Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Homeschool vs. Public School vs. Unschool

A different approach to life yields a very different set of results. ~Sandra Dodd

A small study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science about how homeschooling, structured homeschooling specifically, results in students outperforming their public school peers. As a homeschooling parent, I have read many studies proving this, but this particular one makes a distinction between structured and unstructured homeschooling. The following excerpts are from High Marks for Home Schooling, a Small Study Finds.

The researchers studied 74 children aged 5 to 10 living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick: 37 kids were schooled at home, and the other 37 attended local public schools. Each child was asked to complete standardized tests of reading, writing and math.

Researchers found that the public-school kids tested at or above their grade levels, but home-schooled children tested even higher than that — about a half-grade higher in math and 2.2 grades in reading, compared with the traditionally educated children.

Now for the downside:

The achievements associated with home schooling were seen only in those children who had structured academic curriculums, however. The 12 children in the home-schooled group whose education was unstructured — a method known as unschooling, which uses no teachers, textbooks or tests — did worse on all academic measures compared with the structured home school group, falling one to four grade levels behind.


The oldest students were only ten years old in this study. That is the same age as the Princess! The unschooled children were between one to FOUR years behind? That would be like my daughter testing at first grade level! If I was one of these unschooling parents, that might shake my resolve.

Now, I try not to be too concerned about "standards" because they are guidelines that I had nothing to do with making and I do not know about Canadian standards, but I do know that American national standards of this day and age are far lower than they were 40 years ago (the benefit of being an older mother with a really good memory). However, what concerns me is I know how this kind of study can be used against homeschoolers in general. It could prove the need for "regulation" and I am very much against ANY regulation on homeschooling.

I may ruffle some fellow homeschoolers' feathers, but I confess that unschooling never appealed to me at all. I am not against it, just not really for it either. The difference in approaches and goals is philosophical and my approach is, so far, yielding the results I desire. Still, I will defend unschooling as a parental right and valid method to educate any child, because I believe strongly in the parental right to choose.

I must admit, also, that I have used an unschooling approach in short breaks particularly when we had a number of aging family members with illnesses from 2008 through 2010; I had a very difficult time keeping a structured lesson schedule for those years. More often than I wanted, my planning was pushed aside out of necessity and sometimes because I needed a mental health break. While I was concerned about what we were not covering, I did see my daughter still learning, much on her own, and I began to see how unschooling might work. Still, knowing my daughter, she would not learn enough math by her own choice to get by in the world beyond counting money.

There are many variations of "unschooling" but generally it is about allowing the child to choose what he wishes to learn and discover in his own way and his own time. I am inclined to think unschooling can be good for young children or highly motivated/gifted children at any age or as breaks between structured learning periods, but as a full time approach it does not satisfy my goals with homeschooling my daughter and I just never have felt my Lord's leading in that direction. In fact, whenever I think of allowing children to fully control their own education, I see a picture of the Israelites dancing in front of a golden calf before Moses came down the mountain. I believe it is human nature, when given the choice, to take the path of least resistance and self-pleasure.

Here is that philosophical difference for me: I have always felt most children need structure especially in education, but not so much as would be in a classroom so they have little ability to pursue any interest on their own or use their special talents and gifts.

I like homeschooling because I can tailor the approach around my daughter's interests, talents, and gifts while encouraging independence with support and under guidance. Since I have been printing out a schedule, my daughter likes it much better and I do too. Some days we get off schedule, but there is this sense of accomplishment for both of us when we finish the day's lessons and I now see her striving towards that goal.

My closing thoughts are that it would be nice to see a follow-up study in a few years to examine how the unschoolers in this study tested later on, as I would be most interested in that, but then I would wonder if any improvement was of the child's own doing or if the parents made some alterations in their approach.

~ My Lord, I ask that You continue to protect homeschooling from more government regulation and that You guide each child's education according to Your will. ~


  1. Seeking:I'm not sure where to begin on this one because I've now been homeschooling one way or another for over 25 years. 25 years! I think I just scared myself. Anyways...I always used to say I couldn't unschool because i wasn't that brave & I do think, in my case, that has a lot to do with it. Curriculum gives the illusion of achievement. lol On the other hand, knowing that some children develop very individually I suspect a lot of *unschoolers* fall into the category of having children who might not learn at all any other way. Again, as Star has got older & wanted more autonomy over her learning, we have veered more & more towards the unschooling approach ~ though done well I think the term unschooling is a misnomer. I prefer *guided learning*. I am constantly surprised by what I don't have to teach because Star has got there before me ~ Shakespheare, Brontes, history, geography, politics ~ math excepted. Even science she is interested in in her own funny way & learns what interests her & is applicable to her life. And, of her own violition because I stopped pushing this one, she decided she need structured music theory & has taken it up herself. For a while she was teacing herself but when she got stuck she asked for help & is now working with her violin teacher on theory, so I think it can work ~ but I think progress can not be measured in the usual ways & of course we are all programmed to measure learning by the usual standards!

    I will stop there ~ or I'm likely to go on forever. ☺

  2. Ganeida: 25 years? Do they give out medals for that? ;)


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.