September 27, 2020

The Rise Of Unschooling And What It May Mean For Homeschooling Freedom

There’s no denying that the face of homeschooling has evolved over the years. Four decades ago, Christian parents who were becoming increasingly concerned with the state of publicly funded education, risked losing their children by pulling them out of what was considered to be mandatory government schooling. Today, in North America, we currently enjoy unprecedented freedom to home educate. But, I fear this freedom may be coming to an end…and we may be bringing it upon ourselves.

Early modern homeschooling pioneers (I say “modern,” because homeschooling was the original form of education. Government-funded, age-segregated, compulsory upheaval of family life and cultural traditions by way of a standardized, one-size-fits-all government agenda is only a few hundred years old.) had no real statistics to verify their decision in court, no stacks of contemporary homeschool success stories to persuade the doubtful, no previous experience to bank on, and very few resources at their disposal. Co-ops, conventions, curriculum fairs, support groups, and online networks were unheard of.

To make matters more difficult, very few parents had a teaching degree, something most of society deemed to be a critical factor in successful education. How else would they know what to teach and how to teach it? How would their children learn to socialize? Homeschooled children would be at an enormous disadvantage, or so it would seem. Expertly rendered hypothesis’ determined that to be the case.

In the face of immense opposition and ridicule from government, schools, friends, and family, freedom-loving, God-fearing parents battled the odds, clinging to one hope: that parent-led, home-based, family discipleship was in accord with Scripture. If God had called them to it, He would see them through it.

And He did.

Homeschooling was (and still is) wildly successful in all the ways critics didn’t expect it to be. Children taught by “unqualified” parents scored far higher in every single subject than their public school counterparts. They grew up considerably more involved in social and civic activities – an estimated 14x more likely than the average student. Homeschooled children got into university and did well there. They held jobs, married, and started families. More importantly, the vast majority of children who were instructed at home by Christian parents held strongly to the same values and convictions they were brought up with.

There was no denying that homeschooling worked and was being blessed Supernaturally. Freedom to think outside the box and account for individual learning styles strengthens and weaknesses, flexibility in schedules and curriculum, and one-on-one instruction proved to be a superior method of education. Skeptics were converted and critics were silenced as more and more people warmed up to the idea of instructing their own children.

Before long, almost everybody knew somebody that homeschooled. Laws were made to protect the right a parent had to homeschool, and the risk of losing one’s children was no longer a factor to consider. Support groups began to pop up all over the place. Books and curricula written specifically for homeschoolers were published. Co-ops were started, conventions were organized, websites and radio programs dedicated to the topic drew millions of readers and listeners from across the country.

As word spread and evidence proved that homeschooling was successful, a paradigm shift began to take place. Parents began homeschooling for all kinds of reasons. Some homeschooled because they liked the idea of choosing a curriculum that fit their uniquely gifted children. Some homeschooled because they loved the flexibility it afforded. Some homeschooled because they saw the academic advantage of one-on-one instruction. Some homeschooled because they didn’t want their child’s interest in a subject to be interrupted by bells and whistles. Some homeschooled because they wanted to teach a child, not a curriculum.

Fewer and fewer parents began homeschooling out of the conviction that this was something the Lord was calling them to do.

Originally pursued as a method of family discipleship and the opportunity to instill biblical values into the children one was divinely entrusted with, no matter what the outcome, homeschooling morphed into an academic choice that benefited the individual. A decision that was once made out of obedience and a desire to glorify God was now being made for narcissistic reasons.

Secular home education advocates and philosophers researched and debated different ideas on how to teach, what to teach, and when to teach it. In the quest for academic excellence, much of the original motivation to home educate was lost. Departure from God’s Word as the ultimate guide and standard of education gave birth to unbiblical theories about children and how they learn.

One increasingly popular school of thought assumes that children are inherently good. They need no formal instruction. If we simply let them be wild and free, on the basis of their natural goodness and curiosity, they will learn everything they need to in due time.

Instead of being actively responsible for the training of their children, parents are encouraged to assume a passive role; to sit on the sidelines, as it were, providing a safe and rich learning environment, but refraining from providing deliberate instruction unless it is specifically requested on a child’s own terms.

We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by…paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” – John Holt, pioneer of Unschooling and Youth Rights

 

I choose to give my children freedom to speak their mind, dress how they want and style their hair however they please. I’m not interested in telling them who they should be in order to make myself look good to the outside world. I am their guardian. I am here to protect them while they remember who they are and what they came here to do.” ~ Unschooler, known as Barefoot Mama, from The Barefoot Five

This is called Unschooling, and while society has been taught several great lessons by its converts about how children learn and the kind of harm traditional, government education can endow, the premise behind Unschooling is based on bad theology. The whole tenor of Scripture rejects the notion that children are born good and need limited amounts of guidance and instruction from their parents.

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17: 9
  • “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…” Proverbs 22:15
  • “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” Proverbs 13:18
  • “He who loves [his son] is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24
  • “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1
  • “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
  • “…a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Proverbs 29:15
  • If we, like public schools in the past, remove God and His precepts from our motivation to home educate, how can we expect Him to continue to pour out His blessings? Since the beginning of time, God has graciously reserved His blessings for those who live in obedience to His Word. His judgment is executed on those who choose to follow after their own inclinations.

Sometimes God judges people by taking away their freedom. Remember the Israelites? Sometimes God judges people by hardening their hearts and letting them have their own way. Remember Pharaoh? Either position is a terrifying place to be. Homeschooling our children apart from a biblical worldview is no better than sending them to a state-sponsored institutional school devoid of the true knowledge of God. Perhaps they may still have an academic advantage; but spiritually speaking, if we neglect to use home education as the vehicle in which to impress upon our children the one thing needful, we have missed the point entirely.

Homeschooling is freedom, yes, but we’re not free to do whatever we please in regards to how we educate our children. Letting them run “wild and free,” neglecting our God-given responsibility to instruct, reprove, discipline, and train our children in the fear of the Lord, is evidence that we’re still held captive – and holding our children captive – to a life of sin.

Homeschooling allows us to teach our children about true freedom as it is found in obedience and submission to Christ (Proverbs 7:2; 8:32; 13:13; 16:17; 19:16; Luke 11:28; John 13:17). There is plenty of room within God’s design for a multitude of curriculum choices and teaching methods, flexible schedules and routines, and even the very relaxed approach to homeschooling our family enjoys, but if we cherish this freedom, we must honor the One who gave it to us. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Recommended Reading

  • Homeschooling in America And Europe: A Litmus Test Of Democracy by John Warick Montgomery
  • Homeschooling: The Right Choice by Christopher Klicka
  • The God Imperative by Dave Dentel
  • The Heart of Homeschooling by Christopher Klicka
  • Upgrade: 10 Secret To The Best Education For Your Child by Kevin Swanson

6 thoughts on “The Rise Of Unschooling And What It May Mean For Homeschooling Freedom

  1. As a Christian homeschooling parent, I agree with your reservations about unschooling. However, from your post, it seems you are most fearful and critical of non-Christian homeschoolers, no matter what ‘genre’ they are. Classical non-Christians would focus too much on academics, Charlotte Mason parents might worship nature more than the Creator, for example. I think the more honest takeaway from your post is fear of non-Christians having the ‘right’ to homeschool; rather than singling out unschoolers–the vast majority of which I have met, claim to be Christian. I think the greater danger in unschooling is the lack of actual ‘teaching’ which often (not always) leads to children suffering and falling far behind their peers. There are certainly unschooling success stories, but I have not yet seen any personally. Although they would not claim the title, I view certain Christian groups who choose to only teach the Bible and basic life skills to the exclusion of higher academics (especially to their girls) as equal to unschoolers. It is just as foolish to me. God created all of us with a mind and spirit and to nurture one at the expense of the other is missing the mark.

    I appreciate the sacrifice and risk the ‘founding’ homeschoolers took, but the world has changed and the trials and tribulations they went through are not the same challenges homschoolers of today face. I have noticed at some of the homeschool conventions/literature that feature some of the ‘founders’, they seem stuck in time and somewhat annoyed at the popularity of homeschooling now. It is frustrating. If Christians wish to continue to lead on the homeschool issue, we must recognize and speak to the current educational climate. I think it is awesome that so many locations having a thriving homeschool community (secular and Christian). As Christians, we should strive for excellence and produce the best students we can, academically and spiritually. If we do that, I feel Christian homeschoolers will always have a seat at the table, no matter how the homeschool climate evolves.

  2. I agree that I don’t agree with unschooling.
    But my issue with this article is with this statement: “A decision that was once made out of obedience and a desire to glorify God was now being made for narcissistic reasons.” Maybe I’m wrong but I feel this is saying that if you homeschool for academic reasons, that is wrong.

    I believe that even as Christians sometimes the decision to homeschool is legitimately academic-related.

    We have a very good Christian school associated with our church in our city. As a result, our decision to homeschool (if we make it…still trying to decide) will be related to academics. I believe we have two very good options – Christian traditional school or homeschool. Both will teach our children about the Lord in every aspect of their education. So it comes down to what is best for my children. Whatever the decision, if it is made with God, it is a good one.

  3. I’ll be honest– I’m not entirely sure what my homeschooling style would be classified as. What I do know is that we don’t do long periods of desk work, and we allow our children a lot of free play time. That may be bordering on unschooling. However, I wouldn’t say that we subscribe to any sort of philosophy of not teaching them. (Apparently, I’m going to have to read up on unschooling though, since I really don’t know a whole lot about it). My kids are small right now, so I haven’t pushed desk work. We do 15 minutes here and there, and it has been enough. My oldest was reading before she turned 4, and at 6 years old, she devours books. My second is 4 and currently learning to read. All three of our kids help around the house with things such as cooking and baking, cleaning, building whatever project we have going on at the moment, doing laundry, etc. They play an active part in the family. And while we do very little “schooling” we are constantly teaching them. We believe that an education isn’t necessarily the same as schooling. And throughout every day, we are relating things back to God and His Word. God is definitely our most important reason for homeschooling, along with our belief that He gave our children into our care, and their education is our responsibility.
    So maybe we unschool (I’m not sure! haha), but God IS our focus. And I believe that God can probably be at the focus of any schooling style.

  4. I have been reading your blog for a while but never commented. After reading this post, I felt compelled to – for two reasons. One is your courage to speak your mind. You don’t comment from a position on the fence – you say what you believe politely, but directly. I admire that. The other reason is that I agree quite strongly with you here. Our children were at a Christian school and we were comfortable with their academic education. Although the six hours a day seemed a long time to do, sometimes, very little! The niggling doubt in my heart (that just wouldn’t go away) was in the other areas of their “life education”. With eight children we were always rushing about and I was feeling like I had lost track of my childrens’ hearts, and their learning in self-discipline, compassionate thought, good worthwhile communication, to name a few things. I prayed, thought, prayed some more and then, this very conventional mother, took her kids out of school. The leap of faith was huge for me and coincided with another situation that required a lot of faith (we were expecting another baby and were having serious complications – both for me and Baby). I now know that God had led me to homeschooling at this time because our ninth child (who is now a happy, healthy 18 month old) has Down Syndrome and I strongly believe that a home education will serve him best in the future – God has given me a few years to hone my teaching skills! Anyway, the upshot of all this is – I have become a more patient mother, I feel I know my children better and have the quality time to teach them how to be good, compassionate adults. I believe you have to train a child and this is the foundation for them to then follow their passions. Everything in moderation. Blessings to you and your family from New Zealand.

  5. I am in the process of switching my 15-year-old to homeschooling. I will be using Midwest Christian Academy as I want him to have a solid education based on Christian standards. I also need the flexibility as he has aspergers. This choice also provides a diploma vs a GED.

  6. I can see that you have not spent any time around Christians unschooling information. While the basic premise seems to be the same Christian unschoolers are very aware of what the bible says and they do understand it and follow it. However their following looks as different from “normal” homeschooling as homeschooling is from public schooling.

    To put it in a nutshell Christian unschoolers do not dictate what their children learn. They assist, guide(not passively sideline sitting) and follow Deuteronomy 6 but without the concept of lessons and school. They recognize that their children need the Savior and live as other Christians do within each family’s denominational choice.
    In fact our family was led(yes by God) to unschooling for a short time due to my, then undiagnosed, Fibromyalgia. They actually did better with that than when I was trying to force homeschooling in when I could barely function due to my disorder. We have come back to a more structured home education method but it was a God given blessing for the time. If I only had my one daughter, she flourished so well with the method that I doubt we would have changed back to a structured method.
    Yes the secular proponents of unschooling are a mess compared to God’s ways but so is public school, secular private school and textbook based secular homeschool. The difference is in the secular not the method itself.

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