Homeschooling and Unschooling Growing in the Valley
July 23, 2010
It's a growing trend in Virginia. More parents are choosing to homeschool their kids and some are taking it a step further with something they call unschooling.
They play, eat and read when they want. They are never punished or told what to do.
Unschooler, Joe Sullivan, tells News 3, "When you have a system of telling other people always what to do and how to do it and what is necessary, you're not going to foster in the population the ability to decide that for themselves and to make better choices in the future."
His wife Gleamer agrees, "We were using awards and punishments to manipulate Riesling's behavior, when she was four, it wasn't working."
It was then Gleamer and Joe Sullivan started unschooling their daughter Riesling and son Cashel.
Although unschooling has just started to catch on in Virginia, especially around the Valley, the concept dates back nearly 100 years in England to Summerhill School established in 1921.
Unschoolers believe children are born yearning to learn and adults are there to help kids learn using a method known to first year law school students. Joe Sullivan says they use the Socratic Method to teach the kids.
Joe says unschooling is a "flavor" or subset of homeschooling, but there is no set schedule or curriculum. The children discover their own passions and follow those passions.
Ironically, his kids are enrolled in an unschool school. They are more than 30 Valley families who send their kids to the Raw Learning Center in Staunton. It is a school Gleamer and Joe found and teach. There are no assigned desks, no set lunch time, and no homework. The Sullivans believe that learning should not just occur inside a "school" setting. Learning, Joe says, should be done all the time.
But a school for unschoolers? How does that even make sense?
Gleamer puts it this way, " It's a whole community of learners coming together to go deeper and find out more of what they are interested in and through that they learn reading, writing, mathematics, everything they need to flourish."
They learn math through cooking by measuring out ingredients. They determine how many half tablespoons make two full tablespoons.
They take a field trip at least once a week, from airports to television stations. Often they take "spontaneous" field trips where the kids plan the mode of transportation. Gleamer tells News 3, this teaches the children life skills. She says the kids have the trolley schedule memorized and are always on-time, a skill they learned by realizing the trolley never waits for them.
Contrary to popular belief, there ARE rules for these unschoolers but, it's not the adults who make them. The kids propose, debate, make and enforce their own rules. Gleamer says,"by deciding that, they follow the rules. Because they "chose" that the rule. They decided it was important."
Coming up on WHSV News at Six, we explore the growing trend of unschooling and homeschooling in Virginia. We speak with a local Delegate about the changes he thinks Virginia needs to make in public education in order to compete with homeschooling. We also talk to a former teacher and mother who is choosing to homeschool her children this fall.