If homeschooling is for those on the fringe, unschooling is the lunatic fringe. There is no one set definition of unschooling, but at its core is the notion that children are inherently wired to learn, and as such, find learning a fun proposition.
Certainly my ten-month-old daughter loves to explore and discover new things. She will forget to eat if there are interesting things to see and do. If she was not wired to keep persisting and exploring, she would never learn to hold her head up, or sit, or crawl, or walk, or any other milestone. These skills are either fun in themselves or allow her to do something she wants to do, and she keeps at it until she has mastered them. I must admit, I can see no reason why that persistence and love of discovery would disappear just because she reaches schoolage.
"But wait," you say, "if kids love to learn so much, then why do we have to force them to go to school and study and do their homework?"
Good question. Unschoolers assert that school destroys the love of learning in all but the most determined. Since children (and adults) are taught to equate "school" with "learning," and since most children end up hating school, they think they hate learning as well.
So why DO kids hate school? There are tons of reasons, but here are a few that most pertain to unschooling.
One, children are forced to learn in lockstep with everyone else. All six year olds are in the first grade, and all first graders must learn this list of skills in this order in this exact timeframe; this list is usually designed for the "average" six-year-old. However, children are quite different from each other, and the odds of a specific child matching up with the schools' mythical "average" child in all areas is quite low. This means kids spend quite a bit of time either bored or behind, neither of which is particularly conducive to enjoying school.
As well, knowledge is compartmentalized into "subjects," each of which is studied for a specific period of time each day or week, no more, no less. When that time is up, it's up. A child may be enthused by the American Revolution, and want to keep going, but
You'll notice there is an emphasis on "force" in the above. As a result of generations of "school=learning" and kids hating school, there is a cultural expectation that kids hate to learn, and thus most be forced. People generally conform to what is expected of them. Thus, as schools treat children like prisoners that must be corralled and some knowledge forced into them against their will, children will eventually come to live down to those expectations.
Unschoolers look at the above - children like to learn, until they are compelled to learn on some else's timetable - and declare the solution is obvious: Let children direct their own education.
And most everyone responds with, "Ha ha, yeah right. Like THAT will ever work."
At first, I, like most of you, thought this was completely impractical. I, probably unlike most of you, still thought it was a really intriguing concept. However, I still had quite a few questions and objections.
Practical Objections to Unschooling
Christian Unschooling - Isn't that an Oxymoron?