Dissatisfaction with local school systems, negative effects of peer pressure, and religious and moral concerns are all major factors that have contributed to the rising home schooling trend. And with about 3 percent of America's children home-schooled, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, it's becoming more popular than many officials at the Department of Education would probably care to admit.
But what about those parents who choose to simply "not school" their children? Unschooling, or not schooling, refers to an outfit of parents who rebuke some or all of America's core academic curriculum. In fact, they don't even follow a curriculum, says Dr. Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College.
This counterculture of traditional American education forgoes homework and tests. Instead, it concentrates on letting children freely pursue their own interests, in their own way. Most of all, it seeks to merge a child's environment into the sphere of education. So a child doesn't have to go to school to learn but is learning constantly, remaining curious and active in the world around him.
This laissez-faire practice attracts free-spirited parents, along with parents searching for a cure to their children's negative school experiences. According to a survey Gray conducted of 232 unschooling families, 101 of those families indicated that at least one of their children went to a traditional school before beginning unschooling. They also said that their children's experiences there persuaded them to pull the children from that academic environment.
"We ... found that increasing levels of homework and projects left us slaves to the school's schedule, even after school hours and on weekends. Additionally, we found that our oldest child was losing his love of learning, and our 2nd child did not have enough time for her passion and gift -- the performing arts," says one survey respondent.
Unschooling provides both children and parents with a safe haven from not just a fastidious school environment but also poor academics. The No. 1 benefit unschooling parents cited in the survey was the learning advantages associated with this nontraditional education plan. Parents reported that their children learned more efficiently and eagerly when not stuck under the sometimes harsh and rather unbending traditional American school curriculum.
Even though, according to Gray's survey, there are many benefits associated with this untraditional method of education, it is still an alternative outlet that not many parents are willing to pursue. Societal pressures, including negative judgments and criticism from family and friends, tend to be one of the main reasons parents find themselves reluctant to unschool or home-school their children.
Gray says parents who look to unschool their children must be careful not to be hindrances to their children's education. They should not undermine the unschooling philosophy with typical schooling practices or thought processes that they might have learned in their instruction. Parents should go into unschooling with an open mind, as free from traditional cultural education philosophies as possible. Though difficult, this is important if the children's education is to develop and grow organically through unschooling.
But even with the multitude of challenges and societal judgments that parents will or continue to face, many still choose to home-school or unschool their children. Former home-schooler Gunner Coil enjoyed home schooling and was ultimately successful because "it was the key to" his "development as an individual." He says, "I had to keep myself accountable and develop my sense of self-reliability."
With similar positive results, many dissatisfied parents continue to choose to unschool their children and are, in general, increasing the home schooling trend while forgoing the typical back-to-school frenzy.