Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Unschooling Beyond High School (Unschooling is Forever Part 4)

I give you the 4th and final part of the speech I gave at the Toronto Unschooling Conference, dealing with a subject I'm currently very interested in thinking and talking about: Unschooling beyond the traditionally compulsory schooling years. Unschooling as true lifelong learning.

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

The college & university years

This Fall marks the first time that both my sister and I are officially past the high school years.  Now at age 19, I would have graduated two years ago, and had Emi been in school, she would have finished up this past spring.  This is probably a good time to explain that in Quebec, high school only goes until grade 11, so people graduate at age 17 (or 16, depending when their birthday is).  "Higher education" in Quebec consists of CEGEP (sometimes called College), which is free for Quebec residents and usually takes two years to complete the chosen program, which is then usually followed by university, which works the same as everywhere else, except that if you've gone to CEGEP, university only takes three years for a bachelors program.  This is what both my sister and I are watching the vast majority of our peers doing, while we follow very different paths.

I know that to some, unschooling is simply an educational philosophy that covers the traditional elementary and high school years, something that's a good preparation for moving on to higher education, perhaps, but something that does have an endpoint. Yet to embrace unschooling as true life learning (learning as something that's inseparable from life) means to accept that learning never ends, and to truly become a lifelong unschooler. Now, to me being a lifelong unschooler can definitely include college or university, but it can just as easily not. It's all in how you approach life, and how you think about learning and education, not in whether some of your life learning happens in a school building or not.

For me, I doubt college or university will be part of my life, and if it is, it certainly won't be in the near future.  I know it isn't the right choice for me right now for several reasons:

  1. I have a fundamental disagreement with the institution of schooling.  With the structure, how it's run, how it's looked at and what it means to most people, the hierarchy and the commercialization of education.
  2. The thought of spending my days in a classroom seems positively stifling to me, which tells me that's definitely not where I should be right now!
  3. Of all the things I'm interested in doing with my life, all of the things I think I might do to earn money, a degree is necessary for none of them.
  4. The cost.  Especially considering all of the above, to go into debt for a degree I don't want and will likely never use seems ridiculous!
I've managed to learn everything I've wanted and needed to know up to this point without going to school, so the idea that a school building it absolutely necessary all of the sudden is counter intuitive to me, and feels just wrong.  I've quoted it many times before, but this quote by Eartha Kitt always comes to mind:

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."

Learning, the knowledge and skills and experience that's absorbed every single day simply by living life, can and does continue past high school, even if you choose, as I have, to pass on institutions of so-called higher education.

As I happily go through another not-back-to-school season, and while many of my peers are heading back into the classroom, I'm instead following  my own personal, ever changing and evolving "curriculum" (though it looks startlingly like just living life) that currently does or may well include:

  • Speaking at the Toronto Unschooling Conference, and at other events, about freedom based education, and specifically unschooling;
  • Organizing, with the assistance of a great group of co-conspirators, a freedom-based education conference in Montreal, which will include a wide range of speakers and workshops that give people the knowledge and tools to step outside of the mainstream views on education, learning, and life;
  • Continuing to write regularly on my blog to an ever increasing audience;
  • Starting to write the first draft of a book about unschooling;
  • Finding and implementing creative and non-traditional ways of making money;
  • Publishing the second issue of DIY Life Zine, a self-published magazine;
  • And helping to further the cause of freedom-based education in Quebec, which includes collaborating with people involved in both starting a freeschool and a lobby group, among other projects.
As you can see, my life currently revolves around both unschooling and writing, two things that I hold very close to my heart.  I feel like I'm following a calling right now, and doing what I'm really *supposed* to be doing in my life.  That doesn't include college, and that's quite fine to me!

I also want to address the frequency with which I see people, even unschoolers, putting a huge gap between pre-eighteen and post-eighteen life.  As if, along with the end of unschooling high school and the start of college, turning eighteen means there suddenly has to be a huge shift in the way you act, what is expected of you, and how you’re treated.  I know that leading up to my eighteenth birthday I felt a HUGE amount of pressure!  To be doing something vastly different suddenly, to be taking on a ton more responsibility all at once!  As if eighteen was a kind of magical number and age.  Yet, I was still the same person on the day before my birthday as I was on the day after.  Still growing and changing, yes, but not making any huge jumps in that growth just because I’d passed a day that a bunch of people have decided holds special significance!  I see much talk among unschoolers about allowing your child to grow at their own pace, respecting their natural timeline and not attempting to force an external measure of when they should be doing what upon them.  Yet many seem to think that philosophy no longer applies after age eighteen.  You’re an adult now: act like one!

I encourage parents to realize that there is no magical age, and that their kid is still the same person, and no matter what their age should not be held to any external measure of what they “should” be doing.

So, Where do I go from here?

At my age, people now want to know what I’m going to do with my life.  Because seemingly, a decision must be made before age 20, and changing your mind frequently, or heaven forbid, moving into and through adulthood without a solid plan, is unacceptable.  People think that you have to have answers: goals and 10 step plans and ‘where you want to be when you’re forty’.  The time to decide what the rest of your life will look like is now, so many people think.  Yet to me, over-planning feels stifling.  I’d rather take life as it comes, make short term plans only, try lots of different things, focus on what’s truly important to me at each point in my life, and just do my best to make things work out.  Sometimes, the sheer spontaneity and lack-of-certainty of this non-plan seems terrifying to me, but looking at people I admire who are in their thirties or forties and have basically lived this way for years gives me courage.  They don’t usually have much money, but they’re happy: and to me, that’s what’s important!  I don’t want to be rich, I just want to be happy, to contribute my best self to the world, to do good, and to live by and act on my personal ethics and morality.  To me that’s true success, not the gaining of social station or monetary profits.  

The power of life learning

In closing, I want to reiterate what I said earlier: that true life learning never ends.  We’re always learning, growing, and discovering.  And as unschoolers, we’re in a marvellous position to think, see, and live outside of the box.  I make YouTube videos about unschooling sometimes, and in one video I interviewed my sister.  One of the questions I asked her was what does she think the best thing about unschooling is?  And, after saying she can think of LOTS of good things, she said:

“You get to have freedom in shaping yourself, and I think you really come to know who you are and what you want to life. I often encounter people in school with the mindset of ‘oh, this is just the way things are, well I’m just going to do this, I guess’.  I think not having that sort of close-minded, narrow path kind of outlook on life is the best thing you get from unschooling.”

If you know and trust yourself, if you feel confident in your ability to direct your own life, you have the tools to see where you want to be, where your unique skills and passions can best be put to good use.  You have the courage to change your mind, and choose a new path when the old one no longer feels like a good fit.  By giving children and teens the power over their own lives, you create individuals who can enact important changes in their lives, the lives of those around them, and the world itself.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with another quote by Wendy Priesnitz:

"Personal empowerment begins with realizing the value of our own life experience and potential to affect the world.”


  1. Thanks Idzie. I've been thinking along these lines too- that as unschoolers we determine our own definition of success-we define our own happiness. It's what Kelly Green touches in her book A Matter of Conscience-Education as a fundamental freedom which I have just reviewed on my blog.
    It takes guts to do this but it's empowering isn't it?

  2. I remember meeting a guy when i was travelling who said : The plan is to have NO PLAN.
    travelling becomes so much more interesting when you have this mindset... i guess you can postpone it upto your life!
    keep on with your interesting journey, i like reading you!

  3. You have the ability to build a life based on your ability to view the world with a critical eye. American History as taught in primary and secondary school is generally pro-white and pro-expansion which leads to a poor view of the rest of the world; this results in the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the attitude toward immigrants from Mexico and S. America (who are really Native Americans).
    I would recommend the books by Derrick Jensen, a poet & philosopher who is largely un-schooled. I just heard about him on today's Democracy Now on Link-TV.

  4. I'm pretty new to this, so maybe it is covered in another section and I just haven't gotten to it. I apologize if that is so.

    I'm from the US and I've never done well in educational institutions for a slew of reasons. I'm really struggling with college now (I managed to get my GED at 16 so I could stop going to HS) and I feel so trapped. I want to get away from education and yet I don't know how. What do you do about getting a job? It seems like the only things I can find are minimum wage life-sucking places or entry-level positions that require a Bachelor's degree. I just don't know what to do.

  5. I am wondering the same thing as arcane_scholar. Not having a degree severely limits the job opportunities available to you. I know that there are other options, such as working for yourself, but what about your peers who do not have their parents supporting them after they turn 18? How are they supposed to make enough money to live off of? Writing books takes time, and rarely brings in enough money for you to live off of right away. You would need an alternative source of income until working for yourself becomes lucrative, which is difficult if you don't have your parents or a traditional education to back you up. What do you say to those young people?

  6. I suppose you don't reply to old blog comments?

  7. Being busy and obtaining income writing and presenting on the topic of unschooling is similar to "self help" gurus who rave about how you can do anything. But the only thing they do is write self help books. I don't suppose that everyone can just write self help books, nor do I think every unschooled individual can write blogs about the subject. The irony is that while your refer to traditional education as creating closed minded individuals, you seem to have very little interest other than a system you need to justify. You and your sister's views seem to be vacant of goals. Perhaps this is why it creates a sense of happiness; you can never fail at something if you've never had a goal to accomplish anything.

    1. Every unschooled individual doesn't want to write about unschooling. It's funny how you think because one unschooler is writing to advocate unschooling, all unschoolers therefore must only write about unschooling with their lives. Bit of a leap in illogic, don't you think?
      Secondly, why do you assume that because Idzie writes about unschooling, she doesn't have any goals? Writing is a perfectly valid, respectable, great profession. Making a living in the business of words, whether as a writer or an editor (both things Idzie's interested in), is not something you just snap your fingers and achieve. Making enough money to live on from writing is incredibly difficult, and is definitely a goal that requires a lot of work to achieve. You've also not read much of this blog before deciding you know more about our lives than we do, or you'd know Idzie is a person of varied interests who's passionate about many things, including, to name a few big ones, cooking, the natural world, and social justice. (Next you'll tell me that trying to achieve equality and freedom for people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, etc. isn't a goal either, right? I don't suppose we can all be activists, or the world would actually be a better place!!)
      As for me, who you randomly decided to include in this comment, I don't often write about unschooling (except in little comments like this), and I definitely don't intend to do so as a career choice. I have tons of goals in life, short term goals, long term goals, goals related to making a living, goals related to personal happiness, goals related to the happiness of others... I'm a musician, I'm a fiction writer, I'm a seamstress; I'm interested in how the human body works, and how we can use simple understanding to be healthier; massage therapy, correct body alignment, stretching, pressure points... I plan to help build a sustainable community where I'll live, making many of my own things, growing much of my own food. Sometimes I achieve my goals, and sometimes I don't, just like everybody else; but if a goal is truly important to me, I pick up and try again.
      This blog is an accomplishment. The fact that Idzie is sharing information and inspiration about the unschooling lifestyle with thousands of people, helping people to rethink their world views and make more freeing life choices, is absolutely incredible. I don't know what kind of society you want to live in, but I want to live in one where people have access to information about choices beyond the mainstream path of school, nine to five job, retirement, death. I know that information is incredibly important, that words are incredibly important, and that non-fiction writers are incredibly important for conveying ideas and facts in accessible ways.
      Oh, and I don't suppose that everyone can just be doctors, or architects, or scientists, but I'm sure you wouldn't tell someone in med school that they had no goals in life.

  8. As the mother of an 18yo unschooler, I really love this. There is an arbitrary idea that 18 is some magical age, simply because it is when traditional public education ends. But I just had a long conversation with a friend who teaches at a university, and she confirmed that very few of her incoming students had any idea of what they were doing, where they were headed, or what their true goals were—even those who looked to be "on track" in the traditional sense.

    I love that you and your sister have continued to explore, learn, and follow your interests, with or without school. Most of all, I love seeing how the two of you support each other so fully. That is the kind of thing that unfortunately can't be taught in school.

  9. Being a 19 year old male this is a very inspiring blog you have. I dropped out of my high school after junior after realizing that I love learning but hate school and the two are practically complete opposites. I am now planning on studying permaculture and sustainable design in a very non-school setting "mainly hands on" and taught by a bunch of hippies in California. I was also wondering what your thoughts were on Gaia University because if you were ever interested in getting a degree and like me hate school it might be a good option. It is all online, you can take as many years as you want to get your degree and really you can probably keep doing what you are doing to get there. cheers!

  10. Hey there,

    Just wanted to let you know that I am so enjoying your blog, and relishing in this new way of thinking. I am seventeen years old, and have been in and out of traditional, and homeschooling environments. After completing grades 9, and 10 in a traditional high school I decided mid-way through my first semester of grade 11 that I needed a change, and so I convinced my parents to let me home-school. And so for the last year and a bit that is what I have been doing. I have been taking correspondence courses, and receiving credits. But as of a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this new clip featuring "a radical approach to education", and at it sparked something in me. Since then I have been doing research and lapping up all the information I can about unschooling. I have already started to make some changes in how I go about my day to day learning, and will continue to do so, until I am inspired by everything I choose to pursue. Thanks so much for this fabulous blog!