parents

It's time to call extreme "unschooling" what it is: Neglect.

These Australian kids are missing out on learning basic life skills. It’s time to call that what it is: Neglect.

Unschooling. It’s not to be confused with home schooling — because its advocates don’t just reject the idea of attending a school, they reject the idea of a curriculum altogether.

That’s right. Instead of classes, chapters and tests, children are expected to rely on play, curiosity, travel and family discussions to learn. Oh, and unschooling is all about “learner-led” education — meaning, quite literally, that children just get to choose what they want to do each day. (Uh-huh…)

If that sounds irritatingly new-age or just downright shocking to you, you’re not alone. Because as a NSW parliamentary inquiry report has just found, the increasingly popular education trend may amount to “educational neglect”.

is unschooling negligent
“The committee is concerned that taken to its extreme, children who are unschooled may not achieve even basic levels of literacy and numeracy,” the inquiry’s newly released report says. “The application of unschooling may constitute educational neglect.”

“The committee is concerned that taken to its extreme, children who are unschooled may not achieve even basic levels of literacy and numeracy,” the inquiry’s newly released report says. “The application of unschooling may constitute educational neglect.”

The committee’s deputy chairman, Greens MP John Kaye, added that “subjecting children to unschooling raises serious educational and welfare issues”.

Despite those alarming revelations, NSW Premier Mike Baird has ruled out investigating the trend — this week signing an official response saying the government won’t support the inquiry’s recommendation for independent research into unschooling, Fairfax reports.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s a move that Mr Kaye criticised — even suggesting that Mr Baird may be “meddling in a policy area that is increasingly of interest to his conservative Christian power base.”

is unschooling negligent
Free schooling is a right that parents in other, less-developed countries would kill to secure for their kids. So when advocates of unschooling promote their catchwords like “learner-led educations,” it’s hard not to feel they need to check their privilege.

Well, here’s why the state government needs to sit up and take unschooling on: In its most extreme form, the radical education trend is straight-out neglect.

That’s a strong word, but the fact is, kids have a right to education. It’s a right enshrined in a number of United Nations treaties specifically because the international community recognises education’s power as a key tool to of empowerment and development.

In other words, free schooling is a right that parents in other, less-developed countries would kill to secure for their kids.

So despite their best intentions, it’s hard to resist feeling that advocates of unschooling — with their online forums debating bizarre questions like “My child is loving school. How can I encourage him to unschool? —  need to check their privilege.

kids on beach feature
“In other words, free schooling is a right that parents in other, less-developed countries would kill to secure for their kids. So do unschooling advocates need to check their privilege?”
ADVERTISEMENT

Here’s another thing about the radical education trend that’s hard to swallow. Its advocates believe that the personal types of “learning” chosen by a particular child will necessarily be more “meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful”. That’s seemingly why, according to one Queensland mother who unschools her son, unschooling parents literally sit their kids down in the morning and ask “what do you want to do today?”

Well, a  A quick poll of my friends suggests regular Aussie kids would respond something like this:

“My kids would go on the computer and play Shaun the Sheep games for about an hour, then fight over tiny toys and torment each other till they’re both in tears.”

” My son would play handball for 6 hours if I let him. My daughter would just put makeup on everyone.”

“They’d play minecraft, get around nude and kick a football.”

What is it that kids are supposed to learn from those “learner-led” activities, again?

Two boys are reading during night time
“The NSW Teachers Federation tells Mamamia “students are best served by attending their local public school or by connecting via distance public education programs if they live in a remote location”.

Unsurprisingly, teachers are concerned about the effects of removing kids from the formal education system. The NSW Teachers Federation tells Mamamia “students are best served by attending their local public school or by connecting via distance public education programs if they live in a remote location”.

ADVERTISEMENT

The federation’s deputy president Gary Zadkovich adds in an emailed statement: “NSW public schools provide world-leading, high quality education that meets the complex learning needs of students – socially, culturally and academically…

[A]lternative approaches such as home schooling or ‘unschooling’ cannot match the depth and breadth of the high quality education provided by NSW public schools.”

Related: Unschooling in Australia: Is it viable?

Initial studies into life outcomes for unschooled kids appear to support that view. A 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science found that unschooled children were between one and four school year levels behind their schooled peers. Indeed, while advocates of the radical movement say they turn out young people who “love to learn” and are therefore equipped to excel in their chosen area, unschooling is largely unregulated — which means there’s not much opportunity to check whether children are actively pursuing an education, or if they’re simply being neglected.

Read more: Unschooling. Home schooling: The extreme version.

Disturbingly, some unschooling advocates even straight-out deny that kids need to learn literacy and numeracy and other basic life skills at all.

According to one unschooling advocate: “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance.” Another writes on a prominent unschooling website that: “Skills like learning vocabulary, spelling and math, while valuable for those who choose futures require such skills, like writer/journalist/editor or engineer/architect, for example, may wind up being distant, secondary needs for others.”

is unschooling negligent
” It’s impossible to predict what career your child will choose when they come of age– so isn’t it unfair to deny them the widest range of opportunities available?”
ADVERTISEMENT

The bottom line is this.

Like it or not, we live in a country where basic literacy and numeracy skills are essential prerequisites to most jobs and tertiary study opportunities. Since it’s impossible to predict what career your child will choose when they come of age, isn’t it unfair to deny them the widest range of opportunities available?

Also: Call me old-school, but if kids need one thing apart from unconditional love, it’s direction.

We don’t let kids choose when to leave the house just because they feel like it. We don’t let them choose whether to go to bed at night, or what TV show they get to watch. Instead, we guide them. We teach them how to function in society. We ensure they’re equipped with the basic skills they’ll need to grasp any opportunity they desire.

That’s what parents and teachers do. That’s how children learn what it means to be part of wider society, how we produce productive citizens of the world, and why our world-class education system is so important.

So Mike Baird, it’s time to take unschooling seriously. And it’s time to call extreme forms of this scary new trend what it is: Educational neglect.

Related content: Earlier this year, parents of 10 children were charged with neglect in the US. The kids had never been to school and had no access to running water – but parents said their children were just “free range”. Scroll through gallery to see the conditions in which they were living and read more about their story in this post.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Would you consider unschooling?

Related:

Kate Hunter: When were you left home alone?

Mother arrested after she refused to give her baby formula.

Parents investigated for neglect claim their kids were just “free range”.

We don’t need free-range parenting in Australia.

This isn’t ‘free range parenting’. It’s neglect.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???