catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Public or parochial, home or ?un-?


May 21 2004
10:03 am

Wow. I was surprised by how strongly I reacted to the article on “unschooling.” Yes, I grew up in a family of teachers, taught high school for two years myself, and am currently a teaching assistant at a university. So I am obviously biased. But the whole concept of unschooling seems to me to be based on antinomianism, autonomous individualism, and good old-fashioned naval gazing. It is just too blasted American for my liking. I do not believe that a child is his own best gauge of what constitutes his true self. Certainly a measure of freedom is important for a child, but so is instruction, steering, and discipline. The idea that a child should be as free as possible to craft his self seems to ignore the reality that a child’s existence is colored by sin, just like the rest of us. Adults know a few things that children don’t. And certainly children need to discover some of those things on their own, through their own experience. But experience is not the only teacher.

Additionally, just as adults need accountability, so do children—but even more so. To be completely free is to be a slave to our own worst impulses. If a kid is allowed to eat nothing but cheetos all day every day, he is obviously acting against his own best interest. From my understanding, someone from the unschooling perspective would argue that he will eventually learn that eating cheetos all day does not make him feel good, so he will begin to balance his diet. Yet, how many kids do you know that do eat only cheetos or their nutritional equivalents? Unfortunately, I know several—and a bulk of them are 25-year-old kids.

We desperately need authorities in our lives other than our own impulses and inclinations. We need the accountability of community, the instruction of Scripture, the conviction of confession and prayer. We also need the IRS to bully us into paying our taxes and the department store to put devices on their clothing to prevent us from shoplifting. The facts are that left to our own devices, we will not always find it natural to do what we ought—to be the selves we were made to be. You’d think I was advocating for a military state here, but what I’m really pushing for are a few structures and boundaries to balance our freedom. These structures need to negotiated in community and need to take into account the voices of those who are often left out. Yet, they are still needed. And kids, whose sense of self-discipline and self-control is less developed than those of healthy adults, need coaching all the more.

Fashioning the self, in my view, is not the most important objective of education. Instead, it is fashioning a human being who has learned to love, to serve, to care, and to create.