Extreme Homeschooling: No Tests, No Books, No Classes, No Curriculums

There's a growing movement of no tests, no curriculums, no books, no classes.

ByJUJU CHANG via logo
April 18, 2010, 11:43 PM

April 19, 2010— -- The Biegler children live as though school doesn't exist.

They're at home all day, but they're not being homeschooled. They're being "unschooled." There are no textbooks, no tests and no formal education at all in their world.

What's more, that hands-off approach extends to other areas of the children's lives: They make their own decisions, and don't have chores or rules.

Christine Yablonski and Phil Biegler of Westford, Mass., are self-described "radical unschoolers." They allow their teen daughter and son to decide what they want to learn, and when they want to learn it.

"They key there is that you've got to trust your kids to … find their own interests," Yablonski told "Good Morning America."

Yablonski described unschooling as "living your life as if the school system didn't exist."

When asked how their children learn things like math, she said, "If they need formal algebra understanding, then they will, they'll find that information."

Asked by "Good Morning America" about how they could parent without any rules, Phil Biegler said, "We find that we don't need a whole lot of rules."

"They might watch television," Yablonski said. "They might play games on the computers."

"They might read," her husband added.

Most children will always choose television over reading every time, but Yablonski said that "the key there is that you've got to trust your kids to ... find their own interests."

She isn't worried that her daughter stays up all night, because "she's getting everything done that she wants to get done."

Children as the 'Center of the Universe'

Ann Pleshette Murphy, parenting expert and "Good Morning America" contributor, questioned the unusual approach.

"This to me is putting way too much power in the hands of the kids, something that we know kids can often find anxiety-producing, and it's also sending a message that they're the center of the universe, which I do not think is healthy for children," she said.

Dr. Reef Karim, a psychiatrist, agrees.

"The whole concept of cooperating with your kid, it's kind of cool in theory," he said, "and if a child was a little adult I think it would be great, but he's a child."

Out of an estimated 56 million schoolage children, about 1.5 million are homeschooled. Of that number, at least 100,000 are believed to be "unschooled" -- the term coined to describe an unorthodox approach to homeschooling that does not focus on formal classes, set curriculums or tests.

This parenting style might raise some eyebrows, but in Massachusetts, it's perfectly legal. Unschooling parents in that state are required to report to local school authorities once a year. The Massachusetts Department of Education did not respond to calls and e-mails from ABC News seeking comment.

Homeschooling rules vary from state to state. Click here to see the home schooling rules in your state on the Home School Legal Defense Association Web site.

The Discovery Health cable TV channel chronicled the life of one young unschooling family, detailing a home in which the children faced no punishment, no judgment and no discipline.

"It's amazing when you broaden the scope of what you see as learning as opposed to worksheets," the mother said. "There is no hierarchy in our house, so there is no punishment, no judgment, no discipline. They get what they want for breakfast and eat whatever they want. It's all a matter of what feels right to them."

But what happens when the kids get older? Shaun Biegler, 13, last went to school when he was in the first grade.

He doesn't regret not attending anymore, but said, "I wonder what my life would be if I continued going to school. I was never really into some of the stuff that I had to learn in school."

He added that sports "haven't really been an interest of mine," but he also hasn't been exposed to many sports because he doesn't participate in a PE class.

Shaun's sister, 15-year-old Kimi, doesn't even know what grade she'd have been in if she had remained in school, and doesn't feel prepared for college.

"I haven't done the traditional look at a textbook and learn about such-and-such," she said. "If I wanted to go to college, then I would pick up a textbook and learn."

Neither child has any plans for college, according to their father. When asked if he felt it was his responsibility to teach his children to do things that they don't want to do, he said, "they will do what they need to do, whether or not they enjoy it, because they see the purpose in it."

Though the children's father acknowledged they were growing up in a unique way, he said that "in all other aspects, they're … living in the mainstream."

"They have experiences and knowledge that other people don't," Yablonski said.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.