Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

(May/June 2007)

by Shana Ronayne Hickman

Suddenly, it seems, there are a lot of articles on unschooling floating around. More often than not, they’re not purely positive, not purely negative, but what we’ve come to call “balanced.” But, are they really? The word “balanced” implies that both sides are equally credible, but this is almost never the case.

Here’s a recent example: The December 9, 2006 edition of The Patriot Ledger, a daily newspaper based in Quincy, MA, ran a rather mediocre piece by Sydney Schwartz about unschooling called “When DROPOUT isn’t a Bad Word.” The article has one stand-out feature, however, that drew me right in: it focuses on older un-schoolers. Great! I thought to myself. We need more articles like this! And then, of course, I came upon The Expert.

The Expert generally has a title (often PhD) and is almost always a professor of education at a college somewhere. This Expert happened to be Lorne Ranstrom, chair of the division of teacher education at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy. His take on unschooling?

Schools provide sort of a liberal arts education. You get well-rounded. Does that happen in an unschooled situation? Who’s in charge of that kind of teaching? Is it her parents? Is she pretty much on her own?

It seems that this “Expert” isn’t the least bit familiar with what unschooling entails. After a thorough Google search, his name doesn’t appear connected to “homeschooling,” “home schooling,” “home education,” “unschooling” or any other term that might imply he knows what he’s talking about. That’s not surprising.

So, is that the norm for Experts who appear in unschooling articles? You bet. After searching through dozens of online articles and scouring the Internet for a connection between any recent Expert and homeschooling, I came up empty-handed.

So, how are these Experts chosen? Are their names drawn from a hat? Are they picked randomly from a well-thumbed telephone book? My best guess is that, in most cases, the journalist calls up the department of education at the local university and leaves a message. After a while, someone calls her back, and that’s The Expert. She tries her best to explain this novel, strange trend called “un-schooling” to her newfound Expert – “It’s where kids do whatever they want all day and the parents don’t teach them anything. Have you heard of it?” – and then asks for his opinion.

Fairly easy solution, and since there are so few researchers who tackle homeschooling issues, what choice does she have? She has to write a “balanced” article, doesn’t she? She has to have Experts. She has to show the “other side.” And she can’t spend months researching.

That’s why I try my best (really, I do) to look the other way when the requisite skeptical Expert appears. But, it’s difficult to hold my tongue (or my typing fingers) when The Expert has obviously never heard of unschooling before.
Perhaps we should write our own articles. Any unschooling journalists out there?

UPDATE: A recent Tennessean article just made me smile. The author, Bonna de la Cruz, writes, “‘It’s risky to put all the eggs in the child’s basket,’ said Mary Jane Moran, an assistant professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, where she instructs future teachers of pre-kindergarten to third-graders. She has not studied unschooling.”

Thanks, Ms. De la Cruz.

Shana and her family live in central Texas. She enjoys writing poetry, folksinging and spending long days with her son. She is the publisher and editor of Live Free Learn Free.

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