Book review for Home Education Magazine by Jeanne Faulconer
The Unschooling Unmanual, Edited
by Jan Hunt and Jason Hunt, The Natural Child Project
Unschoolers seeking inspiration and
affirmation will enjoy the Hunts' new unmanual, which contains more
quotable quotes per square inch than any recent homeschooling book.
Dedicated to John Holt, the book begins with an epigraph from his
writing, including this phrase: "For it is love, not tricks and
techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true
learning." With this theme, the editors of The Unschooling
Unmanual have selected eleven thoughtful essays as well as
excerpts from unschooler Mary Van Doren's memoirs, to illuminate the
unschooling life. The essays include poignant scenes of unschooling
working in families' lives, blended with philosophical
Rue Kream's opening essay addresses doubt new
and prospective unschoolers may feel. She asks, "Can we step
off the well-worn path and find our way?" She answers with a
joyful expansion of her assertion, "Children belong with their
families." Her conclusion, that her family chooses to unschool
because "we want our children to be truly free,"
introduces the idea of freedom, the first of several dominant
sub-themes in the book.
Nanda Van Gestel's multi-part essay develops
the freedom theme, since Van Gestel first considered taking her
child out of school while living in the Netherlands when school
attendance was mandatory. A move to the United States allowed them
to homeschool, and she and her husband were amazed by the change in
their son, who "finally had the freedom to be himself."
Like other contributors, Van Gestel is
quotable throughout, but I actually caught my breath when I read
about her own school art classes. "We didn't draw horses, so I
drew them in secret during other lessons." She conveys not a
bias against art classes, which she supports when a child is
"ready and interested," but the power of unschooling,
which means not having to draw horses "in secret."
Daniel Quinn, best known for his book Ishmael,
contributes a powerful Gatto-esque essay exploring the fallacies of
compulsory schooling and supporting the idea that children will
indeed learn what they need to know.
Expanding the book's freedom emphasis, Jan
Hunt herself also strongly develops another of the book's
sub-themes, trust, in her well-wrought essays. An excerpt from
Holt's Learning All the Time and Kim Houssenloge's reassuring
exploration "Why I Chose Unschooling" provide further
insight about trusting children to learn, as Houssenloge says,
"how to interact with the world safely and confidently and with
room to grow and change in a natural way."
Earl Stevens answers the inevitable question,
"What is Unschooling?" He tells us, "Unschooling
isn't a recipe, and therefore it can't be explained in recipe terms.
It is impossible to give unschooling directions for people to follow
so that it can be tried for a week or so to see if it works.
Unschooling isn't a method, it is a way of looking at children and
at life." Stevens' explanation of unschooling as "natural
learning, experience-based learning, or independent learning,"
will be valuable for anyone grappling with the question of
"what do we do if we don't do school?"
First-person stories and straight-forward
language make The Unschooling Unmanual readable and
reassuring. One caveat is that the book, clearly an unmanual with
trust-the-children focus, does not attempt to have the scope to
address whether interventions, therapies, or special practices are
ever needed and beneficial for a certain child or whether/how the
editors feel they might fit an unschooling context.
My final caveat turns out not to be one. I
initially felt disappointed in Kream's essay, "What About
College?" I agree with her statement, "Our goal is that
there will not be a particular moment when our children must
suddenly be pushed from the nest," and I live it, since among
my brood are older teens. However, after many years of
home/unschooling, I realized I still wanted a "how to" in
terms of college or assisting my sons with their development as
young adults. In an immediate second thought, I realized I was
seeking instructions that don't exist in life, much less in an
unmanual. If you want a formula for preparing unschooled kids for
college, you won't find it in The Unschooling Unmanual. But
you will find unbridled support for unschooling, which, as Kream
says, "gives each child the time and the room to follow her own
path and to travel that path with the loving support and
companionship of her family."