No 45. Join the Un-schooling discussion

There is a really interesting community being created over at This blog has been created by Leo Babauta who has had much success with zenhabits. There are some great articles on unschooling already been written. Basically unschooling throws all the rules of school out of the door. Here are some initial rules.

  1. No one tells you what to learn. Instead of some administrator setting a curriculum, based on what the committee thinks a young person will need to know in a decade from now (unknowable), the student picks for himself.
  2. No one tells you how to learn. Instead of everyone basically cramming information down their heads, and spitting it back out on tests, the student can figure things out for herself, be creative, play, do projects, anything.
  3. There is no authority but the unschooler. When the schooler follows the authority of the teacher his whole life, he never learns to think for himself, solve problems, decide what’s important, deal with uncertainty. As an adult, the schooler will then feel much safer having an authority telling him what to do — a boss in a regular job. An unschooler, who has been her own authority all her life, is better prepared for the real world.
  4. You don’t have to learn at the same pace as everyone else. My son was bored in school because the stuff he was learning was too easy, but his classmates learned at a different speed. That’s fine for them, but why should he be forced to learn slowly and be bored? Why should someone who doesn’t learn as quickly feel stupid if he falls behind?
  5. You don’t learn a data set. Regular school decides what a kid should know by the time she’s 18 … but who decides this? How is it possible to know what the world will be like in 10 or 15 years? Who is so good at predicting the future that we should follow his predictions? Learning a data set is useless, because much of that will be obsolete. Even learning a skillset is mostly useless. Instead, learn how to learn anything, and then no matter what the world is like or what the jobforce requires in a decade from now, you’ll be able to adapt and learn it.
  6. You learn that learning is fun. For me, school mostly drove out the joy of learning, and taught me that learning is boring. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned how fun learning is, and this discovery has led to incredible things. Why make learning boring? It should be play! It should be joyful!
  7. You learn to deal with uncertainty. If you’re told what to do your whole life, then you never have to doubt if you’re doing the right thing. But as an entrepreneur, there’s never that certainty. You never know for sure if you’re doing the right thing. So I think many people avoid starting their own business, because of fear of uncertainty. If you’ve dealt with uncertainty your whole life (unschooling), then this is not so scary as an adult.
  8. You learn how to motivate yourself. Kids in school have to be forced to do work they don’t like. This means many of them never learn how to motivate themselves. If no one is forcing you, then what? Unschoolers deal with this on a daily basis, and while they often fail (who doesn’t), they also learn more about themselves than most kids do.

Why don’t you join the discussion – it will really make you think about your own teaching methods and question if we as classroom teachers are doing the right thing.


The image above is from here.

5 thoughts on “No 45. Join the Un-schooling discussion

  1. Walter Boomsma

    I actually did attempt to discuss this on the “unschooling” site, but my points got lost in the rush of the masses to adopt this rejection of public schooling in favor of some new age thinking. I fear this unschooling movement is more about protesting public education than it is about teaching kids. I admittedly work in the public education system. I do not defend it without question, but I also do not adopt alternatives without question either.

    There are a number of false assumptions in this movement including the unstated but obvious one that everything about public education is wrong and harmful to children. I often work with kids who LOVE learning… and in fact, one of my classroom rules is that we will “enjoy learning.” As a teacher, I believe my greatest challenges are both encouraging children to believe they actually can do things… and to explore things they do not necessarily think are “fun.”

    That said, anarchy in education doesn’t really encourage learning. Anyone who teaches knows that kids actually like and need structure and routine. Allowing a four year to choose only what he or she enjoys learning… is… well, somewhere between irresponsible and neglectful. I don’t know too many adults who only get to do what they like–and one of the lessons we would do well to teach children is to accept the need to recognize and balance our want to with our have to.

    A friend of mine is complaining these days that her three year old refuses to only eat cereal for all meals. (He will alternate between Cheerios and oatmeal.) I suppose it’s wrong for me to wonder why she’s allowing him to make that choice without intervention on her part. He also has started refusing to pick up his toys.

    Homeschooling can be very effective– but the best homeschoolers partner with the public school. No, we don’t always do the right thing in the public school system. One of our realities is that we live with limitations whether they be curriculum standards or time and money limitations. We also have a lot of stakeholders.

    There are some worthy ideas and concepts in SOME of the “unschooling” idea, but until the idea moves away from extremism and total rejection of the structure found in public schools, I’m not sure it has much to recommend it.

  2. The Person Next to You

    We have always homeschooled, and I went to a meeting with my local homeschool group where a parent of some unschooled students spoke. I was fascinated! Made me re-think a lot of how we conduct our education in our home. I actually do a hybrid schooling method with my son now, and things are much easier now. He is involved in more of the decision making process for his day now, and it is amazing.

    I totally disagree that the best homeschoolers partner with the public schools. Sorry.

    1. Walter Boomsma

      No need to apologize for disagreeing! I’m willing to alter my statement to “the best homeschoolers provide a wide range of experiences and some structure to their curriculum.” I happen to think that may often be achieved by partnering with public school, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. We often have homeschooled kids involved in public school events and activities which they seem to enjoy and learn from… and I’m reasonably certain they aren’t damaged in the process. (I can immediately think of one kid who loves art, attends every art class, and did his own art project featured at the school’s art show.) I may not have made the point well, but the very word “unschooling” implies a total rejection of the public school system that I’m not convinced is healthy. Involving the student in decision making is not what Babauta seems to be proposing. “…unschooling throws all the rules of school out of the door.”

      1. The Person Next to You

        Walter, I definitely agree that kids involved with public school events would not be damaged from them. Unfortunately, most public schools do not allow homeschoolers to be involved in the extracurricular activities because they are not enrolled at the school, and there are budget cuts that sometimes prevent public school kids from these things, too!

        I used to be a representative for the NH Homeschool Coalition, and had the opportunity to learn a lot about the philosophy behind unschooling. It is quite fascinating to me, and in a nurturing family environment, these kids really do thrive. I have seen situations where the parents may be lazy or emotionally absent from the kids and homeschooling/unschooling turned into a way to avoid a negative situation at the school or with an estranged partner. I can assure you these situations are few and far between in New Hampshire. Most families that I know of that are “unschoolers” are absolutely amazing. They unschool their children by acting as facilitators for their children’s thirst for knowledge on the topic that the child asks them about.

        I think Babauta worded it poorly by saying that “…unschooling throws all the rules of school out the door.” Perhaps the better wording would have been, “…unschooling throws all educational convention out the door.”

        As for myself, I do a mix of traditional schooling at home, and unschooling, too. I feel that it is my job to be a facilitator for my son’s interests. It works for us.

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