Sunday, November 21, 2010

5 Things Unschooling Is Not, and 5 Things Unschooling Is

Lists are fun. I like writing lists. So here are a couple of short ones on what Unschooling is, and is not.  

5 Things Unschooling Is Not
  1. Homeschooling (in the emphasis-on-"school"-sense): Usually considered a subset or method of home education, unschooling is nevertheless it's own unique philosophy, and one that shows little similarity to the philosophy of most home-schoolers.  Using the two terms interchangeably doesn't really work much of the time.
  2. Forced "learning": If you're being forced/made to do anything "educational" against your will, it isn't unschooling (though it may be relaxed homeschooling, or something similar).
  3. The same for everyone:  People sometimes like to latch on to something one unschooler says about the way they learn, and apply it to ALL unschoolers.  When in reality, in my mind one of the greatest things about unschooling is that no two journeys are the same.  As truly unique-to-the-individual education, every unschooler will be learning in a way that suits them best!
  4. Teacher-less: It certainly can be, but unschooling can also involve plenty of classes, teachers, tutors...  If chosen by the learner, teachers can be a wonderful resource for unschoolers!
  5. Individualistic: Or at least, I think the best way to approach unschooling is to realize that there are wonderful communities and resources out there to help you in your unschooling journey: everything from other unschoolers to give support, to the myriad of wonderful activities, groups, communities, etc., based around any interest you might have.  Unschooling doesn't mean going it alone: it means taking advantage of the vastness of the world around you.
5 Things Unschooling Is
  1. Exciting: When learning is chosen, and you realize that you really can pursue any interest you have, learning is fun, and learning is exciting!
  2. (Re)claiming your time: Doing what you really want to be doing with your time.  I think it was Grace Llewellyn (although I could be wrong) who said something alone the lines of "what is life but time?", in reference to the fact that schools steal your time, and thus your life.  An unschooler has control over what they do with their own time, and thus their own life.  They can dive headfirst into something and spend hours daily on that one subject, or they can research something for ten minutes before deciding they've had enough for now.
  3. Empowering: It feels good to know that you control your own learning, that you're steering your own course in life.  It's empowering to be trusted in doing so, and to feel confident that you're more than capable of living life your way!
  4. Gaining the tools needed to create a better world: A common criticism of unschooling is that unschoolers will never learn to do anything they don't like.  Though that's a false idea, I think it is true that since unschoolers are used to living a life that makes them happy, they're far less likely to just settle for the unhappy existence that so many people in our culture think is unavoidable.  Unschoolers know that there are better ways of living, so they're much more likely to work hard to make those better ways of living available in their (and others') adult lives as well!
  5. Respecting people of a wide age range: When outside of the false age segregation and imposed authority of school, you have the opportunity to interact on an equal footing with virtually every person you come across.  Because of this, instead of only making friends with people their own age, or very close to it, unschoolers value friendships with those from a wide age range.  The more we limit ourselves in our choices of who to spend time with, the more barriers we place between people, the fewer wonderful folk we'll connect with.  Realizing that people can be our friends no matter their age opens up so many wonderful opportunities for connection!
So there you have it: a few more things unschooling is not, as well as a few more reasons why I love this philosophy of learning so much!  Feel free to add your own additions to these lists in the comments.

12 comments:

  1. Very nice, concise list. :) I would add that not only is unschooling not teacher-less, it's also not book-less or even textbook-less. Books, including textbooks, can be great tools and plenty of unschoolers use them! The difference is that they're choosing to use them, just like with formal teachers.

    I'd also differentiate between teaching and formal teaching - we're all teaching each other all the time and it's impossible to not have teachers in your life unless you lock yourself in a bare, windowless cell for the rest of your life. What schooled minds think of as 'teaching', though, is formalised teaching where the teacher and student(s) spend time together devoted to the teacher imparting information to the student(s) in some sort of at least vaguely structured way.

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  2. Thanks for great list! I keep running into folk who don't get it - they say they 'include some unschooling' in their approach :/

    Blessings...

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  3. I really appreciate you posting this, Idzie.

    As you have heard, Alpha II Alternative School in Toronto is the only public unschool. We try to get each member of our Community to really understand what separates the philosophy of unschooling from other forms of alternative education and from gifted education. Even for teachers, parents and students who have been involved with the school, it is sometime very difficult for them to see that unschooling approaches learning from a totally different perspective. Right now, the current problem we have is that some members of our Community are beginning to think that unschooling should be the privilege of those deemed "kind to others". In other words, if you can't behave, you don't deserve to unschool. Rather than looking at why some people aren't "behaving" to understand their point of view, it is considered that people are either kind or unkind--and if you are unkind you don't belong at the school. The thought is, it is better to have all types of homeschools at our school because generally they have learned how to behave than to have just unschoolers because they can be unruly.

    Anyway, I plan to post this blog entry on our school's internal FB site to remind people of what differentiates unschooling from homeschooling. I hope it helps.

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  4. Hi there, I found you through my sister's blog Living in Harmony

    I think your list is really great, as someone who went through the public school system I can definitely see the advantages of un-schooling.

    While I enjoyed my school years, I can see now that there were many things I would have liked to learn or explore further and wasn't given the opportunity. There were also many things I had no interest in that I was "forced" to learn about (though I think a wide range of knowledge is very important, so I in no way regret learning anything).

    I have no children and haven't given too much thought on how I would school them when/if I ever have any. I do have a question about un-schooling though.

    How does someone who is used to being able to make their own decisions in regards to how to spend their time, and what exactly to learn about, make the transition into University if they're looking for a higher education or interested in obtaining a degree, or even into working a regular full-time job?

    I'm not asking to start controversy, I'm genuinely interested in hearing your perspective!

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  5. Also, I read the "Please Start Here" page after commenting so I'd like to add something else:

    I do not have a degree, I took a few courses after high school but other then that my knowledge is self-taught through books and living. I've worked in offices, in restaurants and am currently finding employment as an ESL teacher.

    In the course where I obtained my CELTA (English teaching cert.) we were taught that to be a good teacher you have to let the students lead the class, with minimal input from you, and even if you have a "plan", be prepared to teach something entirely different dependent upon where the students interests lie - which I think meshes nicely with the idea of un-schooling.

    Anyway, my point is, I'm definitely not saying that university is the only way to go, or that an office job is the only "life path" to follow. I'm just wondering that should an un-schooled person decide that is the path they would like to follow, how is the transition into schedules and routines and having a "boss" made?

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  6. @Michael: Thanks. :-) And good point! I just shake my head when I see unschooling incorrectly described as being "book-less", as I've read so many damn books over the years they probably number in the thousands (actually, I'm nearly positive they do!).

    Also, I love how you describe teaching versus formalized teaching. Thanks for the comment!

    @Ann: Yup, I've heard that a lot, and it always makes me want to go THAT'S NOT UNSCHOOLING! But, of course, generally I resist that impulse because it would not be very polite... :-P

    @Alpha 2: It definitely sounds like you're dealing with some fairly major challenges at the school! Which seems unavoidable I suppose, considering it's the first of it's kind (that I've heard of in Canada, anyway... Do you know if there are other public freeschools in different parts of Canada?). It's so amazing what you guys are doing there, and hopefully (many) others will crop up as your school shows that it can really work. Anyway, I always appreciate your comments, and I'm really happy that some of the stuff I write has been useful to you! :-)

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  7. @JenBetweenDots: Thank you! As for your question:

    This might not be the answer you're looking for, but, well, the transition is just made. How difficult or easy the transition is depends largely on the individual, the same way how difficult or easy a transition to university or working full time is for traditionally schooled people varies by individual.

    I've participated in some very structured activities growing up, and there was never any type of learning curve or transition period for me. Whether there would (will?) be a bigger feeling of transition if I choose something that is full time structure, I have yet to discover.

    Also, I want to point out that as it says on the unschooling 101 page, unschooling doesn't mean a lack of structure, just the presence of choice. Some unschoolers (like myself) have very little (of what people usually consider) structure, though there is a definite rhythm to my days. Some unschoolers, on the other hand, choose LOTS of structure (again, going by the definition of "structure" as something that looks more similar to what's found in schools).

    I'm looking to gather some more stories of grown unschoolers on this blog, so hopefully I can have more specific stories of how that transition (if it was made) worked for different people!

    Also, I want to thank you for your very respectful questioning and honest curiosity. Yours is the type of question I like to answer best! :-)

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  8. Yes, please, let's have lots of people agreeing on this topic here to make it seem more mainstream! This unschooling movement is a bunch of hippie bullsh*t, if you ask me. I strongly believe in public schools, even though I often feel they don't live up to their promise. I think children who do not attend school tend to be socially awkward, have a great potential for lack of respect for authority, and are being encouraged to dance to the beat of their own drummer despite the risks inherent in such a loose philosophy. Sometimes in life, you have to march in step or follow directions closely, and creativity is not necessarily a good thing. (Do you want your tax accountant to be creative? How about your surgeon?) While I support a parent's right to choose the proper type of education for their child, I think the whole "unschooling" movement is at best an overly permissive approach... and at worst, a potentially dangerous and slippery slope. I know that if I had personally been allowed to do home schooling or "unschooling", I probably would have slacked off a lot and been very unstructured. I went to a public school for all my K-12 years, and then was highly successful in college, and have had a fabulous career for the last 25+ years. The one person I knew in my teenage years who was homeschooled has drifted in and out of low-paying jobs for years with no real direction in life. Yes, it's anecdotal evidence, but at the same time I think a movement that takes interested and engaged parents and children *out* of the traditional school system ultimately just makes the traditional school system that much worse.

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    Replies
    1. Catherine - mum of three boysMay 25, 2012 at 11:11 PM

      Part one - yes it is too long for one post but each of your comments in my opinion need addressing.

      **Yes, please, let's have lots of people agreeing on this topic here to make it seem more mainstream!

      I don't unschool because it is or is not mainstream I made a choice for my family.

      **This unschooling movement is a bunch of hippie bullsh*t, if you ask me.

      If you met me in the street you wouldn't be able to tell we unschool we don't look or act any different to any of my friends and their families who attend public school.

      **I strongly believe in public schools, even though I often feel they don't live up to their promise.

      Great so you have made the choice that fits you and your family. I don't believe in giving control of my childrens education to someone else.

      **I think children who do not attend school tend to be socially awkward,

      Some children have more problems with social situations than others I don't think how they are schooled is going to change that.

      **have a great potential for lack of respect for authority,

      What is wrong with questioning (politely) what someone tells you, I think this is a good thing. There are many things that used to be ok and are not know because someone questioned authority. Slavery, child labour, use of things like DDT I could go on.

      **are being encouraged to dance to the beat of their own drummer despite the risks inherent in such a loose philosophy.

      The opposite being lets force them to live a life that they hate because we were taught that. Every choose that is made has inherent risks. Yes every single time you pick one option you are choosing not to pick a different option there is a risk you have picked the wrong one.

      **There Sometimes in life, you have to march in step or follow directions closely,

      Yes I certainly wouldn't want my children driving down the wrong side of the road or through a red light just because they were unschooled.

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    2. Catherine - mum of three boysMay 25, 2012 at 11:15 PM

      Part two

      **creativity is not necessarily a good thing. (Do you want your tax accountant to be creative?

      Accountants that think out side the box might be the ones that can find the best ways for their clients to legally pay less tax.

      **How about your surgeon?)

      Surgeons come up with new ideas of how to do things all the time. That is creative surgeons who are willing to push boundaries are. That is why we now have life saving transplants kidneys, hearts, lungs, why we have laparoscopic surgery.

      **While I support a parent's right to choose the proper type of education for their child, I think the whole "unschooling" movement is at best an overly permissive approach...

      Public education is overly permissive you are giving someone else permission to alter how you child learns about him/her self and the world around them.

      **at worst, a potentially dangerous and slippery slope.

      How about we look at the number of students leaving school with no qualification and no way to get a job.

      **I know that if I had personally been allowed to do home schooling or "unschooling", I probably would have slacked off a lot and been very unstructured.

      Yes some unschooling / homeschooling / public schooling / private schooling parents are like slack and don't get involved in their children's lives.

      **I went to a public school for all my K-12 years, and then was highly successful in college, and have had a fabulous career for the last 25+ years.

      Great I'm really glad that you have a fabulous career that is what I would like for my children.

      **The one person I knew in my teenage years who was homeschooled has drifted in and out of low-paying jobs for years with no real direction in life.

      Maybe they would have ended up that way even if they did go to public school.

      **Yes, it's anecdotal evidence, but at the same time I think a movement that takes interested and engaged parents and children *out* of the traditional school system ultimately just makes the traditional school system that much worse.

      I would rather talk with real people about education choices than read some text book or listen to an expert who has no real life experience.
      Personally I think for my family if we had sent my oldest child to school at the age of five it would have been so disruptive to our whole family I would not have been adding anything positive to the traditional school system. The best way you can make it better is for you to get involved in your child's education even if they are in a school and I'm not sure why I should have to ruin my sons chances later in life just so your children get a better education because I think that is false logic.

      I believe the whole idea of educating every child within the school system does not fit in today's fast changing society. Lets be honest it has only been around for 200 years. I am also willing to except not everyone agrees with my opinion. Send your children to school if you think that is best but don't expect me to ruin my children's lives because school is not the best option for everyone.

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  9. @Anonymous May 3, 2012 1:26 PM

    It all depends on how you measure success, isn't it? Are you honestly really happy with yourself and your "successful career"?

    Great! Why are you even reading this blog? How is it your business, you don't believe any of this anyway! It all WORKS well for you! Have fun! Enjoy!

    Seems to me this blog is for the people who are NOT happy with the ways things are and want to change them. You seem to be fine with it, off you go!

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  10. Thanks Idzie for this very good post, as always ! It is something we often have to explain to people wh oask about the difference between homeschooling and unschooling. So many parents think they can unschool only for maths and English (or French, for us). As i didn't get it years ago, I know they're not aware of the difference for a lot of reasons, especially because of our schoolish society, of our own schooled past (as parents). Your blog is a wonderful source of infos and support for unschoolers. Thank you so much ! &hearts
    Edith

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