deschooling, Discipleship, Education, Home-Based Education, Life Learning, Natural Learning, Unschooling

What is in a name? What shall we call it?

In the Drabsch (2013) e-brief to the NSW Parliament, Home Education in NSW, it is reported that distance education is not considered to be a form of home education/home schooling by the NSW Department of Education, because the children are directly enrolled in a Department controlled school, and are subject to Department supervised schooling.  However, it is identified that amongst those who educate at home, the terms home education and home schooling are used interchangeably.

I would like to suggest that it is important that members of the home education/home schooling community commence a discussion about the terminologies that are used when talking about education that is outside the Education Department controlled schooling system.

I am happy to allow the Department to own the term Distance Education.  However, I would prefer the term to be Distance Schooling, because I do not necessarily agree that what is delivered in schools is an education.  In schools, students are schooled and many receive a schooling.

In my PhD Dissertation I spent time differentiating between receiving an education and being schooled (Box, 2014, pp. 33 to 122).  From my perspective, it is possible to be schooled at home, so I would like to reserve the term home schooling for the process of reproducing the school environment in the home.  On the other hand, home schooled children, in most cases, do receive an education, therefore I am pleased to identify home schooling as a subset of home education.  This being granted, I think that it is better to call home education, “home-based education”.  The reason for my recommendation is that one of the significant criticisms of home schooling is the potential for children to be home-bound, whilst being home schooled.  This is not the case, in the majority of instances, but it has been the case for some children who were home schooled.  It was definitely the experience of one of the adults I interviewed who had been home schooled during their teens.  The person hated the concept of home school, and was quick to admit that during their home schooling experience:  “I didn’t know any other kids. Home schooling was a horror experience, not primarily from the program, but from the complete package. We had our own church, our own school, there was nothing outside of the home.”  This was definitely the minority view, and no other home-based educating family reported anything resembling the home-bound nature of this case.   The term home-based education implies that home is a base from which an education takes place in a range of settings.  The children return to the base, and the majority of the basic education tasks are conducted in the home, however, home-based education provides a range of social and other educational activities outside the home.

On page 2 of the Drabsch (2013) e-brief, three approaches to home-based education are identified.  These three are:

i.     Structured learning environment — families in this category closely follow some kind of curriculum and learning is structured in a way similar to the classroom.  (I would like to call this approach: home school / home schooling);

ii.   Informal learning environment — those in this category may use various resources, including some textbooks, but they are less structured in their approach than those in the first group.  (I would like to call this approach: unschooling.  Many who call themselves unschoolers would object to this because they tend to work more in the next category.  However, bear with me.  The purpose of this exercise is to provoke broader discussion, and in the end come up with some terms that every one understands and agrees to.  I am not precious with these ideas.  Others may have a better idea, and that is fine, as long as it is clear that we all understand what we mean when certain words are being used).

iii.  Unschoolers / natural learners — This involves no structured learning at all, due to the belief that the best learning takes place by maximising the opportunities present in the various activities that constitute daily life and by following the child’s interests. (I would like to call this approach, radical unschooling.  Once again, I know that will upset some who call themselves unschoolers, but who really radically unschool; and upset the radical unschoolers who like to call themselves unschoolers.  Be that as it may, I am looking for some consistency, and this is where I have started the discussion).

So, I am suggesting that the umbrella term for the three approaches (as identified by the e-brief) is “home-based education”.  I am then arguing that the three approaches seem to be fairly fair appraisals of the broader clusters of home-based education styles.  As suggested above, I would like to call these three approaches: “home schooling”, “unschooling” and “radical unschooling”.

Outside of these terms there are a large range of other terms that are used in the home-based education community.  These terms include (but are not limited to): natural learning, life learning, discipleship, hands-on learning, academic, child-centred, child-focused, self-directed, eclectic learning, family-friendly education, activities-based learning, kitchen-table learning, practical learning, and many more.  In my dissertation (Box, 2014, pp. 155-166) I argue that these are emphases within the three main approaches.  Therefore, one might have a home schooling approach with a discipleship emphasis, or an unschooling approach with a discipleship emphasis, or an unschooling approach with a natural learning emphasis, or an unschooling approach with an academic emphasis, and so forth.  I have commenced the discussion on the definitions elsewhere in this blog site, but would really like to engage in further discussion around the topic.

I am not wanting to unnecessarily offend good people who are doing good things in the home-based education community.  However, I would like to be able to write using terminology that the majority of people are happy to employ, and that the majority of people are in agreement as to what is meant by the terms.

I am proposing that some kind of wiki be set up so that the ongoing discussion can proceed in the broader home-based education community.  Any thoughts?


Box, L A. (2014). A Proposal to Deschool, then Unschool Australian Biblical Christian Education. Unpublished dissertation submitted for fulfillment of Doctor of Philosophy, in the School of Applied Theology, New Geneva Theological Seminary, Virginia, U.S.A.

Drabsch, T. (2013). Home Education in NSW. Sydney: N.S. W. Parliamentary Research Service. e-brief 15. Downloaded 25/09/2014, from:$File/Home%20schooling%20GG%203.pdf


3 thoughts on “What is in a name? What shall we call it?

  1. ronald slyderink says:

    I agree with the analysis and suggestions regarding categorizing ‘education’ contrasting it with ‘schooling and the need to be deschooled.

    ‘Home-based education’ is an appropriate term used I think to simply refer to education being based at home with parents and family under God having a key role with input and connections to the community, including Church, State and the Market place. Of course some basic understanding of what home-based education is or should aim to be and how it can operate needs to be established.

    It is not obvious in the title of ‘home-based education’ that God is central, yet I believe this is essential for the definition and meaning of education” is intricately bound up with God and what he has revealed to us. The term appears fairly neutral but its meaning is dependent on the values and assumptions underlying what we think education is or should be. That needs to be clarified and then we can focus on goals, methods and resources to teach and learn from.

    Is it possible to have ‘home-based education’ without bringing God and the Bible into it? It is but from which world-view do we come and what values are emphasized and followed and what will be the consequences?

    Although we may adopt ‘deschooling’ ideas which reflect the weaknesses and flaws of schooling systems, are they enough to constitute an ‘education’? We need to be able to derive principles of authentic teaching and learning based on reality, truth and experience and it will be confirmed with God’s word but God’s word dictates what education is or should be.

    What is desirable I think is to have a model or program of ‘home-based education’ operating so that prospective families can see the values and approach taken and what is involved and believe in it and commit to practicing doing it. A community of like-minded families will encourage and develop networks and programs that will benefit all.


  2. Ron, I get your point, and I agree with you. We can come up with the most Scripturally accurate framework, but if Christ and His Kingdom are not central, and the Holy Spirit is not listened to at each step of the way, then we will very quickly grind into a heap. However, new wine requires new wine skins. The problem of the past is that we have perpetuated an old concept of educational delivery, schools and schooling, and have tried over many decades to force Christ and the Holy Spirit into the old wineskin. I have exhausted myself, robbed my family, and come to the edge of total disillusionment because the old wineskin is not reformable. It is not Biblical.

    I believe that the deschooling model resembles the education in life model of Deuteronomy 6, etc. We can build a new wine skin, I believe, which I believe the Holy Spirit will be happy to fill when invited. I have witnessed the fruits of a deschooled education, that has given room for the work of the Holy Spirit, and the fruits are much more substantial than the fruits I witnessed in all my years working in Christian schools.

    I get your point, Ron, but I think we are beyond reformation, we need to rebuild from the foundations up, and reconceptualise. God said to Jeremiah, “If you extract the precious from the worthless, then I will make you my spokesman”. I believe the unschoolers have discovered Kingdom truth, and we need to reclaim it for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.

    God bless you my Brother, you are a wonderful encouragement!


  3. Brother Lance, I think I get your point also.

    I can commiserate completely with you about the failure of schooling including Christian schooling. I have seen and experienced it first hand. But I wonder, is it because of a lack of faith and instead an allurement with the world and the lies and deceptions that erode the word of God? In other words there is no foundation with Christ as Lord and the enemy is holding sway deceiving and enslaving people to systems and methods contrary to God’s word and will, in spite of all the rhetoric and vision, mission statements. It is business as usual in the secular world, trying to live ‘ good’, moral lives in our own strength and wisdom.

    Reformation in our own strength, is like trying to lift ourselves by our shoe strings, it cannot be done. In that sense, the analogy of wine skins is appropriate, we need a new wineskin to replace the old one, all of it. But what does that imply? To my understanding, it means coming back to the issue we didn’t really address in the first place and that is, we need people (leaders initially) who are at the point where nothing and no one but Christ is the answer, in their personal and corporate lives. They have been so touched by the Spirit of God that they submit everything to him and seek his face, his word, his ways to all that is before them. Education, teaching and learning, is viewed from God’s perspective and his Spirit of love and service. It irrevocably involves the gospel of the Kingdom because that is God’s will and plan for man and the creation.

    Now I do concede and this I think is your point, Kingdom truths can be discovered by man and Christians can utilise them. God has given all men the ability to shift evidence and build knowledge and skills and arrive at principles that reflect the truth. In that sense we can have ungodly people arrive at truthful realistic descriptions of what is and what should be. And so Illich has highlighted aspects of education and schooling that we can learn from, they show weaknesses of existing systems and practices and point to better ways, may we even say, more in tune with Kingdom principles and practices. That I can see and agree with. I see the same with other areas of life including the environmental movement and social justice, etc. I believe their is mounting evidence for adopting Kingdom ways as well as leaving behind unKingdom ways. So, I am with you on this, if that is what you mean. But and you stress this also, we need to ‘reclaim it for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.’ How to do this without getting caught up in the detail and spirit of the ungodly is a challenge. We clearly stand for God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and proclaim his salvation, his glory and seek his honor in all we say and do.

    We need wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit to get it right and do what is right.

    God bless you, keep up the good fight. The Lord is worthy of all praise and thanks.


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