The Unschooling Unmanual Book Review by Jeanne Faulconer

Jeanne Faulconer reviewed The Unschooling Unmanual in her Book Reviews Column in the March-April issue of Home Education Magazine. She has given permission to reprint it here:

The Unschooling Unmanual, Edited by Jan Hunt and Jason Hunt, The Natural Child

ISBN 978-0-9685754-5-1

Unschoolers seeking inspiration and affirmation will enjoy the Hunts’ new unmanual, which contains more quotable quotes per square inch than any recent homeschooling book. Dedicated to John Holt, the book begins with an epigraph from his writing, including this phrase: “For it is love, not tricks and techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true learning.” With this theme, the editors of The Unschooling Unmanual have selected eleven thoughtful essays as well as excerpts from unschooler Mary Van Doren’s memoirs, to illuminate the unschooling life. The essays include poignant scenes of unschooling working in families’ lives, blended with philosophical underpinnings.

Rue Kream’s opening essay addresses doubt new and prospective unschoolers may feel. She asks, “Can we step off the well-worn path and find our way?” She answers with a joyful expansion of her assertion, “Children belong with their families.” Her conclusion, that her family chooses to unschool because “we want our children to be truly free,” introduces the idea of freedom, the first of several dominant sub-themes in the book.

Nanda Van Gestel’s multi-part essay develops the freedom theme, since Van Gestel first considered taking her child out of school while living in the Netherlands when school attendance was mandatory. A move to the United States allowed them to homeschool, and she and her husband were amazed by the change in their son, who “finally had the freedom to be himself.”

Like other contributors, Van Gestel is quotable throughout, but I actually caught my breath when I read about her own school art classes. “We didn’t draw horses, so I drew them in secret during other lessons.” She conveys not a bias against art classes, which she supports when a child is “ready and interested,” but the power of unschooling, which means not having to draw horses “in secret.”

Daniel Quinn, best known for his book Ishmael, contributes a powerful Gatto-esque essay exploring the fallacies of compulsory schooling and supporting the idea that children will indeed learn what they need to know.

Expanding the book’s freedom emphasis, Jan Hunt herself also strongly develops another of the book’s sub-themes, trust, in her well-wrought essays. An excerpt from Holt’s Learning All the Time and Kim Houssenloge’s reassuring exploration “Why I Chose Unschooling” provide further insight about trusting children to learn, as Houssenloge says, “how to interact with the world safely and confidently and with room to grow and change in a natural way.”

Earl Stevens answers the inevitable question, “What is Unschooling?” He tells us, “Unschooling isn’t a recipe, and therefore it can’t be explained in recipe terms. It is impossible to give unschooling directions for people to follow so that it can be tried for a week or so to see if it works. Unschooling isn’t a method, it is a way of looking at children and at life.” Stevens’ explanation of unschooling as “natural learning, experience-based learning, or independent learning,” will be valuable for anyone grappling with the question of “what do we do if we don’t do school?”

First-person stories and straight-forward language make The Unschooling Unmanual readable and reassuring. One caveat is that the book, clearly an unmanual with trust-the-children focus, does not attempt to have the scope to address whether interventions, therapies, or special practices are ever needed and beneficial for a certain child or whether/how the editors feel they might fit an unschooling context.

My final caveat turns out not to be one. I initially felt disappointed in Kream’s essay, “What About College?” I agree with her statement, “Our goal is that there will not be a particular moment when our children must suddenly be pushed from the nest,” and I live it, since among my brood are older teens. However, after many years of home/unschooling, I realized I still wanted a “how to” in terms of college or assisting my sons with their development as young adults. In an immediate second thought, I realized I was seeking instructions that don’t exist in life, much less in an unmanual. If you want a formula for preparing unschooled kids for college, you won’t find it in The Unschooling Unmanual. But you will find unbridled support for unschooling, which, as Kream says, “gives each child the time and the room to follow her own path and to travel that path with the loving support and companionship of her family.”

To read an excerpt and to order the book, please visit http://www.naturalchild.org/unmanual/.


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