LIKE advocates of home schooling, I regard parents as important educators of their children. But that parents should be the exclusive educators of their children, that they should usurp, rather than supplement, a child's school experience, strikes me as irrational, impractical, and naive in most instances.
''Unschooling'' seems to be another expression of the anti-institutional fervor which for the past 15 years has attacked our government, our corporate structures, organized religion, and the family itself.
Schools are vulnerable because they are not perfect, because the very effort to improve them exposes their shortcomings. Our schools are weighted down with social and economic pressures still to be resolved in the larger communities of which they are a part.
But I side with the creative responses of school reformers who want to meet such problems head-on rather than with the dropout responses of unschoolers. I continue to wish that those idealistic parents who devote so much time and energy to the exclusive education of their own children would join the public-spirited educators and administrators who are working to improve the education of all children.
Some unschoolers fear that their children cannot handle the different ideas and behavior they may encounter at school. I admit I felt this way when it was time to enroll my firstborn in school.
Experience has taught me that children of school age, particularly those fortified by parental attention in the preschool years, are ready to try their own wings at problem-solving, building friendships, and learning appropriate behavior for a wide variety of situations. Such children go to school equipped with adequate reserves of tolerance, intelligence, and compassion.
Any family has only a tiny place in a world of 4 billion people. Children need to stretch, not shrink; to consider more, not fewer, options; to learn how to share their ideas with others and to evaluate what others do and think and why, if their citizenship in this world is to have meaning.
Criticisms of parent-dominated schools established by Amish, Dukhobor (in western Canada), and fundamentalist Christian communities to ''keep our children from the world'' center on the relevance of such schools for 20th-century children. I feel similar concerns about home schooling, except in those cases where physical or mental handicaps or geographic isolation leave no alternative.
Our state-accredited schools have rich resources for teaching children. They provide well-educated teachers, carefully stocked libraries, laboratories, films , field trips, playgrounds, and practical experiences to help children sort out the world beyond their doorstep. Most schools offer information and testing to help children find where their talents are most needed.
Some parents say they unschool their children to rescue them from boredom. But increasingly, schools have special programs for gifted or special-needs children. If such programs don't exist, parents can work to get them. Service projects are helpful, since all gifted children must learn the satisfaction of using their gifts to benefit, not exploit, others.
Legally, an increasing number of states permit parents to teach their own children at home. But legality constitutes permission, not recommendation.
Much parental pride feeds the unschooling movement. Both ''I can teach my child better than schools can'' and ''my kid is too smart - or too good - for school'' are prideful proclamations. Do they promote a child's best interests?
I remember a beautiful garden statue I saw in Normal, Ill., with a mother's arms almost encircling but nowhere holding her young son as he stepped forward. I hope that unschoolers will drop their possessive tentacles and free their children to discover their own individuality in the wider world.