Thursday, June 3, 2010

Unschooling Questions

For unschoolers, constant questioning quickly becomes the norm.  What I've been thinking about today is the vast array of *types* pf question you run into.  There are many different people that ask questions about this lifestyle in many ways, but there definitely seem to be some trends in what feeling is behind the questions.  Now, overgeneralizing is rarely a good idea, and that's definitely what I'm doing, but most of the people who've asked me about unschooling do seem to fit (roughly) into one of these categories! :-P

The hostile questioner.  "Aren't you ruining your life?  How will anyone ever hire you if you don't go to school?"  This person is instantly suspicious and disapproving.  For whatever reason, be it jealousy that they never had the option of learning (and living more) freely, they are determined not to believe in any alternatives to conventional schooling, and will do anything to disprove whatever you say.  Their purpose is not to learn, but to devalue the lifestyle you're living.  To invalidate it, and thus validate their own choices as the clearly Right ones.

The well-meaning yet ignorant questioner.  "But what about socialization?"  This individual is simply curious, and entirely uninformed, the questions asked being slightly annoying only because of how often you've answered them before!  This person hasn't usually thought through the questions at all, they're just repeating things they've heard before in regards to home and/or unschoolers.  They really do want to know more, and just haven't really thought much about any type of education, other than school, before.

The confused questioner.  (After having just explained unschooling) "So, is your mom a good teacher...?"  This person, no matter how many different ways you try to explain things, just isn't grasping the concept.  They're not confrontational or anti-unschooling in the slightest, they're just either very set in their ways of seeing the world, so much so that nothing else even computes, or you just think in a way that's too different from them, and can't explain things in a way that they'll get.

The cautiously optimistic questioner.  "So, you can get into university?"  The idea strikes a chord with this person.  They kind of like it, but aren't quite sure they should, and are worried they're missing something crucial.  This is one of the most rewarding scenarios for an unschooler who wants to share this philosophy with others.  This person is very likely to be helped by finding out about unschooling!

And, recently at the anarchist bookfair, I've been exposed to another type of questioner.  I'll call those who approach things this way the constructive questioner.  They're coming from a place that's already supportive of freedom, and their questions are intelligent and well thought out.  Their desire is to learn, and build on the basic knowledge they have, not to tear down the idea.  I found that quite delightful, and really enjoyed the panel discussion I was a part of there.

This post doesn't really have much of a point, I'm afraid.  It simply came about because of a few vague thoughts about ll the different types of questions I've been asked about unschooling, and a desire to get back to posting more regularly!

So, what types of unschooling questions do you get asked?  Do you enjoy educating people about unschooling, or do you find it frustrating/annoying?  Is there a certain mindset you come across sometimes in those asking questions that just makes your day?



  1. Yes!! OMG, my MIL is a combination of the first and third types. lol We just got into this the other day. She was horrified that I dont plan to send DD to school ---Ever. She kept saying, but people need to learn how to read. She needs to read. Are you going to teach her to READ??? hahaha It was priceless. I did my best not laugh and at first, I actually tried to explain it to her, but she just doesnt get it. Her mind cannot fathom it. She actually asked me if its against the law. (If she could, she would probably report me for not sending her to school)

    My daughter is really social and very interested in learning, yet everytime someone asks her about school, and she replies enthusiasticaly "We homeschool! Mommy is my teacher!!" people always give her an awful disgusted look. I feel like its gonna make her feel bad about it somehow. :( People suck. No wonder I dont want them teaching my little sweet impressionable girlie. haha

  2. This is a great run-down.

    The "well-meaning but ignorant questioner", you're being very politic and nice about that person. For instance in my experiences, with regards to the "what about socialization" question, even when the question is answered quite thoroughly (and there being a GINORMOUS amount of educational materials that would only take them seconds to peruse online) will often persist in their ignorance ("Oh really, but I still don't 'get it'". Not every time, but often. I wonder what you'd call that kind of person. Maybe willfully obtuse, or hostile-disgusing-as-fake-curious? In any case, I'm not sure they "really do want to know more" when they ask and re-ask the same 101 stuff over and over...

    Like you, I love the constructive questioner.

    One of my favorite experiences are those who clearly see our lifestyle is working and who genuinely seek me for advice in helping them employ different strategies for their family and friends (whether within the framework of schooling or no). I don't always know what effects my input and advice have, but I love to see families become authors of their own life instead of consumers.

    Great post!

  3. Love your description of the "confused questioner." I volunteered at the local historical society as a teenager and no matter how many times I tried to explain to the other volunteers that I didn't have set lessons they would still ask when I get my schooling done. It was a real exercise in two people talking past one another completely!

  4. The biggest question we get is "how is she going to get into college or function properly as an adult??"

    I find it very annoying to try to explain our way of living to the general public whom are obviously uneducated and close-minded. I find that most people are not really interested in anything about unschooling but are mainly interested in trying to change MY mind about how I am raising my daughter.

    As much as unschooling needs to be exposed in a positive light, I don't feel that I can properly deal with explaining the value of it without getting highly annoyed or sounding defensive.

    Great post!!

  5. Ah yes. And then there are those well-meaning but ignorant and confused questioners, having been answered to the best of our abilities, who become repeat offenders, seeking us out for all things Unschooling 101, as Kelly mentioned, (because they have never heard of Google, it seems.) Recently, I mentioned attending a homeschool portfolio review on Facebook, which resulted in my being asked numerous times, "wait, I thought you were an unschooler? I thought you didn't homeschool?" The hostile questioners are the most difficult to deal with, mostly because in my life, they are family members. It's great.

    Agreed, great list.

  6. My pet peeve: "but you have to do tests/keep in touch with school/be evaluated regularly to prove you're doing alright thought, right?" And this question is asked in EVERY state, not just the ones where you have to do some kind of testing or evaluation/portfolio routine! It's assumed that to "be allowed" to homeschool, there must be strict guidelines to follow (which, unfortunately, IS true for some states).

    Like we can't live life without checking in with an institution every month or taking tests that have no meaning in or relation to living life.

  7. I'm enjoying my interactions with anarchists as well. It makes sense—anarchy and unschooling are a natural fit. There are several anarchists out there promoting the cause of unschooling. Now we just need to get more unschoolers promoting the cause of anarchy! They are based on the exact same principles. But "anarchy" is a word that scares most people, even more so than the word "unschooling."

    I am in the process of cutting down on my exposure to hostile and ignorant questioners (including family). We're not obligated to convince or prove anything to those who lack curiosity and just wish to bring us down.

  8. I am an unschooling mom and I have never been the kind of person that can enlighten people about my views. I clam up and get all flustered. Especially when approached by someone who is not open.

    I have been asked "how do your kids learn math if you don't use a curriculum?" and my favorite "are you qualified to teach your kids?"

    I tend to keep the conversation quick and in their favor, so I can leave and then come vent and get support on twitter and with my on-line friends.

  9. This is so right on! I can totally relate to all of this.
    I've found that, unfortunately, this scenerio isn't limited to unschooling. If you're a member of almost any minority group, you're going to get bomboarded with questions.

  10. Hehe, these made me laugh. So true. Thanks for posting your random thoughts! :)

  11. hi Idzie

    thankyou for your wonderful blog, i'm a unschooling mum in new zealand... have yet to met another unschooling family in our area! I feel after reading your blog that doing this is so right for our family. My daughter age 5 has such a passion for so many things that i feel schoolwould ruin these for her ( right now shes drawing some pictures out of her books on antartic, she loves anything to do with whales or penguins....or any wild life in fact) our son age 2 happily explores the world following his sister and learning as he goes. (who ever thought playing hide and seek was a great way to learn to count to Ten) so thanks for confirming that this is a great way to live and learn. If you ever want to travel down to little nz on the other side of the world, our little unschooling family would gladly host you and yes we live near the sea!

  12. Hi Idzie,

    happy to have come across your blog!! I guess I'm The cautiously optimistic questioner, mixed with a bit of curious and constructive. So if you could give me some advice on reading material, that'd be great (and yes, google is my friend, but there's just too much material!).

    Lots of my questions however concern not so much the unschooling part, but the "HOW"? and especially the "How does one afford to unschool"? Might seem a silly question, but I just cannot see a family where both parents have to work, as a functioning unschooling family. Where's my mistake?

  13. @Roseanne: Thank you so much! I'm very glad you like my blog, and really appreciate your invite. :-)

    @Miriam: I definitely understand that! Wading through the ridiculous amount of info that comes up from a Google search can be both difficult and annoying! Have you looked at my links and resources page? I've tried to share some of the sites I think are best for info on unschooling... I also have a list of books on unschooling there! I find it hard to pick which books would be best to start with, but maybe a collection of essays, say, Life Learning: Lessons From the Educational Frontier? Or for something very concrete and aimed at those new to unschooling, Unschooling: Using the Whole World as Your Child's Classroom?

    It doesn't seem like a silly question at all! It seems like a very important one. Most of the unschooling families I know have one parent who works outside of the home and one who doesn't. However, there are plenty of other situations. Some unschooling families have home business, and work things out that way. Some work part time, thus earning money while still having lots of time with kids... Some families have trusted people who help them with childcare so they can work. And for families with teens, both parents can work full time if needed! But, for some people (I think mostly low income single parents), unschooling can be very difficult! Which is why I'm also a strong supporter of free schools and democratic schools, which are pretty much as close to unschooling as you can get while still being a school! Some of these schools are expensive, but there are plenty of free schools that are deliberately made available for anyone who wants them, regardless of economic situation. I think those are the perfect answer for families who would have extreme difficulty unschooling, as are other types of unschooling and homeschooling learning centers, and stronger community connections and movements, which provide mutual support to each other (i.e. sharing childcare and resources). Now we just need more of them...