What is Unschooling?
This does not mean that resources, even clearly defined resources such as textbooks, courses, diplomas and degrees, will never be used. However, they are used at the discretion of the learner. Unschooling puts educational choice in the hands of the one doing the learning.
For example, I am interested in photography. I have a good camera, and experiment with different techniques. I read books and talk to other photographers. Initially my learning curve is high. Eventually it begins to level out — I reach a point where I have learned what I can independently, or I want to continue learning at a faster pace than I can on my own, and I now feel the need for specific assistance from someone more experienced than me, or I find that I would like to work in this field, and need a qualification in order to do so.So I do a photography course, and eventually maybe even a diploma or degree that will hopefully help me achieve these objectives...
But the process of learning remains my responsibility.
Sadly, John Holt died of cancer at a relatively young age, but not before he had had a considerable impact on the educational community. I have grown to love and respect the heart of the man that comes through in the pages of his books. Like Charlotte Mason, he really really cared about children.
As a young man he taught in a small school. He kept diaries of his classroom experiences and observations; these were edited and published as two books: 'How Children Learn', and 'How Children Fail'.
Holt began to question the current educational philosophy and methodology, and the questions he was asking and the conclusions he was drawing grew into more books. He wrote ten books in all. They are:
How Children Fail (1964; revised 1982)
How Children Learn (1967; revised 1983)
The Underachieving School (1969)
What Do I Do Monday? (1970)
Freedom and Beyond (1972)
Escape From Childhood (1974)
Instead of Education (1976)
Never Too Late (1979)
Teach Your Own (1981; revised 2003 by Pat Farenga)
Learning All the Time (1989)
And finally, after his death, Susan Schaeffer put together a collection of Holt’s letters, which were published in a book called A Life Worth Living (1990)
John Holt brought focus to the concept of education outside of the institution of school by naming it, writing and speaking about it, and by publishing the first magazine that supported parents choosing to educate their children themselves. The debt we own him is immeasurable.
He inspired people to think about education in new, less confined ways. He shared valuable insights gained from his practical experience as an educator, and his thinking about education and childhood, that encouraged home educating parents and that helped validate their choice. Over and over again his plea was that we treat children with great respect – that we respect their boundaries and their personhood and their abilities. The emphasis was always on an understanding of the innate capacities of all people, including children, to learn and discover. Thus curriculum would always be secondary to the learner’s interests, desires, motivation, and goals.
Learning is personal, and is driven by the inherent desire ‘to know’ within each person, his curiosity, his need to feel competent and whole, and his need to have fun. Learning happens as one is actively engaged in one’s own life, and it can take on a life of its own.
An important aspect of Holt's thinking was that people (and that included children) could learn without being taught, and in fact, "unwanted teaching" could actually interfere with the individual’s natural learning process at a given time..
John Holt summed it up perfectly when he said, "By nature people are learning animals. Birds fly; fish swim; humans think and learn. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing, or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do - and all we need to do - is to give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for, listen respectfully when they feel like talking, and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest."