This post by another homeschooling mom got me to thinking about what we are doing and why...
The Thinking Mother: Another Reason Why Unschooling Can't Work for My Son
We homeschool. We don't unschool. We especially don't to the radical unschooling thing. The reasons we do it the way we do, with a formal curriculum and daily lesson plans and goals, are similar to Christine's.
First of all, neither of my children knows "what they want to be when they grow up" and they are not mature enough to be making that decision anyway. Therefore, I am responsible for keeping their options open. That is, I must design their education to allow for the possibilities of college, trade school, military service, or entrepreneurship directly upon independence from El Jefe and me. That means a college prep curriculum, with activities and lessons that allow them to investigate the other options, along with the inclusion of economics as a subject starting in grade school. A college prep curriculum won't keep them out of trade school or the military or running their own business, but the lack of college prep will decrease the likelihood of them from getting into, or succeeding in, college. If I let them "design their own curricula" at their ages, my youngest child would do nothing but storytelling, and my oldest would do nothing but draw dresses. Now, I could explain that good storytellers must read a lot of stories in order to be able to tell them, so the Pirate needs to learn to read (and write and spell, at least until she can afford voice recognition software and design a better spell-checker than what is currently available). And I could tell the Princess she should learn history for inspiration, and geometry for converting her drawings into patterns. But there is no way I could justify algebra, calculus, trig, chemistry, or physics, to either of them. Unschoolers would say I shouldn't need to, that they don't need those subjects in order to achieve their goals. This has not been my own personal experience. If I had taken the higher math courses in HS, I could have graduated from college a semester early. Additionally, while I earned degrees in Education and Spanish, my interests now run toward the hard sciences, and if I ever have the opportunity to return to school, I'll be stuck in remedial math before taking the required courses for my chosen degree. Goals and interests change over time. And if you are never given the opportunity to try something, you may never know if you would be interested in it.
Secondly, we need a schedule, or nothing will get done. Without a daily lesson plan, we procrastinate, because it is easier to just say "We'll do it later" and keep playing, than to accomplish the necessary, if occasionally unpleasant, tasks.
Thirdly, I need to know that my students are learning. I need to know where they are excelling and where they are struggling. Without some type of evaluation, I cannot know if my students have actually learned the material. Having said that, I do not grade anything. We operate in a mastery paradigm. If the Princess gives me three days of error-free math, she can skip the rest of the lesson, because she obviously understands the concept. When either child spells a word incorrectly on a spelling test, it goes onto next week's list, and will be continually added onto future lists until it is spelled correctly. What is the point in marking something wrong and not seeing that it is corrected? Do you want a surgeon who got 80% of his anatomy test correct, but missed 20% and never learned it? I do not believe in test-taking for its own sake. I do, however, recognize that good test-taking skills are necessary for success in this culture. I also recognize that a talent for bubble tests is meaningless in the larger scheme - the real test is in demonstrating what you know without the props provided by a test made of discrete questions. Can you stand up and give me a GOOD five minute speech on a topic? Can you sit down and write a GOOD essay on it? Can you develop a GOOD multi-media presentation on it? Can you teach the information/activity to someone else? These all require skills and knowledge beyond the information itself, and it is my opinion that THOSE are just as important as the information.
Lastly, homeschooling is far less controversial than it was even five years ago, but it is still not without its detractors. Most people are far less negative about homeschooling when they discover I actually HAVE A PLAN. They assume, inaccurately as it happens, that unschoolers as a whole have no plans, goals, and/or methods of evaluation. But it is sometimes easier for me to simply shorten a ten minute explanation of what we do and why into "We're homeschooling, not unschooling," and simply let the assumptions stand. This is intellectually dishonest on my part, I think. Having realized that, I will have to stop doing it, but it still applies to the extent that I may choose to teach something in a manner more acceptable to someone else (family, other homeschoolers, the general culture) simply because it saves me the hassle of justifying to others why I have chosen whatever method I'm using to teach my children what they need to know to survive and thrive in this life. And that IS the point. I've chosen to homeschool because my children's education is MY responsibility, and it is MY well-researched and experienced opinion that homeschooling is the best method to teach them what they will need to know in order to survive and thrive.