John Holt's books, such as How Children Fail and How Children Learn, were among the first books I read in consideration of the idea of homeschooling, and these writings were certainly inspiring. It did, however, cross my mind that because he was never a parent, Holt's qualifications in regard to speaking on home education were limited by virtue of that fact. Parents' responsibilities to their children were not something he could really know on a personal level. Also, I don't remember any indication that he was a man of faith or that he considered that religious parents would have a responsibility to raise children in their faith; that is, to teach children in the realm of religion.
The Catholic Church makes it clear that failing to actively teach children is not an option, and I am Catholic, so there are certain things that I am obligated to teach my child. I imagine that other Christians and people of faith believe the same way. This is the problem with Catholics using the term unschooling that Holly Pierlot brings up in her blog, "A Mother's Rule of Life". She acknowledges that what Catholic "unschoolers" usually mean by unschooling is de-institutionalizing home education, but that what John Holt really means is anti-teaching. (See the initial question and comments at http://www.mothersruleoflife.com/2011/05/unschooling-catholic-education.html.) Holly explains,
"There is a distinction between John Holt's unschooling and what Catholic families are doing to de-institutionalize their homeschools. I
fear that if the term 'unschooling' is used throughout the Catholic
books, and given what I know unschooling 'really is', I'd have to fight
my strong reactions again...
To me, the Catholic home educator's
use of Holt's term is really unfortunate, because the bottom line is
Holt means anti-teaching, not anti-schools, and I really really wish
Catholics would not use the term... but I guess that is wishful thinking
now that it's becoming 'popular'.
Let's put it this way - if any
family sets out to 'teach' via books, or instruction or stories or
witness or words or lived experiences etc etc (meaning, that the
'method' one uses is geared to the unique needs and talents of the
parents and the children and is not tied to traditional text/instruction
methods), then this has its benefits. I imagine this is the way
'unschooling' - meaning de-institutionalized methods - is being intended
by Catholic families.
However, if one decides to adopt
'unschooling' in the sense Holt uses it- that the parent really doesn't
interfere with the child's process- then it's really totally
unacceptable to the mission of Catholic parental education. In fact, it
contradicts the parental vocation.
Keep this distinction in mind,
and it might help clarify which resources to read. But watch out when
reading secular unschooling resources, because they probably mean the
latter, not the former, definition."
That throws another wrench into the whole thing, now doesn't it? At the same time, I am so grateful to the Church, as usual, that she clarifies the Truth for me, that there is a higher authority than my own thoughts, opinions, inclinations, etc... There is the authority given by Jesus to his Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, and I can rely on that as my touchstone for everything else in life, for every decision of every single day. Perhaps "relaxed Catholic home-based learning" or "Charlotte Mason Catholic home education" would better serve my purposes than using the secular term, unschooling. How we name things is important, because concepts, methods, and belief systems lie behind the name, but in practice it is also pivotal to create a particular atmosphere and attitude toward education that does not separate learning from the rest of life. Life is learning and learning is life, regardless of exactly what style I choose to call my homeschooling. Style without substance is shallow, and every child deserves a deep, meaningful education for life.