Thursday, January 8, 2009


I've wanted to write something on unschooling for a while, and now I have! I'm going to publish this on Facebook and deviantART as well, which is why it's obviously not directed straight at my blog readers in particular. I'd love to hear any feedback you might have, and thanks for reading! :-)

I do not live a particularly “mainstream” lifestyle. As many of you may know, depending on where you’re reading this, I unschool. Now, I have answered the question of what that is soooo many times. Put up with all the negative reactions and questions. The “But’s” the “What about’s” the “How can you’s”… So I’ve decided to write my definitive response/piece/thingy on unschooling. What ‘unschooling’ means to me, what it is, and I’ll also do my best to put to rest some of the more common (and annoying) objections.

To start with, I suppose I should explain what exactly unschooling is.

As straightforward as I can manage version: Unschooling is student directed learning, which means the child or teen learns whatever they want, whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by a curriculum, by teachers, or by parents. For an unschooler, life is their classroom.

Poetic version: Unschoolers learn from watching and listening and thinking and doing and exploring. They learn from long conversations, from reading books, from running, singing laughing and loving. Unschoolers learn from life.

What unschooling is to me: I read, read, read, and then read some more. I participate in super long discussions with my family and friends about civilization, anarchy, government, propaganda, brain washing, psychology, education, sustainable living, and dozens of other topics. I write poetry. I blog. I read other people’s blogs. I take pictures of everything. I debate issues online and in real life. I run for the sheer joy of it. I explore my surroundings. I cook, which includes shopping for ingredients. I think constantly…

All that seems fairly logical to me. What better way to learn then in complete freedom? Don’t people learn best when they actually want to learn about the topic? And isn’t school full of bullshit anyway? Thing is, although virtually anyone you talk to who goes to school will say there is tons of bullshit there, tons of pointless busywork, if you suggest they simply leave they will react with horror. Virtually every person who’s been out of school for at least a few years will admit that they’ve forgotten most of what they learned in school. Yet if you suggest to them that they don’t send their kids to school, you’re met, once again, with horror. Why is this? Why can most people see that there is something seriously wrong with our school system, yet still believe that attendance is absolutely necessary?

Unschooling is such a foreign concept, something so different then the norm, that even once I’ve explained it, I’m often met with blank looks, then a query of what curriculum I use, or some such similar nonsense. And then once people actually grasp what I’m trying to tell them, then out come the “but’s”…

“But how do you learn?” Read above. Life is THE best teacher, bar none, and there are so many books out there, so much online, so many museums, and even, as a last resort, tutors, that access to knowledge could not be easier.

“Can you get into university?” Yes. Absolutely yes! There are even multiple options for doing so. You can take your high school leaving certificate, or whatever equivalent certification exists in your area. You can take the SAT’s, which are recognized pretty much everywhere. Or, my personal favorite, you can get in purely on portfolio assessment, often accompanied by an interview. And if all that fails, many universities are happy to conduct their own equivalency exams. And it’s important to note that this is not just theoretical. I actually know unschoolers who are in or have graduated from university. I’ve seen them in the flesh. It can be done, and without much (if any) more difficulty then schooled kids have doing so.

“But MY kids wouldn’t learn anything if I didn’t force them to” When oh when was the ridiculous notion that people can only learn when forced invented?? Look at babies! The learn how to crawl, how to talk. They explore their environment constantly and suck in knowledge like a sponge. No one forces them to learn anything. Look at young children. They ask questions CONSTANTLY. Their curiosity and love of learning is endless. Well, not really endless. It seems sometime shortly after they enter school, it just dies… Coincidence much? When something is shoved down your throat, you don’t like it. And when all your experience with “learning” (aka being forced to memorize and regurgitate facts) is bad, you stop wanting to have anything to do with it. Who could be blamed? Now, I’m not saying everyone loses their love of learning, although it probably sounds like it. A few lucky (tough?) souls manage to keep that love alive, but they are working against the odds, and seem few and far between…

“How will you learn everything you “need” to if you’re not forced to do so?” This I understand a bit better then many of the other questions people come up with, even if I don’t agree with it. And why don’t I agree with it? Because you naturally learn what you need. For instance, say your passion is space. You want to become an astronaut. Therefore, you follow that interest, quickly realizing that there is a lot of science and math involved, so learn about that too. If, however, your passion is poetry writing, and you want to go into a job that has something to do with literature and/or language, then you don’t really need higher math, do you? Simply by handling your own finances and living life you learn basic addition, subtraction, division, etc. If you have no interest in anything that requires you learn more math, then why should you? Something else that people don’t seem to quite grasp is that as self-directed learners, unschoolers teach themselves. Think about that for a second. If you ever find out that you need to know something you never learned, to get to something you want (I.E. into university), then you can simply learn whatever it is you’re missing!

Now I’ll move onto the assumptions, which I think are even worse then the straight out questions.

Assumption # 1. Unschoolers are rich, “privileged” (whatever the hell that means) and spoiled. Where the hell did that come from?? Of the 100+ unschoolers I’ve come across, NONE fit that. Honestly, none seemed spoiled. Really. I certainly haven’t personally liked every unschooler I’ve met (no one gets along with everyone), but not a single one seemed to have any false sense of entitlement. And as for being “rich”, does that somehow make someone a bad person? Isn’t that being rather judgmental? Not to mention the fact that the great majority of unschoolers I've encountered could probably be described as lower middle class, not "rich"...

Assumption # 2. Unschoolers will end up flipping burgers for the rest of their lives. Read above answer to “can unschoolers get into university”. And also, I have a major problem with this “Good Job” thing. What exactly is a “good job”? One that makes the most money? Well, I hate to say it (not really) but money doesn’t buy happiness. Everyone knows that saying, but most people don’t seem to believe it. A “good job” in my opinion is whatever makes you happy. That could be a lawyer, but it could also be a woodcarver, or a circus performer, or a farmer, or an herbalist… So unschoolers certainly can get a high paying job if they so wish, but plenty of unschoolers are smart enough to follow their passions (as they’ve always done, being an unschooler and all) and actually enjoy life, instead of slaving away at a job they hate.

I do believe those are the most common, although it’s quite possible I’ve forgotten one or two… Oh well.

In conclusion: Unschooling is doable. Absolutely completely and totally doable, as shown by the thousands of unschoolers worldwide. And the movement is growing. More and more people are realizing how truly horrible school can be for some people. They’re realizing that above all, school teaches obedience to authority. That what compulsory school was invented for, the whole purpose, was (and seemingly still is) to produce “good workers” (now known as “productive members of society”). People who will submit to authority, and do their wage slave jobs to the best of their abilities, unhindered by the usually innate human characteristics of creativity and ingenuity. Don’t you think those qualities should be prized?

The most important thing to me is freedom. Not the false freedom that governments like to preach about. But real, honest, freedom. The ability to dictate your own life, choose what to do and when to do it. And most importantly, to control your own thoughts. Because your mind is yours and yours only. My mind is MINE. Which is why I never went to school, because I want things to stay that way. I always want to be in control of my own life.

I hope you appreciate this if you’re unschooled, and I’d love to hear anything you have to add to it! And if you go to school, I hope this makes you think… I really hope I didn’t come across as disliking those who go to traditional schools, since I don’t at all! Many of my friends are schooled. What I hate is the educational institution. And that I do hate with a passion. But any frustration that comes through in what I’ve just written is directed straight at the schooling system, NOT at those who are forced to suffer through it.




  1. Well said. I like your approach and explanation.

    Interestingly enough, I, too, have written directly about unschooling for the first time on my blog. Previously, I've touched on it peripherally and argued about specific topics or concepts but I've never posted an actual unschooling explication (sort of).

    I'd be interested to hear your comments on mine, although it is kinda long (circa 6500 words).

  2. Idize, this is perfect. I cannot think of anything to add. It is PERFECT!!! Good job, very well written!

  3. I agree with everything you have said about the merits of unschooling and have considered myself an unschooler until just recently. While I still use the unschooling philosophy with my son, I hesitate to call myself an unschooler because I feel radical unschoolers are giving the movement a bad name. In my experience, many radically unschooled children are choosing to watch TV and play video games all day and their parents, at the risk of not appearing like "true" unschoolers, are not encouraging their children to investigate any other areas of interest. I feel much is loss when people try and fit a definition rather than doing what feels right for their family. I find many parents like myself embrace the idea of unschooling yet end up not outwardly calling themselves unschoolers due the negative connotations associated with these radical unschoolers.

  4. "Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by a curriculum, by teachers, or by parents." I wish I had the chance of learning that way...
    Unschooling is like totally cool. Maybe if I have kids next time, I let them try out unschooling...

  5. Thanks for your comment Darcy! I'm afraid I disagree with you, however... I have friends and people whom I respect a lot who are radical unschoolers, and I plan to raise my own kids with the radical unschooling philosophy when the time comes. I'm strongly against coercion, and since radical unschooling seems to be the only educational and parenting method with no coercion, that's the only way I'll go!

    It is cool Smorgan... And I'm so thankful to my parents for unschooling my sister and I! It would be awesome if you unschooled your kids. :-D

    1. Sorry, I'm super curious about this, so I've got a lot of questions :) Anyways, I think I read on another website, someone talking about the difference between coercion and initiation, and I'm wondering if you believe the same way. They basically said that as an unschooling parent it's your responsibility to introduce your kids to all kinds of subjects and resources and activities to help them discover their interests, but once they express disinterest then you don't push the issue. Basically, unschooling isn't just ignoring your kids and hoping they find something to learn, but engaging their curiosity and then respecting their choices. So what do you think?

  6. Just because I'm not learning what someone wants or need to teach me does not mean I'm not learning. Learning is life.

  7. Right now I need to learn to edit before posting: please add an "s" to "need" above.

  8. I love your blog! I am/was a public-schooler, but I've been considering unschooling someday when I'm a mom, and your blog just makes so much sense. I was thinking about your views on anarchism, though, and what you said about "the importance of freedom, but not the fake freedom the government talks about". The way the United States is going, I can understand where this is coming from, but my position is that sometimes individuals try to take away the freedom of other individuals, and the government is meant to protect us from that. I think most Americans have lost sight of that, and have allowed the government to put more and more restrictions on us, but I don't see government as inherently bad.