What is unschooling?

First off, let me clear up any confusion by saying that we are not simply homeschoolers, but unschoolers. We have always been unschoolers.

I realize that for many people reading this, the confusion has only just begun!

Many people have no idea what unschooling is–and a lot of people think they have it all figured out, but are actually in varying states of misinformation. Even among homeschoolers, there’s a lot of confusion about what the point and aim of unschooling is, and what it might look like on a daily basis.

So I’m going to give you one perspective–my own.

Unschoolers tend to believe similar broad concepts about the nature of children and of learning, that set us slightly apart from other people. There are plenty of unschoolers who may disagree on some of the finer points, but the core beliefs are, in my opinion, fairly common ground:

Unschoolers believe strongly in the innate capabilities and curiosity of the human spirit from birth. We do not see children as inferior to adults, and we strive to treat people of all ages as primarily competent, well-intentioned individuals who possess sufficient internal motivation and drive to learn and grow throughout life. In short, we believe positive, life-affirming things about human nature, and we have (or cultivate) a large amount of trust in our children as people. We honor our children’s feelings, needs, and capabilities as much as feasible, and we strive to balance these legitimate needs with the needs of the rest of our family.

We do not use punishment or try to control our children, and we strive to create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect in our homes and families. Of course we’re human, and we don’t pretend otherwise. Sometimes we yell, or lose our tempers, as do our kids. But when we’ve overreacted or are wrong, we apologize and make amends. Everyone in our family is deserving of mutual respect, and we work daily on facilitating cooperation, understanding, and love.

Unschoolers believe that absolutely everything–every interest and experience–has value, and that learning happens best when it’s not confined to a classroom or a book. We believe that the desire to learn is nearly insatiable, inherent in a child’s being, and if left to develop naturally (without the use of coersion, punishments, bribery, grades, gold stars and the like), it will flourish and continue throughout one’s life. Unschoolers believe that grades and rewards dampen one’s internal motivation to learn for the sake of wanting or needing to know. We believe that dividing life up into subjects – and then labeling some of those subjects as universally important to know, and others as trivial or irrelevant – is a terrible disruption and hinderance to the natural flow of learning.

The end goal of unschooling is to raise children adults who are “succesful” in the sense that they have the tools necessary to make their way in the world, of course. But there’s a deeper meaning of success that’s also applied here, versus what’s applied to society in general.

Unschoolers are more likely to measure success in non-quantifiable terms.

We want our kids to grow up knowing what it means to live for themselves. To be truly happy and fulfilled, however they choose to define that. To not be afraid to go against the grain in some circumstances, yet flexible enough to go with the flow in others. In short, we strive to give our kids the tools and the opportunities to be freethinkers. To carve out their own destinies instead of being bound by expectations or someone else’s life plans for them.

Unschoolers can and do do “schoolwork”, and they can and do go to college and beyond–if they desire to. They are much more likely to possess the rare gift of believing in themselves, instead of believing what others (“experts”) have told them about themselves throughout their childhoods. They have been trusted enough that trusting themselves comes naturally. They have been able to experiment and follow the threads of their interests deeply and often, and those threads are likely to lead to consuming passions with unique, marketable skill sets.

They are often in the uncommon position, by young adulthood, of being able to create abundance by following the natural flow of their passions, having boundless enthusiasm to learn new skills, and honing skills they already possess.

I will be writing much more on unschooling theory and thought in future posts. I have kept silent long enough–the world needs to hear about this.

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