msnbc.com
updated 10/31/2006 1:34:04 PM ET 2006-10-31T18:34:04

When it comes to the trend of unschooling, there's no middle ground.

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We asked for reader feedback on a story about the unconventional method of homeschooling that allows the child to choose what and when they want to learn. Our inbox was flooded with heated responses. And just about everyone who wrote was clearly for, or against, it.

One reader worried that the informal learning schedule would set a child up for failure later on. "What happens when the child gets a job and 'doesn't feel like' working?"

Another noted that school isn't just for "book learning," but also for gaining important skills in interacting with other students. "Learning to adapt to others and respect for everything around you is a huge part of education," he said.

But some parents told us stories of schools they felt stifled their child's love for learning, pulled them out to unschool and saw their child thrive.

Read on for more reader responses

I can't understand how these children are learning all they need to get by in the world. The one little girl (in the article) didn't even learn to read until she was 8? My 4 year old is almost reading now. I think it's great that if the child is interested in something, that the parent encourage that and help the child learn more (like learning about bugs in the backyard), but there so many other things that a child needs to be exposed to. What happens when the child gets a job and "doesn't feel like" working? I think these parents are doing a disservice to their children.
— Anonymous

I think that unschooling is probably one of the best alternatives to the current educational process. I have been in the public school system for 11 years, and am a sophomore in high school. I, and several of my friends, have all noticed that if a student isn't motivated, or even slightly interested then the student doesn't learn! Maybe the student hears the lessons, and does the work and passes the test, but the information doesn't stick, it's in one ear and out the other. On the flip side though, if students are actually interested in a subject, they will learn the material and maybe help their fellow students with it. A lot of public school students' attitudes are that it's free and stupid but I have to be here. They just don't try. Unschooling would keep a child interested because what they are being taught is what they are interested in.
— Theresa, Kansas City, Mo.

Unschooling? How about good parenting? The things mentioned here are part of rich experiences that all parents should give their children. Why does it have to be all or nothing? Children should attend traditional schools, but that doesn't mean that the parent has to be completely uninvolved in his/her child's education. Far too many parents leave parenting up to schools. Unschooling may be extreme, but parents do need to be more involved in the raising of their children.
— Scott Keen, Atlanta, Ga.

I was unschooled for my entire life, before starting college at age 15. (I'm now a graduate student at a top-20 university.) One of the most prevalent side effects of the modern K-12 education system is the fostering of the belief that children must be forced to learn. As (Patrick) Farenga hinted in the final paragraph of this piece, it takes a great deal of faith to allow a child to learn on his or her own terms. Yes, self-guided learning can produce children with certain holes in their knowledge – I know a lot about Roman history and flower gardening, to name particular childhood interests – but the important thing is that children develop a framework for educating themselves throughout their entire lives.
— Tom

My husband and I were both top students at top-rated public high schools. We met while we were students at Brown University. Our children, ages 16, 12 and 8, have been unschooled from birth and we could not be prouder of their achievements and, more important, of who they are as human beings. They think and act based on their own perceptions and understanding of issues and situations. They do not read, write and study for a reward such as a good grade or the gifts that parents so often give based on performance, they simply love to learn and to be a part of the world. Their mentors in the greater community love to interact with our children and their unschooled friends because they are both interested and interesting. What began as a year-by-year experiment (unschooling) has become the fundamental basis for who we are as a family.
Jill, Fletcher, N.C.

Unreal! Besides kids getting no idea of how the real world works, they will be unfit to take directions. Structure is important in all children's lives. It teaches them original boundaries, and then they can later learn how to think outside the box. … Get real and be a parent instead of a buddy.
— Anonymous

I think (unschooling) is very cutting-edge and up to date with society. The current school system … is set up to promote cookie-cutter kids, who are drones that work in factories. If this country wants to get back to its innovative roots and remain on the cutting-edge of technology, kids need to be able to follow their interests and pursue them. These interests are their strengths that would be an asset to our society. Inventions and innovations come from people that have sought out answers and solutions. The public education system teaches children to just learn and do what they're told. I guess mass complacency and compliance is desirable to some people and governments.
— Karri L., Long Beach, Calif..

I work in a juvenile office and see all types of people "homeschooling" their children. The social skills alone are horrible from most of the children. Most are not age/education equal. … Schools are for more than "book" learning. Learning to adapt to others and respect for everything around you is a huge part of education.
— Weymouth Brown, Warrenton, Mo.

It sounds like a wonderful alternative to the current test-driven high-stress learning environment of our public schools.
— Kaycee D., Clarence, N.Y.

I recently pulled my daughter out of first grade to start unschooling. I had read the literature and believed it to be the ideal way to educate our children, but I felt overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling three children. The time commitment alone was enough to put our oldest child in kindergarten at our local elementary school. She had a great teacher and enjoyed the social experience, but it wasn't long before the little changes could be seen in her. She had nothing but glowing reports from her teachers, but she became more irritable and mean spirited in her play. Winning and getting a reward became her focus at home as well as at school. She spent very little time outside and no time just reflecting on the ways of nature. I don't think she was even allowed to touch anything from the natural world, much less bring it into the classroom for discussion.

Being a very involved parent, I joined the campus advisory committee to make some needed changes and was told that the testing requirements were of primary importance, that the whole day is needed to prepare these children for the high stakes third grade testing that determines whether they go on to fourth grade, as well as the schools’ performance rating. That's when I walked away from it all. Now our days are filled with wonder and discover and the child I knew since birth has returned. (She’s) joyous and fun loving, a responsible member of her family and community who loves to explore her environment and learn new ways of doing things. We even do a first grade worksheet now and again like she used to do in school, but I allow her to choose the subject and do as much or as little as she likes. She always does more than I would expect and excels in areas which were never noticed by her teachers in school. Not a day goes by when I do not feel certain that the decision I made was the right one despite all of the warnings from well meaning friends and family. I may not have a teaching certificate, but I know and love my child better than anyone and have her best interests in mind.
— Karen Fernandez, Austin, Texas

Of course the National Parent Teacher Association, the National Education Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals oppose homeschooling and unschooling. It is a threat to them. It provides an alternative to public school that is healthy and happy for the students. Kids are motivated to learn until years of being told what to learn and when to learn it trains that out of them. Schools are not education models to be held with the highest esteem. Schools are conformity models, training kids instead to do what they are told when they are told to do it. Curiosity and independent thought are squelched. You can't explore multiplication when the school says you still need to do addition. You can't read books that they deem "above" you. … A one-size-fits-all approach to education is not best for kids. The freedom to play, explore and learn teaches so much more. Unschooling is a great opportunity for parents and students that are open to it.
Tobi, Raleigh, N.C.

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