I got schooled in “unschooling”

First, read this definition of unschooling:

(I know it’s long, but to understand what I am dealing with, try to read it all)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Unschooling is a form of education in which learning is based on the student’s interests, needs, and goals. It may be alternatively referred to as natural learning, child-led learning, discovery learning, autodidactic learning, or child-directed learning.
Unschooling contrasts with
homeschooling in that the student’s education is not directed by a teacher and curriculum. Although an unschooling student may choose to make use of teachers or curricula, s/he is ultimately in control of his/her own education. The student chooses how, when, why, and what s/he learns. Parents who unschool their children act as “facilitators” and provide a wide range of resources, instruction and support. Unschooling begins with a child’s natural curiosity and expands from there, as an extension of his/her own personal interests and needs.
The term unschooling was coined by
John Holt. An author of ten books on education, John Holt founded the unschooling magazine Growing Without Schooling.

General philosophy
Unschoolers commonly believe that curiosity is innate and that children want to learn what is necessary to become an adult. Some argue that institutionalizing children in what they term a “one size fits all” or “factory model”
public school is an inefficient use of those children’s time because it requires every child to learn specific subject matter in a particular manner, at a particular pace, and at a particular time regardless of that individual child’s present or future needs, interests, or goals, or any preexisting knowledge he or she might have about the topic.
Many unschoolers also believe that “…the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.” Proponents assert that individualized, child-led learning is more efficient and respectful of children’s time, takes advantage of a children’s interests, and allows deeper exploration of subjects than what is possible in formalized education.
Unschoolers often believe that learning any specific subject is less important than learning ‘how’ to learn. They believe, in the words of
Alec Bourne, “It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated,” and in the words of John Holt, “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” This ability to learn on one’s own makes it more likely that later, when the child is an adult, s/he can continue to learn what s/he needs to know to meet newly emerging needs and interests. S/he can return to any subject that s/he feels wasn’t sufficiently covered, or learn a completely new subject.
Another belief frequently held by unschoolers is that “Children… if they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them.”

Some people unschool for not only educational reasons, but social reasons as well. They think that the age segregated and tightly controlled environment of schools creates an unhealthy social environment. They feel that their children (or they themselves if the student is the one who initiated the unschooling process) benefit from coming in contact with people of diverse ages and backgrounds in a variety of contexts. They also feel that their children benefit from having some ability to influence what people they encounter, and in what contexts they encounter them. Unschooled children are often reported to be more mature than their schooled peers,
[1] and some people believe this is a result of the wide range of people with which they have the opportunity to communicate.

College admission
According to the article
Homeschooling: Back to the Future?, unschoolers have been admitted to most universities (including Ivy League schools). The article states that “in the absence of a transcript or high school diploma, applicants can submit samples or a portfolio of their work, letters of recommendation, and CLEP and Stanford Achievement Test scores.” Some universities consider unschoolers to be an asset because they tend to love learning, be self-motivated, and know what they want to get out of their college experience. According to Johnathan Reider, an admissions officer at Stanford university, speaking of homeschoolers in general, “The distinguishing factor is intellectual vitality. These kids have it, and everything they do is responding to it.” [2]

Some common arguments against unschooling are given below.
Some children lack the foresight to learn the things they will need to know in their adult lives.
There may be gaps in a child’s education unless an educational professional controls what material is covered.
Because schools provide a ready-made source of peers, it may be more difficult for children who are not in school to make friends and develop social skills than it is for their schooled peers.
Because schools provide a diverse group of both adults and students, it may be more difficult for children who are not in school to be directly exposed to different cultures, different socio-economic groups and different world views.
Children have a vast capacity for learning new things, so it is the responsibility of adults to ensure that they learn a number of essential things, as it could be more difficult to learn those things as an adult (what these essential things are varies from critic to critic).
Some children are not motivated to learn anything, and will spend all of their time in un-educational endeavors if not coerced into doing otherwise.
Not all parents may be able to provide the stimulating environment or have the skills and patience required to encourage the student’s curiousity.
Because they often lack a
diploma from an accredited school, it may be more difficult for unschooled students to get into college or get a job.

(Feel free to research it yourself for more details…there’s a lot of stuff out there about it, and of course unschoolers would tell you that you can’t define it.)

Now, here’s what has stuck in my craw:
A few days ago, I visited a blog that I read occasionally, The Contrary Goddess.
I had always thought that what she had to say was interesting: they grow their own food, buck tradition and convention, etc. She posted this, and I thought I would leave a nice comment about “unschooling”, and I didn’t really understand all there is to unschooling, obviously.
I was not expecting the comments that followed. I got jumped on like a duck on a junebug. (That’s a nice bird analogy, isn’t it?)
I invite you to go to her blog and read what she had to say, I had to say and her fans had to say.

WARNING: These are self-proclaimed “unschoolers”, so leave a comment at your own peril.

I don’t hate the woman at all, and I can’t blame her proponents for standing up for her. It reminds me of anytime that Julie gets a negative comment on her blog and we all rush to her defense. But you know, Contrary Goddess could have just said, “Thanks for visiting my blog. But there is more to unschooling than that.” Or something along those lines. But I basically was told that I haven’t reached my full potential because I have been schooled versus unschooled. Okay, okay, I don’t “get” it…but Damn! As an educator, I took it a little personally. Don’t get me wrong…the idea of letting kids decide what they want to learn about sounds good, but I can’t believe that they reach THEIR full potential.

Now, I don’t want everyone to go over there and bash HER just because you like ME. I would love to know how all of you feel about this subject. I know there are educators who read my blog, and others who must have an opinion about this.


34 Responses to “I got schooled in “unschooling””

  1. ruth Says:

    I home schooled two of our daughters for two years and in that time met several other home school families who were so passionate about it, that they ran down anyone who sent their children to school. They had an unpleasant arrogance and indignation that really turned me off. I did what I felt was best for the girls at the time and really treasure those years I spent with them (Gr 3-4) However, I also recognized when it was time for them to move on socially and academically. Everyone is different, and it is great that we have choices…but don’t be harsh with others who have various experiences and philosophies! Unschooling is perhaps different than home schooling, but I sensed the same kind of attitudes in some of the comments I read.

  2. I isn't unschooled Says:

    Based on the examples I read on CG’s blog, tact, diplomacy and open-mindedness are not among the top concepts learned/taught/unschooled by commenters on her blog.

    Does not sound like a blog I would want to spend any more time visiting.

  3. Beth Says:

    Susan, I sent you an email.

  4. LauraHinNJ Says:

    She missed a fine opportunity to educate you about something that is obviously very important to her. But true to the unschooling mantra: there is no lesson, there is no teaching.


    Too bad she’s probably left you with a bad taste in your mouth for the whole subject.

    To my reading you came across as curious and interested, and above all, trying not to offend.

    Despite what she says, I think it is *she* that is defensive about it. Maybe that comes with the territory, I don’t know.

    Her choice of language is telling. She talks of *born again schoolers* and *confirmed schoolers* and equates public schooling with institutionalization.

    Your mistake was not knowing the snare trap you were innocently putting your foot into, Susan.

    There must be some reason she calls herself contrary, after all.

  5. Ruth Says:

    Susan, I was re-reading my comment, and don’t want to be mis-interpreted by my badly phrased sentence, “but don’t be harsh with others who have various experiences and philosophies…”
    I was not implying that you are harsh, but rather, the commenters on the other blog. I also wonder how they can satisfy the truancy officer with their philosophy. I was visited 3 times a year by the school board and had to show lesson plans and the children’s WORK.

  6. NatureWoman Says:

    Alrighty then. Interesting. . . I’ve never heard of UNschooling. I’ll have to ask my Mom, an educator, if she’s ever heard of it.
    I believe children should be as creative as they can be – exposed to several opportunities (like what you do Susan), but IMHO reading, writing and ‘rithmetic still get you through this life in these United States.
    I have a very good friend who was given so many choices in his high school years, and he chose to take cooking courses instead of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, and now he regrets not knowing how to do Algebra (yes Algebra *is* important) and math in general, not taking a foreign language, how to spell, you get the point. He suffers. A great deal. I hear about it all of the time. I was his tutor because I wanted to help him make up for the lack of education.
    On the other hand, there’s the Japanese schools that are so regimented that their students look like little robots.
    I agree the educational system isn’t always the best, but IMHO there are the necessary basics to be a happy adult – my friend is a good example of an adult truly suffering for what he didn’t learn as a young man.
    Oh, and I was picked as a juror because I am a strong advocate for education – the case was about a mother who didn’t find it important to send her children to school – she thought it was better to let them be around home. She lost. Because it is illegal in my state to deprive a child of an education.
    I learn something new everyday. Did I just learn about unschooling through schooling or unschooling? Hmmmm.

  7. Shannon Says:

    “Schooling gets in the way of real learning”? What kind of crack pot crap is that. Hey people do you want to know what a better education will do for you children. It will give them the security that they need to carry them through the rest of your life. One person stated that unschooled childen do not tend to go to college. Well I wonder why!! Probably because most college courses do not teach you about the nutritional properties of twigs and berries!! These children don’t go on to college because they have no desire to strive for better, or the social skills that they will need in the “real world”. In this day and age if you want a career instead of just a job, you better get a college education. Growing you own potatoes will not help you in retirement. Ladies and Gentleman meet the next generation that we will not only have to support, but will have to hear about on the news as being elderly and eating canned cat food. (Sorry if I am alittle harsh, but I am a career MOM, and a full time college student, this to means just seems to be the lazy way out of the real world).

  8. Dave Says:

    Susan – Thanks for visiting my blog. πŸ™‚

  9. Mary Says:

    Ooops, Susan. You stuck your nose in a hornet’s nest! Your comment was nothing but a kind one. I’d certainly stay away from the contrary goddess and anyone who supports her – I thought their responses were a bit radical. Working in education for as long as I have, yes, *institutionalized education*, I have known a few parents who would knock you down and drag you out even if you posed an innocent question such as “How long have you homeschooled your children?” I had never heard of Unschooling and I want to learn more about it, but not through the pack you tangled with recently. I can only comment on homeschooling – I know of good outcomes with it and some downright trainwrecks. That’s all.

  10. Susan Gets Native Says:

    I just love each and everyone of you!

    It’s nice to have validation that I am not a child-abuser for sending my kids to school.

  11. Skeert Silly Says:

    the comparison seems a bit unschooled…my homies are a whole lot nicer than them contrarian homies
    big rumble goin’ down in da blogasphere tonite.
    When you’re a unschooler your’e a unschooler all da way
    From your first cigarette ’til your last dyin’ day
    Better write about birds and puppies for awhile, keep yo’ head down, sister.

  12. Lynne Says:

    I have just recently heard of unschooling and I KNOW it is not for my kids. A solid foundation is, in my opinion, required as a beginning for further education. My son often asks why it is important to learn XYZ. I tell him it’s not just for the sake of knowing those facts, but for the discipline of the process of learning. Does that make sense?

    Your comment was friendly and quite frankly my dear, You were hog-piled!

  13. -llm. Says:

    My daughter — 8 years old — asked my husband and I last night in the car why we didn’t like churches. We took a deep breath and told her why. Our answer basically boiled down to this . . . anyone who tells you that THEIR way is the ONLY way and that YOUR way is the WRONG way is full of . . . well . . . beans.

    I’m quite sure there are wonderful “unschoolers” out there just as I’m quite sure there are wonderful “home schoolers” out there. But that doesn’t mean that either would work for me and it doesn’t mean that MY way is wrong.

    And, that’s that.

    ps. I had to remove my earlier comment because of two big ol’ nasty typeos that I figured didn’t reflect my status as an educator! πŸ™‚

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Having checked out the comments on CG and on SGN, I would have to say that the visitors on this blog have much more class than their unschooled counterparts on CG.


  15. The Swami Says:

    You should not be too harsh when contemplating the unschooled.
    It takes a village
    There are many villages
    Someone has to supply villages with their idiots!

  16. Shannon Says:

    JIM YOU ARE A RIOT!!!! Well said!!

  17. Lynne Says:

    Too perfectly funny!!!

  18. Susan Gets Native Says:

    Well, there went the class…

  19. Endment Says:

    What can I say?
    Perhaps the following links provide clues to the responses you received.


  20. Mary Says:

    Susan, don’t ya just love a good debate? Big high-give to ya and the rest of us who give comments with class.

  21. Susan Gets Native Says:

    A total of 22 comments so far…I do like to stir the pot.

    Maybe I should stick with controversial topics and forget the birds?

    Thank you, all of you (except Mr. or Mrs. Smart Ass from Missouri) for your thoughts on this subject. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one who thinks school is okay.

  22. LauraHinNJ Says:

    Damn you, Susan! I’m still thinking on this and would love to pose my questions there, but I’m afraid my head will be bitten off!

    A lot of the philosophy makes sense to me, at least as it’s presented in the info you quoted. What I can’t sort out is the mechanics of it.

    I like the idea of self-directed learning – isn’t that, after all, what we do as adults? I know I had a lot of crap thrown at me in school that was meaningless, either because I wasn’t interested at all or because it just wasn’t the right time for me to be learning that particular thing.

    I wish now that I had been more ready for biology, for example, instead of boys.

    Schools are very much a *one-size fits-all* sort of endeavor and do a lot of harm to the child that learns differently. I’m not sure I see, though, how unschooling will address that.

    As is noted in the criticisms you quoted, parents can’t be experts on everything – what do unschooling folks do when they don’t have the resources to provide for where the child’s interests lead or demand because of learning disabilities?

    I think a lot of learning is intuitive, provided the need is present; math for example. Or science by experimenting to find the proper solution. But what about reading? How is that not directly taught in a very structured, sequential way? Yes, children are curious about the printed word, but how does a parent *not* explicitly teach that skill?

    Like I said, I can sense the integrity of the philosophy, but can’t get my mind around the actual doing of it, or not doing it.


  23. LauraHinNJ Says:

    Just saw your comments on the Goddesses blog – nicely done!

    Sorry for my teacher ramblings – did you know I’m working on my dissertation?

    ;-0 yawnnn

  24. Directorate of Institutions and the Institutionalized Says:


    For currently UNknown reasons, supply has UNexpectedly outstripped demand.

    For the immediate future we are rescinding Rule 86, Section 47, Para 53. Thus, more than one idiot per village is permitted.

  25. Susan Gets Native Says:

    You just rant on, Laura. I agree with everything you said. Those were my questions, too.
    I had to leave one more comment on her post, because it’s just so unbelievable how much venom I got stuck with over there. Just trying to bury the hatchet. But I have a sneaking suspicion that no matter what I say, someone there will be all too ready to refute it.
    Oh, well. It was fun, wasn’t it?

  26. LauraHinNJ Says:

    Is that your FIL making fun of me?

  27. Susan's FIL Says:

    Definitely NOT making fun of U, but of “UN” (and I’m not referring to the United Nations).

    From what I’ve seen, all of the regular commenters on this blog (with the possible exception of The Swami) are way over-qualified for the village job.

  28. LauraHinNJ Says:

    Over-qualified to be the village idiot. Right. Gotcha.

  29. still FIL Says:

    Gimme a break. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over-quailified.

  30. Shannon Says:

    Susan – I just re-read the postings since your last comment on the CG blog. This one person keeps talking about the government and government schooling. I just have one thing to add. That once I finish with my government schooling and have secured a good (corporate), job, I will be more than happy to put a few bucks in the buckets of those who chose not to use the “government” schooling. Here is a simple equation for you. UNschooling + UNability = UN paying job!!

  31. Ellen in Conn Says:

    A tempest! What fun. No, I am sorry that people were so rude and so judgemental towards you.

    I home/un-schooled my 2 kids for 5 and 8 years (one number per kid) and then they went to public school, when I knew that they needed more than I was able/willing to give at that point, but I felt I had got them past the most vulnerable years, in terms of psyche and ego. (What do you mean, “run on sentence”?) By then I had taught and provided learning opportunities and all that, so that they knew, roughly, what other kids their ages did. The older one learned reading the hard way, with memorization and lessons and forced reading-aloud, and the younger one learned by remembering what the characters in the comic book said with each picture – the ability to read came on suddenly one evening – very fun to watch.

    We all do what we think is best, or the best we can at that time, or what we can stand to do. And all children are different.

    The annual meeting of perfect parents has been cancelled due to lack of qualified applicants.

    My *brilliant, accomplished, poised, confident, talented* children are now in college, with really nice scholarship awards. Successes come from all places, as do failures.

  32. Susan Gets Native Says:

    That is what I wanted from that other blog full of militants. I didn’t know what unschooling involved, and instead of taking a prime opportunity to show me, they lashed out with venom and pettiness. Sigh.

    So, how did you find my blog? Through CG’s?
    Thank you for your thoughtful, moderate comments. I think I have had enough hate to last me for years. You get a hug.

  33. LauraHinNJ Says:

    Ellen (and Susan too),

    Because I’m a little obsessive-compulsive sometimes (ha!) I read around a bit on unschooling.

    Mostly I read the stuff that CG pointed you towards – and it seemed like the comments on her blog parroted every criticism that was mentioned in the link she provided. Talk about a group mind-set. Scary!

    Anyway, I read a bit about kids that are slow to learning to read and those that just *picked it up* suddenly. Would love to know how that happens for a child, how they make that jump to understanding the written word. Fascinating stuff!

  34. Ellen in Conn Says:

    Susan and Laura, With my first child, I thought I had to follow the school model, and we started about age 3, with writing letters and sounding out words and all that. She was resistant, but one day, Pippi Longstocking became readable and then she was hooked, and even now, is NEVER without a book, whether at work or at a wedding or in a treehouse. Later, we eased up and let them do stuff at their own pace, which was much more fun. The little one, as I said, had The Dad read Calvin and Hobbes over and over until she had the dialog memorized, and slowly, somehow, put the pieces together. The Dad and I are also avid readers, which is of course the model they follow. And the vocabularies on those kids were astonishing, until school-teasing made them tone it down. And they write really well, which was a big help for getting scholarships. All the hours in a week doing great extra-curricular stuff is useless, financially, if you can’t write about it.

    vzqjnzmr – did you make the verification words be harder???

    We read some of John Holt’s books while home/unschooling. He had great ideas and insights about children. You know, a baby learns to talk, and learns colors and names of many things, and complicated physical skills and everything they can do before they go out to school, and they learn it at home, in an unstructured, supportive, “organic” way. This is homeschooling. Do we send kids to school because they need to be taught to read and colors and numbers and shapes and sharing and standing in line and taking turns and making block towers and colorig within the lines because they can’t learn that at home or do we send them for some other reason?

    I had such a hard time in school, I wanted my children to grow into their own, true selves, unbiased and unconformant. I didn’t want them to spend all day every day with people who have different values and beliefs and behaviors, so much conformity and criticism and regimentation, I just wanted them to be free to be themselves. And they were. Going to school, when it came, was pretty hard, but they learned to outwardly conform, and to turn a blind eye and a lot of sympathy for the abused and afflicted. Now they are with people who are there BY CHOICE, learning what they want/need to know.

    Okay, that’s way too much for now. Except that yes, I found you through CG, whom I found through Liz of Pocket Farm, who I found through Kerstin of Crazy Daisy.

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