Substantive Education

June 16, 2009


Filed under: Education,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 4:21 am

I’m working on a new website…in anticipation I’m putting together some information for new homeschoolers,  starting out with explaining the many different methods available.  This is one of the more controversial methods out there and takes a unique and gifted set of parents to pull it off.  So if you’ve ever wondered about the Unschooling movement here is a peek.

A quick disclaimer…in explaining any movement in a brief summary generalizations are going to be inevitable.  There is a wide range of people within this group and I’m not trying to represent all of them…just capture the heart.  If you have input I’d love to hear it.

Unschooling is a movement that seeks to reconsider and revise what we currently call education. Those who have embraced the movement are a rather diverse group who approach unschooling from a variety of perspectives and in each household the results are different.

Basically, learning is guided by the child not the parent. (A similar movement called Delight Directed…as in the studies are guided by what delights the child, would share many of these same characteristics.) It is not that the parent is uninterested in their child getting an education, but that they believe lessons learned at the child’s initiation are far more productive. These parents have a deep respect for children believing them to be intelligent individuals capable of making connections and learning without a set curriculum, tests, or state standards.

Using this method takes a great deal of confidence and resolve. If you thought homeschoolers in general have their methods questioned imagine explaining that you are going to allow your child to decide what they learn.

So what could unschooling look like and why would you choose it. Let’s imagine our student Rafe has become interested in Charlie Brown from seeing the cartoon in the Sunday Paper. The next time he is at the library he checks out a book of Charlie Brown comics…as he reads he begins to wonder about Snoopy’s fights with the Red Baron and discovers that the the Red Baron was a flying Ace in World War I. The next trip to the library Rafe gathers up books on World War I and Flying Aces. He has his mother buy him a map of Europe to put in his room so he can see where the battles took place. After a few weeks he branches out to other comic books, Superman and Batman, each of these spark interest in other topics. Is Kryptonite also real? What is the difference between a rock and a mineral? He begins to write and illustrate his own comics. . His mother takes him on a field trip to an artist who has worked in comics and can explain the page set ups, the process etc. Rafe spends many uninterrupted hours pouring over his books, creating and illustrating his own works, and seeking answers to his many questions.

Requiring prolonged periods to explore and investigate, and parents who can help students hunt down resources and answers, unschooling has many qualities that are appealing. Skills, such as reading and writing, are acquired because the child has need of them. This kind of learning is not possible in a setting where ringing bells, distracting conversations, and helpful teachers are constantly interrupting the child’s line of thought and inquiry.

Was Rafe’s unschooling time productive? Educational? Enough? Unschoolers think that it is not only productive and educational but superior to the methods used in schools today. They measure success by a different yardstick, no SAT tests here. Instead they are hoping to help their children realize their own unique potential, gifts, and place in the world. The focus is on the individuality and giftedness of each child.

The downside of this method is that parents must be comfortable with the fact that their child’s education will have gaps.  Now I don’t believe any of us get through high school without some gaps in our education, but following this method exclusively is bound to leave some areas unexplored and parents will have to be able to live with that confident that their child will learn what they need.

If this method sounds interesting to you…here are some books to get you started.

The Unschooling Unmanual by 8 authors including John Holt, Nanda Van Gestel, and Daniel Quinn

The Unschooling Handbook; How to use the World as your Classroom by Mary Griffith

The Unprocessed Child:  Living without school  by Valerie Fizenreiter

Dumbing us Donw:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling  by John Taylor Gotto



  1. This kind of learning seems to be right up Katie’s alley.

    Comment by Ellen — June 16, 2009 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  2. […] that are available.  Here is the Schooling method.  If you missed the others you can check out, The Unschooling Method…and The Charlotte Mason Method.  Hope the information is helpful.  Once we get through all of […]

    Pingback by The Schooling Method « Substantive Education — June 19, 2009 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

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