Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Structured vs. Unstructured

I've been thinking alot lately about how we're going to proceed with homeschooling next year. I suppose because it is the beginning of school for so many people, and because next year Pauly will be five years old and thus kindergarten age, so I'll be able to be "officially" homeschooling. Right now I guess we're just wasting time. . .

The big issue in homeschooling seems to be structured vs. unstructured learning, and I can't quite decide which side I come down on. Both sides have good arguments and I tend to agree with whatever I'm reading at the moment, but both sides often say things that annoy me about the other side.

For instance, I've seen unstructured arguments that say that they don't believe that children's minds are empty buckets, that need to be filled with a certain number of facts to be educated. Well, that makes sense, but it implies that certain groups (like classical homeschoolers or core curriculum homeschoolers) believe that children are empty buckets. If you look at what those who advocate classical or core curriculums actually say, you see that they believe that children should be exposed to classical myths, fairy tales, fables, and a great deal of history so that they will have the background knowledge necessary when they encounter allusions and references to these things in all kinds of literature. They don't simply believe that having these things memorized is good in itself, but that having been exposed to it is a kind of foundation or scaffold of knowledge, so other information is more easily learned and so the individual can better participate in intellectual or political conversation. Likewise, Classical proponents don't necessarily believe that it is important for a child to have such-and-such a poem memorized, but they do believe that gaining the skill of memorization and recitation is a good thing.

On the other side of the fence, some structured homeschool proponents have gone so far as to say that unschooling should not qualify as homeschooling at all, because the parents aren't doing anything. This just shows that they misunderstand the unschooling idea, because a parent would be active, in fact very active, helping the child learn by providing information, resources and yes teaching when that child was interested in a topic. In some ways, I think that unschooling may be harder on the parent (probably depends on the personality of said parent) because you'd have to be reacting to the child's interests and following his lead, instead of having a plan to follow. Or some structured programs will advertise an education without "gaps in knowledge." This is simply an impossibility. I don't know everything, so I can't expect my kids to learn everything. There's going to be many, many things that they won't learn about many, many subjects.

I think that really the answer (for me at least) is not as clear cut as one or the other. I like much of what unstructured homeschoolers write about the learning lifestyle, but honestly this can occur even if some structured learning occurs during the day also. As a child attending institutional schools, I still did quite a bit of pursuing topics on my own time. I read everything I could get my hands on, basically. But would some small amount of structure offer any benefit? I feel that it would, but I'm not completely sure why I feel that. I think that it could help build self discipline, ie. we can't always do just what we want, but I think that you could learn that through a learning lifestyle that includes chores, etc. as part of basic family life as well. I think that it could help meet goals, and give kids the basic skills they need (like reading) to learn more about what they are interested in. And I think that it could be helpful for me so that I don't get too lazy, and don't follow the kids' interests, and end up not teaching them anything.

I'm stopping now. There's no real point to this post, just me working out my thoughts.


  1. I think there isn't a right answer for this. Some families seem to need a lot of structure in their home schools, while others thrive on flexibility. It seems like kids being schooled either way are doing quite well. And one very nice thing about homeschooling is that we aren't bound by the decisions we make regarding how to do it. I find it very comforting to know that if whatever we are doing isn't working, we can always change.

  2. It's very true that there's not one right answer. And I have an excuse to read alot while I'm trying to figure it all out. . .

  3. Your last comment in the original post is what I think it boils down to: having a schedule and curriculum means you're more likely to be teaching rather than being lazy. Also, throughout our lives we have to adhere to schedules of some sort and fit in with what the "man" says. So this is part of what school teaches us to do. Being at home means you have more flexibility about how you do this and don't have to spend the entire day structured, which isn't good for kids.


What do you think? Let me know.