SCS News and Views: Schooling Styles

By Kali Adams
Oct-1-E-INTERN-Group-Pic-S-copyKali Adams, a 13-year-old Shelburne resident who is homeschooled and takes some classes at SCS, likes to write and read poetry and historical fiction. She enjoys biking and being outdoors. She has a brother named Collin. Her dad is a teacher at SCS and her mom homeschools Kali and her brother.
These days, there are more people wondering about what is the “right” way to school their child. Homeschooling and unschooling numbers are on the rise, yet traditional schools are still the driving force in America’s educational system. What makes people choose one option over the other?
Most people have been to a traditional school at some point in their lives, and many children continue their education in one all of their lives. The idea of a “centered learning place” goes back to Classical Antiquity, and formal schools have existed at least since Ancient Rome, though the Islamic people developed more of what we would consider a modern school.
Many people choose to send their children to a traditional school because of the convenience of it and, with a traditional or a private school, their child is hopefully assured an education that will help them later in life. The school work is generally a set routine, which some kids and families find easier to manage. Also, kids are taught social skills they will need for the greater world as they interact with their peers and teachers throughout the day.
One of the relatively new forces in traditional schooling is the Common Core, a set of standards for education. Only eight states in America have not adopted their principles, which primarily are concerned with what knowledge a child needs at the end of each grade. It is not a set curriculum; the teachers still have control over how to get their students to each level. This has been a revolution in how traditional schools function, as not only does the Common Core draw its standards from the American school system, but also from overseas, so the next generation has the right skills needed for when they head out into the world.

Homeschoolers meet for a Department of Children and Families (DCF) book group at the Pierson Library on Sept.19.
Homeschoolers meet for a Dorothy Canfield Fisher (DCF) book group at the Pierson Library on Sept.19.

But for some people, traditional schools don’t fit the bill. That is where homeschooling and unschooling come in. Parents who unschool or homeschool their kids do it for a variety of reasons; family dynamics, school environments and religious beliefs are a few examples. But while homeschooling and unschooling may be linked in some ways, they are drastically different in others.
Homeschooling works in similar ways to traditional schools, though centered around the home. Children have a set education and are taught by their parents or tutors. Different from traditional school, homeschoolers have varying schedules and often have days where they are in the community learning, whether it be a field trip to Fort Ticonderoga, or a class taught by the Vermont Historical Society. Homeschoolers often are more independent through life, as they have control of their school work and have to learn how to use time wisely. This leads to a variety of benefits. Valerie Wood-Lewis, a mom from Burlington, has been homeschooling for seven years, and finds benefits everywhere.
When asked why she decided to homeschool, her answer was simple: “I see homeschooling as a way to truly live the idea that learning is a lifelong and joy-filled endeavor that happens outside exploring nature, in an armchair with a great book, fixing a household appliance, volunteering in the community – everywhere, all the time.” Many people have similar reasons, and the benefits? According to Valerie, “Benefits have been increased multi-age and multi-generation play and learning, time to explore passions and interests, increased connection as a family, and preserved internal motivation to learn.”
Unschooling differs from homeschooling because it works around that belief that children want to learn. There is no set curriculum, no daily schedules. Whatever the kids are interested in, that’s what they’ll be doing all day.
Some people find this very risky. What if the children don’t want to learn? That really doesn’t matter: John Holt, dubbed as “The Father of Unschooling”, has been quoted, saying, “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever must be learned” Studies show that children, from a very young age, are always trying to learn, to grasp one more piece of our world. Even if they or their parents don’t realize it, they are learning through the simplest things: Baking teaches fractions and conversions, outdoor play provides PE, along with a dose of science. Questions that come up in everyday activities lead to whole-hearted discussions. Many children who were unschooled later go on to be whatever they wanted to as a child, as they have most often taken their learning experience on that path.
So what is the “right” way to school a child? Perhaps there is none. Every child is different, and hence every education should be unique. Some kids find a classroom an ideal place to learn, while others prefer their backyard. There are benefits and drawbacks to all; none is perfect. The best thing is, we can learn from all of them.