The Case against Unschooling

“Unschooling” your child sets him or her up for a painful reality check later on in life. The idea that children profit from a completely unstructured time stems from the Utopian world-view, and has done more to destroy our modern culture than terrorism or Hollywood combined.

Rousseau first developed the idea of a completely unfettered childhood with no responsibilities. He postulated that human beings were inherently good and that the environment made them act poorly. He decided that removing the social constructs of their life would produce good children.

The idea sounds great on the outset, and many people at the time were captured by the child-raising ideas of this bohemian man who was “authentic to himself” and was extremely counter-cultural. Most Parisians of the time were willing to overlook a few inconsistencies in his personal life, such as the children he had with his mistress and consigned to the orphanage, where most died and the few who survived wound up begging on the streets.

You see, the man who came up with the idea of “no obligations,” no “demands of society,” and “just let the children run free” was running from his own past and trying to excuse his personal cruelty with a new concept of what society should be like. If there were no societal responsibilities, then he could look himself in the mirror and not feel bad about handing his own children over to certain death or lifelong misery.

This moral “genius” created and propagated the concept of “unschooling,” although that term was not developed until the 1970’s, where he advocated children do whatever they want, and they will eventually learn what they need to learn.

Tests and grades are tossed out the window with “unschooling,” as these are external judgments placed on your child by society. Each child is an island all to themselves, and if they never learn to read and write, but can climb every tree around and talk on the phone for hours, they are as much a success as the child who masters calculus and creates a dissertation on an esoteric principle of physics.

If any parent has tried to get their child to clean their bedroom while they are playing a video game, they know quite well that a child allowed to run free will only do what they consider fun and ignore anything involving work that they receive no immediate gratification from. Yes, the child probably will learn how to read and write, given how enticing the internet is, and will be a genius at all things electronic. They, however, will not master calculus, chemistry, or physics unless they have an inherent inclination or talent for the subject.

The unschooled child will learn all the minute details about the subjects they care for, and will ignore any subject they do not like. The child will become quite lopsided, and will develop the idea that if they do not like something, they can just ignore it. This way of looking at life will do them no favors when they grow up and leave home. The boss will fire the employee who only does what they feel like, and the college will fail out the student who ignores calculus in favor of English and keg stands.

Not giving your child tests or grades does not prepare them for the real world where their work will be judged against others, and their boss is willing to tell them in very painful terms where they came up short (we call it “getting fired” and “living on welfare”). Preparing your child for failure and standards that you either meet or fail on the relatively inconsequential grammar-school level actually does them the favor of preparing them for what lies ahead. The parent who does not prepare their child does not love their child, for they know what is coming but lets it hit him or her like a ton of bricks anyway.

“Unschooling” took off in the 60’s and 70’s, when everyone wanted to be free and throw off all social norms. The idea that if we all did what we wanted to do the world would be a better place sounded great, but the movement was characterized mostly by drugs, sex, and music, and was hardly known for any actual contribution that moved society forward. Indeed, the title of The Greatest Generation was reserved by Tom Brokaw for the 1940’s generation who buckled down, worked hard, and sacrificed as a group to get through World War II.

Unschooling your child does not provide the external discipline and work ethic they need to survive and thrive in our modern, fast paced, capitalistic society. In a world where “only the strong survive,” a bohemian free-thinker who is not inclined to work hard at anything he or she doesn’t like will soon get cast to the side in favor of the person who is disciplined even when they don’t like the topic at hand.

Do your child a favor. Toss the “unschooling” brochure in the same trashcan that you threw the “girls just can’t learn math or science” brochure. They are both equally inaccurate.