Tests Don’t Determine Whether Unschooling Is A Success

One of our members came across an article, titled “Unschooling Isn’t The Answer to Education Woes – It’s The Problem” where Forbes contributor Natalie Wexler shares her thoughts and concerns about not only the documentary Unschooled, but current school methodologies as well.  For a large portion of the article Wexler conflates Unschooling with COVID-forced-school-at-home.

Preface – I’ll use Unschoolers/Self-directed learners interchangeably, they’re equivalent in this discussion.

This isn’t a comprehensive examination of the article, but the biggest things I took away are:

1. Wexler doesn’t like the school system either. Everything she’s written is how they’re doing it all wrong. (it’s unlikely to gain much traction as she pretty much denigrates all educational models)

2. I spent some time reading some of the articles & studies she cited. Interestingly, many of the articles she links in support of her position are her own, which then link to more of her articles & books, which then link back to the same study.

3. The main study she cites (and her other “proofs”) are based on testing. How well children do on testing based on various methods. This is problematic because in most cases, the kids in the “control group” are being taught to the test.

So if I take 100 kids that have never seen the color red or a heart and explicitly teach 80 of them that this ❤️ is a red heart. Then wait 6 months and test them all. Yes, a percentage of the 20 remaining may not have learned “naturally” yet the color red or the shape heart. That doesn’t make self-directed learning a failure or directed education superior. It makes directed education superior for taking that specific test.

Testing, the marketing of testing, the writing of test questions, etc are all very problematic – but I have yet to see a study that shows that excellent test takers & high test scores necessarily equates to successful college/careers. (Since more & more colleges/Universities aren’t even requiring testing precisely because tests are NOT indicative of success, it’s hard to continue to value them)

4. I watched the movie. I found it interesting that the kids were held to a higher standard by “educational evaluations” for their short time in the self-directed center than they were in school. These kids spent a decade in the school system and didn’t have this knowledge.

4. b. There is a difference between a child who has been always Unschooled and one who is transitioning after a long time in the school system. It can take YEARS to recover from that. (And in some ways kids who were especially traumatized may never recover fully.) So expecting Unschooling to “work” quickly is unrealistic.

5. I understand the concern that kids won’t learn basic skills. However, I don’t see how any child with an involved parent/caregiver (or facility) is going to make it to 18 not being able to encounter situations in which to learn these skills.

The member who inquired specifically  stated,  “one of my fears, that my children won’t be able to do basic math for life skills”   What life skills? Engage your child in life and they will pick up the skills. At various times and to varying degrees, but they will. Or, at a minimum, give them the skills to find any answers they need. The library, internet, YouTube, etc. are amazing resources. (Since this post was written we’ve added a resource page How Do They Learn… ?)

5. b. HOWEVER, they may still not be able to pass a “test” until taught how to pass a test. Sometimes (dare I say “often”) Unschoolers don’t understand the abstractness of random math “questions” but are immensely capable of applying that math in their life through cooking, sewing, constructing machinery, helping with home improvement projects, strategizing the percentage of attributes needed for a character to win a campaign on Outer Worlds, etc.

If they find they need to pass a test in order to move forward to reach a goal – we can easily help them prepare for that.  It doesn’t take 13 years of school.

Ultimately, we don’t know how/when/where – but if we’re including our kids in life and nurturing their interests, they will gain skills.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Ten Signs You Need to Find a Different Kind of Education for Your Child

This post comes from an original article by Jerry Mintz at the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) website: The Ten Signs You Need to Find a Different Kind of Education for Your Child. Published here with permission from AERO. Click over to the article for more of Jerry’s thoughts on alternative education models, and find out if the AERO Conference might be something for you and your family.

1. Does your child say he or she hates school?

If so, something is probably wrong with the school. Children are natural learners, and when they’re young, you can hardly stop them from learning. If your child says they hate school, listen to them.

2. Does your child find it difficult to look an adult in the eye, or to interact with older or younger children?

If so, your child may have become “socialized” to interact only with peers within their own age group—a very common practice in most schools—and may be losing the ability to communicate with a broader group of children and adults.

3. Does your child seem fixated on designer labels and trendy clothes for school?

This is a symptom of an approach that emphasizes external rather than internal values, causing children to rely on shallower means of comparison and acceptance, rather than deeper values.

4. Does your child come from school tired and cranky?

While a student can have a hard day in any school, consistent exhaustion and irritability are sure signs that their educational experiences are not energizing, but actually debilitating.

5. Does your child come home complaining about conflicts that they’ve had in school, or unfair situations that they have been exposed to?

This may mean that the school does not have a student-centered approach to conflict resolution and communication. Many schools rely on swift, adult-issued problem solving, depriving children of their ability to emotionally process and thoughtfully discuss the situation at hand.

6. Has your child lost interest in creative expression through art, music, and dance?

Within the traditional system, these creative outlets are often considered secondary to “academic” areas, and are not as widely encouraged. In some cases, courses in these areas are not even offered any more. This neglect often devalues, or extinguishes, these natural talents and abilities in children.

7. Has your child stopped reading or writing—or pursuing a special interest—just for fun? Are they investing the bare minimum in homework?

This is often a sign that spontaneous activities and student independence are not being valued in their school. Children have a natural inclination to direct their own learning; however, an emphasis on meeting standardized test requirements limits the abilities of teachers to nurture and encourage this inclination. The result can be an increasing apathy toward subjects that were once exciting, and a loss of creativity.

8. Does your child procrastinate until the last minute to do homework?

This is a sign that the homework is not really meeting his or her needs—perhaps it’s “busy work” or rote memorization—and may be stifling to their natural curiosity.

9. Does your child come home talking about anything exciting that happened in school that day?

If not, maybe nothing in school is exciting for your child. Why shouldn’t school—and education—be a fun, vibrant, and engaging place?

10. Did the school nurse or guidance counselor suggest that your child may have a “disease,” like ADHD, and should be given Ritalin or another behavior regulating drug?

Be wary of these diagnoses and keep in mind that much of the traditional school curriculum these days is behavior control. If test requirements limit a teacher’s ability to engage students, if students are discouraged from following their own passions and expected to sit for five or six hours a day with limited personal attention and interaction, I suggest it’s the school that has the disease, EDD—Educational Deficit Disorder—and it might be time to get your child out of that situation!

Original AERO article by Jerry Mintz here. Definitely worth a read.

-Stacy

Learn more about Stacy on our Contributors page.