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

Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Schools

Reflections on Illich 10: The characteristics of schools

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

pp. 26-27  “… I shall define ‘school’ as the age-specific, teacher-related process requiring full-time attendance at an obligatory curriculum.”

The characteristics that Illich refers to as being defining characteristics of schools are:

1.   age-specific (and age-segregated) learning contexts;

2.   teacher-related (teacher-centred) processes;

3.   full-time attendance (compulsory attendance); and

4.   obligatory curriculum (centrally determined, and obligatory for all to complete).

Each of these characteristics militates against efficient and effective learning on the part of the students. 

Firstly, age-specific and age-segregated learning ensures that learning will be pitched at the mediocre, with very little attention to the needs of those students at either extreme of learning capacity.  Age-specific and age-segregated cohorts are created on the assumption that all children pass through the same stages of development at the same times, which is not true in all areas for all children.  There are developmental differences that enable many children to be at different stages at different times in different areas of their lives.  This assumption of equal development suppresses individuality, and creativity, and ultimately prevents most children from becoming excellent at anything.

Secondly, teacher-related/teacher-centred processes focus on the interests, strengths and abilities of the teacher.  Effective learning takes place when the student has a particular interest or passion that is being catered for.  Learning should not be totally child-centred and child-focused, however, the individuality of the student needs to be taken into consideration, including favoured learning styles, previous learning, orientation, interests and passion of the child.  All these need to be taken into consideration when facilitating learning opportunities.

Thirdly, full-time, compulsory attendance does not take into consideration the powerful learning that takes place when spontaneous opportunities in the context of living life present themselves.  It is important to have the time and the flexibility to respond to these learning opportunities.

Finally, a centrally determined, obligatory curriculum does not take into consideration the myriad of variations of learning needs that are spread across families, communities, regions and so forth.  No one person can learn everything there is to learn.  And no one person or group of people can choose from the full range of possible things that can be learned, which are to be the universally required core learnings.  These are local decisions.

Home-Based Education

What is in a name?

Very interestingly, amongst the home educators that I interviewed there was a range of names given to the process of home-based education.  I am in the process of interacting with those names and considering as to whether they are synonymous, or whether they are ways of identifying different aspects of home-based education.

So far the list includes:

  • interest-driven learning/education
  • child-led education
  • natural learning
  • eclectic learning
  • self-directed learning
  • home-based education
  • discipleship
  • learning in life
  • learning for life
  • our walk with the Lord
  • our life
  • God’s people walking in His ways
  • family-friendly education
  • activities-based learning
  • hands-on learning
  • hack schooling
  • democratic schooling
  • anarchistic schooling
  • kitchen table/dining room table education
  • learning from life experiences
  • practical learning

I am very much leaning towards using the term home-based education as the umbrella term, with a range of delivery methods ranging from home schooling (i.e. reconstructing school in the home) to unschooling (i.e. educational delivery in a way that does not resemble schooling, but is guided by the parent and at the same time is also sensitive to the motivation, gifts, interests and calling of the children) to radical unschooling (i.e. totally child-directed, without any hindrance or direction from adults).

The list mentioned above provides the words to describe the elements within home-based educational delivery.

Still wrestling with this, and would very much appreciate what others may have to say about the matter.