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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
Sara McGrath April 21, 2010, 12:42 PM

Is there no logic at MomLogic? ABC News misconstrued the reality of unschooling. Logic requires the use of one’s reasoning abilities, which require accurate information… which is lacking above. Please, “momstrosity,” (apt) don’t write an article if you don’t know anything about what you’re writing about. I would offer some information, if I thought the author cared.

Terrie Lynn Bittner April 21, 2010, 2:49 PM

As others have said, what this family is doing is not unschooling. In addition, the story inaccurately said that this was legal in their state. It is not. If the story is accurate about how that family function, they are in violation of the homeschooling laws for their state, which includes a list of subjects that must be taught,and the number of hours education must occur. In addition, they have to keep a portfolio of student work to prove learning is happening and be prepared to present it on request. (I’m sure they will be asked after this program.) So we see right off the reporter didn’t even bother to check the laws. Her excuse that the government didn’t get back to her is no excuse—the laws are online.

Svaha April 21, 2010, 2:59 PM

My child asked me what I think he should be when he grew up. I said, “I want you to find something you love doing so much that you find it hilarious that people actually want to pay you money to do it.” I left out the part about Mommy and Daddy doing exactly that. That would pressure him to be like us.

My family does not practice radical unschooling. We are home educators who believe in directed autonomy. And I believe the family in this biased report share a similar attitude.

Unlike their family, our family has clearly stated “non-negotiable” learning activities: second language, music, a culturally relevant martial art and participation in classes offered by museums, arts institutions and community groups. After that, our child is free to do as he desires….mostly. But, I do wish to better emulate their approach.

When my child was playing with pattern block at age three, I learned that I would limit his education. I kept wanting him to produce “age appropriate” patterns. But, he could make complex, elaborate mirror image patterns involving 12 or more shapes. This was when I learned that I need to give him more autonomy.

Unschooling is hard work. Everyday, I choose to make huge mental leaps to accomodate ideas which I can not fathom having successful outcome. (Even just trying to reply right now - I’ve looked up and delivered information about platypuses and octopi. Thanks SpongeBob.)

Unschooling means being able to have the mental capacity to stop and tune in. I think naysayers should cancel all of their weekend plans, drop everything and just see what it is like. Try two solid days of being emotionally and mentally prepared to stop whatever you are doing, connect, communicate and respond to the many questions children have each and everyday. And you’ll need to do it with a smile on your face and a willingness to say, “I think we could find out more about this together. Should we look it up?” That’s the beginning. After that, the discussions about boundaries, inter-personal needs and the ability for everyone to try to work together to make everyone feel fulfilled occur. That’s when you begin to see how healthy and wholesome this way of living can be.

But, it’s not for everyone. This choice is for people who value deep meaningful connection, critical thinking, engagement in supporting and embracing diverse viewpoints without feeling threatened and those who value the idea that a person should enjoy their life by doing what they love to do best in the world.

Beverley April 21, 2010, 3:59 PM

When I click on ‘next’ or ‘2’ the same page of comments appears - I can’t access the rest of the comments.

charbie April 21, 2010, 4:23 PM

My 3 year old is reading, writing, and doing simple addition and subtraction.She has been learning Spanish since she was 15 months and is interested in French and Chinese. I am also instructing her in simple science as well. She loves the book store and thinks that everything we do is fun. I don’t think conventional schools are all that advantageous. So far, the subjects seem to be bullying, sexting, mean girls, and materialism. Thanks, but NO THANKS !!! I’ll just continue to be lazy.

bunny. April 21, 2010, 8:09 PM

I am not sure why these things have to be mutualy exclusive. Your children are missing out if you think either you or public education can do it all. I would like to think that my publicly educated kids will be able to shop and pay for a sensible meal themselves as well as navigate through the endless amount of information thrust upon our children from all directions. No parenting is easy and I promise everyone has the ability to do a poor job of it. Parenting is personal and I think many of us could use a little more support (no matter what our decisions) and a lot less righeousness.

unschooled April 21, 2010, 8:13 PM

My brothers and I were unschooled - two of them, still in their teens, manage major departments at a local grocery store, I am studying psychology, and our youngest brother, despite being unschooled since kindergarten, is just as socially apt as any publicly-schooled kid.

To be honest, the majority of kids I know that were ‘homeschooled,’ (meaning in the stereotypical sheltered, fundamental-religiousity manner) are basically useless when it comes to being a functioning adult. I had to write college entrance essays for one of them because he had been too busy burning copies of Harry Potter to learn how to compose a paragraph.

To balance the scales, though, it is pretty shocking to find a publicly-schooled (more like publicly-babysitted) student that hasn’t been arrested by graduation, lost their virginity at 13, or launched a four year long vendetta against another girl because her shoes weren’t ‘real’ Doc Martens.

The public school students I know may be able to ‘function’ socially, but one of them thought you could only get pregnant by having sex in the missionary position, and the rest can’t understand basic grammar.

Well, when you stand back and look at the big picture, we’re pretty much doomed.

…Unless the fate of our country can be decided by standardized test.

michelle April 22, 2010, 9:44 AM

Yeah, the momlogic piece is biased & judgmental, but that doesn’t mean “unschooling” is actually a good idea. You don’t get points because unschooling takes a lot of “effort.” Effort by itself is meaningless without results. But there was no discussion anywhere of whether these kids come out of it actually educated. Learning to read a grocery list is nice, but that is basically learning to be a housewife, not learning hard academic skills. “Life skills” is not the same as “education.” Will self-directed learners, for example, get the calculus required to study engineering in college? Will they read the great books? Will they learn history they’re not interested in but need to know to be a citizen? What sparks real intellectual curiosity in kids is being exposed to things beyond what is already in their own heads or their parents’ heads. OBVIOUSLY. Otherwise this is all just a fancy way for people to reinforce their own biases and limitations and encourage their kids to do the same. Nice “life skills,” indeed. Can anyone actually point to evidence that says 100% child-directed learning helps to produce a well-educated adult who is prepared for college and beyond? Tell me what that evidence is.

John April 22, 2010, 12:20 PM

Unschooling is teaching laziness by parents who’ve mastered it themselves. The belief that the kids can just pick up algebra, or any subject if and when they need it, without ever learning HOW to learn it, is utterly ridiculous. They’ve watched “The Matrix” too many times. It doesn’t really work that way people. Unschooling is irresponsible and child neglect in my opinion, and prepares them for a life of mediocrity, at best.

Marlis April 23, 2010, 5:12 PM

I am a homeschooling mom of two and deeply resent GMA’s portrayal of homeschooling parents. It is insulting and infuriating. As a HS mom I know a good amount of other HS’ers and even though there are some unschoolers none are like the couple portrayed. It is my firm belief that GMA chose the worst possible family to portray ‘homeschooling-unschooling’ on purpose. To stir up ratings. That simple.

We sort of follow a curriculum. Sort of because we finished our yearly curriculum early January, revised it and are now bored. So now we are informally into next grades curriculum. I teach to the upper level of my children’s ability to understand. Some some things I teach my 4th grader belong more into the realm of a 7th grader. Why should I limit her? She decided to learn more about Gates? Fine, she researched and wrote a 8 page dissertation on him. Next is daVinci.

Teaching is a lot of work. Most homeschooling parents, even unschooling parents are very involved. Shame on ABC’s blatant rating generating slanderous piece and shame on me for feeding into the frenzy….

Gill April 25, 2010, 6:44 AM

When is the tide going turn, and people realise that children don’t get to ‘choose’. Putting a healthy meal on the table along with a Mcdonald’s pack and asking a child to ‘choose’ what they want. It’s not doing any favour for your child. Education is in the same bucket. Not being able to read, write and add up and think for yourself is going to leave to a life of virtual ‘enslavement’ with menial low paying jobs. If that’s what these people want for their kids, well go for it!

Chris Kelly April 25, 2010, 1:22 PM

I’m a Freshman in high school and im torn on this subject. On the one hand without school I would have almost no social skills and would probably end up sitting inside all day playing World of Warcraft or something. On the other hand I haven’t been taught a single thing I didn’t already know since the 6th grade. So if I did not go to school i probably would have learned much more on my own than I have reviewing the same material year after year.

CJ April 26, 2010, 6:40 PM

My kids did public school, where one graduated and the other was placed into a private school when the public had failed to meet her IEP requirements for four straight years. And I very much agree with the poster who says the ultimate in lazy parenting is public schooling - the parents do nearly nothing, and are too often rebuked by the teachers and administrators if they actual try to participate in their child’s learning.

My kids had no choice; we both must work to provide a roof and food on the table, as must many parents. If we were better parents, we would have required at least our second, if not both, children to homeschool, so that they could actually be prepared for college and life beyond. But that was not in the cards for our kids.

As it was, many many of our spare hours were spent advocating, the few spare $ we had available were spent on lawyers and advocates and personal advocacy instead of cool homeschool materials in stuff that our kids wanted to learn more about. And I feel guilty about that.

I know many homeschoolers, as well as more than a few unschoolers. Their kids are, nearly all of them, better prepared for college and life than my kids are/ will be by the end of 12th grade. Even a half-decent job of homeschooling or unschooling kids results in a more educated, well-rounded child than the average public school child in my experience.

Many more parents I know participate in something we call “after-schooling.” Whether it takes the form of homeschooling (providing text like resources followed in an organized fashion) or unschooling (making information available but letting the child lead the process, direction and speed), after-schooling fills in many of the gaping holes left by public schools. I personally recommend ALL parents after-school (or homeschool) in things like sex-ed and other moral issues; these are much better discussed at home, among those who share your moral beliefs.

And in many subjects, kids just will not get the information they should have available in school… subjects like elementary sciences, all sorts of history and social studies; just consider what Texas has now decided no longer qualifies to be included in our history texts!

The folks who appeared on GMA, or at least the sound-bites their story was broken down into, give a bad name to homeschoolers and unschoolers across our country. And it’s a shame when supposed news sources such as this choose to further shorten such a story, with even less reference to the real actions and motives of unschoolers.

Anonymous May 5, 2010, 10:24 AM

What I see is that some people are calling unschooling “successful” and that just doesn’t make sense to me. How does one determine the successfulness of unschooling??? These children are being allowed to run wild and do whatever they please, how are they learning discipline? Without discipline and RULES, they will never successfully hold down a job. Any parent who does not give the child the best opportunity to a positive future is neglecting their child. Also, many parents who have opted for this alternate learning would have to be educated themselves if they are to do it correctly, and how did they receive proper education to do so? I doubt it was by being unschooled. The unschooling way of learning seems to be what I think parents should be doing with thier children once the child has come home from school. The school is not the only outlet that the child is supposed to be learning from. Parents are responsible for helping their kids find passions in life, that is one of thier duties as a parent. Unschooling is absolutely ridiculous!!!

Diane May 10, 2010, 8:00 AM

Why don’t we all just stop judging and criticizing each other’s choices?? However you school your children, be it at home or in a formal school setting, we all need to be involved in our children’s lives. Sending your kids to public school doesn’t make one a lazy parent. What makes one a lazy parent would be to not ask them or talk to them about what happened or what they learned at school, and not help them explore interests they have that school will not teach them. Not being involved in your children’s lives - that is lazy.

Rene May 12, 2010, 10:01 AM

I think it unfortunate that ABC broadcast that interpertation of Unschooling. I find it more disappointing that you took the time to “write” a blog about it without further research.

Josh Elton May 26, 2010, 5:03 PM

I believe that it isn’t your business how these people raise their kids. Are you that conformist that you think there is some set structure of child development. That is idiotic.

You can be poorly un-schooled, yes, but you could equally be well un-schooled. Giving children choice and freedom is down to the parent and the child. Who are you to impose your will?

This conformity and xenophobia is what’s caused mass alienation accross the educational system, flunking millions of children and denying children their play, and self discovery.

There is no correct path in life. You may individually say that one family is not empowering their child as best they can. But don’t label. You sound very egocentric. Like clucking hens, who like the sound of their own clucks. I suggest you get a clucking grip :) (I know right, wordplay!)

mcveinot May 28, 2010, 6:34 AM

I had a long response but ultimately, as an unschooling parent, I disagree that we are lazy and resent that people think we are damaging our kids. Our kids are at a genius level compared to their peers. I have instilled in them a love of learning. They love to read. One child read at the age of 2 and the other at the age of 5. Every child is individual and when you allow them to explore and cultivate their interests, they will have a deeper love of learning than forced schooling would ever produce. It makes me sad that kids in school are passed along, that my kids friends cannot read (even at 9 years old), that while my kids are free to come and go and play on beautiful days, that their friends are stuck at a desk all day. My kids are constantly learning, even while playing video games and watching TV a lot. They also read a lot, explore, create, experiment, research, and so on. Through it all, I have to be there, not just physically but mentally. I have to be there to answer the million and one questions, to guide my kids while they do things, be willing to go places I may not want to go (but always enjoy) and to help them reach their potential. Some kids may not work well with the unschooling method, especially those who need structure, but it works for us and we won’t be changing anything!

Nikki May 30, 2010, 12:10 PM

I think that there is a lot of information about this particular family that has been left out and that the piece actually seems quite skewed to me.

As for house rules and guidelines, There have to be some. That I will agree with. These rules should be based on personal rights and responsibilities (respect for each other’s property, personal accountability and personal integrity) as well as a basic understanding of cause and effect and how to make a decision based on the consequences of actions.

Thomas Jefferson himself had a very similar look on education.

He felt a child MUST learn to read, basic arithmetic and to know and understand the founding documents in order to function and protect himself.

From there, depending on the child’s aptitude, and abilities it should be determined if they would continue on with a formal education or an internship/apprenticeship into their desired path/profession.

No one should be forced into a higher formal education. When doing so, you dilute the quality of the education for the students who WANT to learn because the teachers are concentrating on the students who could not care less in order to bring state standardized testing scores up.

It is full time to get the Federal Government out of our schools. It has no authority being there and the control of our children’s education it should be left to the parents and the States as provided in the 10th Amendment.

Anonymous June 17, 2010, 1:16 PM

If public schooling worked all the time without flaw there would be no such thing as a GED because there would be no need. You wouldn’t hear stories in the news of teachers sexually abusing kids. You wouldn’t have a whole class of students being held back a grade because the teacher doesn’t teach their subject in a clear manner. All of that happens. And the people in charge of public schools think they know more about what your child needs than you do.

People have been so brainwashed into thinking that there’s only one way to do things. I was homeschooled up until I graduated highschool. I went to public school until the end of second grade, and it was an ugly place.

And I HATED all the public-schooled parents who would frown when they heard I was homeschooled and stare at me like I was a foreign life form. They would ask little ole 9yo me “So do you sit at home and watch TV all day?” “How do you make friends?” “How high can you count?” “What kinds of books can you read?” It was absolutely ridiculous. And for what it’s worth? I LOVE to read… classics. Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet are my two favorite books. I cried my heart out when I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And yes, I can think for myself and count past 10.

Now I’m in community college and I’m on the honor roll. I got all A’s this last semester. And I am eligible to CLEP three english classes. So am I stupid and under educated just because I actually had to pay attention when I was doing my work because there was no one sitting next to me to cheat off of and I had to actually READ the instructions because there was no teacher to lecture me? I could go to the bathroom when I wanted and drink as much water as I pleased. And guess what? I have soooo many friends. And they’re all /nice/. None of them care if I wear designer clothes or if I can afford going to get my nails done.

The ironic part? I’m going to school to be a teacher. Because I think learning is fun and should be enjoyed… no matter how you do it.

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