Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. There are some who find it controversial.
Now unschooling is also known as interest-driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term "unschooling" has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn't use a fixed curriculum.
Sudbury schools are democratically run, meaning every student and employee has one vote, whatever their age. The only rules are set by the student body and can be changed by a majority. The overlying theme -- respect for yourself, others and the property -- is taken more seriously, students say, because you're judged by your peers instead of an authority figure.
Experts say there are about 2 million home-educated students in the U.S., and Ricci estimates 10% adhere to unschooling ideals. In addition, there are more than 20 Sudbury schools -- private institutions that follow the same philosophy -- in North America. A new one is set to open in Toronto next fall.
John Holt was a fifth grade teacher who worked in private schools. In 1964, his book How Children Fail created an uproar with his observations that forcing children to learn makes them unnaturally self-conscious about learning and stifles children's initiative and creativity by making them focus on how to please the teachers and the schools with the answers they will reward best, a situation that creates a fake type of learning. To paraphrase Holt, the only difference between a good student and a bad student is that the good student is careful not to forget what he studied until after the test is taken. His subsequent book, How Children Learn (1967), also became widely known. The two are still in print and together they have sold over a million and a half copies and have been translated into over 14 languages.
“If the parents are highly educated and/or from a higher socioeconomic level, the kids are going to get all kinds of rich experiences because the nature of the home is going to be about books, experiences, education and learning,” says Myron Dembo, a University of Southern California professor of education. “These kids won’t be harmed as much from [unschooling] as the kids who have parents without much education. One thing I worry about, though, is that the parent may be less competent than the parent thinks.”
While homeschooling began as a trend among fundamentalist Christians with largely religious motivations, unschooling is more about educational philosophy. It’s rooted in the belief that humans are naturally driven to learn and will do so fiercely if left to their own devices.
Unschooling is difficult to define because no two unschoolers do the same thing.
Out of an estimated 56 million schoolage children, about 1.5 million are homeschooled. Of that number, at least 100,000 are believed to be "unschooled" -- the term coined to describe an unorthodox approach to homeschooling that does not focus on formal classes, set curriculums or tests.
John Holt coined unschooling as a noun and a verb in 1977 in the first issues of GWS.
"All John Holt meant to do with the word unschooling was to find a more expressive and expansive term than deschooling or homeschooling, both of which gave the impression of abolishing or creating miniature copies of conventional schooling in the home. Holt created the word unschooling to indicate that children can learn in significant ways that don't resemble school learning and that don't have to just take place at home.
Unschooling, for lack of a better term (until people start to accept living as part and parcel of learning), is the natural way to learn. However, this does not mean unschoolers do not take traditional classes or use curricular materials when the student, or parents and children together, decide that this is how they want to do it.
In the past 20 years the number of unschoolers in the United States has grown from fewer than 2,000 to more than 100,000, says Patrick Farenga, president of Holt Associates, Inc., a Boston-area organization started by John Holt, the late education reformer who coined the term “unschooling.” That’s a conservative estimate; others in the education field put the number closer to 200,000 and say the unschooling population is growing by 10 to 15 percent each year.