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.
Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.