It’s Not New-Agey or Weird: What Black Families Should Know About Unschooling

Black girls playing on beach

Last week, Steve Harvey discussed unschooling on his popular talk show. Harvey explained a major benefit of homeschooling his own children was increased family time, but while he supports homeschooling he is unfamiliar with unschooling.

On the show, Harvey had a panel of parents who were considered ‘new school’ and another panel considered ‘old school’.

As I watched the segment on Youtube, I reflected on my own experience.

1. Unschooling is focused on teaching children according to their interests
Akilah described unschooling as “focused on the kids interests, so you use the interest as a gateway to open them up to other things.” And that description is spot on. Allowing children to pursue their interests is especially important in the primary years. As a former high school teacher I have come across so many students who lack creativity and don’t have a strong sense of curiosity. I recall multiple occasions where I gave students freedom to create a presentation or project, only to be faced with the disappointing phrase: “Miss I don’t know what to do.” I would respond by telling them, “Anything you like!” However more often than not students would simply ask that I give them a topic.

An education system that constantly tells children what to think and puts the majority of its focus on test scores creates individuals who are incapable of coming up with their own conclusions and waiting for someone to tell them what to do. When children are not only allowed but encouraged to follow their passions, to be curious and explore, the stage is set for them to become inventors, creators and problem solvers. Whether you unschool or use traditional school as a primary means of education, allowing children to pursue their curiosity at a young age is the best education you can give your child.

2. There is no curriculum timetable or objective measure of ‘success’ — and that’s not a bad thing
Bethany, one of the mothers on Harvey’s panel confessed that her 5 year old could not read. A father on the ‘old school’ side seemed shocked. But unschooling does not have academic standards and measures of success as the mainstream education system does. And as a homeschooling mother I have experienced this. Although my children are advanced in other areas, my oldest child showed no interest in writing. In fact she was a opposed to writing every time I tried to force it on her. I shared this with my husband and we both decided to back off and allow her to come to writing on her own. That means we abandoned all the tracing alphabet workbooks and Handwriting Without Tears materials and just allowed her to pursue the subjects she was interested in. She loves to read, she wanted to learn how to play the violin, she loves science.  So we got her involved in those activities. And then, almost overnight, she started writing, when she was ready.

I know there are parents who would have told me that my daughter needed to practice writing everyday to become good at it. That kids should be writing their name in Kindergarten. But I choose not to worry about everyone else’s timetable and just focus on my child. I have seen young preschool and kindergarten kids cry because adults made them feel less than for lack of penmanship. That was not the road I wanted to travel.  Not worrying about the mainstream measures of success is important for unschoolers, and can be applied to traditional schoolers as well.

3. Unschooling is not for everyone
One of the parents on the ‘old school’ side of the panel mentioned that she wasn’t able to attend college and she wanted to see her kids walk across the stage at commencement. The audience applauded her. While I understand her passion to move her children toward a degree, degrees shouldn’t always be equated with education, and vice versa. Many educated people are self-taught and do not have a degree. Unschooling parents are just as passionate about their child’s education, but they do not place their educational value in a report card or a certificate from an institution. Some unschoolers go on to become entrepreneurs and other unschoolers go on to pursue degrees in the areas of their interests. Many of the world’s most successful people do not have college degrees, but some do. And while I love the idea of unschooling, I realize that unschooling is not for every family. We should learn to respect the diversity of educational options available to our children and learn from them.

Mommies, have you tried or considered unschooling? Have you incorporated principles of unschooling into your child’s traditional education? Share your experiences below.