Unschooling in the News

Kids Take School Into Their Own Hands: Some Home-School Families Are Opting for a New Approach to Curriculum: Unschooling
BY Claire Scheumann

From stock whips to ballet, Dungeons and Dragons to NASA, some Berkeley students say they are studying subjects they would not have access to in a traditional setting by pursuing a new kind of education called “unschooling.”
Teaching children at home has a long history, but in the past decade, families have been engaging in a learning philosophy which allows students to dictate the curriculum.

Sam Fuller, 12, joined the 10 percent of home-schooled students participating in unschooling nationally when he began his education seven years ago.

“We kind of have phases of learning,” said Sam, who lives with his family on the border between Albany and Berkeley. “We learn what we are interested in.”

Sam’s mother, Pam Tellew, was a teacher before she got the idea of unschooling at a teaching retreat shortly after Sam was born. Sam’s 7-year-old brother Nicky has also begun unschooling.

Unschooled students do not engage in traditional classroom learning, instead pursuing a hands-on approach in museums and outdoor settings.

Skeptics say unschooling may not expose students to necessary subject matter because they follow no required curriculum.

“I want educators to make decisions about what kids need to learn,” said school board member Shirley Issel. “If you only open the doors that interest them at first, they may have a limited range of options available to them when they want to go on to higher education and employment.”

In California, there are approximately 10,000 families a year that file requests declaring themselves as a private school, which allows them to specialize curriculum.

Parents of home-schooled students in Berkeley say their choice was not determined by the quality of the city’s public schools. Rather, an interest in a variety of cultural and learning resources contributed to their choice.

In the Berkeley Unified School District, 129 students participate in the independent study program, which allows them to meet with teachers for only 30 minutes per week, pursuing other interests in the meantime.

District officials say they do not know the number of students in the city who opt for home schooling.

Advocates for unschooling insist the approach creates greater student engagement, leading to deeper learning than traditional methods.

“Personally, my sons outgrew what the public schools could offer them,” said Livermore parent Cyndy McClay, a representative of the California Homeschool Network. “I loved my neighborhood schools, but my kids didn’t always fit there.”

Results of studies examining homeschooled students show, on average, they score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students, said home education researcher Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute.

There is limited research on the long-term success of home-schooled adults, but studies have shown that the students tend to earn their college degrees at a slightly accelerated rate and become more engaged in leadership throughout their adult life than their public school counterparts, Ray said.

One study showed that achievement did not differ between home-schooled students who learn in a traditional setting and unschooled students, Ray said.

In addition, home-schooling typically does not impair students’ social skills, he said.

Sam Fuller has become involved in the Junior Ranger program, which provides outdoor education for children ages 9 to 12, and a fair organized by families with home-schooled students to raise money for charity.


Anonymous said...

“If you only open the doors that interest them at first, they may have a limited range of options available to them when they want to go on to higher education and employment.”

But usually, when seeking higher education and employment, we tend to seek out what interests us anyway...

Shawna said...

I love these articles...I wish they circulated around mainstream news media more often.

Joanne said...

Good point Danielle. And who's to say what path in life someone will take. And why is it then that EVERY career is not taught in school. What wasn't I taught how to rebuild a car engine? How did they know I wasn't going to become a mechanic? How about being a horse trainer? Kids don't learn that in school.

Hi Shawna (that's one of my daughters name!)

I have a bunch of articles on this blog. Feel free to print them out or copy them.