Friday, October 30, 2009

Another view of unschooling...

I haven't been feeling much inspiration lately in terms of blog writing, which I'm hoping will sort itself out soon, but in the meantime I wanted to share something written by someone else with you guys... I know that a large percentage of the readers of this blog are very interested in unschooling, so a while back when my sister Emi was having a written debate with some friends and let me read it, I asked her, since she doesn't blog herself, if I could share what she'd written on my blog. She said yes, which I am very thankful for! It got lost and forgotten about entirely for a while, but she kindly dug it up for me when I asked her to! Keep in mind this was written at something ridiculous like 2 or 3 at night, so I've fixed the typos that are unavoidable at that time of night (morning?), as well as editing out the names of those involved in the debate!


First, to (name removed): I don't understand how you can say you 'don't see how far in life you could get in unschooling'. I know people who have gotten through their entire lives (or at least their lives so far, up to the age of thirty-something, in the case of the oldest unschooler I know), and done just fine. Well, more then fine; really well, actually^^. So yes, you can get through life wonderfully being unschooled, that has been proven by many people.

People in high school get to choose their own paths only to an extent. While you are in high school, you must take certain classes and follow certain rules. You have much less freedom then an unschooled person. You can choose your own path once you leave high school, but by that point most (don't jump on me here, I'm saying most, not all) people have developed a narrow view of what their options are. Unschoolers (again, on a whole, not in the case of every individual), having lived free lives, can often see many more possibilities for how to live their lives, often not in the mainstream way most people do. And just to point out, by saying you choose your path by what classes you do well in, you're proving my point that you don't /really/ get to choose your own path. What if you'd never been interested in math, never done well in math class, then in your last year of high school you developed a burning passion for science and decided you wanted to be a scientist? Since you'd never done well in the math required, you'd probably just go into some other CEGEP course and never realize your dream of being a scientist. Whereas an unschooling person, who'd spent their entire lives knowing that they could learn what they want, when they want, and in whatever way they want, would find ways to learn math, then go into university taking science courses, and become a scientist like they wanted to be. Unschoolers have never had their education restricted by false notions that one has to learn certain things at certain points, or that certain doors become closed to you after certain points, all because of arbitrary rules.

As for coming into public school, I am wonderfully happy with being unschooled, so I don't want to try public school. The reason I suggested that you guys try unschooling is because I've gotten the impression from all of you that you're not happy with school. (I know for sure that two of you have directly said you dislike school to me before).

To (name removed): That 'well it works for you, but it wouldn't for everyone' argument is one I hear quite often, and it is a reasonable concern, but I disagree. It is true that by high school, there are indeed a lot of people who wouldn't know what to do with themselves without teachers telling them what to do. But that is because they've spent their entire life being instructed in how to spend their time, what to learn, what to do and what not to do, etc. All children are born with the instinct to learn. Babies touch things, put them in their mouths, mimic adults, and learn naturally. Toddlers still have that curiosity about the world, the urge to explore, to figure things out, and to ask questions. School puts a child in a classroom where they cannot learn naturally by interacting with the world, forces children to sit still and keep their hands to themselves, squashing their natural urges to learn. They aren't allowed to follow their particular interests and passions, they're not allowed to learn about what they love; instead, they're forced to learn a prescribed set of things, whether they find those things interesting or not. They're forced to learn for fear of disappointing their parents, being told that they've failed, being looked at as stupid by their peers. And through being forced to memorize facts that they don't want to, and by being kept from learning about the world in a natural way, that instinctive desire to learn is dampened and sometimes destroyed entirely. By the time a child reaches high school, chances are good that they don't know what to do with themselves without instruction. They probably have no desire to learn on their own, because learning is synonymous with work.

So in a way, you might be right; Maybe you would have no motivation to do anything, and maybe a lot of teens wouldn't. I know that I, for one, sometimes don't have much motivation either, but because of my natural tendencies towards laziness and procrastination, I've learned ways of dealing with that and motivating myself.

Also, it might be good to mention here that a lot of people, even by high school, would be motivated to learn about the things they're interested in. I'd bet the great majority of people wouldn't be motivated in the slightest to learn a lot of the stuff taught in school, and that's okay. People don't need to know everything taught in school to get by in life. You can argue that people do need most of what's taught in school to get by in life, but I know many, many people who were unschooled, learned little of what schools teach, and are now adults functioning well and earning money in the 'real world'.

As for your second point, you are assuming that everyone wants to go to CEGEP or trade school or get a job at that age. Some people give CEGEP a miss and go to university; some people give CEGEP and university a miss and never go to any sort of school; some people already know a trade, and don't need to go to trade school; some people do want to go into the traditional path of university or trade school, but want to spend some time getting used to the freedom that leaving school gives them, and just doing (and learning about) what they love before they follow that path. My point is, regardless of your age or how long it takes you to adjust to being out of school, it's never too late to leave.

Of your argument, the point of parents is the only point I agree with. Sadly, that is a huge reason that does stop people from unschooling. I just hope that more parents will be more open minded and put more trust in their children and their children's capabilities ^^.

To (name removed): First point, the world being anarchy would be better then it is now in my opinion, but that's a whole 'nother debate :P. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but basically you're agreeing that school is controlling and directs people onto certain mainstream, pre-determined paths, and that this is a good thing, because otherwise people wouldn't all work mindlessly in our current societal system. I'm honestly not trying to be snide here, but really, that seems like what you're saying, and I couldn't disagree more. To have a system that controls people and molds them into certain lifestyles that the government deems worthy is completely immoral, in my opinion. As for peoples' general stupidity, I believe that it is in good part because they have gone through a school system that discourages thinking outside the box and teaches obedience of authority without question. As I touched on before while replying to (name removed), if people were allowed to learn naturally from the world around them, they would (as a whole) develop into more open minded, thoughtful people who were better capable of handling new situations, new problems, and new ideas. I know that the people who are unschooled now are certainly all of those things.

Moving along, I find the term 'real schooling' kind of insulting. There is nothing less 'real' or valid about unschooling. Also, again to do with your phrasing, in my opinion nothing should be imposed on the masses, but once again let's leave that for another debate. You say that if school is not imposed on people, they will be ignorant and poor, but this is just not true. I don't know how many times I've said that I know lots of intelligent, well rounded, socially adept, money making unschoolers, but it seems I need to say it once more at least. Clearly, as thousands of unschooled people prove, unschooling does not breed ignorance or poverty. So why do you think, if more people were unschooled, that that would change? Unschoolers aren't some elite group of people who were genetically pre-determined to be motivated and intelligent; the lifestyle leads to those qualities. About not being taken seriously in the work force, again, that's just not true, and I feel the need to delve into a few different reasons why. First, no one puts 'unschooled' on their resume. If a person goes on to CEGEP and/or university, they would put those qualifications on a resume, and no potential employer would care what they'd done through their high school years. Ditto if they went on to trade school and acquired papers touting their qualifications there. Secondly, you are assuming that all unschoolers want to get traditional jobs and join the regular workforce, with is an incorrect assumption. Again, I draw on examples of unschoolers I know who are self-employed, people who have started their own businesses, who have become midwives or massage therapists or travel tour guides or one of any number of other nontraditional jobs. If an unschooler wants to make money through being self-employed, they can, and and if an unschooler wants to get a traditional job, they can go through university/trade school/courses to get what they need to get hired for that job. The key thing is that unschoolers know how to learn and accomplish things on their own, without being instructed or forced, so they're capable of taking whatever path they choose and doing well on that path.

In that whole first paragraph of yours, what you seem to be saying is that if everyone was unschooled, it would unbalance our current society. This is most likely true, and I think that a society that breeds such ignorance, bigotry, violence and poverty as ours does would be better off with the changes that free-thinking, open-minded, curious, competent unschoolers could bring to it.

On to your second paragraph! (Whoof, getting tired typing fingers here :P... Hope you guys are still reading and understanding all this... I'm falling asleep at the keyboard^^'!)

A child should not be pressured, by tools such as a marking system, into learning things that they do not want to learn. No one ever needs to be forced to learn; a person will learn what they need to live in our world without being forced. I cannot stress this point enough.

To address your last point: I will start by saying you have been extremely disrespectful in your comments, especially this last one. It seems to me you're saying unschoolers can't socially interact as well as people in public school. (It kills me a little inside to see people still using this ancient 'but if you don't go to school, you must be isolated and un-socialized!' argument -_-'). This is simply not true. Do you think I'm socially inept? I certainly know all my unschooled friends my age, and all my unschooled friends who are adults living in this 'real world' of which you speak so much are doing just fine socially. They interact with many people on a daily basis, they have friends and a social circle (or few), some of them do indeed work side by side with co-workers every day. And they are perfectly capable of doing so. It is perfectly possible, in fact easy, to socially network without school. Let me use the obvious examples of extra curricular activities, such as sports, cadets, guides, 4h clubs, etc. etc. etc. Also through community, getting to know your neighbors and (in the case of teens and kids) people in your neighborhood who are your age. (I think it'd be great if people actually developed a strong sense of community and knew the people living closest to them). Also, through the unschooling community, such as conferences, local support and activity groups, etc. You know, my social life is most fun in the summer, when everyone's out of school, because then I actually get to see, talk to, and interact with my schooled friends a lot, instead of having them trapped in schools (where they're encouraged to sit quietly and learn for most of the day, rather then socially interact as you imply, I might add).

Well, I think that's everything... Sorry if some bits don't make sense or if there are typos, it's 3:09 in the nigh- morning, and I don't want to proof read this heckuva long message -_-'.


Isn't my sis a wonderful writer? She writes fiction mostly (also wonderfully), but I always love seeing her forays into non-fiction, because they are always good. And I am envious of her debating skills (she's even better when it's not 3 in the morning! :-P).



  1. This is a fantastic piece of writing, filled with amazing, subversive thoughts, especially when your sister is responding to the person who believes that if everyone was unschooled, it would unbalance our current society. Now, wouldn't that be a marvelous thing?!

    I am a 34 year old social work student and mom to my 2nd grade son and my 1st grade step-son. I am teetering on the brink of taking them out of the public school system for exactly the reasons your sister discusses.

    While I agree wholeheartedly with education as a value, and as a necessary component of freedom, I am coming to see public education systems as an element of oppression and government/elite control of "the masses."

    However, I balk at seeing sinister intentions in individual educators, just as I balk at seeing myself as an agent of social control as a future child protection worker for the provincial Ministry. Rather, I see myself as someone who will have the power to advocate for social change on behalf of vulnerable persons/groups. I see myself as an agent of social transformation.

    Because of this, I do somewhat hesitate to outright reject the public education system. If I am not a part of it, how can I participate in its transformation? However, this is a philosophical standpoint that must give way to the practical needs of my kids.

    The kinds of thoughts you (and, in this post, your sister) articulate are thoughts that I didn't have words for until I began studying social justice in my 30s. To think that my children could also be as articulate and radical as teenagers, rather than simply rebelling against claustrophobic parenting and learning environments, is inspiring.

    For me, the only reason my kids are still in public school is related to my socioeconomic status as a student. My husband and I do not have the income to pay for the necessary childcare while I am in classes and on practicum. Then, once I complete my degree, in 2011, there will be a significant debt repayment, and I will likely be working up to 40 hrs/week.

    Unfortunately, I need to rely on the free childcare the public education system provides for the time being, unless I can work out something else to provide for their care. Regardless, if I cannot find some way to manage in the near future, as soon as they are mature enough to be home alone for stretches of time, they will be able to leave the public education system. No way will they have to go to high school :)

  2. Idzie--

    Your sister is an excellent advocate for unschooling. Both of you, just by your abilities to out-write most public schooled kids, prove the success of unschooling. She mentioned that many unschoolers don't learn what the school teaches and yet turn out to be very successful. Well, we can't forget about the MILLIONS of high school graduates who read at a 4th grade level and who also don't learn what is taught in school. The difference is, the unschoolers learn something else, whereas the schooled kids learn nothing.

    I really hope you can financially figure out how to unschool your kids. I know that it can feel impossible, but if it's a priority, you can find a way. I find it interesting that you state that public school really just serves your need for free childcare. My husband and I have had to make quite a few sacrifices so that I could stay home, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We won't judge you, whatever decision you end up making, but I really do hope you can re-evaluate and come up with a solution to get your kids out of that mind-sucking institution.


  3. I wrote a spin-off post from this one. Not a direct response, just something that your sister mentioned that got me thinking:


  4. @Alison: :-) I'll poke Emi to look at this comment. I agree, it's a wonderful piece of writing!

    I don't see sinister intentions in individual teachers at all. I have no doubt that the vast majority of teachers believe that what they're doing is good and necessary! I virtually never feel the need to blame an individual for participating in an oppressive system. All my anger is directed at the system, and those in power over the system, and I want to share knowledge with those working or otherwise involved in it (teachers, students) so that they can make informed choices for themselves, not condemn them.

    Every time I see/hear people talking about what to do to fix things, to create social change, I always think of the words of one of my favorite radical authors, Derrick Jensen, who said, and I'm paraphrasing majorly here, that we need it all. People to hand out leaflets and people to protest. People to try and fix things from the inside, people to create other alternatives outside of existing institutions, and people to work to put an end to those existing institutions... I know that's how I feel. All of these things have value and are important.

    I'm pretty sure I said this on your blog, but yeah, I envision wonderful supportive unschooling communities, that can share childcare and other resources, and make unschooling truly accessible to everyone... :-) And yeah, that's what I say to people who try and claim that unschooling can't work for families where both parents have to work: as soon as they're teens (or close to it), it most definitely can work!

    @Cassi: Thank you! I know, with numbers like that no one should dare to criticize unschoolers and say it's child abuse. When the schools are doing that bad a job, unschooling HAS to be better! Sheesh.

  5. Great blog! =) You address some wonderful points very well. I can see perfectly well that you are very well educated. I love what you said towards the end and totally agree with you on that: "A child should not be pressured, by tools such as a marking system, into learning things that they do not want to learn. No one ever needs to be forced to learn; a person will learn what they need to live in our world without being forced."