Setting their own limits

"Setting their own limits" Continued...

Issue: "2012: The Year Ahead," Jan. 14, 2012

Unschooling father and writer Pat Farenga worked closely with Holt until his death in 1985. Although Holt was an atheist, Farenga does not believe his atheism influenced his educational philosophies. Farenga says Holt did not assume the intrinsic goodness of human nature, as some unschooling critics argue, but realized that "people can be willfully bad. ... [He] did advise people in his talks and writing to try as much as possible to think and expect the best of children and to give them second chances."

Koestier does not believe that Holt's views of discipline and teaching are incompatible with her Christian faith. She says unschooling cultivates her children's spiritual development: "We didn't want children that complied with rules on the outside while their hearts were wrong on the inside. We wanted free thinkers who chose what was right because it was right. I can control my children's actions. But it seems a better thing to coach and support them in developing self-control."

Author and Patrick Henry College provost Gene Edward Veith, a proponent of classical liberal arts education, fears that unschooling's narrow scope could make a person "very narrow and brittle. ... The beauty of a liberal arts education is that [students] try a bunch of different things, and see what they're good at. In the course of that, they find what they most want to focus on, but they still have a foundation and basic understanding of a lot of different things."

Katie Roberts, a Patrick Henry College senior, was unschooled until high school. She enjoyed her "childhood without school," but when she became a teenager, she wanted to prepare for college-and apart from her high school training, "getting into college would have been very difficult. I would probably have done some English and History of my own accord," but she wouldn't have had the "full slate of academics"-including math, science, and Spanish-that allowed her to make an easy transition to college.

Mary Hood, founder of the Association of Relaxed Christian Home Educators, has a Ph.D. in education and supports "relaxed homeschooling." By that she means a flexible curriculum and not the grade system of the public school; she sets specific goals for her children's education. As children get older, they set their own goals: "As much as possible, I like to let them enjoy the academics, but I still have goals for where they're heading. ... If they're not achieving with what I expect, then I will bring more structure to fill in the gaps."

Although Farenga believes that parents could maintain parental authority while allowing complete freedom in education, Veith wonders how parents could compartmentalize parenting and education: "If you wouldn't do that in your family, why would you do it in education? Good parenting is absolutely essential to the mental health and happiness of a child. ... Teaching right and wrong, to be self-controlled, respectful-that's education."

Veith believes that unschooling follows Rousseau's philosophy of a naturally innocent and good child. Rousseau never advocated the unschooling method: He believed in removing children from their parents and placing them in the care of a tutor. But Veith says that both Rousseau and Holt defined freedom as meaning, "I'll do whatever I want." Veith says, "That's not Christian freedom, that's license and slavery. A child who is following his own impulses is not free. He's a slave to those impulses. Freedom comes from teaching [children] "to develop self-control, self-discipline, to develop their mind and their conscience. ... That's real freedom."

- Grace Howard is a Virginia journalist


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