Unstructured learning equals child abuse?
(In which I intercept other people's mail and answer their questions for them. The original, non-excerpted letter and response may be read here, at The Chicago Sun Times.)
Dear Ellie,

My sister's friend is supposedly homeschooling her two children, ages 6 and 7. These well-educated parents don't believe in structured learning. They feel if children want to learn something, they'll ask.
That isn't such an uncommon philosophy of education. It goes by different names, with different emphases: unschooling, delight-directed learning and child-directed learning are three of the most popular terms I know of which more or less describe this general idea. In schools of education you might encounter something similar known by the more technical term of "constructivism," or even "maturationism," depending on the degree of involvement from adults in assisting the child in the learning process. While I think these theories have obvious drawbacks in a classroom setting, they can be quite effective in the home where children benefit from the one-on-one interaction of loving parents. The teacher is viewed as a guide, facilitator or even "midwife in the birth of understanding." In fact, there is even research suggesting that pushing structured learning too early is detrimental to a child's educational success.
These children cannot read and write...
They are six and seven! What do you expect? You will find children in this age range in almost every classroom in America who cannot read and write despite the formal instruction. One thing that most educators will tell you: children learn to read when they are ready. Sure, there are numerous things adults can do to help pave the way, things most educated parents do automatically, but children seem to put it all together exactly when they are ready. In fact, reading experts have put together lists of readiness skills which generally indicate when a child is ready to read. Attempting to do so sooner often leads only to frustration which can do more to damage a child's self-image and potential love of reading. Waiting to learn to read can be better for the child.
I believe this is a form of child abuse...
Wow. That is a strong accusation against someone because their six and seven year old cannot read. What do you say to the teachers and parents of the nearly one third of all American school children with serious learning deficits? And for this to be abuse, the parents need to be actually denying the children something they need or forcing something harmful upon them. From what you have written, it does not sound as if the parents are denying their children anything. They are only on a schedule that differs from your local school: one determined by their children's needs and interests rather than by the state-mandated curriculum. How is that abuse?
Outraged? About what? Who has greater cause to be outraged? The person who notices that someone has a different philosophy of education than they? Or the parents who are being accused of child abuse for having a six and seven year old who cannot read? This is not about denying a child an education. It is about differing views on what it means to be educated and how to best become educated.

For once, the response of the actual addressee is a breath of fresh air.
However, this situation sounds more like one involving your personal disapproval.
Right on, Ellie.

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