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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
Anon April 20, 2010, 6:34 PM


ss April 20, 2010, 7:00 PM

If “unschooling” means following your child’s lead and only teaching them things they want to learn about then how do these kids fare in college? I’m all for teaching kids life skills but a good parent will do that along with a good education. Kids may not feel like studying certain subjects but if they want to get in to college and succeed there they have to. After a lifetime of following their hearts how will these kids handle having to sit in a college lecture, take notes, write papers, take tests, and sit in the same classrooms day after day for months on end? I just don’t see how this “unschooling” could possibly give a child a well rounded education.

Rachel April 20, 2010, 7:16 PM

You seem to be confusing unschooling with unparenting. Unschooling parents are very involved with their children. Instead of making them do a workbook, though, they help them learn what they are interested in, in ways that work best for them. Libraries, museums, classes, travel, Internet, mentors, friends, family, movies, books. Everything in the world is available to an unschooled child as a means of learning. If that kind of cooperation and freedom scares you, then unschooling is not right for you. But don’t ever think these families are bad parents for being their children’s partners rather than adversaries.

Jerry April 20, 2010, 7:33 PM

I unschool my 11yr old daughter. She is very well educated but not schooled. She is not subjected to the bias and lies taught by the public school system. She knows that no one is all powerful, like the teachers she has had. Where in real life do you have to hold up your hand to go to the restroom?
She takes care of two horses and helps with 9 racehorses. She wants to do this for a living. So what can the school system give her that is better than what she is doing now?
And yes, it is work to unschool, I have to help her find all kinds of information and I never get a day off. I am with her 7 days a week.

emmy-chan April 20, 2010, 8:07 PM

Unschooling is BS. I mean yes it’s nice the kids learns what they want and I agree they should be able to but unfortunately society is set up so you need to be more well rounded then that. They’re are certain things dictated by the JOB market that people NEED to learn. Like oh say Math… and reading…science… you know those things? I know if I didn’t HAVE to I wouldn’t have studied math and I’d be in DEEP DEEP trouble when I went to apply for a job and they realize I never learned that.

Here’s the thing kids don’t know what sort of things they will be expected to know in the future so theirs as they have no concept of what having a job even IS. How on god’s green earth can they know what to study then? EXACTLY. Your the adult you’ve been there YOU KNOW so teach them and quite being lazy and “letting them choice” ‘cause it’s BS and we all know.

teacher April 20, 2010, 8:07 PM

As a public school teacher, I do think that homeschooling is a viable, wonderful option for the children with parents who have the patience to work with them thoughtfully. It does take work but it can be a great option since some schools and teachers are better than others and many parents are smart enough to know that.

Rina April 20, 2010, 8:26 PM

If unschooling is as good as proponents of this “method” let us believe it is, let’s turn the entire educational system into “unschooling”!!!! Thus, most of our children could benefit from the brilliant idea of unity between nature, needs, parents, children, communities, etc… We’ll be learning math from grocery store receipts, languages from birds chirping, geometry — from quilt-making, etc., etc., etc… That is until there will be nobody left to treat our sick, because all the doctors are “unschooled”, our old houses will collapse, and the new ones will not be built,— the engineers will be gone; the computers will be gone too, as well as the phones, traffic lights, roads, cars, airplanes, books… So, how long do you think this society will be able to exist? I can’t believe seemingly normal people actually seriously discuss this “method”… On the brighter note,— there will be no TV there!!!

Bob Collier April 20, 2010, 8:54 PM

“All you have to do is … well, nothing actually.”


That’s very good. I love your sense of humour.

mercaties April 20, 2010, 9:27 PM

My comment is more about laws. In my state your children have to be registered for school by the age of six or registered for home school but the teaching parent has to have a teaching degree. Also, the student has to pass a state issued grade level test every six months in order to continue to be homeschooled. If every state had this law this wouldn’t even be an issue.

Ursula April 20, 2010, 10:02 PM

1) Many kids have their own learning style, which is one of the main reasons parents opt out of formal schooling in the first place, but giving your kids chores -however simple- is not so much about education as just teaching them to be responsible.

2) There are some parents who claim to be homeschoolers or unschoolers, who are just lazy, neglectful, and/or abusive, and they are the ones who give the rest of us a bad name.

3) The one thing I have always been curious about is how unschoolers meet their state regulations because most homeschoolers have to jump through one hoop after another.

Ceel April 20, 2010, 10:04 PM

I was just typing this long comment and it magically just disappeared…grr. In short, I want to point out that this story is about radical unschoolers which you can say is a subgroup of unschoolers (which is a subgroup of homeschoolers). The radical unschooler has very few, if any, rules at home. Normally, respecting one another is taught and stressed which typically leads to the child making good decissions on how to behave and what to do with thier time and of course learning along the way. The reporter should have clarified that she was interveiwing a RADICAL unschooling family not just a homeschooling family or an unschooling family for that makes a world of a difference.

Jordan Hardy April 20, 2010, 11:16 PM

Sure, you can let your child follow their interests, but will your kids interests be algebra? Will they be history? In many cases they will not be, and you will have a child in a world of people who, whether they paid attention or not, have been provided with a wealth of information, and your kids will have nothing. This is worse than breaking your child’s legs in the modern world. There will be no place outside of fast-food and manual labor for them to find their place.

Leannibus April 20, 2010, 11:33 PM

This “unschooling” seems like what you can do with your kids AFTER they’ve been at real school or appropriate homeschooling. I don’t think it’s lazy, I think it’s self-indulgent and presumptuous to think parents have everything a kid needs from schooling or socialization. They need to be exposed to lots of other kids, joining in activities with kids they don’t know, learning how to interact and take discipline from other adults…it’s good for them, maybe not in every aspect, but many. It seems really controlling. Kids want to be away from their parents, at least for a portion of the day. If you miss your kids that bad, or are worried about their safety or cirriculum-get more involved. Be a yard duty or something. It’s just my opinion.

cheryl April 21, 2010, 2:23 AM

What ever happened to: send your kids to school during the day and then you spend the evenings and weekends “unschooling”??? Active parenting is just this. Teaching your children about their world (ie: making a healthy meal and learning how to grocery shop??) is a life skill that all parents should be doing on any occasion…why is this now called schooling??? Children need structure, guidance (from an adult), boudaries and healthy positive social interaction with their peers. There is much danger in allowing children to lead a “self directed” life as was indicated earlier regarding this “unschooling” concept. These kids will grow up with the false belief that the world will cater to their desires…very narcissistic thinkg and modeling. One question, before parents are allowed to “unschool” their children as an educational option, are they given any kind of test? There are obviously a few parents as mentioned in this thread that are focused and directed enough to apply this “unschooling” concept, but I would be concerned that many are not this astute. Part of the problem with todays society is that we “Americans” are given way too many choices….life is not a can’t always choose to live the way only you desire…Again this concept of unschooling is disturbing and dangerous.

Kim April 21, 2010, 5:14 AM

As another homeschooling parent,I find this particular couple is probably not the best example of any type of homeschooling method,let alone any type of appropriate parenting need guidance,kids need rules,kids need chores and to play outside and to acquire knowledge and I think that is the main objective of any parent regardless of their choice in educating their children.As others have stated sometimes “traditional” school isn’t the best learning environment for certain children while other kids seem to thrive in a more traditional school setting.Two of my 3 school aged kids are being homeschooled and 1 attends our neighborhood school it is what works best for them and agreed on not being easy..just think instead of the 6 hour break having kids in school M-F brings…no such break for the homeschooling parents ;)

Anonymous April 21, 2010, 5:59 AM

@ amber
“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)”
First of all, I should HOPE a 4.5 year old can read - my children were all reading sight words by about 3.5. The average 4 year should be able to read those words.

And taking your kids food shopping is not schooling. It’s taking a child to run errands with you which is what people who educate their children do anyway.

Christine Yablonski April 21, 2010, 6:08 AM

It’s unfortunate that you wrote about us without seeing Good Morning America’s apology segment with us on Tuesday. They admitted that they didn’t provide a fair picture of our family & brought us to NYC to explain it. What was left out? Juju talking to our son about his extensive knowledge of mythology, us talking about our 9-week tour of the US plus our travels to Europe & Australia, the things the kids have chosen to learn about, such as forensic science, opera, Shakespeare, Japanese culture, French, robotics & creative writing. I realize you posted based upon what you saw on Monday - I hope you are willing to edit your post to more accurately describe what we do & how we do it because what you wrote does not describe our lives or our children at all. Thank you.

~Tara April 21, 2010, 7:59 AM

I *wish* I could be lazy from time to time. But unschooling doesn’t allow for it. My job entails create a rich, stimulating and interesting environment for my son all the time. I answer questions or help find answers, I expose him to a myriad of lifestyles, choices, people of different backgrounds and cultures - far more than he would receive in school.

I happen to know that family in the GMA segment. What you didn’t see was what was skillfully cut out - the kids’ interests, activities, sports, national and worldwide travel. Instead GMA showed only what was easily vilified: video games, TV and snack food.

I would have thought more grown people should know they can’t believe everything they see on TV. I know my ten year old does at least.

Anonymous April 21, 2010, 8:18 AM

I like the premise of unschooling, but I think something like a Sudbury school would be better, while at the same time encouraging your child’s interests while at home. Because at the same time, a school provides an environment for socializing with strangers and some from of regimen to prepare a child to be independent. Properly unschooled children often grow up to be quite intelligent and talented people, often excelling public schooled children in academics. However, like a lot of homeschooled children, they tend to become recluses and develop social anxieties.

Sandra Dodd April 21, 2010, 11:09 AM

Most unschooling parents went through public school. Many (myself included) were teachers. It’s dismaying (and after many years it’s monotonous) to be blasted by people who had never heard of unschooling, then took one breath and told us all about our own lives.

Here’s the deal: We know about schools, school-at-home and about natural learning. Those who defend school or school-at-home homeschooling often know little to nothing about unschooling.

Not only was that Monday Good Morning America clip biased, it was somewhat dishonest. The little boy on the stairs with the donut was from a totally different family and the donut had come from the cameraman.

I wish the author and the commenters would read more before commenting. It’s not research to look at one thing and comment. In school terms, that’s not even a book report. Sound and fury are not knowledge. My kids know that and they didn’t even go to school.

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