While reading the Well Trained Mind forums, I came across this little gem. Classical unschoolers? Really? Their group’s description says the group is “for those of us that love the idea of a classical education but also follow a more relaxed, eclectic, unschooling path.”
I’m seeing several problems with the concept of “classical unschooling,” the primary one being that these people seem to have a fundamental lack of understanding of what a classical education is. It isn’t just studying about the Greeks and Romans, especially “by way of self-directed reading and watching videos.” In fact, by Susan Wise Bauer’s (author of The Well-Trained Mind) definition of classical education, learning primarily through videos in and of itself negates the idea of the education being classical. Classical education, through her eyes, is “language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).”
So how, then, can unschooling be classical? Taking a few elements of classical education, such as learning about Greek history or to speak Latin, doesn’t suddenly impart structure or form to unschooling. It doesn’t fill in the huge gaps of education that can arise from making the child the final arbiter of what s/he should learn.
A child who is unschooled until middle school and is then thrust into a classical curriculum is at a serious disadvantage. While I believe a classical curriculum can be started at any age, an unschooled child will probably have a greater difficulty than, say, a public schooled child in adapting to a rigorous, formal curriculum. Do they really have the foundations upon which you can build a good education? How much catch-up will you have to do to even get the child to the age-appropriate logic stage, when they haven’t had one whit of grammar stage education? If you know you want to educate classically later, why completely unschool now? Do you really think that, come sixth or seventh grade, your child will be willing and able to sit down for formal instruction and that you will be willing and able to offer it?
I think the group’s description sums it up neatly, actually. They “love the idea of a classical education,” but are unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort needed to give their child this education. A 17-year-old working through Saxon Algebra because she realizes she wants to take the SAT, a 10 year old who is only now learning any grammar because he’s only now willing to “pick it up,” a mother logging hours spent on “various activities” so she can fabricate a transcript — these are not examples of classical education. There’s nothing classical about that. Back-applying the “classical” label to half-assed schooling efforts in order to make you feel better about what you’re doing doesn’t actually make the education classical, rigorous, or good.
If you want your child’s education to be classical, educate them classically. Don’t steal the label to dress up what you’re doing if it isn’t an accurate description. If you’re so proud of being an unschooler, just call yourself an unschooler.