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

deschooling, Ivan Illich

Reflections on Illich 12: The anti-dote to perpetuated immaturity is to get rid of compulsory, age-segregatated schooling

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 29  “If there were no age-specific and obligatory learning institutions, ‘childhood’ would go out of production.”

It is real responsibility, in real life situations, with real consequences that enables maturity to develop.  Continuing to shelter young people beyond their childhood is to perpetuate childhood.  This is what compulsory, age-segregated schooling does; it perpetuates childhood into ever extending age groups.  And how can this be measured?  It is measured by the level of Social Welfare dependence.  Children depend upon others to care for them.  Adults take responsibility for their own lives.

Institutionalized children, become dependent upon the institutions of the culture, the major one being the Social Welfare System, and an example of others would include the hospital system.

This is why Illich insisted that there needed to be a deschooling of society.  It is not just the institutionalizing of education that is the problem, it is the institutionalizing of everything in society.  It all leads to dependence, which is a manifestation of immaturity at a whole range of ages beyond childhood.

Maturity is taking responsibility for your own affairs, and not depending upon others or an institution to look after you.

“Therefore let us … go on to maturity [taking on the responsibility for your own affairs] …” wrote the Apostle Paul (Hebrews 6:1).

Bursts of Inspiration in Other Directions

Analysis of the Poem: ‘On His Blindness’ by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
‘Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?’
I fondly ask: but Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.’

From an early age, John Milton knew that God had called him to a great purpose, and his Puritan background had convinced him that the God Who calls a man also calls him to account at the conclusion of his life. So are we all called to give an account of the use of the gifts and talents that God has entrusted to us. ‘On His Blindness’ expresses Milton’s experience of being frustrated in his desire to fulfill the call upon his life. Normally, blindness limits what an individual is able to achieve. Milton had hoped to create an epic that would bring glory to the name of the Lord, but his premature blindness threatened to frustrate that aspiration.

Complimenting the above, however, Milton has revealed the sovereign grace of his “Maker”. The real purpose of the poem is to display the goodness of God. God does “…exact day-labour …”, but at the same time He “doth not need Either man’s work or his own gifts.” The Scriptures clearly teach that even the “plowing of the wicked is sin”, but God has saved us by grace through faith. Our good works will not save us; we have been saved for good works that God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The lesson of the poem is that those good works are of God’s choosing, and if He chooses that we serve Him by sitting still in His presence, then we are not to question His “kingly” state.

In a masterful way, Milton has recreated the emotional journey that he must have travelled whilst coming to grips with his blindness. As with us all, when faced with tragedy in our lives, Milton expresses his personal pain and frustration. Eight times he writes, “I:, “me” or “my”; self being the focus. The focus shifts at the volta. The latter portion of the sonnet brings God into the focus. From this new perspective, the exacting harshness of the “Maker” is replaced with the gracious enabling of “Patience”.

The sonnet is pregnant with skillful use of poetic tools. If the reader will allow the work its proper gestation period, birth will be given to a rich and meaningful experience. The sonnet is a poetic form that has been used to express important subjects. A man’s wrestling with his loss of sight is a very appropriate subject for the genre. It is interesting to note that the number four, in the Bible, speaks of the earth. The first two quatrains deal with Milton’s earthly perspective. On the other hand, the number three speaks of the Trinity, and it is in the final two groups of three lines that Milton sees the situation from a heavenly perspective.

With the contrast of perspective there is also a contrast of language used. We feel a sense of terseness in the use of words like, “useless”, and “chide”. After the volta, however, “mild yoke”, “rest” and “wait” help to create for us a feeling of peace and gentleness. Such contrast serves to underscore the contrast of perspectives. Milton judiciously uses alliteration, i.e. “Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,” and aurally unites his images.

As with the majority of the poetry from the Puritan period, Milton’s intimate knowledge of the Scriptures is evident throughout the sonnet. He alludes to many Biblical references. In the Gospel of Matthew it is recorded that Jesus equated good works with light. Milton complains that his capacity to do good works is finished; his “light is spent”. The parable of the talents is about a slothful man who hid his talent, and was rebuked by the Master upon His return. So Milton fears the day of accountability before his “Maker” because of “that one talent which is death to hide”. The reference to “day-labour” is of course a reference to the parable of the Owner of the vineyard Who employed labourers at different times of the day, and rewarded each the same wages, even though their job descriptions were vastly different. The reference to “mild yoke” points to the command of Jesus that we are to take His yoke upon us, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The Puritan doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, and the gratuitous nature of God’s grace is implicit in the lines:

……………………………… ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts.

………………………………………………….. his state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;

A sovereign God needs nothing from the hand of man. Such knowledge reduces us to humility before such an awesome God. On the other hand, the grace that allows us to “stand and wait” in the presence of a Holy and Righteous God, fills us with love and affection.

This sonnet provides us with a model of a Christian response to suffering. Few of us have suffered for our faith unto the shedding of blood. Few of us have wrestled with God in the way that Milton has wrestled with God, and as a consequence gained a perspective of life that enabled him — having come to grips with his handicap — to write one of the greatest poems in the English language, ‘Paradise Lost’. This sonnet is good poetry. This sonnet is a worthwhile experience for a Christian. This sonnet is an inspiration to obey the injunction, “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning you”.

deschooling, Home-Based Education, Natural Learning, Unschooling

The flexibility of home-based education

In preparing research for my PhD dissertation, one of the participants in an interview made the following statement:

“… over the years we went through times of more flexibility in academic learning.  At times we were less academic, and more kinaesthetic.  In town we sometimes reverted to natural learning.  We went backwards and forwards in methods.  Over time we saw that development of character was critical; the development of godly character.”

This is one of the most powerful features of a home-based education: total flexibility.  Parents need to be deschooled, and that takes time.  The home-based journey may begin looking a bit (or a lot) like school, while confidence is being built.  However, everyone learns together, and if there is constant communication, instruction modes and ways of learning can be trialled, embraced or laid down for a time.

There are many, many ways of teaching that parents can study, trial and consider the benefit of for specific children, for specific learning objectives, for specific seasons of learning.  No one style is better than another, and all of them can sometimes be a wrong fit in a particular context, but a right fit in a totally different context.

Above all else, it has to be kept in mind that the objective is character development.  Listen to the children.  Children love learning, and if they are not loving the experience, work out why.  Is it an instructional misfit?  Are they not ready for that phase of learning?  Are they bored and need a fresh approach to the same thing?  Are they simply having a bad day, and need a big hug, a break from it all, and an opportunity to make a fresh start after a good, long sleep.