Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Unschooling and Anarchy

I don't really separate the different aspects of my life: every belief, opinion, and interaction is intertwined with all other parts of who I am and how I live.  So although I might not talk about it specifically all that often on this blog, my anarchist views--my belief that humans have the innate ability to control their own lives and as such do not need to be, and are happier without being, ruled--infuse everything that I write and think, including what I write and think about unschooling.

 My history

I find it interesting that my becoming anarchist went hand-in-hand with my embracing of unschooling.  Coming out of a not-so-great time in my early to mid teenage years, a time characterized by feelings of depression, of feeling like an outcast, and of not knowing who I was as a person or what I should be doing, I started reading extensively about both unschooling and anarchism.  And, not long after I decided, with both relief and a new found conviction, that unschooling really had been the right thing for me, and really was an amazing way of looking at and living Education, I finally found a political view that truly spoke to me, that felt right in the most fundamental way.

For me, the questioning of the education system--something so close to the hearts of so many people, something almost universally heralded as an amazing achievement for a democratic country, and the best way to Get An Education--and the realization that it was not only not the best option, but something truly horrible to inflict on the vast majority of youth, really startled me, and led me to start questioning all the other rarely examined or thought about aspects of society.

That questioning, starting with unschooling, was a process that led me very organically to rethinking almost every aspect of life and how we live in this world.  It was pretty mind-blowing.  So as you can see, for me unschooling and anarchy have always been tied especially closely together!

  • Unschooling, or radical unschooling more specifically, is a philosophy that recognizes that children are people, too, and as thus have a right to control their own thoughts, activities, and by extension their own education and learning.
  • Parents thus abdicate their role of authoritarian presence, dictator and teacher, in favour of becoming their children's partner, supporter, helper, and guide.  It removes hierarchy from the family unit, and replaces it with mutual co-operation.

  • Anarchism is the belief that individuals are fully capable of being self-governing, so do not need to be ruled, controlled, or governed.
  • Taken from An Anarchist FAQ "anarchism is a political theory which aims to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control as harmful to the individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary."

So to me, unschooling is basically putting anarchy into practice in daily life.  It's going past the philosophy and the can-it-really-work and proving that people, *even* children, are far more capable of controlling their own lives than anyone gives them (us) credit for.


Yes, I most definitely realize that unschoolers are not all anarchists.  Most aren't (though there are definitely more anarchists in your average group of unschoolers than you'd find in your average group of random people).  I just find that, from my point of view, the two philosophies are extremely complementary.  Both emphasize living in co-operation, living in freedom.  Both involve a lack of dependence on the State or other higher authorities.

At their core, what both unschooling and anarchy mean to me is living in (when possible), and striving for (when necessary), true freedom.  If anarchy is getting rid of all forms of domination and oppression, hierarchy and authority, then unschooling, the freeing of children from school and the empowering of children and teens by giving them back their own lives, is an important part in moving toward an anarchist, co-operative society.

As usual, I'm not trying to start any debates or upset anyone: I'm just sharing my views on things, and if they strike a chord with you, or make you think of things in a new way, or even if you just like hearing my perspective, then I'll be happy!



  1. How does your anarchism tie into your environmentalism? Do you tend towards the views of anarcho-syndicalism, i.e. a form of organisation which is non-authoritarian but also democratic and socialist?

    Or are do you put your emphasis in anarchism on self-sufficiency and sustainability? Do you think there are transitional phases before we can return to nomadic hunter-gatherer culture, and if so what would they look like?

    What I'm trying to get at is- some forms of anarchism aim to create a decentralised system of organisation on an industrial scale, but if you're anti-civilisationist, would you be for limiting the scope of society in favour of smaller tribes living off the land? Or would you see one as a transitional phase to the other?

    Sorry if those are too many questions! haha

  2. I am loving witnessing the unfolding of someone's true self - in whatever direction that amazing journey can lead!
    and definitely keep sharing without self-censoring!!

  3. @Primavera: As I said, I don't tend to separate the different aspects of my views, and in some cases, as in this one, I even have extreme difficulty doing so! Suffice it to say that when I say (green) anarchism is an end of oppression, I also see it as an end of oppressions and exploitation of non-humans, and of the earth. Systems of domination hurt everyone, often most of all the natural world, and so I see an end of those systems as freeing everyone, not just humans.

    And I'm definitely NOT syndicalist (not that I've got anything against syndicalists... I'm just not one! :-P). Happy green anarchist/anti-civilization anarchist here!

    Being totally honest, I see so many variables, so many different possibilities, that I find it impossible to truly answer your questions properly!! I see what I think would be the best way of living, and one that may exist again in the future, but as for how to get there? I don't know. I just know that there are tons of amazing people out there working toward a better future, working to create better alternatives now, working to fight oppression, etc. I just want to throw my lot in with those radical movements out there, the people I think are heading in the right direction, and hope for the best! I really don't know what else I can do.

    @Education Evolution: Thank you Marilyn, I appreciate that!! :-)

  4. Another great post!

    I certainly had a similar realization in relation to Libertarianism. As I became more and more of a Libertarian, I felt that unschooling was a natural expression of my political philosophy.

  5. I think it's important for any group of people who believe in civil rights and social justice and treading lightly on the earth not to get divided between the different ism's. What you are saying is right in a sense because if we are ever to create a safe world for future generations we will have to find some synthesis for all our ideas, and we will each have to make compromises and sacrifices to our ideologies.

  6. You're definitely not alone in rethinking everything! I've often observed how when people begin to question one aspect of conventional life - government, economy, education, health, etc. - they naturally gravitate to questioning them all.

    Like you, I also feel that the various aspects of my life are neatly integrated - woven together into one great, multi-colored tapestry. Maybe that's why I have such great difficulty slotting myself neatly into the various "ists" and "isms." ;-)

  7. Here, here! This is a post I've long wanted to write. (Actually, my version of it is here: It makes complete sense to me that after I became an unschooler, the next step was to become an anarchist. I can't see the logic of giving freedom to children, but not to adults. As more and more of these free children grow up, the hierarchical, authoritarian system of government will make no sense to them.

    I'll be reblogging a link to this post at

  8. Idzie - I totally hear you on the difficulty of separating your life into sections. We went camping last weekend and there were some new to me folks there - while sitting around the campfire one evening one of them asked me what my hobbies are.

    Seems like a simple question but I realized that the more my life becomes whole and connected the harder it is for me to think in little boxes like hobby, work, family, etc. - I actually had to look at a friend (NOT by any means an unschooling mom) and ask her what my hobbies are to get me into little boxes thinking - it was a bit awkward but much more affirming as I realized what it was pointing out in my own personal evolution!

  9. On a different note: Your facebook and blog references to anarchy have struck a deep cord w/ my son, Eli (10) and he has spent some time researching this concept and discussing it at length many times w/ me the last few weeks.

    It has been a blessing and an honor to be witness to and co-journeyer w/ this beautiful Spirit that is my son and I wanted to thank you for adding this new depth to his philosophies!

  10. As with others, I've noted a similar evolution, though for me, the discussions of anarchy worked sympathetically to bring me an understanding of unschooling (as limited as my present understanding of it is). Though, like Deb, I was already well on my way to not being able to categorize myself into neat little boxes of hobbies, work, family, etc... I actually tried that myself today. It was an exercise that I *thought* I should do.

    Thank you for the gentle reminder that I don't need to do such things to be complete and fully "Me". =)

  11. I have some questions for you! They're not rhetorical by any means, I'm just curious as to how these needs would be met in an anarchist society.
    1)If someone was repetitively violating someone else's rights, how would that be dealt with?

    2)Would people still hold jobs?
    If not, would there still be hospitals and emergency services or would people have to fend for themselves? Also, would there still be medical technology and assistive devices for people who need it?

    Again, I am just curious as to your opinion on this and I'm not trying to be rude or anything.

  12. When my kids were babies, I started reading books on natural learning. At the same time my husband was reading anarchist-ish literature-Goodman, Kropotkin, Ward, Emma Goldman and so on. Our interests converged and bingo-unschooled kids, naturally!

  13. I have been involed in Open Space technology events and OST has organised a lot of how we live our life now. It's a practical took that facilitates self organisation and self responsibility - totally supports anarchy in this way. All of society could potentially operate using Open Space technology - that would deal with people who violate also ...
    I quite like dreaming and idealising about this kind of society ...

  14. Thanks for this post!
    I went through something similar in my late teen years during and after my time in a Sudbury school. (Although I no longer entirely define myself as an anarchist.)

    What you wrote near the end about de-schooling society for "moving towards" a freer society is a point which I think may apply in a very general way in the context of many ideologies. Democratic, libertarian and anarchistic philosophies of all stripes assume, maybe even require, that the citizens be good at making their own decisions and respectful of one another. Right now, traditional schools and school systems perpetuate passive, aggressive and anti-social patterns of behavior, and moving away from those systems is key to making even "just" a democracy really work.

  15. I got caught up in anarchy and unschooling at about the same time around when my first daughter was born and I was really searching and questioning everything.

  16. I just found this and LOVE it! I'm going to share it on my facebook page!

  17. I love some unschooling, my partner and i are very interested in it, but we both work, what do unschoolers do if they need to do a day care of some kind?