Unschooling as educational neglect

In her article, "Some Call it Unschooling, I Call it Educational Neglect," Norfolk Homeschooling Examiner, Sherene Silverberg, used a general definition of unschooling from one of my articles to support her argument against unschooling.

Ms. Silverberg fell prey to some common misperceptions of unschooling, which I will respond to with this article. As to her more prejudicial admonishments of unschooling children as unkempt monsters in need of discipline and unschooling parents as "lazy women who don't want the work involved with sending their children to school," I will not attend.

Coerced Learning Inhibits Curiosity

Firstly, my definition of unschooling pointed to John Holt's assertion that coerced learning inhibits a child's natural curiosity and desire to learn.

Ms. Silverberg interpreted that statement in the following way.
"How can Holt, and unschoolers, say that if the child doesn't initiate the learning, then it is coerced learning?  This is the most ridiculous concept I have ever heard of."
Initiation Does Not Imply Coercion

If unschoolers did equate initiation of activities with coercion, I would agree that the concept is ridiculous. It would be a case of  "throwing out the baby with the bath water," as the saying goes. However, I don't equate introducing, sharing, participating, or guiding my children in their interests with the act of coercion.

Unschooling Parents "Teach" Their Children

Some unschoolers shy away from the word, "teach," because of its association with coercion. However, that does not mean that unschooling parents don't teach their children.
  • Unschooling parents introduce their children to new interests.
  • Unschooling parents share information with their children.
  • Unschooling parents participate in learning activities with their children.
  • Unschooling parents guide their children.

Late Readers

In her article, Ms. Silverberg expressed her bogglement at the negligence of a parent who would fail to teach a young child to read. She claimed to be:
". . . forever meeting moms in real life and on the net who are proud of the fact that their 6-12 year olds aren't yet reading because they have not yet expressed an interest in doing so."
As a member of the unschooling community, I disagree with her assessment that unschooling mothers are proud of their children's inability to read. I have participated in numerous discussions with worried parents of children who resist learning to read.

I cannot imagine a parent who would not help a child learn to read. In keeping with the unschooling approach, I did not coerce my children into learning to read. I introduced them to reading by reading to them. I introduced them to letters and sounds. I invited them to join me in learning-to-read activities.

When my first daughter expressed that she did not want to practice reading, I did not push her to continue. Instead, I remained available and willing to help when she felt ready to resume. As an unschooling parent, I did not feel proud that she resisted reading. I remained attentive and alert for what caused my daughter to feel overwhelmed and for ways I might help.

Common Misperceptions of Unschooling

Ms. Silverberg claims to have driven her children to learn Greek and Latin roots. Because they did not express an interest in learning Greek and Latin, Ms. Silverberg believes that unschoolers would accuse her of coercing her children. Only Ms. Silverberg and her children know if she forced her children to learn against their wills.

Introduction and teaching do not necessarily imply coercion in the minds of unschoolers. This common misinterpretation of unschooling philosophy is not reflected in practice. Unschooling parents do help their children learn. It was the desire to actively participate in my children's learning that drew me to unschooling.

Lack of coercion defines unschooling. Beyond that, unschooling practice does not look like "playing video games morning, noon, and night," as Ms. Silverberg suggests. Unschooling is a philosophical approach to living and learning with children. It is not a method of education outwardly recognizable by unkempt children or any particular activity.

See also: Why I listen to unschooling opposition

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