In reference to an article recently on the Mamamia website about radical unschoolers, I felt compelled to write a reply on behalf of the unschooling and natural learning community. I must preface that I respect much of Mia Freedman's work and the work of Mamamia in empowering women to have a voice on so many issues that are not usually brought up in mainstream media. However I must respectfully disagree with the assertion that unschoolers and natural learners are negligent parents or that our children are illiterate, or not contributing to or participating in society...
I would like to offer a reply or clarification of the issues raised in this article. I run Teen Homeschooling Australia (which is for homeschoolers, unschoolers and natural learners in Australia) in addition to University Tutoring Australia, and my children technically 'unschool'.
Unschooling for us does not look or sound anything like what is described in this article, which I can only assume is due to the way that unschooling has been portrayed in the media by radical unschoolers in the US who are beyond liberal, according to most standards, and arguably border on child neglect. Over the years that we have unschooled we have been registered with the education department - like many other unschoolers/ natural learners, which means submitting a program of learning each year, and then a detailed report with learning samples each 10 month period. I am a degree-qualified university tutor and am more than capable of ensuring that my children are literate, as are the overwhelming majority of parents like me. In comparison with children their own age, academically I could argue that they are better educated. This is evidenced in my eldest starting university preparation at 14 and in the process of completing a degree at 17. My younger children are preparing for university at 13 and 15, simply because that is where we find ourselves at this age. YES this article is correct in that our children have absolute choices and freedom over their schooling.
If you are really worried about your children's education and genuinely think that the free and public education system that schools your children is better than an education that they can get at home, I invite you to take a close look at the ACARA curriculum standards. You will find that the standards are very vague and offer little in the way of specific direction for children, leaving teachers to decide on the majority of their curriculum - so essentially, your children's teachers decide what your children learn. Which is good right? except for the consideration that your child's teacher most likely only has a Bachelor degree and could have well passed that degree with a 50% pass mark. I have worked for multiple universities and marked hundred's of student's essays. The majority of graduates graduate with a 50-60% mark (meaning they failed to acquire the other 40-50% of the information they have been taught...and then they are teaching your children). And for the wonderful, hard-working and intelligent teachers, who have amazing things to impart on our children, the system is not supportive enough to ensure that everyone gets a good education. The pressures put on teachers in an age where our educational system has not yet caught up with technology (and the capacity of children to bring hard-core pornography, or worse, into schools via devices with unlimited internet), bullying laws are inadequate to stop children being harassed to the point of suicide in school, and sexual violence laws are also inadequate in ensuring that children (and particularly teenagers) are safe at school.
For example, as a social worker and crisis counsellor, I have seen cases of children bullied to the point of suicide by classmates, and early teens (from 12) being coerced into sex (sometimes at school) by older teenagers. And, legally, if there is no photographic, video or hard evidence of sexual assault, it is very unlikely that sexual assault by an older teen will be successfully prosecuted. And the educational outcomes are arguable - which is evidenced in the numerous articles about literacy levels of school-leavers in our country at present.
As for the 'unlimited choices' aspect of unschooling, it is my experience that this means that children have a say in what they want to learn, and then are given the resources to do so. For example, many unschoolers (including ourselves) have book collections to rival the local library, and spend much of our time in the library, reading and researching the subjects that our children are interested. Unschooling gives children the opportunity to study by immersion. Meaning if they love boats, they can read everything there is to know about boats, sailing, how boats are made, and then other things like maths can be related back to that subject. At 12 our daughter studied Italian, the Renaissance and WW2 and then took a trip to the vatican. And we are not unique in her having that experience - if children study from home, they are also able to work various odd jobs, run businesses from home (it is amazing what a child can do with the internet) and do all kinds of things you would have never otherwise thought possible from children.
In addition, in reference to children being part of society and open to the 'widest range of experiences possible' - please explain how school facilitates that when children are grouped together by age, kept separate from the rest of the world for a good part of the day, and are only out in the world for any good length of time on the weekends or holidays? In our area of SE QLD alone, there are HUNDREDS of homeschool families, and the opportunity to meet up with homeschool, unschool and natural learning families on most days of the week. And to add to the 'part of society' argument, there are many unschooling and natural learning families that regularly volunteer for animal welfare and other community organisations, with teens typically taking on voluntary work in their spare time at charities, for work experience.
I understand the concern for children that are neglected by their parents, however having had much experience with this community within our country, I ask you to consider how much time, energy, love and patience it takes to care for your children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - and how negligent you would have to be to possibly allow your child to be uneducated when you have that much time with them? Homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning is a huge undertaking, and one that is not made without a significant personal investment in the future of our children, and unfortunately articles such as this create a stigma in our society that allows the government to withhold ANY funding for our children for our educational endeavors, without anybody supporting the right of children to be safe from bullying and violence in schools AND also have access to even a fraction of the educational allowances that schools get to buy learning resources.