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Unschooling: Self-Directed Learning is Best

Kurt Johmann

Written: March 2002

Like many countries in the world today, America has forced schooling: parents are forced by law to send their children to school.[1],[2] The starting age and the total number of years of forced schooling vary from one country to another. America imposes 13 years of forced schooling: 1 year in so-called kindergarten (roughly for age 5), followed by 6 years in so-called elementary school (roughly for ages 6 thru 11), followed by 2 years in so-called middle school (roughly for ages 12 thru 13), followed by 4 years in so-called high school (roughly for ages 14 thru 17).[3]

In America, as a rule, students are kept in classrooms where all the students are within a year of being the same age. Each school-year typically consists of about 8 months in school, five days a week, with roughly 3 months vacation during summer, a 2-week vacation around Christmas time, and another 2-week vacation in early spring. The typical school-day is roughly 6 to 7 hours at school, with the majority of this time spent in classrooms, with at least an hour of assigned homework to do once the student returns home from school.[4]

In my own case, my forced schooling, as for most Americans in those years, was done in government schools. I graduated from high school in 1973 at the age of 17½. What I remember about all those years in school is that I never questioned it and I never liked it. The summer was by far the best time, since there was no forced schooling to go to. My feelings about my forced schooling, as I was to learn later, are typical feelings that most victims of forced schooling have. Overall, for most of its victims, forced schooling is an unpleasant experience.

The Hidden Agenda of American Schools

Although I did not like my schooling experience, I accepted it as just the way things were. And, probably like most Americans who had been similarly brainwashed, I assumed that the purpose of the government schools was to teach its students what they needed to know—such things as reading, writing, and arithmetic—in preparation for their eventual lives as adults. It was not until roughly a year ago, when I became interested in the subject of homeschooling, that I learned the real purpose of the government schools: turning people into slaves that follow without question those in authority.

According to John Gatto (an award-winning teacher who taught in New York City government schools for 26 years and quit teaching in 1991), the schools teach a hidden curriculum of seven lessons:

  1. confusion

  2. class position

  3. indifference

  4. emotional dependency

  5. intellectual dependency

  6. provisional self-esteem

  7. one cannot hide

Besides teaching this hidden curriculum, the schools also separate children from their families, thereby weakening the bonds of family.[12] This attack against the family is a part of the larger campaign in America to atomize people into individuals, so that having only themselves they are weak and helpless and unable to resist the establishment.

The Homeschooling Alternative

Homeschooling in America is growing. Apparently, around 1980, only a few thousand students were being homeschooled in America. Twenty years later close to two million students (roughly 3 to 4% of the school-age population) were being homeschooled in America:

Growing at the rate of 7% to 15% per year, there are 1.5 to 1.9 million children (grades K-12) home educated during 2000-2001.[13]

Besides growing in America, homeschooling is also growing in many other countries in the world, including Japan. At the beginning of the 21st century the percentage of the school-age population being homeschooled is still small, but the trend is very clear: mankind is slowly but surely rejecting what is essentially an evil program with a hidden curriculum, that is designed to turn people into slaves.

Unschooling

Regarding homeschooling, there are different methods. Some parents, brainwashed by their own experience in government schools, assume that children must be taught by a teacher using textbooks, who gives tests and assignments to do. However, the best way to teach children is the unschooling method, which in essence allows the student to learn whatever he wants to learn, when he wants to learn. As a rule, the unschooling method does not do any forced teaching. About the unschooling method there is a large literature on the Internet and there are also many books.

The beauty of the unschooling method is that not only is it better for the child, but it is also better for the parent, because less time and effort is needed by the parent to unschool a child, compared to schooling the child with textbooks, assignments, and tests. With unschooling, the child is doing most of the work: the child is controlling his own learning and making his own decisions.

In the unschooling method, the parent serves as a helper who helps the child when the child wants help. The unschooling parent also typically acts as a facilitator who does various things to give the child exposure to various objects, places, and people, regarding which the child may want to interact with in a learning way.

In the unschooling method there are no fixed subjects that must be learned at certain ages. Instead, children are allowed to learn what they want, when they want, at their own pace. This approach works for all subjects, including the so-called three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. As a concrete example, consider learning to read:

One of the first principles that unschooling parents discover is that there is no standard age at which children naturally learn to read. If allowed to learn at their own pace, some children will read on their own as early as three or four; others will not become fluent, independent readers until they are nine or ten, or even older. In general, though, the pattern they follow in learning to read is pretty much the same no matter what their ages or how long the process takes—anywhere from a few months to several years.

First comes an interest in letters and logos and other symbols, and the realization that wherever they appear—in books and magazines, on television, on roadside signs—they have meaning. Gradually, the child learns to recognize and read such words and symbols, and to associate them with their meanings. The child asks—seemingly constantly, at times—about letter sounds and word pronunciations, and listens attentively, often following along with the text, to stories read to her. She adopts one or two favorite stories or books to be read over and over again, often memorizing the text well enough to fool her parents into thinking she is actually reading. Then, one day, she truly is reading for herself. Once the child reaches this stage of reading independently, her reading speed and comprehension progress rapidly; within a few weeks or months, she can (and often does!) read almost any text she comes across.[14]

For American Parents

For any potential parent in America, if you have a son there are two things you can do for your son that will benefit him greatly, and which will also strengthen your family:

  1. Protect your son from having his genitals mutilated. Male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) is typically done in America shortly after birth. The many harmful effects of male genital mutilation include lifelong sexual effects.

    Unlike most of the world, America practices circumcision, and circumcises the majority of its males. Circumcision started in America around 1870, and peaked around 1979 at a circumcision rate of 85%; the current circumcision rate in America has been declining since 1979, and was about 57% in 1998. For more detail and sources see my American Culture article.

    Male circumcision, done to the majority of infant males in America, leaves the victim, once he is grown, in a state of ignorance, because he has no experience being natural (aka intact or non-circumcised). Thus, he can assume that what he gets from sexual activity, in terms of sensations and feelings, is all that there is to get. However, that is not the case—for a circumcised man, the losses are profound—and it is not just the man who is affected; women are affected too when they have sex with circumcised men. For more detail and sources see my Monotheism, Imperialism, and Genital Mutilation article.

    Female genital mutilation is illegal in America. Male genital mutilation is not only legal in America, it is encouraged in many ways and widely practiced. A rough estimate is that about three-fourths of the adult American males who were born in America and are alive today, are mutilated. I myself am mutilated. My own experience is that most mutilated men in America are in denial that they were harmed by their mutilation. Thus, the victims of male genital mutilation are typically its own best friends, and help to continue this evil practice.

    As a parent, beware not to consent to, nor sign any form, allowing circumcision of your son. Apparently, in many hospitals in which American women give birth, a form allowing circumcision is typically slipped in among many other forms that you are given upon admission. If the form for circumcision is marked by you with approval, your son will typically be taken away and mutilated within hours of his birth. If you do not mark for approval the circumcision form, you may be pressured at any time by one or more nurses or doctors to allow circumcision: they will tell you lies as to why circumcision is the right thing to do, but they will not tell you that they will sexually mutilate your son, damaging him for life, and they will not tell you that besides charging you money for the mutilation of your son, they will also make money selling what they cut off from your son.

    Besides the great danger to your son posed by mutilators in hospitals, there are also many midwives who assist at homebirths who carry mutilation tools in their bags, and are eager to encourage you to allow them to mutilate your son, for which you will be charged a fee. Besides mutilator midwives, there are also many mutilator pediatricians (child doctors), who will encourage you to allow them to mutilate your son. Also, such pediatricians will often use one or more alleged conditions they attribute to your son, conditions that are easily treated in other countries by non-surgical methods, as something serious that can only be corrected by circumcision. Also, in an effort to do damage to your son that can later be used as an excuse for circumcision, many doctors, nurses, and midwives will forcefully retract your son’s foreskin, which is supposed to remain attached for at least the first five or six years of life. To guard against this danger of foreskin retractors, many parents, for example, never leave the pediatrician alone with their son.

  2. Homeschool your son using the unschooling method. By letting your son learn what he wants, when he wants, the end results are:

postscript


footnotes

[1] Regarding the history of forced schooling in America, and its beginnings in Europe, John Gatto, in his essay The Public School Nightmare: Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought? (at http://www.dvschool.org/psngatto.htm and elsewhere on the Internet), says:

… modern forced schooling started in Prussia [eastern Germany] in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:

  1. Obedient soldiers to the army;
  2. Obedient workers to the mines;
  3. Well subordinated civil servants to government;
  4. Well subordinated clerks to industry;
  5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

… a small number of very passionate ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century, and fell in love with the order, obedience and efficiency of its system and relentlessly proselytized for a translation of Prussian vision onto these [American] shores. …

In this fashion, compulsion schooling, a bad idea that had been around at least since Plato’s Republic, a bad idea that New England had tried to enforce in 1650 without any success, was finally rammed through the Massachusetts legislature in 1852. …

Over the next 50 years state after state followed suit, ending schools of choice and ceding the field to a new government monopoly. …

By 1889 … the crop was ready for harvest. In that year the US Commissioner of Education, William Torrey Harris, assured a railroad magnate, Collis Huntington, that American schools were “scientifically designed” to prevent “over-education” from happening. The average American would be content with his humble role in life, said the commissioner, because he would not be tempted to think about any other role. My guess is that Harris meant he would not be able to think about any other role.

In 1896 the famous John Dewey, then at the University of Chicago, said that independent, self-reliant people were a counter-productive anachronism in the collective society of the future. In modern society, said Dewey, people would be defined by their associations—not by their own individual accomplishments. In such a world people who read too well or too early are dangerous because they become privately empowered, they know too much, and know how to find out what they don’t know by themselves, without consulting experts.

Bertrand Russell [1872–1970] once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think. There is no evidence that this has been a State purpose since the start of compulsion schooling.

[2] Regarding the current law in America and its enforcement: The details of the relevant laws depend on the state in which a family lives (America has 50 states and each state has its own laws). All 50 states have laws that require schooling for children. The laws of the typical state require schooling for children between the ages of 5 and 17 inclusive. These state laws do not specifically mandate that the schooling must take place in government schools. However, the schooling is still forced, in the sense that the law requires it, and many states impose their own rules and requirements on homeschoolers, interfering with what the homeschoolers are doing and how they do it.

Also, for a child, unless his parents actively do something to prevent it, that child is going to be forced to attend the government schools, and it does not matter what the child wants.

Also, if the parents of a child simply say that their child does not have to go to school, but they do not satisfy the state government that the child is being “educated”, then it does and has happened in America that the child is forcibly removed from his parents and placed in foster care, and forced to attend the government schools.

[3] Regarding middle school, some regional school systems have a 3-year middle school that takes its added year from either the last year of elementary school or the first year of high school. My own experience was a 2-year middle school.

[4] In terms of the number of school-days each year, and the number of hours spent at school during each school-day, and the number of hours needed to do homework, some students in the world have it far worse than those in America. For example, consider the situation in the small island state of Singapore, which is a former British colony located at the tip of Malaysia, with a current population of about 4 million, of which about three-fourths are Chinese.

According to a Singaporean government calendar for the year 2001, the students in Singapore spend about 9 months in school, which is about one month more than students in America. In addition, students in Singapore go to school six days a week, instead of the five days a week in America (the standard work-week in Singapore is six days a week). For students in Singapore, roughly 230 days of each year are school-days, compared to roughly 170 school-days for students in America.

Regarding what school in Singapore is like for its students, consider the following description (from a bulletin-board message, dated March 17, 2002, posted by Ian at John Gatto’s website; I have copy-edited the text to improve its readability):

Although [John Gatto’s] website centers on the American education system, I believe this system of public schooling has been widely and successfully proliferated around the world. I come from Singapore, …

I am 19 this year and have gone through the local education system [in Singapore] for a horrid 12 years. … The education system in my country is like an amplified version of the U.S. system. Here, the level of regimentation we face is beyond my description. For the sake of convenience I’ll list what I can about the system in point form:

[5] Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. New Society Publishers, 1992. p. 4. (The seven lessons are listed and described in the first chapter, The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher.)

[6] Ibid., p. 5.

[7] Ibid., p. 6.

[8] Ibid., p. 7.

[9] Ibid., p. 8.

[10] Ibid., p. 11.

[11] Ibid., p. 12.

[12] The reality of the seven lessons is confirmed by other experienced schoolteachers. For example:

As a commended third-year high-school science teacher enrolled in an Ivy League Doctorate Program in Education, I can firmly attest that what is being learned in public schooling is unweaving the natural social fabric of adolescence. Graduate Schools of Education are a crock of baloney. As an avid reader of Gatto’s writings since a year ago, I found myself as a pioneer in self-surveillance of what I really do throughout the course of the day. The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher is on the money! Schools are ridiculously phony, first and foremost. Run by phony people, constructed and enforced by phony policy makers who set rules for children they will never meet, and executed by people who have forced themselves to buy into a diseased system in order to make a living for themselves as well as their families. … I have to come to realize that, at the stake of a great salary, and phony respect, school is indeed a “psychopathic institution” that renders its most creative and hard-working individuals insane. To anyone who opposes these brief words, please enlighten me why I should remain a “teacher” to 125 students I have never met before until they were assigned to a 45 minute, 182 day sentence in my cell (ummm...classroom) until they are pardoned to graduate to a new prison. Thank you. [From a bulletin-board message, dated March 20, 2002, posted by Michael at John Gatto’s website; I have copy-edited the text to improve its readability.]

AND

[In reply to the above message by Michael:] Ah my friend, you have discovered the secret truth of our trade. The six (or seven) lesson schoolteacher got me too! … I’m in my 7th year as a history/English teacher and can attest to the painful veracity and horrific accuracy of every thing Gatto has written to date. I have a Masters in Education and was shocked, shocked at the meaninglessness of that program. And now as I face (potentially) 22 more years of committing lies and coercion, I’m not sure what to do either. Like you and Gatto I’m one of those “Award Winning Teachers”. If my bosses only knew what I was thinking, I’m sure I’d be fired. It’s funny but many of us who had a bad experience in government schools actually got into teaching to “improve” things. I personally started with the purest intent, but reforming government schools from within now seems suspiciously like reforming Hell from within. [From a bulletin-board message, dated March 20, 2002, posted by Stan at John Gatto’s website; I have copy-edited the text to improve its readability.]

[13] At: http://www.nheri.org/content.php?menu=1004&page_id=28

In the year 2000 the size of the school-age population in America (ages 5 to 17 inclusive) was about 53 million. See the U.S. Census Bureau table: P14. Sex by Age for the Population Under 20 Years

[14] Griffith, Mary. The Unschooling Handbook. Prima Publishing, 1998. p. 79.

For an example of an unschooled student who did not learn to read until he was in his teens, see: Unschooling: The Journey of Jake


postscript

In late March 2002, a few days after adding the above article to my website, I submitted a copy of it, with an added introduction and without the For American Parents section, to a large discussion forum. The submitted article, Unschooling: An Alternative to Public Schools, resulted in several hundred comments.

For the comments that argue against homeschooling, the most common argument is the socialization argument, which claims that the child needs the socialization that school provides, because without this school-provided socialization the child will be harmed and have trouble fitting into the adult world when the child is an adult. This is a standard argument against homeschooling, and is very often mentioned and then debunked in the large homeschooling literature.

I do not discuss the socialization argument in my article, and my silence probably contributed to the many comments using this argument. In response to these comments there are many comments debunking the socialization argument. The best debunking comment is A few comments on socialization, by avdi (I have copy-edited the text to improve its readability):

First, a quick, inflammatory comment:

The idea that home/unschooled kids by definition aren’t socialized enough is plain FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt].

Now to elaborate:

A few home/unschooled kids are undersocialized, due to bad choices by their parents. I was one of these kids. I was the exception, not the rule among homeschoolers I knew. The idea that this is endemic among homeschoolers is simply false.

Even if the degree of socialization kids get in public school is desirable (debatable), many parents have questioned whether the type of socialization available at a public school is healthy. Certainly all the public-school parents I knew growing up felt they had their hands full trying to keep their kids from getting too screwed up by the memes, attitudes, and behaviors they brought home from school. They mostly agreed that socialization was a Good Thing, but they spent a lot of their effort trying to undo the ill effects of this Good Thing, and ranting about the awful things that went on at Those Schools.

Indeed, while most will agree that socialization is a good thing to some degree, it is strange that everyone draws the conclusion that the type of socialization that kids receive at public schools is the Right Kind. Public school is a very limited form of socialization: concentrated exposure to kids of the exact same age (and likely, financial bracket), and to adults who are also authority figures. Little exposure to kids of other age groups. Little exposure to adults who they can treat as equals. Little exposure to kids from other financial brackets. In fact, this particular imbalanced form of socialization is unique to our times. As far as I can tell, it teaches kids:

Many say that socialization is required for success in life, but I fail to see how this prepares kids for the real world in any balanced manner. In particular, the public-schooled kids I knew were largely incapable of communicating with adults (except on a yes-sir/no-sir level).

Compare this to the homeschoolers I knew: they were constantly involved in what the public schools would call “extracurricular” activities involving other kids. Frequent meetings, field trips, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, 4H, countless sports… the list goes on. They had no problem relating to their peers, but moreover, they were also very good at relating to other age groups. In homeschool families it was very common for older kids to help and teach the younger kids, and the same could be seen in the get-togethers: no one drew arbitrary lines based on age—they played together, learned together, and helped each other. Younger kids weren’t “lower life-forms”, and older kids weren’t unapproachable. Typically, homeschooled kids got involved in various types of apprenticeship/vocational-ed/internship/volunteer activities starting at a very young age, where they learned to relate to adults, not just as authority figures, but as coworkers and equals. All this together formed what I feel was a very balanced kind of socialization that prepared them quite effectively for their adult lives.

Nonetheless, the average homeschooler does spend less time in the company of peers, although more than commonly believed. I believe that this too is valuable: one of the things that has been noted about kids who grew up homeschooled is that, while they socialize just fine, they are also OK with being alone. Homeschooled adults note that a common trait among their public-schooled peers is that they need to be around other people all the time, and if they aren’t they need to turn the TV or radio on—they have a hard time dealing with being alone. Homeschoolers tend to be more self-sufficient, able to be alone for periods of time and collect themselves. Obviously, this is a generalization, but it is a common enough difference to be remarked upon by various homeschoolers.

Finally, I’d like to say regarding my own experience: I had a miserably small amount of socialization, and was never able to relate very well with my peers, especially as a teenager. I regret this, and were I homeschooling now would strive to make sure my kids were adequately socialized. Nonetheless, that lack of socialization has not harmed my success in the slightest. Because, although I never learned to relate to peers, I learned to relate to adults at a very young age, and have preferred the company of adults for most of my life. As a result, I was able to do very well in my college courses, and had no problem at all adjusting to the work world. I have been used to treating adults as equals, and having them reciprocate, for so long that transitioning to a full-time job was easy. I have become quite used to being treated as a respected equal despite being the youngest guy at work. So, even though it was far from ideal, my socialization (or lack thereof) in homeschooling actually better prepared me for my job than my friend’s public schooling.

My assertions, in summary:

Besides the socialization argument, a less common argument used in the comments that argue against homeschooling is that children have to be forced to learn because they are too lazy to do it themselves. Among the comments refuting this argument is You are Wrong, by heatherj (she is replying to a comment that used the children-are-too-lazy argument):

I have been a child. I have also worked with kids of all ages, from day care on up, in a number of different environments. The way we conduct education of children IS what kills their will to learn. I don’t know if you have had any experience with small children—before they go to school. I have—with hundreds of them, literally, over the years, as I have often taught pre-school. Pre-school children DO still have the hunger to learn about everything! This is the time to teach science, basic math, to introduce them to good books (chapter books, too, not just Dr. Seuss), to history, whatever. I have never met a child who didn’t love to cook, given the opportunity. There is nothing that kids this age don’t want to learn about. As soon as you plunk them down at a desk and tell them that the only thing we’re going to learn today is what the teacher says, you start to choke that curiosity.

When I have kids, I intend to use a combination of homeschooling/unschooling, but the unschooling seems to be the best way to insure that the child does not lose the desire to learn and to investigate the world around them. I am not interested in raising children to be corporate drones. I am interested in teaching them to be intelligent people who think outside the box and continue to learn all their lives.

Another point in favor of the unschooling method of parenting. I have taught in otherwise comparable pre-schools with an entirely handed-down-from-on-high curriculum and with a child-directed one. The child-directed kids learn more, behave better, and the teacher works less and has more fun. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.


Permission to Copy
This URL is: http://www.johmann.net/commentary/unschooling.html

Revisions:
          May 2002: added footnote 2
end