Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas-Day editorial attempt to slam unschooling

I didn't see the Sunday column to which he refers, but this is from the middle of a three parter column by Neil Steinberg in the Chicago Sun-Times. There are lots of unschoolers in Chicago who will comment, no doubt. It's fun to see how wrong he has it.,CST-NWS-stein25.article

"No more teachers' dirty looks ..."

There is a brand of contemptuous, snarling, right-wing American rage, a damnation of all things liberal, that has been rather quiet -- sulking perhaps -- since the recent election. In this job, I hear it expressed a lot, or used to, but never felt it much myself. Though there was one moment, I recall vividly, when it cracked through my soul like an arc of electricity. I was listening to a lullaby, "Child of Mine," by 1960s singer/songwriter Carole King.

"You don't need direction," she sings, one assumes to her raggy, unkempt babe, "you know which way to go. . . ."
No, no, no, NO!! If I've learned one thing raising boys for the last 11 years, it is that kids need direction and lots of it, plus guidance, oversight, discipline, monitoring and constant upkeep. Left to their own devices, they will set the sofa on fire to see what happens. They will juggle knives, or try to. They will spend their days eating frozen sticks of butter and slapping their video game controllers until their fingers bleed.

Thus I was a little unsettled by Rosalind Rossi's provocative front page story Sunday about "unschooling," the practice of letting kids drop out of school and, basically, teach themselves whatever they like on their own schedule.

No doubt it works for certain rare -- very rare -- kids. It certainly worked for Roz's main subject, Abby Stewart: a ballerina, well-read, off to Princeton.

But I would suggest that Stewart is more the exception than the rule -- and that rule we shall call the "Toddler in the Woods Rule." It states: Even though an occasional child will toddle off into Craggy Ravine National Park and be discovered, three days later, happy and fit and berry-stained, having sipped dew and made friends with bears, there are 99 others who won't, 99 others who make a beeline for the first cliff and are never seen again. Thus, despite any heartwarming exceptions, it still isn't a good idea to let your children get lost in the woods.

Someone has to say it. Schools are good and necessary. Teachers are good and necessary. Parents are good and necessary. And while it is marvelous -- in the sense of being a marvel -- that certain autodidactic prodigies can thrive on their own, that doesn't mean that "unschooling" would work for all kids or even most kids. They need direction because they don't know which way to go.

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