Teenagers and adolescents have several options to choose from, all of which can help students complete high school, receive a diploma, and then move on to college or trade school, or continue to gain knowledge and skills independently. But it’s not just about getting kids through another educational system—it’s about instilling a love for learning and a desire for self-discovery. You know, the reasons we’re all supposed to go to school in the first place.
With college tuition rates rising and the test scores in traditional schools paling in comparison to those in other countries, it’s not just parents who want to try something new. Teachers, too, are starting to look at the possibilities beyond the classroom.
Homeschooling has been around for a few decades—and longer, if you want to count the old days when children were educated at home and trained to be apprentices—and has gathered a few negative associations along the way, including the stereotype of the awkward, antisocial homeschooled kid.
“I think those who have a negative view of homeschooling have only seen it when it’s failed,” says Carol Williams, owner of independent learning resource World of Wonders in Sparks. Williams, a former public school teacher, homeschools her 13-year-old daughter, who wants to enter a public high school next year.
A subset of homeschooling is unschooling, an educational philosophy established in the 1970s by educator John Holt that allows the child to dictate when, where and how they will learn and study. The name can be misleading because an unschooling “classroom” can resemble that of a traditional school, except for few big differences—the students are there because they choose to be and are given choices for how they pursue learning subject material. It’s up to them to drive the lessons.
Unschooling is an idea open to interpretation, which makes it difficult to define, according to Williams.
“I define unschooling as child-led, and what the student is really interested in,” she says.
There’s not a lot of empirical research on unschooling. For some parents, the concept of letting students establish their own curriculum is daunting, and at times, unrealistic. But unschooling educators argue that people have an innate drive to learn, and will seek out almost all subjects independently when given the chance.
“If their basic needs are met, children are excellent learners, but by changing learning into something called education that is forced on children, formal schooling undermines healthy development and learning,” writes Karl Wheatley, an early childhood teacher and unschooling parent.
“When children spend their days learning outside the four classroom walls, they can learn from fertile, moment-to-moment real life in a way that schools cannot match.
“For example, a wonderful opportunity for learning from life can be found in examining the erosion on a beach … rather than reading about it in a textbook. While many teachers can’t imagine taking their classes on even four field trips a year, unschoolers might do one hundred.”
Open source learning
Open source is a phrase thrown around a lot by techies since it’s mostly associated with the open source software movement, where programs are free and can be adapted to fit the needs of the users. Educators are taking this approach to curricula and even teaching itself, especially in organizations like public libraries, museums and collectives, which already offer free or inexpensive resources, lessons, and workshops for the public. Crowdsourced teaching is already used on websites like YouTube, where people with a skill make a video tutorial and share it with the public for free.
Accredidation isn’t always an option through open education, but it can be used as supplemental instruction for students to pursue topics in depth outside of school. The demand for open source learning has increased in the midst of a bad economy because there is now a population, many of whom have become unemployed after years in the work force, want to return to school but don’t want to pay the cost for a degree. Essentially, it’s a throwback to the classical system of scholarship—discuss, collaborate and share, on one’s own accord.
There’s a lot of crossover between open source learning and unschooling, and the philosophies are similar: people should be free to learn, and learning itself should be free. Williams hopes that parents will see that they have options available to them in the community.
“Nevada is so homeschool friendly,” she says. “It’s really nice. We’re allowed so much freedom. We don’t take it for granted.
“I don’t think people understand what it’s like for parents to really know that they’re free. They are free to let their child pursue their own interests and guide them along the way so they can thrive. So many parents don’t feel that they are free, and they feel like they have to follow this very traditional narrative. But there are so many stories to pursue.”
Alternative school resources
Northern Nevada Home Schools connects homeschooling families and provides information about classes, assessment, and opportunities for collaboration. www.nnhs.org
WiloStar3D is a video game type of schooling where the student interacts with an online community in a virtual world. www.wilostar3d.com
Nevada Online School Network is an accredited online program for grades 6-12, and is part of the Washoe On-line Learning for the Future (WOLF) and Carson Online programs. www.nevadaonlineschoolnetwork.com
PLATO Pathways is a computer-based program for grades 1-12 and offers course options for most subject areas including social studies, reading, language arts, writing, math and science. www.washoe.k12.nv.us/district/departments/educationaltechnology/plato
The Massachusett’s Institute of Technology’s famous Open Courseware isn’t an accredited program yet, but it’s rigorous free courses taught by MIT professors is a good way to prepare students for college or help them delve further into a topic that interests them. www.ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Like the MIT open courseware, the Khan Academy offers hundreds of free courses on a variety of subjects, although most of the classes are math related. While some of the lessons are fairly advanced, some introductory lessons are available. www.khanacademy.com
The Open Source Education Foundation focuses on the use of free software in K-12 settings and provides resources to aid in nontraditional school settings. www.osef.org