unschooling in action

Unschooling in action at the Schoolhouse picnic

Unschooling (more usually known in the UK as autonomous education) was in the news last week when Maryanne Jacobs, a home educator from Gorebridge, Midlothian, was interviewed on Daybreak TV and featured in an article in the Daily Mail.

Children stay at home to ‘learn naturally’ via games and long walks

The stay-at-home children who are being ‘unschooled’: Mother lets her kids ‘teach’ themselves – by playing computer games and having ‘life experiences’

Maryanne gave an excellent account of home education the autonomous or unschooling way, and she is to be congratulated for raising awareness of how children learn naturally outwith the unnatural confines of schools and other institutional ‘care’ settings. Her charming daughter Rio, who appeared on TV alongside her mother, clearly demonstrated the benefits of such an education, where state dictated wellbeing indicators and outcomes are anathema.

When it comes to unconventional and lesser known educational choices such as unschooling, there are always risks involved in engaging with conventional soundbite media channels, whose questions are invariably framed within the context and mindset of schooling, as opposed to education. This excerpt from the Daybreak TV article sums up the school-centric attitude which pervades the media and the rest of society:

“A mother who has taken her two children out of education and does not home school them has explained her alternative methods of teaching to Daybreak.”

Maryanne has not taken her children out of education, she simply does not use schools. Moreover, use of the American terms ‘home school’ or ‘homeschooling’ is an irritant to many home educating parents in the UK. Indeed Schoolhouse has considered starting a campaign to ban homeschooling (as opposed to home education)!

A significant number of commenters struggled to understand how this philosophy of education could possibly work in practice since “everybody” knows (evidence not cited) that children need to be forced to learn or “they’ll  just sit around all day, never learn to socialise or deal with bullying, never get a job or go to university” (we paraphrase, but you get the judgemental picture based on the old familiar combo of ignorance and arrogance).  We wonder where they have been since a large number of home educated adults who were autonomously educated have gone on to live satisfying and productive lives. Journalist Caitlin Moran, whose pilot sitcom Raised by Wolves, loosely based on her own unschooled childhood, is to be shown on Channel 4 on 23 December, can hardly be described as a drain on society or a shrinking violet! The same can be said for the many autonomously educated children Schoolhouse has had the privilege to watch grow up over the years into well balanced adults with jobs, businesses, university degrees and strong opinions!

For those practising or considering unschooling or autonomous education in the UK, the following Facebook groups may be of interest:

AEUK (and its allied website Autonomous Education UK)

UK Unschooling Network

Sandra Dodd’s website provides an excellent overview of unschooling. A popular and high profile unschooler from New Mexico, she visited Scotland in 2011 and gave two public presentations on the subject in Edinburgh.