I happened to catch a good chunk of wife swap yesterday on t.v. It’s not a show I regurlarly watch, but this particular episode was focused a great deal on the educational choices of two sets of parents and so it caught my eye. One set of parents was pretty conventional. Their daughters are in public schools and are also involved in a wide variety of activities so that a large chunk of their day is spent running around and trying to fit everything in. The other set of parents, on the other hand have chosen to homeschool their children, and actually go to the other extreme by unschooling their children, therefore not emposing any curriculum whatsoever unless the children specifically ask or show an interest in a particular subject.
Having lived through the traditional ed journey I could relate to the stresses the girls seemed to be experiencing with school work and other activities, and could also understand the concern their mother felt for the other family’s children. Even when you have a sense of what is wrong with public schooling it’s difficult to imagine something that is so extremely different. So much so that it doesn’t seem to be educational at all unless it takes place in a classroom and is followed by a test of some sort.
On the other hand, having read quite a bit about unschooling, I think this particular family did not present it in its best light. Although their philosophies were in line with unschooling, I don’t think that the parental, or mentoring aspect of the learning process was there enough to make this a true unschooling experience. It’s one thing to have students lead the way, and I think that is great. It’s another thing to not expose them to enough that the questions never pop up at all, therefore leaving them in a static learning state. It’s not so much about finding “fun” experiences as it is about finding “real world” experiences that would catch the attention of children and therefore peak their natural curiosities. It’s also important that the mentor know what to do once their child shows an interest, which these two parents seemed oblivious to.
At the same time, I was disturbed by the end result of the overly scheduled family. One daughter pulled herself out of dance classes, something of which she was very involved, in order to get perfect grades in school. The mother commented on how upset she was that her daughter quit dance, but that this was a “good decision” because she was doing it for a “good reason,” which was uping her grades. As startled as I was by how lax the unschooling parents were, I was more startled by how unaware these two parents seemed to be. How can you not see dance as a learning experience that should be valued just as highly as other school subjects? Why does your daughter feel she has to have perfect grades, and therefore is giving up something she loves to make it so?
It was interesting on both sides.