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Subjects / Keywords: Homeschooling
Progressive Education
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Abstract: Research on home education shows that it is the fastest-growing alternative to traditional schooling on the school choice spectrum. While the vast majority of home educators are motivated primarily by religious factors, a small and passionate subgroup of the movement, called 'unschoolers,' is motivated almost purely by pedagogical reasons. The current study aimed to explore the unschooling movement in the United States and compare its philosophy to the progressive ideals that influenced its inception. A secure online survey containing 14 multiple-choice and short-answer questions was self-administered by 92 unschooling parents. The guiding questions of the survey were: 1) who chooses unschooling?; 2) what are some of the main factors that influence this decision?; and, 3) how do unschooling parents view their children's exposure to diversity? The findings suggest that there are many reasons for parents to choose unschooling, and also that the population of American unschoolers is largely similar to the national home education population in terms of demographics. A combination analysis of short-answer responses and demographic data suggests that high socioeconomic status is a very important factor in a family's ability to unschool their children. This exclusionary aspect puts unschooling at odds with progressive education.
Statement of Responsibility: by Chloe Morin
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Hernandez, Sarah

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Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Morin, Chloe
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013


Subjects / Keywords: Homeschooling
Progressive Education
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Research on home education shows that it is the fastest-growing alternative to traditional schooling on the school choice spectrum. While the vast majority of home educators are motivated primarily by religious factors, a small and passionate subgroup of the movement, called 'unschoolers,' is motivated almost purely by pedagogical reasons. The current study aimed to explore the unschooling movement in the United States and compare its philosophy to the progressive ideals that influenced its inception. A secure online survey containing 14 multiple-choice and short-answer questions was self-administered by 92 unschooling parents. The guiding questions of the survey were: 1) who chooses unschooling?; 2) what are some of the main factors that influence this decision?; and, 3) how do unschooling parents view their children's exposure to diversity? The findings suggest that there are many reasons for parents to choose unschooling, and also that the population of American unschoolers is largely similar to the national home education population in terms of demographics. A combination analysis of short-answer responses and demographic data suggests that high socioeconomic status is a very important factor in a family's ability to unschool their children. This exclusionary aspect puts unschooling at odds with progressive education.
Statement of Responsibility: by Chloe Morin
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Hernandez, Sarah

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
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Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2013 M8
System ID: NCFE004830:00001

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A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF UNSCHOOLING AS A METHOD OF PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION BY CHLOE ELIZABETH MORIN A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulllment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Sarah Hernandez Sarasota, Florida May 2013


Acknowledgements I could not have completed this thesis or my college career without the loving support of my faculty, family, and friends. First I would like to thank Dr. Sarah Hernandez, who was my academic advisor from the beginning and also my thesis sponsor. Her patience, insight, and expertise guided both my academic path over the years and also my thesis process throughout fourth-year. I would also like to thank Dr. Laura Hirshfield, whose teachings on education greatly influenced the development of this project. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Steven Graham, who sponsored my first ISP at NCF during first-year, and also sat on my thesis committee during fourth-year. My family was also a major source of support and inspiration, albeit from afar. I would like to thank Mom, Dad, Jill, Stephanie, and Merissa for their loving encouragement throughout my college experience. Finally, I would like to thank my friends, both far near, for being there with me through all of the ups and downs. I would like to thank my Acapellago family, who provided a fun and relaxing escape from the stress of school twice weekly. I would also like to thank wonderful Zachariah, without whom my last semester at NCF would have been impossible. And finally, I would like to thank my incredibly-talented and beautiful friends, Sarah and Zachary, with whom I had the most amazing experiences during my four years at NCF. i


Table of Contents Acknowledgments .i Abstract..iii Introduction. 1 Chapter One: History of Compulsory Schooling and Progressive Education in the U.S. Education in Pre-Civil War America 8 The Growth of Compulsory Education .. 11 The Progressive Period 12 !Conservative Reform Efforts and Backlash Against Progressive Education 16 !School Choice and Increasing Support for Privatization...20 Chapter Two: History of Unschooling and the Contemporary Home Education Movement Emergence of Contemporary Home Education 23 !Ideological Split Within the Movement.32 !Growth of Home Education during the 1980s and 90s ... 36 The Home Education Movement Today....38 !Modern Unschooling.40 !Tensions Between Home Education and Progressive Education..44 Chapter Three: Methods and Results !Methodology ... 53 Results .. 56 Discussion ... 71 Study Limitations... 74 Conclusion 76 References 79 ii


A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF UNSCHOOLING AS A FORM OF PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION CHLOE ELIZABETH MORIN New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT Research on home education shows that it is the fastest-growing alternative to traditional schooling on the school choice spectrum. While the vast majority of home educators are motivated primarily by religious factors, a small and passionate subgroup of the movement, called unschoolers,' is motivated almost purely by pedagogical reasons. The current study aimed to explore the unschooling movement in the United States and compare its philosophy to the progressive ideals that influenced its inception. A secure online survey containing 14 multiple-choice and short-answer questions was self-administered by 92 unschooling parents. The guiding questions of the survey were: 1) who chooses unschooling?; 2) what are some of the main factors that influence this decision?; and, 3) how do unschooling parents view their children's exposure to diversity? The findings suggest that there are many reasons for parents to choose unschooling, and also that the population of American unschoolers is largely similar to the national home education population in terms of demographics. A combination analysis of short-answer responses and demographic data suggests that high socioeconomic status is a very important factor in a family's ability to unschool their children. This exclusionary aspect puts unschooling at odds with progressive education. Dr. Sarah Hernandez Social Sciences iii


INTRODUCTION In this thesis I explore the social and political implications of unschooling, an unstructured and child-directed form of home education, and its position within the home education and progressive educational movements. I first learned about unschooling during my first semester at New College from my orientation leader, Brenna, a sweet and very bright woman who had been unschooled for most of her childhood education. As she described unschooling to me I was both shocked and wildly intrigued about the practice. She spoke of endless days reading novels, entire months devoted to art projects, and never being forced to learn something that did not interest her. As I looked back to my own experience in school and the anxiety that accompanied it, I found myself both wishing that I had been unschooled and intent on unschooling my own future children. Although originally coined by educator John Holt (1974) to describe the process of withdrawing one's children from school, the term unschooling has come to describe a particular style of child-centered home education (Griffith, 1998, p. ix). Unschooling encompasses a wide range of unstructured, child-led home education practices. Its original supporters advocated for a complete rejection of traditional schooling and believed instead that genuine learning is generated by a person's life experiences (Miller, 2004). They viewed (and continue to view) schools as Authoritarian and undemocratic in nature, as prisons that stifle children's innate creativity and desire to learn. Unschoolers believe that the best place to learn is in the home, with parents acting as facilitators of the child's chosen educational direction. Unschoolers vary in the degree of structure that they incorporate into their children's education, but all stress the importance of child-directed 1


learning. Children of all ages are viewed as fully autonomous with regard to their own education; they should be able to choose what they learn and how they learn it, and even choose whether they should learn anything at all (Griffith, 1998, p. 3). Learning happens all the time, everywhere; unschoolers do not draw a distinction between educational and non-educational activities. Societal expectations of development or academic progress are disregarded and each individual progresses at his/her own pace. While there have always been isolated cases of unconventional learning outside of the school setting, home education did not become a recognized movement until the 1970s, when Holt began publicly advocating home education. Home education in the United States has been on the rise since then, and research shows that parents choose this method of education for many different reasons. The small home education movement that started in the 1960s was comprised mainly of educated liberal parents who believed in the child-centered ideals of the progressive era. Holt's scathing critiques of the school system and utopian description of home education captivated both liberal and religious parents alike during the 1970s. The 1980s saw a rise in conservative and religious homeschoolers led by Raymond Moore, while numbers of both secular and religious homeschoolers continued to increase during the 1990s (Lines, 2000). Aurini's 2005 study examined home education within a context of growing private education through extensive interviews and concluded, like many other studies, that home education is growing markedly across North America. Drawing from a variety of indicators, the researchers concluded home education is enjoying a new level of legitimacy and is 2


attracting more mainstream practicers (Aurini, 2005). Home Education is the most radical option on the school choice spectrum and is currently legal in all 50 states. The modern home education movement is a fascinating intersection of people from widely varying political, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Unschoolers are a particularly intriguing sub-group; their embrace of progressive educational philosophies intersects with their libertarian ideologies to create a radically different pedagogy with ambiguous larger implications. As of 2013, research on parents who choose to unschool their children remains sparse. Because unschoolers represent a very small percentage of all home education parents, they are often overlooked or simply grouped into the dominant religious homeschooling movement in the U.S. Most of the existing research on unschoolers suggests that, like the national home education population, they tend to consist largely of White, middle-class, two-parent households. Although each family may have different reasons for home educating their children, all express intense dissatisfaction with traditional schooling methods. Upon first glance, unschooling appears to be a radically progressive practice which allows children complete freedom to develop their skills and personalities as they choose without any indoctrination or inhibition from school officials. Many of the core principles of unschooling, such as experiential learning and individual growth, are directly borrowed from the philosophies of the great progressive educators like John Dewey and Paulo Freire. Unschoolers agree with progressives regarding the process of human learning and the critique of traditional schooling methods. However, the unschooling philosophy makes a radical departure from progressive ideals by advocating 3


withdrawal and individualistic gain. Rather than working to reform the current education system, unschoolers adopt a protectionist attitude and withdraw from participation, so as to focus on what's best for their own children. Thus, from their behaviors, it appears that unschoolers take an individualist approach instead of one of social action. They spend their resources in the protection of their children, failing to take direct action in search for the well-being of all children in their communities. Some progressive educators argue that this apathy represents a larger growing shift in American attitudes from strong republican virtue and working for the common good,' to neoliberalist ideals of individual liberties and choice (Hayes, 2008). While unschooling proponents claim that unschooling is something that all parents who care about their children's education should and can do, home education of any form is a costly alternative to public education. Although not as costly as some other alternatives, such as private schooling, home education requires that at least one parent remain at home in order to supervise the children's education. This requirement essentially puts home education out-of-reach for many Americans, such as single-parents, single-earner families, and families of lower socioeconomic status. Therefore, contrary to these unschoolers' claim, home education is accessible only to an elite group of parents with particular socioeconomic capital. D emographic information on the home education population at large tells us that while it is not entirely homogenous, middle-class, twoparent families are signicantly overrepresented. The assertion of unschooling advocates that any loving parent who desires to educate their children should and can do so, remains unsupportable. This belief also leads some unschoolers to unfairly assume that, because 4


all families have the option to unschool, those who remain in the school system are somehow morally inferior (Franzosa, 1984). This dismissal of the less-fortunate has gloomy social implications as well as the potential to worsen social conict and oppression. As unschoolers isolate themselves from traditionally-schooled families and choose to associate only with others who share their lifestyle, their children could develop limited worldviews if the parents are not careful to ensure a diverse education. The purpose of the current study is to explore the characteristics of the unschooling population and analyze the social and political implications of the movement. First, I analyze the inconsistencies between the practice of home education and the ideals of progressive education. This analysis informs the guiding questions of my survey, which are: 1) who chooses unschooling?; 2) what are some of the main factors that influence this decision?; and 3) in regards to the isolated nature of home education, how do unschooling parents view their children's exposure to a wide range of values, beliefs, and perspectives? To collect information about unschoolers, I created a secure online survey containing 14 questions about their demographics, educational choices, and pedagogical methods. A total of 92 unschooling parents participated in the study, adding to the growing body of research on the unschooling movement in the United States. Based on the characteristics of the larger home education movement, I predict that those of the unschoolers will be very similar, particularly in the areas of racial/ethnic identity, educational attainment, and household income. If my findings support this prediction, it will indicate that unschooling is not as accessible as its proponents insist. Therefore, if unschooling is practiced only by a particular group of families with similar 5


characteristics, it is possible that their children will be narrowly-educated and/or illequipped to participate as a tolerant and responsible member of a pluralistic society. To address this issue in the current study, the survey includes two questions designed to assess the parents' perceptions of diverse experiences in unschooling. Organization of Thesis In order to explore the unschooling movement, it is first necessary to discuss the larger home education population and how the two groups compare and contrast. To define home education is a difficult task; as the practice has grown in popularity, many different terms have emerged to describe the various styles of home education that exist in the U.S. today. However, most scholars in the field define the practice of home education as the decision by parents not to educate their children in an institutionalized setting, but rather, in the home environment (Murphy, 2012, p. 5). The most commonly used names for home education include homeschooling, home instruction, and the increasingly popular home-based education. Throughout this project, I use the term home education to refer to the broad spectrum of non-institutionalized education, from conservative Christian homeschooling to radical Leftist unschooling. I use the term homeschooling for what is also known as "traditional homeschooling," which is generally defined as the replication of traditional school pedagogies in the home setting. And finally, I use the term unschooling to refer to a very specific type of home education that is entirely child-directed and seldom, if ever, structured in any way. In chapter one, I chronicle two of the major building blocks of the unschooling story: the formation of the compulsory education system, which thereby led to the 6


creation of the movement; and, the progressive education period of the early twentieth century, which planted major philosophical seeds for the movement. !In chapter two, I explore the evolution of modern home education in the U.S., from its small, progressive libertarian beginnings with John Holt to its later fundamentalist Christian majority led by Raymond Moore. I then discuss the ideologies and practices of unschooling, as well as its inconsistencies with the ideals of progressive education. !Chapter three contains the methodology, results, and discussion of the current study on American unschoolers. !Finally, my concluding remarks include recommendations for further research on unschoolers. 7


CHAPTER ONE Roots of Unschooling: History of Compulsory Schooling and Progressive Education in the United States Most scholars who study the modern-day home education agree that it is a deliberate political rejection of government control over individual liberty of educational choice. In order to understand this movement--why and how it began--we must first take a look at what it is they are rejecting: the American educational system. Many home education advocates hark back to the days before the formation of the institution, when unregulated home education was the rule and not the exception for most American families. In this chapter, I trace the pivotal moments of the history of education in the United States along with the cultural, political, and social forces that shaped them. Changes in these forces would later pave the way for the home education movement that emerged as a response to the perceived dysfunction of the national educational system. Education in Pre-Civil War America For most colonial-era American families, the home was the center of both biological reproduction and material production; it also served as an educational center. Parents, usually fathers, taught the children how to read, and many apprenticeship programs were family based. Whether in New England, the South, or the Middle colonies, schools were an irregular and incidental part of a child's life. When children did attend school, it was intermittently and usually only for a few years. The curriculum emphasized basic literacy skills, particularly for the ability to read scripture. Many rural schools in early America supplemented modest tax support with donations or tuition from 8


the parents of pupils. Private venture schools that were solely tuition-based also began to emerge along the eastern seaboard during the late 18th century in response to market demands for specialized education (Reese, 2007, p. 97). According to many analysts, home education is not a new phenomenon, but rather a resurgence of one that traces back to the foundation of the nation. No "system" of education existed during the colonial and early periods of American history. The creation of a new nation led many political leaders to fear for the survival of the republic, and in the 1780s and 90s, prominent national figures including Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson began to call for finely articulated school systems. Schools, they argued, would "teach a diverse, newly independent people (especially the white citizenry) common moral principles and political values, standard English, and basic citizenship skills (Reese, 2007, p. 98)." However, despite all the lofty rhetoric about education from the founding fathers, the newly ratified federal Constitution lacked specific provisions for state-sponsored education or school systems, and so home education remained the most common educational method until the second half of the 19th century (Reese, 2007, p. 96). By the early nineteenth century, every state in the Union had established its own system of free public schools, and formal education was becoming more influential in the lives of American children. In the cities, middleand upper-class children typically attended private schools, and "free" or charity schools were established by voluntary organizations of evangelical Protestants for the urban poor. Evangelical Protestants played a large role in the shaping of new ideas of educational control and organization 9


and formed innumerable voluntary organizations that became central to most reform movements such as temperance, antislavery, and public schooling in the pre-Civil War decades. In city after city, in response to social change and growing fears of crime and poverty, Anglo-Protestant voluntary groups built charity schools for the poor. Once these groups had lobbied enough to gain tax support for their schools, the basic foundation for the modern public school system was fundamentally laid, however unintentionally. Over time, other sectarian educational groups were denied any public funds; state aid to Catholic schools, for example, officially ended in 1825 (Reese, 2007, p. 99). The free schools taught a nondenominational version of Protestantism, often called "nonsectarian" by its supporters but "godless" by Catholics and a minority of dissenting Protestants. In both rural and urban areas, however, the majority of Protestants in pre-Civil War America endorsed this public system of education. With the emergence of a school "system" that monopolized tax dollars from the 1830s onwards, governance of the schools went from the voluntary associations to appointed school committees. Despite the emergence of the new public system, competition in education still existed, but institutions were denied an equal financial playing field. The public school system that promoted Anglo-Protestant values increasingly enrolled the majority of American children, and critics by mid-century increasingly maligned private schools as unAmerican, culturally divisive, and contrary to the common good (Reese, 2007, p. 100). Perhaps the most famous proponent of public education was Horace Mann of Massachusetts, who argued that private schools were hostile to the public interest, favoring the privileged few. In 1848, he warned that education should not be abandoned 10


"to the hazards of private enterprise, or to parental will, ability, or caprice" (Reese, 2007, p. 101). The Growth of Compulsory Education From the Reconstruction era of the 1870s onward, support for public education grew substantially. After the Civil War, former Southern states established public schools and many passed amendments to their constitutions that prohibited any public money from going to private schools, largely influenced by anti-Catholic sentiment. By the late nineteenth century, distinct competing systems of education had emerged-one labeled public, all others private-and these distinctions long endured in the public consciousness (Reese, 2007, p. 102). Between 1890 and the start of WWI, immigration from central and southern Europe spiked, which led to a major increase in the Catholic population in the U.S. Consequently, the Catholic school system expanded substantially, leading many native-born citizens to intensify their efforts to favor public over private schools (Reese, 2007, p. 103). According to Reese, the public school, and not its private counterpart, became for most Americans "the symbol of an indigenous democracy." Until the final decades of the twentieth century, the majority of citizens and elected officials believed that the expansion and proliferation of tax-supported, compulsory public schools best served the common good (Reese, 2007, p. 95). For a variety of social, cultural, and political reasons, the period between 1850 and 1918 witnessed the development of a system of formal education on a state-by-state basis in the U.S. This development caused a significant shift from family and parental influence to government control. In many ways, the government came to be seen as a 11


replacement family, and families as incapable of educating their children effectively. In the process, home education was transformed from the standard method of education into an oddity, something distinctly old-fashioned, an aberration clung to by misguided parents who could not accept the new order. Later, it would begin to be viewed as an actual attack on the new educational order (Murphy, 2012, p. 31). At the beginning of the twentieth century, the laissez-fair attitude that had characterized American political beliefs began to shift to an openness to change. The shift from a primarily agricultural nation to one that was increasingly industrial caused rapid economic and social changes, as well as the increasing need for reform to deal with these changes (Hayes, 2006, p. 6). This shift also began to inuence the design of the plans being used to shape the foundations of the newly emerging model of public education. More than ever before, the schools became yolked to the needs of the economic system and were being viewed as a critical means of transforming many aspects of the preindustrial culture (Murphy, 2012, p. 57). The Progressive Period Experimental schools were built in a few cities around the nation during the 1800s, but the major movement to change schools did not gain momentum until the last few years of the century. Historians have labeled the era from 1901 until our participation in WWI in 1917 as the progressive period. For many, this period began when Theodore Roosevelt took ofce as president and led the way for many types of progressive reform (Hayes, 2006, p. 5). !The progressive period was inuenced by many great individuals, but one particularly iconic gure was John Locke, an English philosopher who lived primarily 12


during the seventeenth century. Locke believed that true learning occurs out of observation and experience rather than manipulation of accepted or forced ideas. He also believed that each child's education should be tailored to suit his own individual needs and capacities (Hayes, 2006, p. 2). Similarly avant-garde and massively inuential was French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who in 1762 published one of his most famous works, Emile. In Emile, Rousseau argues against an education based on subordination and memorization. He believed that children were born "inherently good," and so they should be allowed more freedom to have concrete experiences to discover the truth for themselves. The writings of both Locke and Rousseau would later have great impact on the thinking of public gures such as Horace Mann and John Dewey (Hayes, 2006, p. 2). At forefront of the progressive period was John Dewey, who is often called the most signicant educational philosopher in the United States during the twentieth century and remained an inuential gure in American education until his death in 1952 (Hayes, 2006, p. 11). In 1897, a young Dewey published an article in the School Journal that outlined his core beliefs about education. In this article states that he believed "that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race," and also that "the child's own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education." In a discussion of the role of the school in education, Dewey stressed that education "is a process of living and not a preparation for future living (Hayes, 2006, p. 12)." !Dewey also argued that children are not primarily motivated to learn by a system of punishment and rewards; rather, the source of individual action is motivated by 13


internal desires and curiosity. In regard to content of educational curriculums, Dewey wrote that the true center of education should not be science, math, writing, nor history, "but the child's own social activities." This idea led some of his followers to dismiss completely the idea of an established curriculum and textbooks (Hayes, 2006, p. 15). According to L. Dean Webb in his book, The History of American Education, Dewey later came to criticize those who went too far in carrying out this goal, arguing that there needed to be some structure to the organization of the classroom. A primary goal of education should be to promote growth of the individual and to prepare children for full participation in a democratic society. Dewey envisioned schools as miniature democratic institutions, which would promote "a sprit of social cooperation and community life" (Hayes, 2006, p. 16). John Dewey may often be credited for fathering the progressive educational movement, but according to Dewey himself, the true father of the progressive educational movement was Francis Parker. A sixteen year-old Parker began teaching in 1861, but by 1863, his career was put on hold when he enlisted in the Union Army (Hayes, 2006, p. 19). After coming back from the war in 1866, he studied pedagogy in Berlin for two years before returning to Massachusetts to become the Superintendent of Schools in Quincy, MA. It was during his time in Quincy that he developed his highly influential "Quincy System" of education (Hayes, 2006, p. 20). In 1894 Parker published one of his bestsellers, Talks on Pedagogies, in which he argues that it was "education not economics" that divided social classes and caused exploitation and inequality. He was staunchly opposed to the idea that upper-class children should be given a better education than less-fortunate children simply because of family circumstances. Parker was also one 14


of the first progressive educators to support and advocate racial integration in the public schools (Hayes, 2006, p. 20). Another individual who greatly impacted the development of progressive education during the early twentieth century was the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget developed a theory of cognitive development in which he argues that a child's way of thinking progresses through a series of distinct stages, during all of which he/she must be actively involved (Hayes, 2006, p. 22). Another core aspect of Piaget's vision of education is the freedom from coercion of any kind, so that the child can learn through natural curiosity and exploration (Hayes, 2006, p. 23). Another alternative pedagogy that was gaining momentum at around the same time as democratic education was "critical pedagogy," a term coined by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He and other proponents of critical pedagogy believe that "the main purpose of education is not to transmit knowledge and preserve social traditions but to transform society by helping students develop a perceptive and inquisitive consciousness (Miller, 2004, p. 24)." Although they see its reform as crucial, proponents of critical pedagogy tend to be strong supporters of the public school ideal. Privatization of education is typically viewed as elitist and as an action of retreat from social responsibility (Miller, 2004, p. 25). During the progressive period, many changes to the public school system were underway which, according to Reese (2007), "formed that backdrop to the rising criticisms of public schools in our own times." These changes included the growing centralization of administrative authority, professionalization and unionization of 15


teachers, and emphasis on a more secular and vocationally oriented curriculum (Reese, 2007, p. 103). Many prominent evangelical Protestant groups bemoaned these developments, and successfully lobbied state legislatures to pass laws that required morning prayer and prohibited the teachings of Darwin. During the 1920s, Protestant activists in Oregon helped pass legislation requiring all children to attend public schools in an attempt to squash the parochial school system. However, this law was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision, Pierce v. Society of School Sisters (1925). The Court upheld compulsory school attendance laws, but affirmed the right of parents to choose between public and private schools (Reese, 2007, p. 104). By the 1930s, many historians have noted a shift in focus among progressives. The emphasis in the literature produced by progressive leaders was increasingly less about "student centered learning" and more with "the social and economic problems of the whole culture." The education spokesman for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal program, George Counts, adopted the theme of schools as vehicles of progressive social change as a part of his argument for school reform (Hayes, 2006, p. 32). In 1948, it was reported that 40 percent of cities in the U.S. had adopted some form of individualized instruction. In every section of the country, the ideas of Dewey and other progressive educators could be found to some degree in many public and private schools (Hayes, 2006, p. 33). Conservative Reform Efforts and Backlash Against Progressive Education The spread of progressive education methods, however limited, was short-lived. At 16


the beginning Cold War, many federal government officials developed a conviction that the leadership of progressive school administrators during the previous decades had made schools "anti-intellectual." These critics called for more emphasis on the basic subjects of math, English, science, and history. This conviction intensified in the late fifties after the Russian launch of Sputnik, an event that sent U.S. government officials into a panic of competition with Russian science development (Hayes, 2006, p. 42). During the 1950s, many critics of the public education system called for various reform to the trusted institution, among them a small and unpopular group who advocated greater market competition in education. However, this group would grow over the decades due to a set of mutually reinforcing forces: hostility among conservatives and then other Americans to rising federal authority in public schools (particularly because of school desegregation), widespread reports of school ills, and weakening urban economies. According to Reese (2007), after WWII, "federal authority expanded so dramatically in certain areas (especially race, civil rights, and religion) that more citizens found its rising power intrusive and subversive of local and state's rights (Reese, 2007, p. 105)." The passage of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 further infuriated both northern conservatives and Southerners, which led many of them to seek alternatives to federallyintegrated schools (Reese, 2007, p. 106). During the 1960s and 70s numerous critics of the American educational system emerged, assailing the system from all angles about its inequalities, inefficient curriculums, and oppressive methods. For example, educator and activist Jonathan Kozol wrote a series of books that demonstrate the inequality of educational opportunity for 17


poor children starting with his well-known book, Death at an Early Age Along with other critics of the time like Carl Rogers, Neil Postman, and Paul Goodman, he offered advice to teachers of children from many different backgrounds and emphasized greater freedom in learning (Hayes, 2006, p. 48). During this time, many American schools adapted some of the suggestions of the progressive reformers such as periods of free time, more freedom to move about the building, and the addition of elective courses. Also during this period, curriculums were revised as part of an effort to meet the students' desire for a more "relevant" curriculum. More teachers were using the progressive "whole language" method, which focused on helping the child to learn the meaning rather than the component parts of language (Hayes, 2006, p. 52). The growing use of the whole language method sparked fierce debates between conservatives and progressives, and by the 1980s, was being attacked on many fronts. During Richard Nixon's presidency (1969-1974) he reduced federal spending on education, arguing that there was little evidence to support the efficacy of the programs implemented under the Johnson administration. Criticisms of the public school system would continue to gather momentum throughout the 1970s, foreshadowing what would become a major call for a return to schools that saw their primary role as providing an excellent academic education to American children. According to Hayes, "the single event which perhaps more than any other would motivate significant changes in our educational priorities was the issuance in 1983 of the A Nation at Risk report (Hayes, 2006, p. 54)." President Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education's 18


conservative manifesto, A Nation at Risk blamed the public schools for many social problems and led to a substantial increase in both social and political support for school choice and privatization (Reese, 2007 109). Some of the major changes to the educational system enacted in the years following the passage of this act were: the "back to basics" movement, which emphasized core subjects such as math, English, history, and science; the creation of nation-wide curriculum standards in every major subject taught; the creation of "high-stakes testing," which is supposed to ensure that students are truly learning what is dictated by the curriculum standards; and finally, the establishment of various means to make schools and their employees more accountable for meeting the curriculum standards (Hayes, 2006, p. 58). Other reforms that began in the mid-eighties included instituting more standardized tests, increasing course requirements for graduation, and strengthening certification requirements for teachers (Hayes, 2006, p. 68). By the turn of the millennium, negative stories and studies on the education system abounded and critics once again started the call for a return to traditional academic teaching methods. At the beginning of George W. Bush's presidency, the major section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title I, came before Congress for reauthorization. After months of debate and significant compromises by both parties, the result was the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. This legislation was designed to use the federal government's large financial obligation to Title I as a way to force schools to accept a new accountability that had not previously been there. According to Hayes (2006), it is too early to tell whether, in the long run, this Act will improve our 19


schools. However, he goes on to say that "one might easily conclude that with its mandatory academic standards, high-stakes testing, and school accountability, the law will serve as the final blow to progressive education (Hayes, 2006, p. 75)." School Choice and Increasing Support for Privatization Over the past few decades, the dissolution of progressive educational ideals in public schools combined with the conservative upswing in politics has led to the significant growth of both popular and political support for privatization various institutions. The term privatization' is typically used to describe the transfer of public activities to the private sector and reducing or discontinuing the provision of some goods and services by the government. Privatization entails a move toward private property and away from not only government and common ownership but also from government regulations that infringe upon individual rights for the use of resources (Murphy, 2012). Many views exist on the meaning and objectives of the movement to privatize particular institutions, some supporters believing that the result will redirect government to its fundamental purpose to guide the country instead of directing it. Others view privatization as an element of a more extensive neoliberal policy package that will help to reconstruct the liberal democratic state. Privatization from this viewpoint, is seen as "a vehicle to overcome the dependency culture associate with a social order dominated by government activity (Murphy, 2012, p. 71)." However, the central purpose and most commonly touted objective of privatization is to reduce the size of the public sector by downsizing the government. Supporters of privatization believe that the government is too large, too intrusive, and too political, thus its decisions are inherently less reliable 20


than market decisions (Murphy, 2012, p. 71). Another objective of privatization is to enhance the overall health of the struggling economy. By reducing the size of the public sector, advocates of privatization seek to promote productivity and growth, to enhance the use of scarce resources, to ensure that customers are served more efficiently, and to promote cost competition. Related to the issue of cost-effectiveness, explains Murphy, is still another objective of privatization: to dimming the power of public sector unions (Murphy, 2012, p. 72). Privatization is often portrayed as a tactic for promoting options and accountability in public services, and the key word of the movement is choice. Advocates claim that privatization will expand the range of options for individuals while serving the essential functions as traditional public programs. According to Murphy, a review of the literature on privatization shows that it represents a particular public philosophy and that its advocates fall into a distinctive ideological camp. Drawing strength from political movement on the Right, "the fusion of a political agenda increasingly dominated by conservative politics and an economic theology signaling a return to fundamentalism has given birth to the doctrine of neoliberalism (Murphy, 2012, p. 72)." In this process, "an ideology which has long lurked in the darkest shadows of right-wing thinking [has been] transfer[red] into an apparatus at the very center of the policy process" (Bell & Cloke (1991), in Murphy, 2012, p. 72). An article in a 1999 edition of the Harvard Law Review warned about the dangers of a market system with private providers, as such a system relies on the self-interest of parents and students to select providers. In such a system, the seller may focus disproportionately on those most interested in securing the highest quality of education for the individual student although all taxpayers are the buyers. If every parent and child started with the same 21


resources, the distribution of benefits would be less troubling. However, some parents and students are active in managing educational opportunities while others are unable or unwilling to do so. Therefore, some individuals would flourish under a choice regime and others would suffer-the aggregate result for society may encompass a variance too great to be acceptable. A select population, arguably those already optimizing opportunity in the current system, benefit to the further detriment of those already poorly served ( Harvard Law Review, 1999). Along with the increasingly popular libertarian philosophy of small government comes "a rekindling of belief in the appropriateness of self-help and local initiative, especially of traditional local institutions (Murphy, 2012, p. 73)." As the increasing conservative winds blow America in the direction of decentralization, new attention is being devoted to potential power of localized institutions such as families, churches, neighborhood group, and voluntary associations. As we will see in chapter two, central to this reweaving narrative of American culture is a set of key ideas, nearly all of which support the formation of home education as a social and educational movement. The shifting sociopolitical environment that fostered movements such as decentralization, choice, conservatism, and the power of voluntary association, is a crucial piece of the history of the home education movement. 22


CHAPTER TWO History of Unschooling and the Contemporary Home Education Movement While it may not appear so from the outside, homeschoolers are a diverse bunch, running the gamut of culture, ideology, and practice. But they are also an intriguing example of where the political far left and far right intersect; the common thread that ties most homeschoolers together whether twenty-first century hippies or Tea Party supporters is the conviction that parents should be able to shape the education of their children, and the government should have little or no say about it. (Kunzman, 2012) Emergence of Home Education In order to understand the success of the contemporary home education movement, it is first necessary to understand the larger contextual forces surrounding its development and growth. Murphy (2012) explains that "homeschooling is thriving because the essential pillars of society that made it anathema for over a century are being torn down replaced with scaffolding that supports homeschooling (Murphy, 2012, p. 54)." His argument progresses as follows: after the nation was formed and developing, important political, economic, and cultural ideas were sewn into the foundation for government action. However, as the nation evolved from an agricultural to an industrial society from 1890 onward, much of this initial foundational framework crumbled. The liberal democratic welfare state was built over this industrial ideological scaffolding. The pillars of this new platform--government control and professionalism--made home education "nearly impossible." But then this second national social and political infrastructure began to crumble in the 1970s, severely undercutting the support and growth of activist government. This development gave way to a third infrastructure, one 23


that was forged from very different cultural, political, and economic ideas, and one that would make social movements such as home education possible (Murphy, 2012, p. 55). As influence and power were taken from parents and communities and turned over to government agents and professional experts throughout the 20th century, the number of parents feeling great loss of control grew steadily. By assuming everexpanding responsibility for social life, the government also diminished the influence of parents. Home Education, argues Murphy (2012), can thus be examined as a part of an ongoing debate over who should control the education of America's children. The fight for the high ground has been continually waged "on two highly overlapping fronts: against government domination of schooling and against the dominant role played by progressional educators in the production known as schooling (Murphy, 2012, p. 60)." Increasing reports of dissatisfaction and discontent provide ample ammunition the growing antigovernment sentiment. Many education analysts have found that among opponents of public education, there is an increasing discontent with activist government in addition to the spread of an antigovernment philosophy. Subsequently, many home education advocates argue that the consent of the governed is being withdrawn to a significant extent (Murphy, 2012, p. 61). Murphy (2012) argues that the attack on government-controlled schooling can be traced to two broad areas: discontent with the processes and outcomes of schooling and critical reviews of the core system of schooling (Murphy, 2012, p. 64). Much of the attack on the core system of schooling is on the educational professionals, or elites, that 24


took control of the educational system for most of the 20th century. With the growing distrust of government in general, the authority claims of experts have also lost much of their clout. The historic deference to expertise has been eroded significantly in recent years, which has subsequently led to two developments: a dramatic crisis in educational legitimacy and social resistance, with the accompanying belief that parents, not professionals, know what is best for their children (Murphy, 2012, p. 67). Since the unraveling of the once-dominant liberal democratic welfare state, new ideas are emerging to fill the vacant sociopolitical spaces. Decentralization, or sometimes known as localism,' has become an increasingly popular idea that represents a backlash against and a reversal of virtually exclusive reliance on control by government and professional elites (Murphy, 2012, p. 68). Another emerging ideological foundation is the replacement of representative government with more populist conceptions, or direct democracy, which proponents believe could enrich citizenship and replace distrust of government with mutual respect and healthy participation (Murphy, 2012, p. 69). The ideology of choice, as previously discussed, is yet another pillar supporting home education. Along with localism, direct democracy, and lay control, choice is intended to deregulate the demand side of the education market and to allow parents to become more effectively involved in their children's education. As discussed in Chapter one, a wide array of voucher and school choice activists have arisen since the 1960s and 1970s. These activists include leftists, free market economists, traditional Catholic lobbies, right-wing Protestant Christians, and African 25


American civil rights activists (Reese, 2007, p. 109). The 1960s also saw a resurgence in what is arguably the most extreme educational method of the choice spectrum, home education. According to Murphy (2012), two differing viewpoints on the history of the modern home education movement emerge out of the existing literature. The first, as mentioned earlier, holds that modern home-based education is not a new educational form but rather a continuation of methods that have existed on America's educational landscape for centuries. The second viewpoint comes from a group of scholars who argue that it only makes sense to interpret home education as a response to the compulsory education movement that dominated the first half of the twentieth century. They see the contemporary home education movement as something distinct and different from its precompulsory ancestor, even though the two unquestionably share some roots (Murphy, 2012, p. 31). Two highly integrated shifts also occupy critical space in the emerging sociopolitical architecture that supports the home education movement. One is the rise of evangelism or conservative Christian ideology as a reaction to the dominant worldview of secular humanistic society that helped form the foundation of schooling for the last half century. The second overlapping and reinforcing dynamic has been "the shift from a middle-of-the-road, slightly liberal ideological foundation to the acceptance of a much more conservative ideological platform in the nation, what Apple (2005) describes as a rightward turn in the country (Murphy, 2012, p. 70)." These two social developments influenced and nurtured the two dominant types of home education that emerged in the 1970s. One thing becomes clearer, Murphy concludes, as one steps back and reviews the 26


unraveling and reweaving of the social and political aspects of the educational environment: the dismantling of the dominant pillars of the democratic welfare state "has undercut the currency of traditional notions of schooling in general and governance in particular (Murphy, 2012, p. 70)." Nearly every historian of the contemporary home education movement identifies two founding fathers of its component subgroups. According to Murphy, the first seeds were planted by pioneers from the liberal left, with John Holt as their chief spokesperson and strategist. Later seeds were planted and nurtured by advocates from the Christian right, with Raymond Moore occupying the role of founding father (Murphy, 2012, p. 32). On one level, these two groups share some common ground. They both share the common goal of holding full legal control over their children's education. Each group is also driven by a commitment to personal ideology; for the liberal left, home education is a commitment to a new progressive way of life, but for the conservative right, it represents an aspect of a commitment to religious ideology (Murphy, 2012, p. 33.) John Holt and the Emergence of Contemporary Home Education In 1964, American educator John Holt published his first book, How Children Fail, which brought a scathing critique of the public school system's teaching methods the attention of middle-class liberals. Formerly a dedicated public school reformer, Holt evolved into the prophet of the branch of homeschoolers that he named the unschoolers .' He worked for years as an educator in the public institution before he became disillusioned with the process of school reform and started publishing a four-page newsletter called Growing Without Schooling for families interested in home education. 27


Holt's ideas resonated with many families who shared similar frustrations with the public educational system, and within six months, GWS had almost five hundred subscribers. His interview on The Phil Donahue Show a few years later inspired thousands more parents to learn more about his peculiar style of home education (Griffith, 1998, p. iix). In Teach Your Own, Holt recalled his optimism for education reform during the late 1960s, a time when he believed that once individual parents and teachers understood how schooling oppressed children's personal freedom they would leap to change it. However, after a a decade of frustrating encounters with what he called the silent majority,' or the general public, Holt's optimism crumbled into disillusionment with public institutions, skepticism about the effects of collective social advocacy, and the belief that schools are past the point of no return (Franzosa, 1984, p. 126). While he was still an ardent supporter of school reform, Holt's vision of the ideal classroom featured large blocks of uninterrupted, solitary learning so that each individual child could freely develop their natural' qualities (Franzosa, 1984, p. 124). Collective activity, group interaction, and a sense of community were not featured in his early models for education in a classroom setting. Holt believed that social association was unnecessary and possibly even harmful to learning, which led him to conceive of education and self-actualization as products of an independence from the influence of others. According to Franzosa (1984), Holt's focus on personal autonomy prevented him from recognizing the value of social interaction, or that the development of autonomy often derives from the interactions a child experiences within group association (Franzosa, 1984 p. 125). 28


Holt's homeschooling philosophy attracted a particular group parents from the countercultural left and the libertarian political left who were defined by their liberal and humanistic orientations. The unschooling ideology was created with different materials from the progressive education movement, particularly wisdom from the Romantic tradition and ideas from both historical and modern progressive educators (Murphy, 2012, p. 33). According to Holt, nobody knows how many unschoolers exist or who they are, because many of them fear harassment from the state (Holt, 1982, p. 14). Not only does Holt believe the public schooling system to be incompetent, oppressive, and harmful to children's growth, he also believes that "compulsory school attendance laws, in and of themselves, seem to [be] a very serious infringement of the civil liberties of children and their parents (Holt, 1982, p. 19)." Additionally, he lists several other common practices in public schools that he views as further violations of the civil liberties of the children, including: the keeping of permanent records of children's school performance; filling these records with derogatory information about the student or mislabeling the student with behavioral or psychological problems; and compulsory psychological testing (Holt, 1982, p. 20). Another majorly influential contributor to the unschooling movement of the 1970s was Ivan Illich, a former Roman Catholic priest who advocated the abolishment of compulsory schooling in his 1971 book, Deschooling Society. In line with most of Holt's ideas, Illich believed that "schools are used as screening devices to sift out the gifted few" and that attempts to reform the system are a waste of time (Hayes, 2006, p. 48). This belief would spread throughout parts of the liberal left, who leveled some ferocious 29


attacks against public schools during the 1970s. The main thrust of the their arguments was the the schools harm children; their vision of a learning environment was one that was flexible to the needs of individuals and respectful of the rights of children as full citizens in our society (Murphy, 2012, p. 34). In his 1971 article, "An Alternative to Schooling," Illich asserts that "the disestablishment of the school has become inevitable and that this end of an illusion should fill us with hope (Illich, 1971, p. 94)." He explains that in order to clearly see the available alternatives, it is necessary to distinguish education from schooling, which means separating the humanistic intent of the teacher from the influence of the hidden structure of the school system. This hidden structure dictates a course of instruction that stays forever out of the influence of the teacher. It also "conveys indelibly the message that only through schooling can an individual prepare himself for adulthood in society, that what is not taught in school is of little value and that what is learned outside of school is not worth knowing (Illich, 1971, p. 94)." And the content of what is learned inside of school is not important; what is important is that students learn that education is valuable when it is acquired in the school through a graded process of consumption; that the degree of success the individual will enjoy in society depends on the amount of learning he consumes; and that learning about the world is more valuable than learning from the world (Illich, 1971, p. 95). This structure inevitably defines a new class structure for society based upon how much "knowledge stock" one acquires. Consumers of large quantities of knowledge stock enjoy special privileges, high income, and access to the more powerful tools of production. This kind of knowledge-capitalism, argues Illich, "has been accepted in all industrialized 30


societies and establishes a rationale for the distribution of jobs and income (Illich, 1971, p. 2)." He proposes a free-market type of economy in which individuals offer to share their skills with others who wish to learn. In this way, education would no longer be monopolized by an elitist institution, and each individual would have the power to choose the best kind of education for him/her. In 1971, a year after the publication of Illich's Deschooling Society (1970) Holt's focus began to shift from pedagogical reform to a more general critique of social institutions and advocacy of children's rights. Very similar to Illich's evolving beliefs, Holt began to seriously question whether schools or any formalized pedagogy was necessary or desirable. Comparable to Illich's deschooling emerged Holt's unschooling which included establishing community resource centers as educational alternatives as well as proposals designed to transform the traditional compulsory "S-chools" into "schools"-non-compulsory "doing places for children" (Franzosa, 1984 p. 126). But even as he proposed his new vision of the ideal school, it was clear that he saw little hope for their success. Countless interactions with both parents and teachers led him to believe that most adults actively distrust and dislike most children, quite often especially their own. Therefore, he concluded, "even if S-chools become s-chools, it will take many years to rid them of the many teachers who don't like or trust children" (Franzosa, 1984 p. 126). By 1976 Holt's philosophy included the belief that the school's true purpose was to isolate the youth from society while sorting and ranking them according to discriminatory standards and socializing them into docile future citizens and employees. 31


Because he assumed that this was what most people wanted schools to do, he also believed that these purposes would inevitably govern any alternative schools as well (Franzosa, 1984 p. 126). Therefore, good and loving parents should find a way to help their children escape from the horrors of schooling altogether. This is one of his main arguments in Teach Your Own (1976) in which he writes that compulsory learning "is a tyranny and a crime against the human mind and spirit. Let all those escape it who can, any way they can" (Franzosa, 1984 p. 127). Holt's growing belief that public life and group association inevitably led either to a totalitarian consensus or social conflict and disintegration led him to dismiss alternative schools completely, writing in 1984 that they "have little power to multiply, while home schooling does" (Franzosa, 1984 p. 127). Because he could no longer see any possibility of a good society capable of nurturing its members, the only plausible educational course for Holt was the private alternative of home education. Holt glorified the home as the most "natural, organic, central, fundamental human institution" and subsequently the only social institution that can be genuinely concerned with the individual's welfare (Franzosa, 1984 p. 128). Ideological Split Within the Movement Raymond Moore, the second founding father of the home education movement, started his home education advocacy much like Holt, working towards school reform for years before his frustrations led him to endorse homeschooling as the preferred alternative to public schooling. Early in his career as an educator, Moore became particularly troubled by the growing trend of sending children to institutionalized schooling at earlier and earlier ages. His research would lead him to conclude that this practice, among many others of the public school system, causes harm to children and 32


therefore good parents should keep their children away from schools. Since his emergence, Moore has become the most visible and celebrated homeschool leader in the U.S. and has played a foundational role in the development of the rapidly-growing movement (Murphy, 2012, p. 34). !Although Moore and his followers had many pedagogical critiques of the educational system, the driving force behind their movement was religion. These conservative, far-right Christians had moved into a very dominant position in the larger home education movement in the United States by the mid-1980s. According to Mitchell Stevens (2001), "by the mid-1980s their numbers began to dwarf those of the unschoolers, they had taken denitional control of the movement, and they exercised control over the organizational architecture of the homeschoolers (Murphy, 2012, p. 35)." In contrast to the child-centered methods of the unschoolers, these homeschoolers emphasized discipline, parental authority, and traditional values. Van Galen's 1988 research on home educators sought to first examine the values and beliefs of parents who choose to educate their children at home, and then to analyze the social context within which these beliefs and values are created and maintained. Like much of the existing research on homeschoolers, she found that parents decide to teach their children at home for a variety of reasons. However, two distinct groups emerged: the "ideologues," or Christian homeschoolers, and the "pedagogues," or freedom-based homeschoolers. This categorization is based upon the rhetoric that the parents use to describe their reasons for home educating and upon the values and beliefs implicit in the 33


parents' interpretations of their role in society and in their descriptions of how they structure their children's education. The ideologues may be defined by these two core beliefs: 1) they object to what they believe is being taught in public and private schools, and 2) they seek to strengthen their relationships with their children. These parents are Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals, and they have specific values, beliefs, and skills that they include in their teaching. In addition to traditional secular educational topics, they want their children to learn fundamentalist religious doctrine and conservative political and social perspectives. Most of these families explained that their first choice for their children's education was a private religious school, but they either could not afford the tuition or they had unsuccessfully attempted to start their own school. The ideology of these parents had pointed them away from public schools when they were seeking educational alternatives for their children, but full commitment to the philosophy of home education usually came sometime after their initial choice to teach their children at home (Van Galen, 1988, p. 67). This strong commitment and belief in in the philosophy of home education is a result of interaction with other home education parents through various networks and associations in their geographical areas. Van Galen explains that these interactions lead the parents to "begin to define home education more frequently and more primarily as an exercise in religious faith (Van Galen, 1988, p. 67)." Although they embark on the home education journey with some trepidation, the Ideologues explained that they "had come to 34


believe they were following God's will and fulfilling their responsibilities as Christian parents in teaching their own children (Van Galen, 1988, p. 67)." The ideologues define home education as an exercise of their religious faith, so naturally, they define any opposition to their educational choice as infringements upon their religious freedom and family privacy. Through attending their monthly meetings and subscribing to their publications, Van Galen (1988) found that the ideologues consistently interpreted any opposition to home education as evidence of "the insidious spread of secular humanism and the erosion of traditional values (Van Galen, 1988, p. 69)." A 1985 editorial published by Christian Liberty Academy appeared in a popular homeschoolers' newsletter warned these parents of the "real" purpose of public schools. The author stressed that more Christians need to be aware that the modern educational systems are "hot houses', places where a carefully maintained atmosphere of materialism, humanism, evolution, relativism, and sometimes downright atheism is deliberately created for the impressionable student (Lindstorm, 1985, p. 2)." Home education then, came to be defined not only as an alternative means of educating one's child, but also as a bold political stance against the persecution of persons like themselves (Van Galen, 1988, p. 70). The second broad category as found in Van Galen's study, the "pedagogues," includes parents who decide to teach their own children primarily for pedagogical reasons. Their criticisms of public schools tend to focus not on the content of the curriculum, but rather on the ways that which schools teach their students. These parents are highly individualistic and strive to take responsibility for their own lives within a 35


society that they see as pathologically bureaucratic and inefficient. The individualistic ideology manifests itself in different ways for different families: some families grow much of their own food; others give birth in their homes (Van Galen, 1988, p. 72). Like the ideologues, the pedagogues have many reasons for initially choosing to homeschool, but they all share the same respect for their children's intellect and creativity and wish to nurture them as well as they can. Home education for these families is a powerful symbol of their independence from what they view as dysfunctional social institutions. According to Van Galen, these parents are home schooling because they actively question the bureaucratization of modern society, and particularly of education. Their decision to educate their own children "is a public declaration of their deliberately uncredentialed competence to raise their children with minimal institutional support (Van Galen, 1988, p. 73)." These parents tend to view home education as an extension of their beliefs about learning and human nature, and are thus less likely to affiliate with local or state home education lobbying or support groups. Growth of Hom e Education during the 1980s and 90s As we have seen, at the outset homeschooling was the purview of the far left and later of the far right. As the movement has matured, it has become more diverse, generating a larger gravitational force that is pulling increasing numbers of parents from the center into its field of influence. (Murphy, 2012, p. 39) Prior to the 1980s, home education was viewed as little more than a fringe phenomenon, perceived by many as an attack on the fabric of society. The educational system and its prominent educational leaders viewed the movement with intense skepticism and sometimes outright hostility. The general public and governmental 36


officials were similarly suspicious of homeschoolers, as they were seen as deviators from the norm of public education and socialization (Murphy, 2012, p. 36). However, while the media reports in the 1970s and 1980s often portrayed home education as an extreme and problematic practice, the past two decades have seen a complete reversal in the nation's airwaves. Murphy (2012) explains that though there were many factors and conditions that influenced the formation and normalization of the modern home education movement in the U.S., two of those forces merit special attention: the creation of a network of support groups and the nation-wide legalization of the practice that was largely disrespected and unrecognized only 30 years ago (Murphy, 2012, p. 39). The total number of American children who were homeschooled during the 1970s has been estimated to have been in the 10,000-15,000 range. But by the mid-1980s, the home education population had grown considerably; in 1985, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that the total number of homeschooled students had reached between 122,000 and 244,000. In 1995, the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) released an estimate of nearly half a million, or about 1% of the U.S. school-age population. By the year 2000, most researchers reported that over 1 million students were being educated at home, and by 2005, the NHERI estimated that the figure had grown to between 1.9 and 2.4 million students. Ray (2011) reported that enrollment had grown to 2.04 million in 2010, which is about 3.8% of the school-age population in the U.S. (Murphy, 2012, p. 10). 37


The Home Education Movement Today Mackey's 2011 study compared the demographics of groups of regional homeschoolers to those of national homeschoolers, and then both of those to traditionally-schooled students. He concluded that "parents who decide to homeschool do not represent a random assortment of individuals (Mackey, 2011, p. 136)." The parent's social class, race, religion, and educational levels form a core set of demographics which are over-represented in the homeschooled students, and "available evidence indicates that enhanced achievement by the homeschooled students is a consequence of this (Mackey, 2011, p. 138)." There is nearly universal agreement among scholars that parents who educate their children at home generally have moderate to high levels of schooling completed. The typical homeschool parents have both attended and often graduated from college, with recent national data (Ray, 2010) providing estimates of college completion at 62.5% of mothers and 66.3% of fathers (Murphy, 2012, p. 17). Additionally, comparative data also consistently show that homeschool parents fall somewhere between "somewhat better educated" and "considerably better educated" than do nonhomeschool parents. Basham and colleagues (2007) found that 75% of homeschool parents pursued education beyond high school, compared to 56% for the nation as a whole (Murphy, 2012, p. 17). Research on homeschoolers over the past few decades has revealed the population as solidly middle class and financially stable, with medium to medium-high amounts of income. According to Murphy, none of the recent published empirical studies reveal significant percentages of low-income homeschool parents. Furthermore, these studies 38


reveal that homeschool parents are not heavily represented in highest end of the income spectrum (Murphy, 2012, p. 18). Studies throughout the 1980s and 90s reported that homeschoolers enjoyed greater economic security than average families, however, recent research has found evidence that suggests a that this gap is closing. Ray (2000) found that the median family income for homeschool families was $43,000 in 1997, compared to $47, 067 for all married-couple families (Ray, 2000, p. 283). Apart from Jan Van Galen's 1988 study on homeschoolers, almost all studies on homeschoolers focus primarily on the ideological, or religious, segment of the population, while either ignoring the smaller subgroup of secular homeschoolers or mentioning them in passing. However, a 2011 study on home education created a distinct category for secular homeschoolers and unschoolers, called "unstructured homeschoolers," and investigated the impact of different types of schooling on students' academic achievements. The researchers compared the academic achievements of two groups of students from different educational styleshomeschooled and public schools. The homeschooled group was divided into two subgroups, one that was called the "structured homeschoolers," and one that was called the "unstructured homeschoolers." The results showed that compared with students from the public schools, the structured homeschooled students achieved higher standardized test scores. However, the unstructured homeschoolers achieved the lowest standardized test scores of the three groups, which may be largely due to differing opinions of the importance of prepping for standardized tests. This aspect of the study may be problematic, since the researchers' 39


idea of "academic achievement" is vastly different from the ideas of unstructured homeschoolers (Martin-Chang,, 2011). Modern Unschooling In The Unschooling Handbook (1998), Mary Griffith explains that there is no simple formula or set of rules to unschool one's children; unschooling is simply a way to tailor learning to the particular needs of each child and each family. For Griffith and many other unschoolers, unschooling is basically a matter of attitude and approach. The idea that very young children "should be in charge of their own education, choose what they learn and how to learn it, and even choose whether they should learn anything at all" is difficult to fathom until one has seen it in action (Griffith, 1998, p. 3). Trusting that the child will learn is one of the most crucial components for a successful life of unschooling. It is also one of the most difficult for many traditionally-educated parents whose own educational experiences have characterized their concepts of how education works (Griffith, 1998, p. 9). Many parents worry that the freedom of unschooling may cause their children to miss out on important topics. Griffith, however, points out that after unschooling for some time "we [parents] discover that our kids don't need the repetition that so often permeates school instruction, because they are actively pursuing topics that interest them (Griffith, 1998, p. 14)." Rather than learning a smattering of science, math, english, and social studies each year in strictly organized scheduling, unschoolers believe that learning best occurs when one is able to devote as much time and energy needed for his/her individual learning style (Griffith, 1998, p. 36). 40


Because of the individualized nature of unschooling, no two unschooling households look alike. There is no set curriculum, schedule, or common set of educational materials in the unschooling lifestyle. The different interests of both the parents and children influence what kinds of learning materials are available around the house. One of the only requirements of the unschooling lifestyle, explains Griffith, is that the children spend the majority of their time in places where learning and exploration are both possible and welcome. As facilitators of learning, parents must ensure that their household is transformed from an ordinary living space into an environment that is conducive to exploration and experimentation (Griffith, 1998, p. 6). For some, this may mean that the house is filled with more typical educational materials: books, puzzles, games, and art supplies; for others, learning may be more centered around the equipment of everyday life: kitchen utensils, computers, gardens, etc What's important is that the children feel comfortable and inspired to explore these items at their own pace. At least as important as material to learn about and from, explains Griffith (1998), are people to learn from. Like Holt, she argues that any parent can unschool; formal qualifications such as teaching credentials, undergraduate or advanced degrees, or early childhood education courses are not necessary. What is absolutely necessary is that unschooled children have people around them who provide learning models by the way they live, in the activities they choose to pursue. For example, if the children see their parents reading for pleasure, they are likely to become interested in reading. Griffith (1998) points out that if the parents are not curious in the world around them, if they never ask questions and search out answers, their children will seldom do so either. Due 41


to unschooling's requirement of heavy involvement by parents, learning becomes an ongoing family activity. "Often the kids will be intrigued with something they see their parents doing and get involved themselves, but almost as often the parents are drawn into unexpected topics by one or more of the kids (Griffith, 1998, p. 8)." Choosing which style of home education to practice, getting past legal hurdles, and transitioning into the lifestyle can be difficult. After discussing some of the legal issues of unschooling and home education more generally, Griffith says that "homeschooling -particularly unschooling -is one of the least expensive alternatives to public school, if one considers only the cost of materials (Griffith, 1998, p. 176)." Most unschoolers report that all of the educational materials available to their children would have been in the house no matter which type of schooling they would have chosen. They frequent thrift shops, yard sales, and trade hand-me-downs with friends and family, while many local homeschool groups "often end up swapping the same resources around for years (Griffith, 1998, p. 35)." However, home education is expensive in terms of the time it demands from at least one parent. For most families, this means that one parent forgoes outside employment in order to stay home and educate the children. According to Griffith, many single-income families experience less financial hardship than expected; "a great many homeschooling families end up making frugality a family challenge," scouring thrift shops and yard sales for books, toys, and other learning materials (Griffith, 1998, p. 178). Some families in which both parents work arrange their schedules so that both parents share the responsibility of unschooling, while "others arrange part-time jobs for both 42


adults and deliberately choose a lower standard of living as a fair exchange for being able to spend more time together as a family." Unschooling as a single parent, says Griffith, requires much determination, organization, and -especially for those with young children -help. Most single parents of younger children work out flexible schedules and make child-care arrangements with other home education families (Griffith, 1998, p. 179). According to Griffith (1998), life for unschoolers is easier today than it was even a few years ago because of the increasingly frequent sharing of experiences with others. Talking with other families in local support groups, reading reviews in state and national home education newsletters, and subscribing to catalogues published by families whose search for resources turned into home-based businesses are a few of the main sources of support for unschoolers (Griffith, 1998). A quick Google search of "unschooling groups" reveals that there are thousands of both valueand region-specific networking groups that unschooling parents use to connect with others like them. These countless groups, along with the growing amount of unschooling guidebooks for parents, indicate that the population is increasing along with the larger home education population since the 1970s. The home education movement continues to grow, attracting the attention of the general public, parents, educators, policymakers legal scholars, and sociologists alike who are interested in those who comprise the population and the relative benefits or disadvantages, to children and society (Ray, 2010). 43


Tensions Between Home Education and Progressive Education It seems clear that both parents and children have profound interests at stake in the shape of a homeschooling education. But the outcome matters to broader society as well, both in terms of having economically self-sufficient members and citizens committed to a healthy democracy. (Kunzman, 2012) The ability to personalize your child's education, or even any other aspect of your life, is becoming increasingly appealing to American families. According to proponents, home education offers a viable alternative to parents who are dissatisfied with a school's performance, thus providing a form of sanction in cases where a school's budget is tied to enrollment. While choice is generally seen as a good thing for most consumer goods, Lubienski (2000) argues that there is reason to question whether this consumer model is appropriate for public services such as education. The home education movement epitomizes the broader shift toward unrestricted pursuit of individual preferences, which, as a lifestyle decision, "largely shuns collective goals in favour of one's own (Lubienski, 2000, p. 173)." Moreover, this is a lifestyle decision available only to those who can forgo earnings and resources for their children's education, which in homeschoolers' minds is a sacrifice well worth making (Lubienski, 2000, p. 173). Some progressive educators are afraid that this this type of "customizing our lives" could radically upset the strength of local communities and social cohesion. By withdrawal of support, both symbolic and financial, the mass exit of educated middleclass families from the public institution may inadvertently harm other, more disadvantaged children that remain in the schools (Apple, 2000). For instance, students from families with high educational expectations bring certain cultural capital with them 44


to school which generally has a positive impact on the learning and aspirations of other less-advantaged students. The loss of these families with high educational expectations, and the initiative and means to act on them, are likely to have repercussions for public schools more serious than the loss of the enrollment revenue, and "may easily outweigh any beneficial aspects of competition (Lubienski, 2000, p. 174)." In order to address the relation between education and democracy, Kyle and Jenks (2002) present two differing general approaches. The first is based upon the principle that no matter what the outcome, educational policy is appropriate and just if it is decided upon by the populace through democratic means. This approach serves as the foundation for many contemporary school reform measures (i.e., school choice, voucher programs, and charter schools), which seek legitimacy in allowing citizens to decide on educational reforms and which type of school is best for their children. Such policies, argue Kyle and Jenks, are premised on narrow understandings of individuality and on popular understandings of democracy with limited notions of citizen participation. Proponents of such policies pressure politicians to promise that schools will mirror their particular educational, religious, and political preferences (Kyle & Jenks, 2002, p. 154). Kyle and Jenks see two major problems with this approach to educational reform: first, it presents its own particular views of humanity and democracy definitively as natural, timeless, and ahistorical; and second, the possibility that, given the authority, parents may shield their children from exposure to diverse cultures, lifestyles, and values, thus reproducing intolerant views in their children. 45


The second general way to address the relationship between education and democracy focuses on the role of the government in purposefully educating children to live and participate in a democratic society. Therefore, democracy is the result of properly educated citizens behaving according to the values of their society. This view runs counter to the predominant reform efforts of today, most of which value individual liberties over the what's best for the common good. David Blacker (1998) argues that this type "fanaticism" challenges the democratic constitutional state to its core. Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in the educational arena of the U.S. public school movement, where scores of particularist initiatives-charter schools, vouchers, "parents' rights," a variety of ethnocentrisms, home education as a national movement-provide cover and legitimation for an array of emboldened fanatical groups (Blacker, 1998, p. 241). His "civic education" argument against schools is simple: a democratic society, in order to remain and reproduce itself as such, has a compelling interest in securing at least a minimal set of civic virtues in its citizens. Foremost among these, particularly under conditions of pluralism such as those that obtain in the contemporary United States, is a minimal level of tolerance for worldviews and cultural practices different from one's own. While he recognizes that not all individuals who are participating in some of these educational movements are "fanatics," he warns that any participation in these movements may unintentionally work in favor of the fanatics (Blacker, 244). Franzosa (1984) was one of the earliest critics to write about the tensions between progressive ideals and the unschooling movement that emerged from John Holt's philosophies. She begins her argument with the following quote: What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; 46


acted upon it destroys our democracy. (Franzosa, 1984 p. 121) These are the words of John Dewey, spoken in 1956 to an audience of parents involved with a new elementary school in an attempt to establish the premises for an advocacy of school reform. His remarks were intended to enlist their support not only for their own school but for general public school reform. Their responsibility as members of a community was to work toward extending the educational advantages enjoyed by their children to all children. Dewey was proposing a social ethic for educational reform that demanded that the individual work to assure the educational good of all (Franzosa, 1984, p. 121). By universalizing the intentions of an ideal parent and making the school a generalized version of the home, Dewey maintained that public education in the U.S. could equalize educational opportunity, minimize social conflict, and transmit the necessary skills and knowledge for social continuity and individual growth. In his mind, the school itself could become society's best and wisest parent (Franzosa, 1984 p. 122). However, as educational critics began to find in the 1960s and 70s, the public school has not proven to be the best and wisest parent for all children in our society. In Teach Your Own, Holt chronicles the familiar disillusionment with the educational reform movements of the first half of the twentieth century, offers a critique of compulsory schooling, and finally attempts to argue that the parent and home, rather than the teacher and school, are the child's best and wisest educators (Franzosa, 1984 p. 122). Franzosa argues that Teach Your Own and Holt's subsequent writings on home education is "a direct assault on the Deweyian tradition (Franzosa, 1984 p. 122)." The "hopeful path" Holt anticipates and intends to foster through home education is the withering away of 47


the public school and the reemergence of what he understands as a lost American ideal: self-sufficiency. Therefore, Holt's belief is that the full growth of the individual is inherently incompatible with any form of institutionalized control build on community consensus (Franzosa, 1984). Unlike the democratic social thesis in Dewey's prescriptions for educational reform, Holt's conservative libertarianism defines a society in which the individual's wellbeing is not the legitimate concern of the state, one's children can be thought of strictly as one's own, and the individual need feel no responsibility for the good of all. The best and wisest parent, in Holt's ideological context, chooses to reject social participation in favor of personal independence and autonomy (Franzosa, 1984). Franzosa (1984) argues that Holt's descriptions of both the home education parent and the parent who chooses to keep their child in school reveals the nature of his social thesis and the weaknesses in his understanding of the process of social change. His directive to teach your own children "operates as a moral imperative to parents who claim to love their children (Franzosa, 1984, p. 129)." In Holt's view, parents who choose home education exemplify the highest ideals of parenthood. Along with their children, they will become models of natural authority and eventually convince others that self-sufficiency and personal autonomy should be one's highest educational goals. Therefore, membership in the moral elite is thus understood by Holt as a matter of personal choice (Franzosa, 1984, p. 129). Throughout his writings on home education, the only relevant requirements for parents who choose this route appear to be the strength of parental affection and the willingness to undertake such responsibility. He refuses to consider the class, lifestyle, 48


the child's special needs, and the parent's competencies when urging all self-identified loving parents' to educate their children at home. He believes that all parents-working class, middle class, single, or even illiterate parents-can find the necessary resources homeschool if they have enough dedication. In addition to his flippant attitude toward the less-fortunate public education families, whom he calls "sufferers," Holt's arguments serve to reinforce the notion that one can no longer succeed in changing public education policies either as an individual or through collective action (Franzosa, 1984, p. 132). The only moral course of education for Holt is an individual rejection of educational institutions, a path that he firmly argues could be taken by any family. During the 1990s, former New York public school teacher John Taylor Gatto ditched his efforts toward actual school reform and became another majorly influential figure in the home education movement. Like Holt, he claimed that any parent can educate their children at home if they have a strong desire. In his iconic, Dumbing Us Down (1991), Gatto echoes Holt and Illich with shocking and sometimes terrifying claims about the the school system, but then fails to offer any focused plan toward improvement. He espouses the libertarian ideal of a free-market system in which family schools, small entrepreneurial schools, craft schools, and religious schools all coexist in competition with public education. He envisions a free market in schooling exactly like the one the country had until the Civil War, one in which students volunteer for the kind of education that suits them even if that means self-education. It didn't hurt Benjamin Franklin that I can see. These options exist now in miniature, wonderful survivals of a strong and vigorous past, but they are available only to the resourceful, the courageous, the lucky, or the rich. The near impossibility of one of these better roads opening for the shattered families of the poor or for the bewildered host camped on the fringes of the urban middle class suggests that the disaster of seven-lesson schools is going to grow 49


unless we do something bold and decisive with the mess of government monopoly schooling (Gatto, 1991, p. 18). However, unlike Holt and Illich, Gatto was writing in the 1990s, which demonstrates his even more out-of-touch view of modern society. His "bold and decisive" solution to improve the public schools? Stop trying, withdraw your children from them, and teach them at home. Gatto's vision of a world in which each individual is free to choose whichever type of school they prefer certainly is romantic, but it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the magnitude of social, economic, and cultural realities of modernday life. Like those of Illich and Gatto, Holt's "hopeful" path for education and society is naive, unrealistic, and misleading. He offers no real explanation of how people can isolate themselves and "change their lives" without changing the larger political and social contexts in which they live. Holt's imperative to "teach your own," according to Franzosa, must be understood as the endorsement of a social thesis that can only lead to what Dewey called "narrow and unlovely." While the best and wisest parents may share Holt's critiques of schools and education reform, they certainly need not take his "hopeful path for education." Rather, good parents, if they are also wise, will recognize that their own child's good is dependent on the good of others and that taking adequate responsibility for one's own requires continued participation in the crucial debate about what constitutes the best education for all our children. (Franzosa, 1984, p. 134) Writing in 1984, during the early period of the home education movement when Holt is rapidly drawing in parents with his radical educational philosophy, Franzosa (1984) wrongfully predicts that "it is likely to inaugurate a major home schooling 50


movement." However, she argues that his philosophies represent and serve to popularize the growing conservatism, which has grave educational implications. She views Holt's advocacy of a single solution to the multitude of problems within the educational system as "naive and misleading." Furthermore, the social thesis he uses to support that solution represents a retreat from any collective consideration of educational ideals and a dismissal of the belief that communities have any educational responsibilities to their members. Van Galen's 1988 study of homeschoolers is cited frequently in literature on unschoolers or progressive education, as it is one of the few that creates distinctly defined categories between the larger religious subgroup and the smaller unschooling one (Van Galen, 1988). In his discussion of progressive education within the school choice movement, Hayes (2006) observes that the minority of home education parents labeled by Van Galen as pedagogues espouse many practices of progressive education. However, these parents are not trained as teachers and thus, "it is likely that, unlike teacher education students, they have not been exposed to the theories of Dewey and other progressive educators (Hayes, 2006, p. 132)." Like Hayes, modern progressive educators are concerned with the possibility that homeschooled children are being narrowly educated or even worse, indoctrinated in their parents' worldview. Others are concerned with the lack of opportunity for many homeschooled children to interact with a diverse group of children. Often, their social contacts are primarily with other members of their faith or with other homeschoolers. According to Hayes, "this type of separation is not 51


consistent with the democratic ideals of most progressive educators (Hayes, 2006, p. 133)." 52


CHAPTER THREE Methods and Results Methodology Respondents for this study were recruited through two personal contacts who have ties to the unschooling community. They posted the survey to the Facebook pages of their respective unschooling networking groups where additional respondents were recruited via snowballing. The first group, Florida Unschoolers (Umbrella Group), has almost 900 members, all of whom live in Florida and unschool their children. After posting the survey to this group three separate times over two weeks, the number of respondents who completed the survey was under 20. After some correspondence with my second unschooling contact, I was informed that there simply are not very many unschoolers in Florida, as it is a fairly conservative state for education. This individual lives in South Carolina and is very active with many unschooling networks around the country. On her recommendation, I decided to open up survey collection to national unschoolers. After she posted the link to her personal Facebook page, which is seen by unschoolers all over the U.S., a total of 92 respondents completed the survey by the end of collection. Materials and Procedure Respondents self-administered the survey through the secure online survey generator. The survey was prefaced with an "Informed Consent" page describing the purpose, content, potential risks or benefits, as well as other important information such as the option for respondents to withdraw consent at any time during the study. The stated purpose of the survey was "to learn more about the unschooling community-who 53


practices unschooling, reasons for choosing unschooling, and how unschoolers fit into the larger field of progressive education." The survey was composed of three sections, each of which was prefaced with a short description of the section along with its instructions. Additionally, the participant was informed that questions asking about "Parent 1" refer to him/herself, "the child's primary educator," while questions asking about "Parent 2" refer to their child's other parent, "whether or not he/she is involved with [the] child's education." Section one collected information about the educational history of the parents, including type of education received for elementary, middle, and high school and the highest level of education completed. Section two consisted of five questions that focused on the respondents' decisions to unschool, their pedagogical methods, and their incorporation of diverse ideas, beliefs, or perspectives in their unschooling. The first four questions were open-ended, which provided a much richer view of the population than demographics alone. Finally, section three collected demographic information about the respondents and their families, including religious affiliation, racial/ethnic identity, marital status, employment type, and household income. Upon completion of the survey, respondents were thanked for their participation and informed where to direct any questions or concerns they may have about the study. To compare my findings with the broader home education population in the United States, I utilize data from Ray's 2010 nationwide cross-sectional study on homeschoolers. I chose this study for comparison because it is one of the most comprehensive studies on homeschoolers to date. My survey asked respondents about 54


their child's primary educator and their child's other parent in non-gendered language, and so it is unclear what percentage of each group is male or female. More important than the parents' genders, however, is the role that they play in their child's education. In most studies on home education parents, the parents are categorized by gender and it is presumed that the mother is the primary educator of the family. Therefore, in my comparisons between my sample and the national home education population, it is important to remember that the primary focus is on the role that each parent plays in their children's education. 55


RESULTS Demographic Characteristics Education Tables 1 and 2 show the type of education received by both parents for elementary, middle, and high school years of childhood. An overwhelming majority of members from both Parent groups attended public schools for their entire childhood education. Private schools had the next largest representation within the sample, with 11% in the Parent 1 group and 7% in the Parent 2 group. Only two (2) respondents from the Parent 1 group were homeschooled, both of them during the high school years. Zero (0) members of the Parent 2 group were homeschooled for any period of their education. Similarly, zero (0) members of either group were unschooled for any period of their education. Table 1. Type of education received by Parent 1 for elementary, middle, and high school. Parent 1 Homeschooled Military Academy Private school (religious or nonafliated Public school Unschooled Other Elementary Middle High 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 10.9% (10) 88.0% (81) 0.0% (0) 1.1% (1) 0.0% (0) 1.1% (1) 10.9% (10) 87.0% (80) 0.0% (0) 1.1% (1) 2.2% (2) 1.1% (1) 12.0% (11) 79.3% (73) 0.0% (0) 5.4% (5) Table 2. Type of education received by Parent 2 for elementary, middle, and high school. Parent 2 Homeschooled Military Academy Private school (religious or nonafliated Public school Unschooled Other Elementary Middle High 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 9.8% (9) 87.0% (80) 0.0% (0) 3.3% (3) 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 7.6% (7) 89.1% (82) 0.0% (0) 3.3% (3) 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 4.3% (4) 90.2% (83) 0.0% (0) 5.4% (5) 56


There is nearly universal consensus among scholars that home education parents are generally well educated; they tend to have moderate to high levels of education, without being heavily represented at the highest levels (Murphy, 2010, p. 16). The typical home education mother and father have both attended and often graduated from college (Ray, 2005). The findings of the current study suggest that unschoolers have similar but slightly lower, levels of educational attainment to the larger home education movement. The respondents also reported that the primary educators (Parent 1 group) have higher levels of educational attainment than their partners (Parent 2 group). Table 3. Highest level of education completed Parent 1 and Parent 2 Level of education Parent 1 Parent 2 Less than High School High School degree or equivalent (GED) Some college 2-year degree or AA 4-year bachelor's degree Master's degree Professional degree or Doctorate 0.0% (0) 1.1% (1) 7.6% (7) 12% (11) 30.5% (28) 23.9% (22) 10.9% (10) 14.1% (13) 33.7% (31) 28.3% (26) 14.1% (13) 14.1% (13) 3.3% (3) 3.3% (3) Respondents reported moderately high levels of education for both parents, with less than 20% of both groups combined having less than some college.' The percentage of primary educators that completed college was 51.1%, lower than the 62.5% rate of national home-educated students' mothers (Ray, 2010, p. 11). The percentage of secondary educators that completed college was 45.6%, significantly lower than the 66.3% rate of national home-educated students' fathers (Ray, 2010, p. 11). In contrast, only 29.5% of all males nationwide aged 25 years and older have completed college 57


(Ray, 2010, p. 11). Finally, respondents reported that 17.3% of the members of each group holds advanced degrees. Race/Ethnicity Table 4 shows that in terms of racial/ethnic identity, 96.7% of primary educators and 91.3% of secondary educators identify as white, non-Hispanic.' In comparison, 79.1% of females, and 80.1% of males nationwide identify as white-non-Hispanic (US Census Bureau, 2009). Among the Parent 1 group, three persons identified as mixed-race, and one did not identify racially, writing-in "human." The Parent 2 group had a little more racial/ethnic diversity, with one person identifying as American Indian, two as Asian/Pacific Islander, three as Hispanic, one as mided-race, and three as "other." The Parent 2 group also had one person who identifies as "human"; one who identifies as "Lebanese"; and one whose racial/ethnic identity is unknown-respondent wrote "single parent household." Neither group had any members who identify as black, non-Hispanic.' Table 4. Racial/ethnic identity of Parent 1 and Parent 2 Racial/ethnic Identity Parent 1 Parent 2 American Indian Asian/Pacic Islander Black, non-Hispanic Hispanic Mixed-race White, non-Hispanic Other 0% (0) 1.1% (1) 0% (0) 2.2% (2) 0% (0) 0% (0) 0% (0) 3.2% (3) 3.2.% (3) 1.1% (1) 96.7% (88) 91.3% (84) 1.1% (1) 3.2 % (3) 58


Religion Of the national home education population, about 72% of parents are Protestant and a little under 1% are atheist, and about 1% are Buddhist or Pagan combined. In terms of religion, my sample is not representative of the overall home education population. Combining Protestant and Unitarian Universalists, my sample consists of 30% Protestant, 29% not affiliated, 20% atheist, and 7% Buddhist or Pagan/New Thought. Table 5 shows the religious affiliation of members from both Parent groups. Table 5. Religious affiliation of Parent 1 and Parent 2 Religious Afliation Parent 1 Parent 2 Atheist 20.6% (19) 20.6% (19) Christian, Catholic 4.3% (4) 4.3% (4) Christian, Protestant 20.6% (19) 21.7% (20) Buddhist 4.3% (4) 3.2% (3) Jewish 2.1% (2) 3.2% (3) Mormon 1.1% (1) 3.2% (3) Unitarian Universalist 11.9% (11) 5.4% (5) Pagan/New Thought 4.3% (4) 3.2% (3) Not afliated 30.4% (28) 27.1% (25) Don't know 0.0% (0) 7.6% (7) Number of Unschooled Children Table 6 shows the number of children that are unschooled in each household. Approximately 86% of the households unschool between one and three children; the remaining 14% unschool four or more children. 59


Table 7. Number of children unschooled in household Number of Children Unschooled in Household Response Percent / Count 1 25.0% (23) 2 37.0% (34) 3 23.9% (22) 4 9.8% (9) 5+ 4.3% (4) Marital Status Chart 7 shows the marital status of the members from the Parent 1 group. An overwhelming majority (89.1%) of respondents are married; 6.5% are in a committed relationship or domestic partnership; 3.3% are single; and 1.1% are divorced. For comparison, 97.9% of national home-educated students' homes are headed by a married couple; this percentage for families nationwide with school-age children is 71.2% (Ray, 2010, p. 9). Chart 7. Marital stat us Married Divorced Single In a committed relationship/domestic partnership 60


Employment Table 8 shows the type of employment held by members of each Parent group. Forty-two percent (42%) of the primary educators are full-time stay at home parents with no personal income. The majority of secondary educators work outside of the home; 63% have full time employment outside of the home. However, over half (55.4%) of all primary educators hold either full-time or part-time jobs in addition to being their children's primary educator/facilitator. This finding suggests that many unschoolers who cannot afford to live off of a single income are willing essentially to work two jobs-educator/facilitator and wage earner-in order to provide their children with a superior education. Table 8. Employment status of Parent 1 and Parent 2 Type of employment Parent 1 Parent 2 Full-time employment outside of the home Part-time employment outside of the home Full-time stay at home parent Work from home, including self-employed Work outside of the home, self-employed Unemployed, looking for work Other Don't know 9.7% (9) 63.0% (58) 10.8% (10) 3.2% (3) 42.4% (39) 6.5% (6) 28.2% (26) 16.3% (15) 4.3% (4) 4.3% (4) 2.1% (2) 0.0% (0) 2.1% (2) 3.2% (3) 0.0% (0) 3.2% (3) Ninety-five percent (88) of the families in my sample are two-parent households. Of these families, 43.8% (39) are supported by the single income of the secondary educator while the primary educator is a full-time stay at home parent. Approximately 65% of the 61


secondary educators of the single-income families work full-time jobs outside of the home. However, 28% (25) of the two-parent households had a secondary educator whose type of employment-full-time stay at home parent, part-time work outside the home, or work from home-allows for more opportunity to help facilitate their children's education. Out of these families, 80% of their primary educators also work either fullor part-time jobs. This finding suggests that, more so than traditional homeschooling parents, the unschooling parents in my sample work to share both the financial and the parenting burdens more equally. Income Table 9 shows the household income ranges of the respondents. Approximately 3% of respondents reported a household income of less than $20,000; 40.2% of respondents reported a household income range between $20,000 and $59,999; and approximately half of respondents (50.1%) reported a household income range of $60,000 or more. Finally, 6.5% of respondents did not report the income range of their households. The median household income of respondents fell in the $70,000-$79,000 range, comparable to the median income range of $75,000 to $79,999 of national home education families. For comparison, the median family income of married-couple families with one or more children under the age of 18 for the year 2009 was $74,049 (Ray, 2010, p.12). Approximately 40% of respondents reported a household income range of $80,000 or higher, suggesting that unschoolers largely fall into the middleto upper62


middle class. For comparison, 46% of households in the national home education population reported a household income range of $80,000 or higher in 2009 (U.S. census Bureau, 2009). Table 9. Income range of household Out of the 39 single-income families: zero reported a household income range of below $30,000; 51% (20) reported a household income range that falls between $30,000 and $79,999; and finally, 44% (15) reported a household income range of $80,000 or higher. Out of the entire sample of 92 respondents, six (6) of them chose not to disclose their household income range; four (4) of these six families also happen to have full-time stay at home parents. Out of the 17 families that had a household income of under $40,000, approximately 24% of primary educators are full-time stay at home parents, while 64.7% work either part-time or full-time jobs in addition to being their children's primary Less than $20,000 $20,000 to $39,000 $40,000 to $59,999 $60,000 to $79,999 $80,000 to $99,000 $100,000 to $150,000 More than $150,000 No answer 0 8 15 23 30 Number of respondents out of (92) total 63


educator. Approximately 59% of these families unschool 3 or more children. Eighty-three percent (83%) of these families are two-parent households; the remaining 17% of families are single-parent households. In fact, all 3 of the single-parent families of the entire sample fell into this household income range. Out of the 29 families that had a household income of $90,000 or more, almost half (48.3%) of these families are single-income families, with 79% of secondary educators working full-time. Additionally, 100% of these families were married, and the majority (65.5%) unschooled 1-2 children. These findings indicate that while they have a wider income range distribution than that of the national home education population, unschoolers are a solidly middle-class population. 64


Unschooling Practices There are many factors that motivate people to unschool their children. In part two of the survey, respondents were asked about their perceptions of traditional schooling and unschooling through two open-ended questions. Table 10 lists the most common advantages of unschooling over traditional schooling named by respondents. The great majority (90%) of respondents considered the individualized nature to be one of the main advantages of unschooling. The second most commonly-listed motivation, named by 53% of respondents, is the ability for the children to learn at their own pace, alluding to the fact that school settings move either too fast or too slow for their children's learning style. Most of the respondents expressed the desire for their children to have high levels of freedom in all areas of their lives, not just education, with 33% of respondents including the word "freedom" in their responses. Related to freedom, 26% of respondents discussed the advantage of being able to spend more time with their families. Table 10. Most commonly-listed advantages of unschooling over traditional schooling. Advantage Response Frequency Percentage Individualized Learn at one's own pace "Freedom" More family time No coercion Voluntary No testing 90% (83) 53% (49) 33% (31) 26% (24) 26% (24) 23% (22) 15% (14) Similarly, 26% of respondents listed the freedom from coercion as a major advantage of unschooling. Words that were coded for this category included "coerce," 65


"compulsory," "forced," and "authoritarian." And finally, related to individualization and learning at one's own pace, respondents listed freedom from routine and standardized testing. Discussed by 15% of respondents, tests are seen as unnecessary and stressinducing annoyances that have little or no value in assessing how well children are learning. Table 11 contains the most commonly-listed reasons for the respondents' decisions to unschool. The two most common reasons for unschooling listed by the respondents were dissatisfaction with available school options (40%), and the flexibility of the unschooling philosophy to meet their children's individual needs (40%). Similarly, 30% listed the ability to individualize their children's educational path, and 8% mentioned that their children have "special needs" that the schools are unable to meet. 11% listed the opportunity for greater and wider learning opportunities, and 17% discussed more opportunity for family bonding and maintaining healthy relationships. Approximately 37% of respondents cite negative experiences in school as a top reason for the decision to unschool their children. Of these respondents, 21% cited their children's negative experiences, while 15% cited their own personal experiences in school and how they wish to spare their own children of the experience. Additionally, 4% of respondents cited their educational background or negative experiences as a teacher as one of the driving forces behind their decision to unschool their children. 66


Table 11. Top reasons for unschooling listed by respondents. Top reasons for unschooling Response Frequency Percentage Dissatisfaction with available school options Unschooling philosophy works for individual chid's needs Individualized Child had bad experience in school More family time Parent had bad experience in school More/wider learning opportunities Child has "special needs" 40% (37) 40% (37) 30% (28) 21% (20) 17% (16) 15% (14) 11% (11) 8% (8) Finally, 22% of respondents reported that their decision to unschool came after they first tried different alternatives, such as private alternative schools or structured home education. For example, one respondent explained that "it has been an evolution as I have been a public schooling to school at home to homeschooling to eclectic schooling to unschooling." Additionally, like this respondent, 23% explained that unschooling was not so much of a decision, but more of an evolution of something that they "fell into." Out of this 23% that "fell into" unschooling, 18% explained that unschooling was a natural continuation of attachment parenting, a parenting style that is based on attachment theory in developmental psychology 1 One such respondent explained that, "unschooling just made sense to me, it felt like an extension of my parenting style." 67 1 Attachment parenting is a child-centered parenting method in which children's needs are ideally met on the child's schedule rather than that of the parent. Common techniques of attachment parenting include extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and wearing' the child using slings, wraps, and carriers. In theory, this method increases the ability to create a strong attachment bond and has been argued to be the natural way to bond with one's children (Liss and Erchull, 2012, p. 132).


In regards to its accessibility and ability for any family to practice unschooling, approximately 40% of respondents answered that unschooling is a method of education that any type of family could practice. Virtually all of these respondents explained that the only requirements are that the parents be loving, dedicated, respectful, and open to learning and growing with their children. For example, one respondent explained that unschooling "can work for any family where the parents are committed to bringing the world to their child, and supporting their child's journey." Twenty-seven percent ( 27%) of all respondents expressed the sentiment that all children would benefit and thrive, but not all families or parents. One of these respondents, for example, explains that they think "it could work for almost all children, but maybe not so well if parents can't let go and trust their kids." Fifty percent ( 50%) of all respondents, however, believed that unschooling is a method of education that is best-suited for specific types of families. Out of this group, 30% discussed the financial difficulties some families might have should they choose to unschool their children. Some of the most frequently-mentioned obstacles to successful unschooling included: reliance on single-income; both parents work outside of the home; and not having enough money to provide necessary resources. For example, one respondent explained, "Based on the world we live in today and the variety of careers, goals, and family dynamic I don't think unschooling would work for everyone." 68


A few respondents acknowledge that some families would not be able to unschool because of financial restrictions, but then also reaffirm the belief that unschooling is accessible to anyone who is dedicated to their children. Echoing Holt, these respondents argue that while unschooling really works best for single-income families who are financially sound, dedicated parents from all backgrounds can and do unschool their children. As one respondent put it simply, "Unschooling tends to work best with a stay-athome parent, though there are plenty of single parent unschoolers who manage." In addition, 9% of respondents mention that some children who have been to school already have more difficulty adjusting to the unschooling lifestyle. Unschoolers' Exposure to Diversity The homogeneity of the larger home education population leads some critics to worry that homeschooled children might not develop tolerance and compassion for people or groups who are different from them (Apple, 2000; Riegel, 2001). My prediction that the unschooling population is largely homogenous in terms of class and race led to me wonder if and how unschoolers attempt to make up for the lack of diversity in the children's social lives, which tend to be primarily the family or groups of other unschooled children. One of the questions that addressed this issue asked respondents, Compared with traditionally-schooled children, do you believe your children experience less, more, or about the same level of exposure to diversity? Using a 5-item Likert scale, approximately 65.2% of respondents answered, "A lot more," whereas only 15.2% answered, "About the same." Only one (1) respondent answered, "A little less," and zero (0) respondents answered, "Much less." 69


Therefore, although the data from the current study supports my original prediction that unschoolers are a group of demographically-similar families, a majority of respondents believed that their children are exposed to more diversity than traditionally-schooled children. This finding suggests one of two possibilities. The first possible explanation for this inconsistency is that the respondents work to ensure that their children are exposed to a wide variety of people, ideas, and perspectives that they may not encounter in the daily lives. The second possible explanation is that the respondents believe that either the unschooling community or their larger community provides ample opportunities for such exposure. 70


Discussion Implications of Demographic Characteristics in Regards to Accessibility The demographic characteristics of the respondents demonstrate that the method of unschooling does not challenge social structures, as was intended by the progressive forces that initiated the movement. While the data showed a wider distribution of household income than the national home education population, the majority of families from the sample fall squarely into the middle-class. One possible explanation for the class disparity is that lower-class families are unable to take on the unschooling lifestyle for practical reasons. The few respondents that indicated a lower socioeconomic status, however, support the claims of unschooling advocates that anyone can unschool, regardless of class. These respondents also were less likely to have a full-time stay at home parent, and more likely to have two working parents. This finding suggests that while unschooling is technically possible for lower-class families, the added burdens of the lifestyle makes it an implausible choice for such families. Additionally, this finding suggests that lower-class families make more sacrifices than middle-class families in order to educate their children at home. In terms of race, the data show that the unschoolers of the sample are much more racially-homogenous than the national population of adults. This finding supports progressive educators' claims that home education is an exclusive practice that inadvertently isolates children racially. This finding also suggests that unschooled children have fewer opportunities than traditionally-schooled children to have positive experiences with others from different backgrounds. If this is true, and the 71


parents refuse to explain anything that is not brought up by their children, this aspect of unschooling has the potential to create an alienating environment and limit the children's worldviews. Respondents' Perceptions of Accessibility In regards to unschooling's accessibility by different types of families, a majority of respondents expressed that it is best-suited for families from specific backgrounds. Analysis of these responses revealed two distinct groups of thought on the limitations and necessary requirements of unschooling. One group of respondents mainly discussed the abilities of parents, while the other group primarily discussed the willingness of parents. The group that focused mainly on the abilities of parents to unschool frequently discussed the socioeconomic realities of today's society, which included parents' employment, education levels, and amount of time available to devote to one's children. Some examples of these answers from three different respondents: Absolutely NOT for everyone. Even with unschooling some basic instruction is necessary. Unschooling parents need to be motivated in order to guide their children." "There are some families who would be precluded for. Unschooling simply because of economic concerns. Perhaps they have to have employment outside the home in a single parent family. There are some parents who are not fit to be parents, who don't wish for peaceful interaction with their children. Those children would be better off spending time away from the home, perhaps in school." "Unschooling requires lots of attention from the parent/guardian(s), a requirement that working parents might not be able to fulfill." 72


The group that focused mainly on willingness of parents to unschool frequently explained that the biggest limiting factors to unschooling are the parents' love and dedication to their children. Like Holt, these respondents do not acknowledge that unschooling requires any more financial or educational capital than sending your children to traditional schools. Some examples from four different respondents include: Most families, but not families not willing to invest a lot of time and effort for their children. Or parents who do not enjoy being around their children all of the time." "Any family willing to provide a nurturing environment." "I believe that all children can thrive in unschooling, but that it is not best for all families. The limiting factor, in my opinion, is parental willingness. At least one parent has to be willing to spend considerable time with their kids and to devote the considerable work of providing them a rich environment and varied opportunities. I don't think that factors like the education level of the parents or socioeconomic level are necessarily limiting factors, though both can make unschooling more challenging." "It only works if the parents are dedicated to their children and willing to do anything in their power to help their kids and be their partner in navigating the world. It's so much more than just keeping kids home from school, it's a lot of work to unschool effectively! I think it helps if the parents have money because you can do a lot more if you can afford it (museums, plays, amusement parks, zoos, special places, vacations to far away places where kids get to observe different cultures, languages, food and more) but I know lots of people who unschool on a limited budget. The parents are involved and dedicated to their kids so it works." Based on my knowledge about the demographics of the national home education population, I predicted that those of the unschooling sample would be largely the same. The findings of this study supported my prediction in many cases-marital status, race, and income level-but not quite in terms of occupation. The argument made by the group 73


of respondents who believe that the most limiting factor to unschooling is not money, but rather commitment on the parents' part, was partially supported by the data of four families who make $20,000 or less per year. Yet the most probable answer is that a combination of both willingness and socioeconomic capital are necessary in order to unschool one's children. Study Limitations Like any research study, there are some limitations in this research. With a total of 92 respondents, the small sample size of this study makes it difficult to make any generalizing claims about the unschooling population at large. The two Facebook networks through which I recruited respondents may not have a diverse enough range of unschoolers to offer a comprehensive view of the population. One of the groups caters only to unschoolers who live in Florida, and the other is a South Carolina-based national network. One weaknesses of the survey was the non-inclusion of questions that focus on various important demographic information such as the parents' ages, states of residence, gender(s), political affiliation/ideologies, and previous participation levels in public schools (if applicable). This information would have been a valuable addition to the study's findings and to my understanding of unschooling. Another weakness of this study is in the wording of two of the open-ended questions, the first of which aimed to gauge the respondents' perceptions on the accessibility of unschooling. The question, 74


Do you believe that unschooling could work for any family or is it best-suited for specific types of families? generated a small number of responses that expressed confusion in what was meant by "work." Most of these respondents explained that while they believe unschooling is beneficial for any child, some parents should not/are not able to unschool for various reasons. The second question aimed to the assess level of voluntaryism that the respondents practice, specifically in the respondents' supervision of their children's developing social awareness. The other problematic question in the survey was: Do you incorporate discussions about class, race or gender inequalities into your teaching? If your child is very young, do you plan to discuss these things? In addition to a number of respondents expressing confusion over the vague wording of this question, a significant number of respondents reacted strongly to the word "teach." Many of them eschewed the question altogether to explain that unschoolers do not "teach," they facilitate or supervise. I ultimately decided to omit this data from my analysis because of the confusing wording. I felt that making any claims about these answers could possibly misconstrue the words of some participants who did not understand the question correctly. 75


CONCLUSION The results of this study suggest that the demographics of American unschooling parents are largely similar to those of the national home education population, particularly in terms of race, marital status and number of children educated in the home. While respondents reported a wider distribution of household incomes, the median household income was almost the same as the national home education population. In regards to educational attainment, respondents reported higher educational levels than the national population, but slightly lower levels than the national home education population. Respondents were largely white, married, middleto upper-middle class, and college-educated. However, the unschoolers of the sample differed significantly from the national home education population in regards to religious affiliation, pedagogy, and employment status. Based upon the progressive influences and philosophies of unschooling, differences between the two groups in regards to religious affiliation and pedagogies were not surprising. However, my prediction that most of the primary educators would necessarily be full-time stay at home parents in order to unschool was largely unsupported by the data. In contrast to the 80% of national home education families (Ray, 2010), only 42% of the unschooling families subsist off of one income. This finding suggests that for many unschooling parents, even ones who are not able to have a fulltime stay at home parent, providing a superior education for their children is worth the personal effort. 76


The respondents reported a wide distribution of income ranges, but the lower income brackets were underrepresented in my sample. This suggests that Holt was not entirely wrong when he insisted that anyone can unschool, regardless of socioeconomic capital, but rather that he made exaggerated assumptions about unschooling's accessibility. These findings also suggest that higher socioeconomic status is an important factor in a family's ability to unschool their children, but not as important as having two parents living in the house, or those parents being moderatelyto highly-educated. When discussing the factors that influenced their decision to unschool their children, a slight majority of respondents reported that it was not so much of a decision, but rather an evolution or continuation of their parenting style. This finding is similar to Van Galen's 1988 study (as discussed in Ch. 3) of American parents who educate their children at home: she found that the ideology of these parents had driven them away from public schools to search for educational alternatives, however, full commitment to the philosophy of home education usually came sometime after their initial choice to teach their children at home (Van Galen, 1988, p. 67). Although my survey did not ask about the educational choices for their children prior to unschooling, 22% of respondents discussed that they had tried different alternatives before attempting the practice. Future Research American families are increasingly interested in personalizing their children's education However, progressive educators are afraid that this this type of "customizing our lives" could be inadvertently harming the social fabric of our pluralistic society (Apple, 2000). A major fear of these scholars, which was partially addressed in the 77


current study, is the possibility that children who are educated by their parents are being indoctrinated with limited worldviews. In order to expand upon this issue, future research could include case studies that document the varying levels of structure and voluntaryism amongst different unschooling families. Another route that future research could take would be to interview adults who were unschooled for part or all of their childhood education. This type of research could provide valuable information on the outcomes, both academic and social, of unschooling and its future implementations. Research on unschooling also has the potential to positively impact educational reform by showing that children thrive when not punished, coerced, or tested constantly. This could, therefore, illustrate to educators that schools need more freedom and flexibility to facilitate learning, not less. 78


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