Nicole and Joe began their foray into do-it-yourself education with what we generally think of as traditional homeschooling. They were living in an actual house then, and even had a lovely classroom set up.
This dates back more than three years. Prior to that time, from what I can gather, she and Joe actually tried to homeschool with some sort of structure. They did not start homeschooling because of any sort of bad experience with any of their children in school. Rather, they started, believe it or not, because Nicole listened to some (very probably far right-wing) radio talk shows and got the idea that public schools are all horrible places.
Mind you, she did not go visit her local public school and get to know anyone there, and/or express her concerns in any way. She just bought into the radio propaganda and decided to homeschool.
And really, that’s fine. I wouldn’t be writing any of this if that was all there was to it. It’s sort of narrow-minded and a bit silly, but hey, we all do stuff like that sometimes.
The truth is, of course, that there are very good public schools and there are not-so-good public schools, and there are some probably-pretty-bad public schools. Ditto for public school teachers. Ditto for private schools and private school teachers, for that matter.
And I want to make something really clear here before I go any further. We homeschooled our child for 5 years, from grade 7 through grade 11. I am not an enemy of homeschooling. I am also not ignorant about it.
Back to the Nauglers.
So, they started homeschooling their children. I’m not exactly sure how all this worked, since Nicole seems to have been the primary bread-winner forever, and even though one of her (numerous) blogs lists Joe as the “principal” of their little school and her as the “teacher,” this seems to be a stretch.
And I do know plenty of homeschool teachers who work part-time, often at night or on weekends, so it’s entirely possible, however, it would be quite difficult to pull off with a bunch of kids.
However, they seem to have had some semblance of a curriculum. It appears they were always eclectic about it, and didn’t, for instance, use some canned curriculum like ABeka or one of the others. And that’s not a bad thing—it’s actually a very good thing.
One of the super big weaknesses of homeschooling is that the child grows up learning only one point of view—Mommy’s (or Daddy’s, if Daddy is the teacher). Real school exposes a child to lots of points of view, different teachers and a myriad of peers. This is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.
Using a canned curriculum simply compounds that narrow-viewpoint bottleneck, and using a wide variety of materials helps mitigate it. So I find no fault with that. The library is a super good resource and the price is right.
And I know that I’m doing this commentary based on Nicole’s own words and posts on her various blogs. I know that what I see on a public blog may or may not accurately reflect reality. Maybe things weren’t as chaotic then as they appear to have been. But I can’t know anything except what she publicly posted, so I go with what I have.
At some places in her blog, she makes it all sound really good. She gives us their reading list, for example.
Looks halfway okay, I guess. This was in 2012, so these are relatively young kids. I have no idea what “insects study” might be, and the whole “seminary reading of the New Testament” sounds more like Sunday School than school, but it’s the one highlighted yellow that I thought was just hilarious.
That child was no more than 12 years old at the time this was written.
I am not stupid.
And the title under Schooling Books, Liberty Defined: 50 Essential issues(sic) that effect(sic) our freedom(sic) is another book by Ron Paul. It’s not a history book of any sort. It’s a political screed written when he was running for President.
It would be like putting Obama’s Audacity of Hope on a reading list and calling that “history” or “social studies.” It’s not.
I mean, where are the classics? What about poetry? What about really good children’s literature? Seriously. Nancy Drew?
And we get some essays. I don’t know who supposedly wrote this. I didn’t include it because of the subject matter. This is not about home birthing. I included it precisely because I don’t know which child wrote it. It was obviously a very young one. It’s cute.
But every single parent in America has a similar sort of essay written by their offspring. They put this stuff on the frig with magnets. They lovingly store it in photo albums and embarrass the child when he’s grown in front of his girlfriend.
This is not school.
School would involve, maybe at that age, learning to properly spell at least one of the words in that essay. Or having a lesson on sentence structure, so that the child understands what a period is and how to use it. I’m not talking about criticizing his efforts. I’m talking about using the little essay to figure out where his weaknesses are and help him improve.
I don’t see evidence of that taking place anywhere in Nicole’s blogs. Ever. In fact, her older children write on social media and don’t know how to properly spell or punctuate and they have no idea what a run-on sentence is, so they don’t seem to improve at all.
At any rate, it became apparent that this homeschooling thing simply wasn’t going very well.
So practically Thanksgiving, and they’ve done almost nothing. When you’re still ‘organizing lessons,’ you haven’t accomplished much.
At some point, Nicole discovered the word “unschooling.” She seems to have seized it almost as a drowning man grabs a lifeline. The word even sounds easy, doesn’t it?
“Schooling.” That sounds hard. Lessons, and planning, and all those books and papers and thinking and stuff.
“Unschooling”? Don’t gotta do all that stuff. Just go with the flow. Teach math by adding up stuff at the grocery store. Teach science by baking a cake. Teach fractions (Nicole hates fractions) the same way, or by building something. Easy peasy.
Well, here I want to introduce you to a different family.
In case you have never heard of them (the book dates back to 1988), the Colfax family has some fairly striking similarities to the Naugler family. I think that perhaps a compare and contrast exercise might be enlightening.
The Colfaxes moved to approximately 50 acres in rural California after David failed to get tenure (he was a university prof). They built a homestead there, off-grid, raised goats, grew their food, and homeschooled. Any of this sound familiar?
I read the book years ago when we were homeschooling and found it very inspirational. For one thing, their boys are very diverse. I can’t remember exactly, but it seems like only one of the boys is their biological child. The others were all adopted and are of different ethnic backgrounds. This is interesting in that nobody can claim that these boys were simply genetically brilliant. They weren’t even genetically related.
The Colfaxes basically “unschooled.” I don’t remember it being called that back then, but that’s what they did.
And three of the four boys went to Harvard on full scholarships. I remember that one of them became a marine biologist. I can’t remember about the other two.
But I do remember the accounts in the book of how they did school. While it bore some similarities to what Nicole talks about, in the sense that they use many of the same words and phrases, what they actually did was very different.
For instance, the boys all had chores. They didn’t just do anything they liked. They worked very hard indeed. In fact, David Colfax makes it clear that the homestead would have been impossible without the labor of those four boys. He relates how the boys would be so delighted to get to stop working and read that they became voracious readers.
There was no TV. There was no internet, of course, in those days. They were completely off-grid, for real. They didn’t go to McDonald’s.
And they didn’t just go out on those 50 acres and play, either.
Another thing I remember is that the family always ate together. At the table, each evening, each boy would share his journal entry for the day with everyone else. And the others would critique it. Grammar, factual data, phrasing, you name it, were all subject to criticism.
Of course, each boy knew that his own entry was coming up, so they tended to be kind, but still, that’s how they learned.
They would go into town periodically and take four boxes, one for each boy. They were allowed to fill their box at the local library.
It helped, of course, that both parents were college-educated (with graduate degrees) and both were teachers.
But they did no formal lessons.
And it wasn’t all peaches and cream.
David Colfax wrote a second book, several years later.
The point here is that it is possible to homeschool using this whole “unschooling” method and do it successfully.
But this is simply not true.
I want to show that any parent can homeschool.
No, they cannot. Some parents both work full time and they simply cannot. Some parents absolutely do not have enough education to adequately educate anyone at all. And some people simply don’t have the temperament to teach. That is not a character flaw, by the way. It’s okay.
And some parents do not want to teach their own children.
Crap like what Nicole wrote above makes other people feel guilty. She thinks she is being encouraging but it’s really quite awful.
It is okay, folks, if you send your children to your local public school. They will very likely do just fine.
What has happened here is that Nicole, especially (since she’s the one doing all the blogging) has set herself up as some sort of role model when it comes to this subject. And she’s not. She’s also not terribly unusual in this respect. A brief search via Google reveals that lots of these “unschooling” parents decide that they need to blog about their superior philosophy to the world. It’s interesting that most of these blogs are short-lived, have few entries and that typically the children are young.
That’s because it’s harder than it sounds. A lot harder.
This is a quote from one of those blogs/Facebook pages. The blog itself is dead. The FB is much more active, but the guy writing seems to ramble all over the place. Like Nicole, he’s not just about “freeing” his children. He also doesn’t like/trust government or any other authority. He celebrates the fact that his children are not prepared to get a job.
But, instead of reading lists and hypothetical lesson plans, as Nicole began to adopt the whole “unschooling” idea, we begin to see more and more of this sort thing.
I didn’t include all of the quoted material, because it takes too much space. It’s a quote from the guru of homeschooling, John Holt. The bit I left shows that Nicole used the photo as an illustration of “teaching.”
The photograph dates to before they moved onto the current “homestead.”
Here’s another. The two will do to show the pattern. It’s all about “shop class.”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but school isn’t all about shop class.
No, it’s not, says Nicole. It’s about art.
There are a dozen of these. It’s the latest Naugler project—amateur painting of ceramic figurines. What they intend to do with all these tchotchkes (when they do not believe in having a lot of “stuff”) is anyone’s guess. But hey, it’s “art.”
But they do “science” too.
I present this, Nicole, as my contribution to your farce of an education system.
Notice that the video was made by a child? Why don’t you have your children make some videos like this one, Nicole? Notice how much this kid knows about the biology of frogs and toads?
See how she implies that somehow her children have done actual dissections? Nicole, cutting up a toad (that you think is a frog) willy-nilly without any idea of what you are looking at is not “dissection.”
She did require that the older kids do a bit of writing recently, though.
Her children are “opposed to the state” because Joe and Nicole have systematically taught them, not how to read and write well, or how to do science, or how to thinking critically, or how to do research, but to hate any form of authority except Joe and Nicole. They’ve produced a 12-year-old that says “screw you” to the state that is only requiring a simple letter of intent in order to homeschool. No standardized testing, no proof that the children have learned squat. Just a simple letter saying “We’re going to homeschool,” and the state says, “Oh. Okay.” But that’s too much.
I am sure I am being obvious here, but the rest of us in American society have a right to demand that Joe and Nicole educate their children, or see that they are educated. We are the people who are going to have to live with these feral children when they are grown and discover they can’t really function any better than their parents have. We have a right to ensure that we have a populace that has enough sense to make reasonable decisions when voting, because all of us have to live with the consequences of that.
We as a society are not going to let this family starve to death, so it’s going to be on us to take care of them if they can’t do so themselves, and that gives us the right to demand that their children be educated. The alternative is to simply abandon them, and no reasonable decent person is going to do that.
In addition, those children have rights, too. They have a right as citizens of one of the most prosperous nations on earth to a minimal, decent education.
Kentucky is one of the states with most lax homeschooling laws in the nation, and it’s a damn shame.
Is unschooling for everyone?
But I ask, what information, vital to your adult life today, was acquired in 3rd grade?
Just because you, Nicole, do not read anything much (I can tell you don’t by the way you write), and don’t need any math skills to work doesn’t mean other people do not. Just because you don’t know how to think critically (and you don’t, as I will show later on in other pages) doesn’t mean other people don’t.
What did you learn in high school,(sic) that you would be unable to learn in a matter of weeks,(sic) if required for a new job or hobby?
Oh, maybe physics? Try learning physics in a “matter of weeks.” You know, so you could get into college and become a. . . nuclear physicist? Or an astronaut?
Are you seriously suggesting that children be left totally ignorant and have to do remedial work “in a matter of weeks” when they realize that what they really want to do with their life is write for the New York Times? Are you seriously suggesting that the child could then, at age 25, “in a matter of weeks” just obtain a lifetime worth of reading and knowledge that would make him able to function in that environment or get a journalism degree in college?
How would your children even know what the possibilities might be, Nicole? Do you realize how many students enter college and change their major after a year or so? Do you know why? It’s because our student gets there with the basics (and your children do not appear to be getting even close to the basics, and no, you are not equipping them) and is exposed to all sorts of different fields of study and he finds out that he really doesn’t like his lit classes nearly as much as that math class, and he switches from journalism to engineering.
But not “in a matter of weeks.”
But you know what? You can prove me wrong. It’s easy. Have your children tested with standardized tests, Nicole. I dare you.
And yes, you can, in fact, teach reading. I’ve watched real teachers do just that all my life. And you can teach math. And you can teach science. And you can teach history, and critical thinking. Children can, and are, taught all over this country every year.