John Holt was the first writer to use the existing word, “unschooled.” Holt used the word to mean children who learned outside of school, instead of the word’s meaning of people who have never been to school.
Holt was an elementary schoolteacher before he wrote his first book, How Children Fail.,  During his teaching years, Holt found flaws in classroom style instruction and worked to reform public schools, going so far as to propose an underground railroad to help children escape from the effects of compulsory schooling laws. After he discovered homeschooling, Holt changed his focus from school reform and started the magazine Growing Without Schooling . He initially used the term ‘unschooling’ as a synonym for homeschooling but the word has come to mean a separate form of self-directed learning. This use of ‘unschooling’ contrasts with the various styles of school-at-home teaching that usually characterize homeschooling.
Like homeschooling, unschooling has also experienced a fractalization similar to that in homeschooling: the greater the number of people who participate, the greater the number of styles that develop.
Perhaps the ‘eclectic’ style of homeschooling could be thought of as a middle-of-the-homeschooling-road style of unschooling: no set curriculum, no set list of materials, and no set style of learning. Eclectic homeschooling though, can still include formal lessons (depending on what each family chooses), so it could probably be categorized more as possibly ‘unschoolish’ than actual ‘unschooling.’
The practice of unschooling is raising children with parental encouragement, conversation and support. An everyday example of the unschool style is the time of life of small stay-at-home-children between birth and whatever point they are assumed to be educable and are sent off to school.
At the far end of unschooling lies ‘radical unschooling.’ Radical unschooling does not mean unschooling by politically radical parents, although that would not be surprising. Radical unschooling is allowing children to grow up ‘just living’ and making their own decisions about many aspects of life usually controlled by parents, such as mealtimes or bedtimes.
Regardless of whether a family’s unschooling style is more eclectic or more radical, the intent of unschooling is not to ignore the children and allow them to age without direction. The intent of unschooling is attentive, engaged parenting that supports the children in their interests and activities: life as learning, rather than learning separated from living.
 John Holt http://www.holtgws.com/
 John Holt and the origins of contemporary homeschooling, Patrick Farenga, 1999
Copyright 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon
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