E got a Sid the Science Kid movie from the library. I watched it with her and it made me think of the difference between unit studies and unschooling. The show is all about how "learning is fun!" and "science is fun!" and the scientific method- question, hypothesis, theory, observe, report, conclude. It's a cute show, and of course learning *is* fun and science is cool. But there's something missing...
First, Sid goes to school. He has a good school- 4 to 1 student to teacher ratio, lots of outdoor play time, and a teacher who actually observes what the kids are interested in and caters her teaching to that. So, as far as school's go- while that's totally unrealistic and I'd almost say impossible- that's a nice portrayal of how school could be in theory. I do like how the teacher is very patient with the other boy who is pretty hyper and not always on track with the other kids.
Here's where it goes off track though. 4 kids are not ever going to be interested in learning the same thing every day, let alone the 20 to 30 in a realistic classroom. That's why schools can't really *work.* That's why they have "classroom management" and lots of rules to keep everyone doing the same thing at the same time and grade levels and the worry about being "ahead" or "behind."
But let's pretend for a minute that the kids were all in sync like that. The difference between the unit studies and unschooling is this- unit studies try to fit all the "subjects" into a given interest. They *use* the kids' interest to facilitate the teacher's real agenda of teaching all the subjects, while trying to keep the kids upbeat about how FUN it is. So, in the episode about the bird houses, Sid's questions about birds gave the teacher and his parents a "teachable moment."
Of course, since the show is created to be educational, Sid went right along with everything they wanted to teach him. And it had to "look" educational. A proper amount of hands on, the right amount of sitting at a desk, the questions all followed the scientific method. There was an element for every learning style- visual, hands-on building, drawing, writing, story telling, singing. He came to a complete finish with all his questions answered and it was properly documented in his journal.
Life isn't always that neat and linear though. So, neither is unschooling. And unschooling isn't about using the interest to fuel something educational. It's about the interest being worth something in and of itself- whatever that interest might be. And the joy of following the rabbit trails that teachers fear are getting "off subject," but unschoolers know that is where learning happens. Connections are being made even if it looks messy.
What if Sid dropped the questions about the birds, when he saw the twigs from which the nest was made? What if he started asking about where the bird got the twigs? And what kind of tree was it? And is that the same kind of tree in Grandpa's yard that the dog sniffs all the time? And why do dogs sniff trees? Bloodhounds have better senses of smell than all the other dogs. For what type of work were bloodhounds first used? Where? Are they still used by in police work? What's a K-9 unit? Where do the criminals go when they get caught? How does the court system work?
What if Sid wanted to stay home from school to build that bird house with his dad? His dad bought the supplies while Sid was at school. What if Sid went with him and learned about the cost of the wood, the different types of nails, the name of the roads they drove on to get to the store, and how the economy was affecting the gas prices. The show portrays Sid's parents as "good parents" who supplement his school learning. His mom is "cool, but now it's time to go to school" where it's implied, the real learning happens.
I just happened to run across this link yesterday that gives a real simple list of the difference between schooling and unschooling. I thought it was pretty interesting.