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Educational Policy Studies News

UW-Madison's Apple speaks with NPR’s ‘On Point’ about ‘unschooling’ movement

October 31, 2018

UW-Madison’s Michael Apple appeared on NPR’s “On Point” program on Tuesday, Oct. 30 to talk about the “unschooling” movement.

Apple is the John Bascom Professor Emeritus of Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Policy Studies.

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Apple
NPR reports: “Is a child who spends the day watching videos or playing in the backyard actually learning? Yes, say advocates of the 'unschooling" movement.' "

Guests of “On Point” who were asked to weigh in on this topic also included: Maleka Diggs, founder of Eclectic Learning Network, a secular, black and brown-centered home-education network; and Peter Gray, psychology  professor at Boston College and the co-founder and president of the nonprofit Alliance for Self-Directed Education.

Diggs explains to NPR: “Every day has a different tune, and for our family, unschooling or self-directed learning is something that we've embraced over the years. It allows them the freedom to be able to explore ideas, thoughts, whether it be read a book or maybe start off and kick off the day watching television. Either way, it's their decision and my focus becomes to guide them through whatever decisions that they make to ensure that their experience is as fruitful as they'd like it to be.”

Adds Diggs: “It totally begins with freedom. They are morning folks, I am not. At 11 and 13, they are able to prepare their own food. So I don't have to have that stick of — 'Oh, let me get up and cook breakfast for my daughters this morning.' That's not our case. The beginning starts off with a meal. ... And it just progresses from there, whether they have workbooks that they're interested in. And I think there's a misnomer when it comes to unschooling that young people don't use books if it is their choice, most definitely. And that's what one of my daughters does, she enjoys reading and engaging in workbooks and learning about different topics of her choosing, where my other daughter is very much focused on the humanities. And she loves music and dance and drumming.”

When asked for his thoughts on unschooling, and how it could contribute to challenges for the public school system, Apple says: “I think that it's only a small percent of home-schoolers that are doing this, and the research on this is actually quite limited, and mostly limited to middle-class people. We have to remember as well that if you're going to go into this, you need to be fully dedicated, and the vast majority of parents are working two jobs. They're being not just unschooled, but deskilled, in terms of their incomes, with incomes falling within minoritized communities, and because of this I am a little more skeptical about whether this is a model I would like most people to follow.

Adds Apple: “I must admit as a parent of an African-American child myself, I am not a romantic about what goes on and I have a good deal of sympathy for what Maleka is struggling to do, and I think successfully. To me the issue is what do we do collectively? The vast majority of students in the United States will never see a self-directed learning program or an unschooled program. They will go to regular public schools, which, by the way, were victories, not only defeats. African-American and Latino and indigenous people were forbidden from going to school. So let's remember that the school is the last truly public institution. Everything else is being privatized. And there's massive attacks on teachers and schools, turning them into voucher plans and for-profit schools. And to the extent that the unschooling movement grows, it actually, unfortunately, and certainly not consciously on the part of its participants, it contributes to the attacks on teachers and schools. And it will lead to defunding of public schools, which will be a disaster for many more children than will see an unschooling program.”

To listen to the entire interview, check out this On Point web page.

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