Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Unschooling in the Positive: How to Live and Learn Without Schooling

There’s a complaint frequently voiced by a segment of life learners and self-directed education advocates, and it is that the term “unschooling” focuses too much on what isn’t happening instead of what is. That’s certainly the way that many mainstream news coverage treats it, as is the case in a recent article on unschooling in Canada titled “Unschooled kids learn what they want – no curriculum, no homework, no tests.” That article is largely positive (and I love seeing a spotlight on Canadian unschooling in particularly, since I myself am Canadian), but it’s typical in it’s highlighting of the don’t-do’s. So I thought I’d challenge myself to lay out some basic tenets of unschooling, things unschoolers know and do, using only positive language, describing our reality in terms of what it is, not what it isn’t.

  1. Unschooling is “delight-driven, inquiry-based, self-directed life learning.” That’s how I described it a few years back, and it remains my favorite concise description.
  2. Unschooling is social, learning from adults and children, from relatives and neighbors, community members and teachers.
  3. Unschoolers take advantage of a variety of resources, learning from the internet and books, podcasts and films, from all different types of media and on all different platforms.
  4. Unschooling is as structured or unstructured as the learner themselves wishes it to be, utilizing classes, teachers, and similar formal educational settings when wanted or needed.
  5. Unschoolers embrace the reality that every person is different, and will learn best on their own timeline, picking up knowledge and skills quickly once they’re ready and willing to do so.
  6. Unschoolers see parents and other caring adults as guides, mentors, and partners in learning, who help children find the resources they need, learn the skills necessary to function in the world, and cheer them on when the going gets tough.
  7. Unschoolers seek to remove unnecessary struggle from children’s lives, for as Isabel Rodríguez recently said, “Life tests us. All lives involve a dose of tragedy. Death, illness, heartbreak, natural disasters are all a part of life. But this does not mean that it is ethical to inflict unnecessary hardship on children and call it educational.”
  8. Unschoolers know that free play forms the foundation of all learning, and make sure children have plenty of unscheduled time in order to just play. 
  9. Unschoolers know that school is always an option, that a child who’s free to make their own choices might end up entering regular school, and that older/grown unschoolers can go to college or university if they want to (and many do).
  10. Unschooling is relationship focused, deeply valuing trust and respect between people of all ages, and building education on a foundation of consent.
  11. Unschoolers know that all subjects are interconnected, and take note of the links between disparate bits of knowledge, different skills, and different ways of learning, marveling as they all come together to create a unique whole.
  12. Unschoolers recognize that children are remarkably capable and successful learners, that learning is something we all have the innate desire to do, and when supported, nurtured, and provided with the appropriate resources, we’re all capable of gaining all the education we need (coercion-free!).
Unschooling can certainly be described in relation to school, an outline shaped by all the things we’ve removed from the equation, which will give you a general idea of what it looks like. But it’s unlikely to give you as complete a picture as if we were to just tell you what we do. Because all the things we do outside of school, the vision of education we’re cultivating outside of those strictures, is pretty great all on it’s own; no things we don’t do required.

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