools is become so common it rarely makes headline news anymore. And it’s not just violence but all sorts of behavior. Just yesterday I read about middle schoolers sexting during school. Where’s the outcry against too much free time and activity in the public schools?

Yet, let a parent exercise a little more freedom than what others find acceptable and we demand government intervention and a ban on unschooling.

ABC puts out an EDITED clip of what THEY want you to think and right on cue they get exactly the response they desired. George S. and Co. set up the bias from the very start of this and most lost all objectivity.

But look at the clip again and you’ll see normal teenagers actually enjoying each others company in the same house. That’s POSITIVE. I see two teenagers looking at a reporter and making eye contact and responding well in a pressure situation. That’s POSITIVE. I see a home filled with activities, plants, games, and parents who love them. That’s POSITIVE. And it’s a far cry from what’s going on in a lot of other homes.

It may not be what you or I want for our home, but it is far from criminal and most certainly should be illegal.


Spunky April 20, 2010, 2:07 PM

that last part should say “not” illegal.

Yiayia April 20, 2010, 2:48 PM

I believe we, as parents, have a bigger responsibility to our children than whether they be taught in a school or home setting. We need to help our children realize their self-worth before they can accomplish anything of value. When we measure a child’s ability to function through their innate emotional intelligence, we have provided them with the greatest choices of all. Are the Yablonski/Biegler children choosing to be unschooled or are they merely going along with their parents’ wishes? We parent the way we were parented. Christine Yablonski and Phil Biegler have every right to choose the educational path for their children as long as doing so does not impede the emotional education every child needs. Like it or not, we are the most important people in the world to our children and unless we help them experience their emotional intelligence - it matters little how they get their unschooling. What matters is - what are they learning about themselves?

Heather Laurie April 20, 2010, 2:56 PM

How sad…You swallowed what ABC said with no research what so ever. Unschooling is a delight driven method of homeschooling. There is structure and rules like every other family, in most unschoolers homes. Their days are filled with books, experiments, writing books themselves, going to museums, taking a magnifying glass outside to observe, etc. Unschooling is far from lazy but this post was. Please take the time to read some unschoolers blogs and learn how wonderful and enriching their life’s are.
God bless
Heather Laurie
www.specialneedshomeschooling.com

Black Iris April 20, 2010, 2:56 PM

I just wanted to add that although I don’t homeschool, I know people who do. I know kids who taught themselves algebra from a textboook because they were interested in it. I also have met kids who took math courses on-line or at a community college because they wanted to. Most homeschooled kids are years ahead of other kids academically. Good unschooling can work.

Pam Sorooshian April 20, 2010, 3:28 PM

My unschooled kids are 24, 22, and 19. The 24 year old graduated from college having received many awards and scholarships for academics and community involvement. She has been accepted to a very competitive graduate school in counseling to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. She works as coordinator of a program that offers activities and adventures for adults with developmental disabilities.

My unschooled 22 year old is a senior at the University of California. She has an A average in grades and has received a number of scholarships and awards for academics, theater, and writing. She is double majoring in history and drama and is an officer in her sorority where she is also involved in a number of philanthropic activities, as well.

My always-unschooled 19 year old is a sophomore in college, majoring in Deaf Studies and a straight-A student. She has a black-belt in Kung Fu and has been a teacher at her studio for almost four years. She earned the Girl Scout Gold Award helping disabled adults develop self-defense skills, plays soccer and coaches a soccer team for under-8 year old girls, and does musical theater and writes novels and screenplays for fun.

Such losers, right? Just goes to show what unschooling can lead to…oh well.

-pam

Anon April 20, 2010, 3:33 PM

Wait until they grow up and become losers who can only hold down minimum wage jobs.

Stella April 20, 2010, 3:40 PM

What do I think? I think you know very little at all about homeschooling or unschooling. Don’t let your ignorance stop you from blathering about it, though. You get more readers with extremist drivel.

Timewarptrio April 20, 2010, 3:46 PM


My three year old reads and is in preschool 3 days a week. Unschooling, really, is that the term we want to give it. Come on people. Homeschooling is a great choice for many parents but my kids have done exceptional the traditional way. Let’s break this term down un-schooling (to not school or teach). How is that effective learning? Can unschooled kids get into colleges or universities?

Anon April 20, 2010, 4:02 PM

losers

Paula Harper-Christensen April 20, 2010, 4:36 PM

The story about unschooling is not about education; it’s about sensationalistic journalism. Was ABC News suggesting that all kids who go through traditional school are fully prepared for college? Since we know that some states in our country have a high school drop out rate of nearing 50%, clearly traditional school is not doing it’s job. The lazy parent would not choose to be closely involved with his or her children on a daily basis. The lazy parent sends offspring out the door to be taught, mentored, driven, babysat, and trained by perfect strangers. For the past 30 years I have homeschooled my four children and one nephew. They are all out of the home in some phase of their productive adult life and all went to college and performed very well academically/emotionally/socially. We were a homeschooling family that leaned strongly toward the unschooling side allowing each to follow chosen interests/talents in life. The questions the reporter asked of the young teens smacked of an interrogation. Most 13-year-olds have no idea if they are prepared for college or not. In my opinion, ABC News wished to paint a negative picture of unschooling. Your information was so inaccurate and slanted that the reporter should be embarrassed.

Anon April 20, 2010, 6:26 PM

unschooling, homeschooling; it’s all crap!

Anon April 20, 2010, 6:33 PM

losers


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