Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Cons of Unschooling

I think most people know how much I love unschooling by now.  I will happily wax on about how unschooling is the only type of truly *free* education, how unschooling has made my life better, and allowed me to become a truly authentic person, which I'm not sure I would have managed in school, etc. etc. etc.

But what about the downsides of unschooling (yes, you read that right)?  That isn't talked about much by unschoolers, quite understandably.  When you're trying to convince the rest of the world that unschooling is a good thing, you don't want to bring up the difficulties attached to it.  Because there are some difficulties.  Nowhere near insurmountable ones, but there nonetheless.  Note that this isn't the typical "homeschooling methods pros and cons" list: a balancing of the supposedly *good* and supposedly *bad* elements, so that you can decide whether or not this style is "right for you".  This is simply a few things that I've found especially hard to deal with, as an unschooler.

What I find to be sad is that every single *con* I can think of isn't really to do with unschooling per say: it's to do with how the world, and individual people, view unschooling!

So here are some of the things that I've found to be difficult to deal with, to do with unschooling.  Some of these things hold true for homeschooling as well.

Firstly, the constant questioning.  Constant.  As a young child, it's "do you have a PED day (the teacher's education days in Quebec, where the kids get the day off since the teachers are in class!)?" "why aren't you in school?" "do you know how to read?" and similar annoying things.  As you get older, the questions change.  It's "are you planning on going to school now?" tinged with severe disapproval.  It's ignorant comments like "I once met a homeschooler who had NO social skills!" while scrutinizing you to see if you're about to start exhibiting similar signs of lack-of-socialization.  When I was young, and we still just said we were homeschoolers, I'd simply answer questions as neutrally as possible, just trying to end the conversation as soon as I could.  As I got older and we started using the word unschooler, which was fairly recently, the reactions changed somewhat.  Mostly, the word "unschooling" is met with puzzlement.  After an explanation of what it is, it's often STILL met with puzzlement.  "No, my mom didn't teach me, I taught myself!" repeated patiently, as people struggle to grasp such a foreign concept!  If it is understood, it's often met with extreme skepticism and/or disapproval and/or outright horror.  Sometimes people are supportive, sometimes they're honestly curious and not trying to be judgmental.  But the point of all this is just to say that as an unschooler, you're constantly answering for the educational choices you've made.

Another thing I've found to be difficult is the lack of a support network nearby.  At this point, many, many places have homeschool support groups, homeschool co-ops, and similar things.  Unschooling, however, is still a small enough percentage that most places don't have that support for unschoolers.  Now, unschooling is, after all, basically a type of homeschooling (it's so different from every other type of homeschooling, that I often find myself forgetting that fact, but it is true!), so sometimes the local homeschooling groups can be great for unschoolers as well.  Sometimes, though, they're not.  I know that in my pre-teenage years, we were involved with a lot of local homeschooling groups and activities.  However, the people in these groups were mostly very Christian, and very school-at-home.  I didn't make very many friends through the homeschooling community (a few, but not many) and often felt pretty out of place.  The general mindset was just very different from my family's!

Doubts are also an issue.  Pretty much everyone has them, no matter what type of education you have, but I think it may just be even harder for unschoolers, at times.  When enough of the world doubts how "well" unschooling can work, it's quite easy to fall into the habit of doubting it yourself!

Not having a "graduation" or similar distinction that you're now in *adulthood* can also be difficult.  Some homeschoolers organize graduations, and I'm sure this is great for some unschoolers as well.  But it wouldn't mean anything to me.  What am a graduating from??  I'm still learning, still growing, as I will be until the day I die.  Having someone hand me an embossed piece of paper on a stage doesn't really mean much, for me!  So as an unschooler, it's quite likely you'll have to find that something special for yourself.  For some it will be moving out on their own; for others starting college; for some traveling.  I'm really not sure if I've found that special something for me yet.  I know that this blog has given me *something*.  Previously, the only people who read what I wrote were family and friends: people who were pretty much obligated to *like* what I wrote! ;-)  Getting validation for my writing, and just for *me*, from such a wide base of people has certainly meant a lot to me, and I'm sure has also contributed to my growth in confidence and self-assurance!  Come to think of it, I'm not so sure that this whole point really is a "con" after all.  It's probably better to find your own personal *graduation* than to have nothing more than a piece of paper saying you've "graduated"!

Unschooling often isn't n easy path.  Doing ANYTHING that isn't "normal" or "expected" often isn't easy, and if you're an unschooler, who believes in unschooling, you have no one to blame but yourself.  I think that may be one of the hardest things about unschooling, actually: the fact that you're really and truly the only one in control of your own life.

These are just a few thoughts: some things that have been bouncing around in my head for a while now.  I love unschooling.  I am SO grateful to have lived as free a life as I have, and I don't think any of these things are nearly big enough for someone to decide not to unschool.  But at the same time, I think people often minimize just *how* difficult it can be, at times, to live in a society that is so very far away from the lifestyle that you lead as an unschooler!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. :-)

Peace,
Idzie

28 comments:

  1. That's a nice way to think of it:
    My personal graduation was seeing a movie I've treasured since I was a toddler on Broadway.

    (and going to NBTSC for the first time! :3)

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  2. You bring up some very interesting points.

    The one major thing that sticks out to me, however, is that you are willing to admit to flaws that exist in this form of educataion. I Commend you for that.

    I've had recent experience with unschoolers who attempt to tell me that the way that other people attempt education is wrong, and that theirs is perfect.

    Now to my "commentary" to your comments. being a Public schooler, I think I may beable to provide some insight as to why some people, more so teenagers, have these stereotypes about unschoolers.

    First off, the General questioning is mostly brought about due to what parents, and schools, have embedded into the minds of kids. The "reality" that schools create for kids makes them ask questions in a bad way. Though they feel these questions are appropriate, when in reality, they are not. This can be blamed on what the child has been given as morals. Hopefully, in a few generations, unschooling will be more accepted by people, as it will hopefully become more mainstream.

    As for Doubting, I feel this would be more of a pro then a con. Public school tends to make us not want to doubt what we have been taught. By doubting, you at least come to question what you are doing, rather then blindly following the lead of another person.

    Having not graduated, I'm not going to comment on that, other then by saying your point is valid. People will continue to learn and grow all their lives, so a piece of paper will not show that they have finished learning for the first...18 years of their lives. it's just a piece of paper.

    As for being the person who is in control of your life, I personally feel that is a better thing to feel, then to not know where you are going, or worse, think that you are in control, when you are simply following the whims of the people around you. Through school, we lose this sense of individualaity, and become the worker bees who follow the orders of anyone above us without questioning why. Through this blissful unawareness, while blissful, we don't ever do anything to benefit ourselves in any way. we think we want something, but we actually only want what people have chosen for us, even though we think it is our idea.

    I'm terribly sorry to have ranted and rambled on for this long, but I feel that I should provide some sort of outside opinion on your thoughts, seeing as they were something that I had never heard from an unschooler.

    Thank you~
    Sunshine

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  3. This deserves a long comment, but it's too much for now. All I can say is this: you said what should be mentioned more. Many unschoolers don't like mentioning cons due to lack of pleasure derived or not wanting to look bad. People like happy stories.

    Unschooling, natural living generally, is not an easy path. But hardships make it interesting. Life has meaning with full learning experiences. You can't get that when having things force fed.

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  4. I'm a 42 year old mother who has kids who are 21, 19 and 9. I sent my older 2 through public school and it was the WORST. No one or nothing has hurt my kids more than the public school system (oh- and I am also a teacher! I teach online college courses). :-) I am now homeschooling my 9 year old through a "parent partnership program" (he's enrolled in a public school but I do the actual homeschooling at home)... I am leaning more towards Unschooling though. I love reading your posts. :-)
    Sunshine- I like what you said too- the public school system DOES make you NOT question things. It's just "this is the way it is and don't ask why." :-(
    Anyway, thanks for this blog- I love it! :-)

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  5. What a great post Idzie!
    As an unschooler my self and the mother of an unschooling teen, I really appreciate your thoughtful and reflective writing!
    I can't wait for your next post!

    Take Care,
    Erika
    "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail..."
    "I am learning all the time, the tombstone will be my diploma." ~ Eartha Kitt

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  6. Nice post. I'm over 60. I was thoroughly schooled. Got a degree in secondary education. Taught middle school - very briefly.

    I wouldn't wish the school experience on my worst enemy. We happily unschool our girls. Nothing is perfect but school, especially public school, is a vile, antihuman experience. The negatives of unschooling are picayune.

    And I can't resist putting on my Grammar Nazi uniform to mention that the expression is "per se" from Latin, not "per say." Sorry, I can't help myself; it's all those years of Latin and Greek classes! School! (shudder!)

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  7. Coming from a new unschooler, and a mom of two little ones(5 & 2)
    One thing I didn't realize about unschooling,was that it would require so much more from me.
    Some days are a little harder, like when I didn't sleep well the night before, or I feel like we've run out of activities to do around the house. The times I feel like we don't get out enough.

    Sometimes I remember to relax and breathe, and other times I go into panic mode.
    Then I remember that even when it seems like we aren't doing ANYTHING, we are doing SOMETHING, and we are all learning from it.

    I don't think that unschooling requiring much more of a parent is a bad thing. Not in my case anyway. It pushes me and keeps me challenged to do better, to be a better wife, mother and person.

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  8. Idzie--

    I think there has been more self-reflecting in the unschooling community lately, thanks in large part to you and other similarly themed blogs. Of course, we all LOVE unschooling, otherwise, why would we do it? But, we should always be aware of our flaws and shortcomings, so as to address them and overcome them.

    I hope that, as unschooling becomes more known, at least within the homeschooling community, some of these issues will be resolved.

    I think the graduation ceremony is akin to a prisoner throwing an "I'm free" party after having served his time. In public school, it makes complete sense to mark it as a celebration - they are FINALLY done (and this exact sentiment is often often echoed from the podium during these ceremonies). Learning is over, life has begun; or so they believe. What unschoolers may yearn for is a passage, some sort of way to mark their coming of age. I'd say moving into an apartment, getting a job, buying a car, etc would all be more natural markings of this. And, hey, through lots and lots of "I'm an adult now" parties if you wish.

    Anyway, I also wanted to add my own "downside" to unschooling from a parent's point of view, though it really applies to all homeschooling. It is the very logistical issue of one parent staying at home for 18 years. Many moms decide not to work until their children are in school. This means 5-10 (or so) years out of their career path. For unschooling moms (and some dads), it's more like 20. Of course this can be mitigated once the kids are older, but it's still an issue. Really, for me, the only real bummer of the whole situation.

    Anyway, thanks. I guess I wrote a novel of a comment.

    Cassi

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  9. Idzie, I love this! Thank you for being honest enough to talk about the downsides. I think when people are weighing the decision to unschool, they want to hear the pros and cons. If I was looking for that and could only ever find the pros, I'd be skeptical and feel like people were trying to sell me something. Talking about the cons not only adds balance, but it also helps people see *exactly* what they're getting into, and it makes it easy to see how few cons there really are!

    (By the way, I didn't see anything here remotely like what I was talking about on my blog!)

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  10. I was expecting another Con or two, which means I have my own blog post percolating. But I like your list!

    On this: "most places don't have that support for unschoolers"

    I am very sorry that you have had trouble finding support, but I'm afraid it's an overgeneralization to say that most places don't have the support you are missing. Unschooling groups and conferences and non-con type gatherings have sprung up all over the U.S. in the last few years, and I know BC at least has a pretty extensive network of unschoolers. Add to these local contingencies a very well developed online community, and there really is *tremendous* support available. The support wave will hit your area eventually, I'm sure of it, just perhaps not soon enough to do you and yours a whole heck of a lot of good. :-(

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  11. Oddly, I had to unschool myself and look up unschooling. I'd never heard the term before.

    That said, after secondary school I've been unschooled most of my life. And the cons I have found - despite demonstrated ability in a few different fields - are as you say, but with one that I think is important to note: the glass ceiling. Sooner or later someone says that you cannot be promoted without a degree, or what have you.

    But I have no complaints about my own education. That it is incomplete reveals an honesty not available in academia. I just don't stop. ;-)

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    Replies
    1. I just wanted to comment that you can still GET a degree. I know a ton of unschoolers who are attending college now. It is possible. In my state anyway. (CA.)

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  12. Thank you for posting this. I can see where it can be frustrating. As someone who was put through the wringer (public school) no one EVER asked me about the crappy education I was getting or the daily bullying I had to endure. I sure as hell wouldn't have defended it either.

    The fact is, I hated school. Of course, as a school child, I never said this. If anyone asked if I liked school, I learned to smile dutifully and say yes. Why should I give an honest opinion when that isn't what the person asking is looking for.

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  13. Thanks for your great blog. It's really inspiring for me as I am a mother of 3 young Life Learners. When I read your blog I feel happy & hopeful.

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  14. Hello there, I just happened upon your blog, I'm a 22 year unschooler and you are telling the story of my life! I'm so excited to find your blog and read about your adventures, as you know it's rare to meet those that share this bond! thanks
    Emma

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  15. Okay, I wrote up my Cons post. Let me know what you think! here

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  16. I will try to articulate some complicated thoughts I have about this.

    What you describe about people questioning and prying into your educational and lifestyle choices happens to many of us. True, for unschoolers, kids who are not in school, it happens much earlier. But even for kids who are in school, people start hassling you about college, career, jobs, etc, and from there it turns into when are you going to get married, and then if you get married, everybody wants to know when you are going to have kids and how many? and what will you name them? do you want boys? girls? and then you get pregnant and god help you if you dont want a medicated hospital birth with a preplanned surgical removal date. !

    Everybody feels entitled to tell you their horrible birth experiences, and tell you how you are making mistakes by eating deli meat or not exercising enough or exercising too much or... you get the idea.

    then you have kids. people but in about breastfeeding and your diapering choices (or not diapering) and how you feed them solids and when and how and what kinds? and they tell you not to sleep with your babies or carry them so much.

    basically people offer their unsolicited and uninformed opinions about everything, all the time! its not just because you unschooled. :)

    the other thing is...there is this idea that if you talk about the challenges (cons, downsides, difficulties) of something, that you are saying that their is something *wrong* with it, or you have to spend equal time defending it or pointing out the good.

    Since I am a mother of small children, I have this experience a lot. Being a mother of small children is sometimes MADDENINGLY HARD and can be frustrating, tiring, boring, lonely, annoying...but if a mother complains then all of a sudden people wonder about her- and a mother can waste time feeling guilty about these feelings,

    instead, we could just understand that there can be challenges in every aspect of life. and that doesnt mean its not worthwhile or worthy.

    I dont think that even veteran unschoolers who are writing on support groups and speaking at conferences are saying that everything is all peaches and roses and rainbows.

    But I do think that unschooling parents put a heck of a lot of effort into being positive role models and providing a good and happy life for their children, and this inçludes not dwelling on the negative or moping around and complaining all the time.

    Successful unschooling parents are often doers and leaders and arent afraid to face challenges and make changes and work for the best outcome.

    Which is not to say that one cannot ever voice feelings that are not sugary and sweet. Its about balance and understanding that their is always a backside to something. That whole yinyang thang.

    there's my two cents. maybe we can chat more at the UWWG :) I saw you there last year but I dont think we chatted. Love your blog! Thanks for putting yourself out there and sharing your thoughts.

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  17. Great post, great comments! Having not found any nearby unschoolers yet (and even very few hs-ers), I can start to feel pretty isolated. My son is also an only child, so many times, especially when his neighbor buddies are in school, I am IT for him...and it can be challenging! It helps so much to know I am not the only one who finds things difficult at times. Sometimes all one does hear is all the peaches and cream about how wonderful it is to be with your children, grow with your children, share the journey with your children...and all these things ARE great...but as Ronnie pointed out in her blog--your weaknesses as a parent are revealed! It was refreshing to read that!

    As far as graduations go...that is an intriguing thought...feeling a need for some kind of marker of transition to adulthood. I can't really relate to that. I didn't go to my high school or community college graduations. I didn't see a point! (But I did go to one for friends from another high school) But wanting to have an event that marks that transition brings to mind cultural ceremonies of transitions/passage into adulthood (like a bar mitzvah for Jewish people or a confirmation for Catholics...well, those are religious but I hope you catch the drift!). In our "American" culture, I don't know that we do have any event akin to that except maybe a high school graduation! Reminds me of Ivan Illich (in Deschooling Society) discussing how education was becoming the "new religion", so to speak, of our times. Very odd, and sad!

    Again, great, thought-provoking blog!

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  18. "I think that may be one of the hardest things about unschooling, actually: the fact that you're really and truly the only one in control of your own life."

    You hit the nail on the head! The average cog-in-the-wheel person can't imagine what it is like to live a life that is owned or directed by no one other than the one living it. It requires insane amounts of self-awareness & responsibility. It is much easier to follow the crowd & do what others tell you to do.

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  19. I've been silently following your blog since last summer and I love it.

    I was thoroughly schooled. (4 - 23) I hated it and it damaged me in ways I'm still trying to overcome. I vowed NEVER to put any child of mine through a system that so disrespects a child's right to be who they are. (not to mention hundred other things.)

    My son is 3 1/2 and we have already started our unschoolilng journey. I love this post because the "cons" that you mentioned are things that I sometimes struggle with. I have the odd day where I think -YIKES...am I crazy? But then I realize what the alternative is...and what it did to me and how I could never put my beautiful boy though that. Not to mention that he is 3 1/2 and already has taught himself to count to 100 and to read and talks better than most adults I know. He would be so devastated by our system. It is supposed to "teach" kids things...but when by the age of 3 1/2 they already know it what is being taught in kindergarten...what's left for them there? Sorry...this response is really disjointed. I just wanted to thank you for being out there and for setting the record straight about unschooling...

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  20. Another problem I've run into when i tell people I homeschool/unschool (depending on the person I'm telling, I'll use different terminology): People feel a sense of entitlement to my time. Like, "Oh, if you have so much extra time, why don't you help me with this/ spend more time on suchandsuchactivity/ go above and beyond what this class asks you to do?" (Yes, unschoolers do take classes sometimes :P)
    I guess the difference is the concept of "extra time." I don't think it exists.

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  21. Oh, yeah- one more thing- Unschooling doesn't magically turn you into a different person. That was a little dissappointing for me.
    :)

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  22. I think unschooling turns people into different people gradually, though. Not magically.

    If anyone is finding introductory information that suggests it's easy to unschool, that's a bad introduction. It involves creating an environment ("building a nest") and that takes a while, partly because the parents need to recover from their school conditioning (deschool), even if their children never went to school.

    It doesn't happen all of a sudden, but without enthusiastic commitment to really doing it, it can't begin to happen at all.

    Some people are surprised that they might lose some friends over it, but any large life change loses people friends. When I had children, the childless couples I had socialized with before that were not as available or as interesting to me, and they had little interest in my news about the kids. Whether the kids had gone to school or not, I would have lost some friends.

    But I made some friends, too! Had I changed religions or hobbies or political activities, I would have lost some old friends and made some new ones.

    Maybe the downside is that it's just like any other part of real life, and some people do expect it to be a fantasy life. If the parents stay positive and joyful, it can be a positive and joyful life!

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  23. Idzie... Very nice blog. Everyone is entitled to live their life as they please and it is not fair that you have to face constraints and road blocks within our society. I am interested in hearing actual cons that an unschooler experiences aside from the cons of what they face in society... for example... do any unschoolers miss social interaction with other peers? Do they crave more structure? Do they fear that they will not get into a University? I am just curious. This is rather new to me. I have to say, I am not pro unschooling...but I would like to understand it more from someone like you. I think you have many valid points.

    To all of the Public School Bashing Comments...
    I attended Public Schools from K - 12 and I would not have had it any other way. My parents were very open to my wants and needs and they were very involved in my education. My parents also encouraged me to be a part of social organizations and team sports. I had a wonderful and positive experience growing up. After graduation, I attended a 4-year University where I studied Mass Communications, graduated with my B.A., created an Organization to serve the community, babysat for a wonderful family and made many friends. I am now advancing in my career, I am married and I have friends and family who are supportive and loving. Basically,I turned out just fine, even in the public school system, I always followed my dreams and achieved MY OWN goals. It is one thing for parents to believe in "un-schooling" but please quit bashing the public school system in your comments above.

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  24. Oh and one more thing to the Public School Bashers... what if you child says to you "Mommy, I want to go to school" would you allow your child to go to school? Or because you had such a horrible experience, would you neglect their request?

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  25. Some do survive and thrive in public schools but a great many come out scared and beat up. There is no magical one type of school fits all it depends on the people you meet and the experiences that you have. For example we sent our kids to public school up to 5th for my youngest and it was a horrible experience. My other son we went up to 6th. He did fine and would have continued to do fine but he felt stifled.
    Now you can't compare public school of today with the public school of yesterday. They are totally different in how they teach kids and in how they respect kids let alone the expectations. For some kids it works. My husband and I spent many hours in the classroom and around school volunteering and we saw some kids thrive but I would say that over 50% of them slowly disappeared into a excepting mode of just getting throw the process. They just would just slowly withdrawal into a sad place with no energy or life. My youngest son included. Since homeschooling for two years both of my boys are totally different people.They are now happy and thriving and looking forward to what comes next. They are taking interest in what they are learning and how.
    My point is simple there is no one kind of education that fits all. We are all uniquely different and so to should be our educational systems. We need to be able to choose the best one for our children and for our family's. We as a society need to be more accepting, encouraging and supportive of others to make the right choices for each child so that he or she can be the best that they can be.

    Donna

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  26. Hello Anonymous
    I wholeheartedly believe in unschooling. But I'm with you on not bashing school. I think there are pros and cons to both. For me, simply put, school is a badly designed institution - children sitting at desks, too much focus on book-learning, neglect of everything non-academic, crazy concept of a curriculum of things every person must know, too many still-in-formation young people of identical age given identical tasks and approval/disapproval meted out by adults. Of course there is bullying! As an adult I would find that situation incredibly hard to deal with.

    But I see pros to school too - public funding, the possibility of better access to learning resources, some highly inspired teachers and a chance for children to escape their home life - be it good or bad - and meet lots of other kids.

    School wasn't inspiring for me, nor did I enjoy it socially at all, but I know that it is great for a lot of people. My husband went to boarding school from age 8 (shudder) and loved it.

    In answer to your question on whether unschooled children can choose school, yes, mine have. My eldest went to school for 3 years but hated it. So we took her out and let her use the library and life to educate herself. We thought our second daughter would stay home too, but she packed a schoolbag when she was 4 and demanded 'Make my sandwiches!' (We were busy phoning schools at the last minute then, so she made her own.) She loves school, though I find some of what she is taught, like hard core old testament religion, hard to stomach. Now my lovely intelligent and empathetic 11 yr old has decided to go back to school. She loves her freedom but she wants a wider pool of friends.

    I think it's horses for courses. And also, what suits at each particular time of a person's life. I'm happy with whatever route my daughters choose, as long as they know they have the choice. I love the fresh eyes my eldest daughter casts on the world. Looking forward to seeing her take on the 'adultist' school world, and just hoping it doesn't damage her self-confidence. My biggest challenge now is choosing between staying true to my principles and not pushing her to catch up on subjects she has neglected just so that she can be the same as everyone else... Or structuring her time for her and organising her into learning the stuff her classmates will know... Really difficult one.

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  27. Wow. I started reading this to find out more about unschooling because I thought the idea of a completely child-led education sounded preposterous. After reading wiki about unschooling and now this I'm thinking, "Oh my goodness. This is US. These things are describing my educational philosophy!"

    Thank you for sharing, and thanks to those who commented above also. I even related to several of you...

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