In my research of unschooling, I don’t see much socio-economic (or cultural) variation. Most unschooled kids seem to come from upper-middle class white families.
If so, is unschooling largely only applicable to well-off families who can afford to have one parent at home supporting their children?
There are many flavors of homeschooling, and unschooling is just one of them. In fact, there are so many combinations of homeschool learning types, that it is probably fruitless trying to figure out how to fit homeschool students into these boxes.
Here are some examples:
- Several flavors of Classical education
- One-to-one tutoring (Benjamin Bloom 2-sigma problem)
- Sudbury school
- Progressive education (e.g. Alfie Kohn)
- Flipped classroom
- Online learning (Khan Academy)
- Radical Unschooling
- Blended learning
I consider our family to use “blended unschooling”, since I allow our daughter to select what she wants to study (which is the definition of unschooling), but I help guide her as to how she learns. We use tutoring, coaching, online learning, and true unschooling (for some topics).
That said, I have encountered no research that defines how homeschooled children are taught, therefore it is virtually impossible to define the demographics of unschooling. However, we can make some educated guesses.
Number and percentage of homeschooled students ages 5 through 17 with a grade equivalent of kindergarten through 12th grade, by selected child, parent, and household characteristics: 2003, 2007, and 2012
As of 2012, the US Department of Education estimates there are 1.77M homeschooled students. The Urban Institute (2014) defines upper middle class as families with income between $100K and $350K, so, for our purposes, we will examine families with income over $100K.
In 2012, approximately 20% of homeschooled families report incomes above $100K. This compares to 26% of total number of school families with income over $100K.
In 2012, 15.5% of homeschooled families report incomes below $20K, compared to 23% of total number of school families with income below $20K.
In 2007, approximately 5% of homeschooled families report incomes above $100K. This compares to 29% of total number of school families with income above $100K.
In 2007, 12% of homeschooled families report incomes below $20K, compared to 17% of total number of school families with income below $20K.
- There appears to be a large shift in homeschool demographics over a 5-year reporting period
- The proportion of low-income homeschool families has dropped slightly
- The proportion of high-income families has increased dramatically
Since there has been no big change in the number of low-income families who are homeschooling, it is reasonable to assume that there are also no significant changes to the philosophy and reasons for homeschooling within this group.
However, the huge increase in higher-income homeschooling families is fascinating. This is a group that has many options, including:
- moving to a home within a “good” school district
- private schools
- charter school
- magnet school
- dual enrollment
The significant increase in homeschooling within this demographic suggests that parents believe it is in the best interests of their child. Very interesting!
I think it is likely that this demographic are more likely to choose some type of unschooling.
Now, to answer your question (finally). It is possible to homeschool if you don’t have much money – more than 10% of homeschool families are in this category. Yes, it is probably more difficult for these families. However, there are options:
- grandparents or other family members
- one-income parent
- co-ops (sharing learning responsibilities with other families)
- children accompany parents to work
- church groups.
I do agree, however, that a family with high income is likely to have many more options available to them.