a blog on life and all the things from my side of the hedge.
Okay, so before I get into it, let me clarify two things. lol
Firstly, I'm a parent who believes wholeheartedly in full spectrum radical Unschooling as a way of life for *my* family. I think of unschooling as traditional homeschooling's wild and wise rebellious cousin who is part of the family but not always understood or welcomed at the table because our existence tends to make people uncomfortable.
Secondly, parents depend on the school system, and even parents who know in their heart its not good for their kids aren't always able to make other choices. School is an extremely powerful system and the overwhelming majority of parents have their kids participate in it because colonization and capitalism have slowly eroded parents' options to do otherwise even when they want to. I recognize our entire culture revolves around school and so the things I'm gonna say are not a judgement of individual parents or teachers who are doing the best they can with what they have and for the circumstances they're in. They are also not a judgement of individuals who make use of curriculum or take an adult-directed homeschool approach. We all do the best we can.
All that being said - Let's go!
Lately its seems I'm seeing more parents than ever explore the possibility of homeschooling and its 'black sheep cousin' Unschooling, but they're afraid they're not good enough/smart enough/able, to be a "good teacher" and be "everything" their child needs. After all, the school system has a specialist teacher and specialist materials/equipment for every topic, - how can you as one person possibly come close to that level of expertise except by maybe, if you're really smart, creating a school-at-home environment using curriculum designed by specialist experts?
Probably one of the most mind-blowing and essential things to discover as a parent is that your self-doubt, your belief that you're not good enough to homeschool or unschool – is a direct and intended result of the the white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism which drive our school system. The school system exists to teach people to be compliant workers who know their place in the social order, and to unquestioningly defer to experts. That includes the teachers within the system who are also subject to its control.
"No! That's not true" you say (as the foundations of your long held belief systems begin to crack. Lol). "The purpose of the school system is to educate! To make unruly kids learn the information they'll need to be successful (financially) contributing members of society! Without school there would be chaos!!"
Except when we look at actual school system outcomes - retained information that benefits people as adults isn't it. The information students are taught is largely forgotten once the test is written and assignment submitted. Don't believe me? Just watch old episodes of "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" ;) Or take a grade 8 test on virtually any subject. Or ask a post-secondary instructor how many incoming high school students don't have the basic skills needed to independently pursue post-secondary education.
If conveying information students need and will benefit from as adults was actually the goal they'd learn about budgeting and taxes; food shopping, storage and preparation; critical thinking and creative problem solving; relationship building, family dynamics, conflict resolution etc. **Not to mention issues of social justice which underpin everything!!**
And if they actually wanted students to retain that information it would be taught contextually and in response to the child's desire and readiness to explore the topics. But that's not what they learn or how they learn in school because beneficial information transfer isn't actually the goal.
The goal is compliant adults who take their place in the social order, which includes adults perpetuating the cycle by believing they're not expert enough and so must also put their kids through the school system, or if they must homeschool, replicate school-at-home as closely as they can.
When you feel like you wouldn’t be "good enough" and would be doing your child a disservice through home education let alone through self-directed/child-led education aka Unschooling — that's the shitty social conditioning talking and it's not true!
You don't have to be all the experts rolled into one to Unschool, because expert adults presenting curriculum isn't how humans of any age naturally learn anyway. Your child doesn't need academic expertise from you, for them to learn. (of note - this can be an extra challenging belief to unpack for parents who have worked within the school system, especially in any kind of teaching role. In addition to the conditioning we've all received simply from existing in our schooled culture, those who've worked within it have years of their lives, money, and their identities intertwined with these beliefs and that's a LOT to unpack).
What your child does need, is true respect for who they are, freedom & autonomy, opportunity, and support.
Iris Chen of Untigering says "True respect is what we show to our children before we can expect it from them... (It is) a mutual respect that is characterized by shared power, offered without coercion, rooted in authenticity, and fostered through unconditional love."
Kids need to be recognized as fully human people deserving of compassion and true respect and care NOW. They need freedom + autonomy** to decompress for however long it takes from being molded by the school system and/or its cultural influence, and the freedom** + autonomy to pursue their own interests in their own way without judgement. They need opportunities to explore, and access to things that interest them or might potentially interest them. They need the freedom + autonomy to stop and start and pick and choose and move at their own pace through their own interests. They need the freedom to quit, because if you're not free to quit, you're not actually free.
And they need supportive adults who will respect their personhood, honor their autonomy, provide them with opportunities but not add pressure to pursue them, and protect them from the judgmental adult gazes of the world. They need adults (a parent or parents) who will hold as much of the weight of their life for them as the child needs while they mature, allowing the child to take on increasing responsibility for their own self as they demonstrate readiness.
(*While the words freedom and autonomy are commonly used interchangeably, in the context of this article freedom is the absence of constraint in relation to a subjugating power, and autonomy is self-governance according to one's values and in the context of radical connectivity. There is some deep philosophical discussion to be had on this topic.)
Frankly in many ways its a much taller order than sending your child to school, or even using a curriculum at home to try and replicate specialist expertise. Unschooling - (aka child led learning or self-directed education) requires parents to actively dismantle everything they know and everything they didn’t even realize was a belief about parenting; about children; about education; about hierarchy; about white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism….. It requires parents to uncover and heal their own schooling and childhood wounds, and to build a new framework on which to create a Whole life with their child(ren).
The second and related mind-blowing discovery on the way to Unschooling is that we don't actually KNOW fully how humans learn (it's mostly still a mystery!)…. But we do know school as we know it, ain't it. Lol
All humans are born with an innate drive to learn and grow; to engage their environment with curiosity and purpose; to seek belonging in, and meaningfully contribute to, their community. Without this, the human race would be long extinct. Those drives, that curiosity, that need for belonging and desire to contribute - still exist within every living human today despite the school system actively suppressing it over 12+ years because it conflicts with its own ends. Rewards and punishments are the grease to the machine of the school system because no person of any age would willingly subject themselves to the control the school system exerts over every area of their life.
When a person wants, of their own volition, to know something, because it is relevant to their life or goals or because their curiosity was piqued for instance, the learning is easy, even when it's hard work and concerted effort. No externally driven rewards or punishments are required to move the process along because the learning itself is the goal and the person has chosen their own path.
Humans are wired to learn what they need to when they need to, with minimal effort because our brain prefers the path of least resistance and our brain wants us to survive. The fear that an unschooled child will grow to be a lazy selfish freeloading adult who will never learn anything is a fear manufactured and planted by a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system that depends on compliant workers. Children learn to move, to communicate, and to interact with their world as infants not because they're given lessons with rewards and punishments, but because they're wired to do so and are in environments which support their efforts. Keep providing a respectful, autonomous, opportunity-rich, and supportive environment, and those children can become adults who keep learning, keep growing, and contribute meaningfully in their own unique ways to their community for a lifetime.
It's a tall order and it can be scary there's no question about that. Some people want to hedge their bets and "unschool most of the time" but not for the "important" subjects like literacy and numeracy.
Homeschooling approaches which include mandatory adult-directed learning though, as useful as those forms of homeschooling may be for some, aren't in line with the philosophy that makes Unschooling what it is.❤️
Unschooling at its most basic is child-led, self-directed learning. In its fullest expression it is a radical full spectrum whole life approach to existence and growth which fully respects a child's personhood. Unschooling is built on an understanding of, and respect for, the innate curiosity and drive to learn *all* humans are born with (and which the school system methodically kills, leading not just to students who become adults who only know how to defer to expert control, but to parents who view themselves as incapable of supporting their children's growth and learning, thus perpetuating the white supremacist, patriarchal, and 6capitalist cycles of harm and control).
It's my belief that when we say we "Unschool except for"; when we separate out certain topics, (like Math or English), as things that MUST be taught in the way and time the adult wants, that's like dropping a red schooling sock in a laundry load of Unschooling lights. The red school sock colours and transforms the entire load so that it is no longer Unschooling at all.
I believe that a child who has to obey their parent's wishes about being taught certain things because the parent believes them to be so important a child can't be trusted to learn them in their own way and on their own time, is prevented from fully engaging their own innate drive to learn. I believe the very act of imposing the adults teaching plan onto the child, also teaches the child they aren't capable of learning important things without expert direction and control. When we impose "important" topics onto our kids, it teaches them that we don't trust them to manage the other important parts of their life either- an expert authority figure will control that for them. The very act of imposing an exception to a child's otherwise autonomous supported engagement with the world, teaches the child there are some things they're not smart enough or trustworthy enough to engage in.
This does not of course, preclude helping a child who has expressed in interest in something to seek out resources, courses, or someone more knowledgeable than themselves to help them reach their learning goals, especially where safety is of concern. Part of being a supportive adult is holding safe edges for our children so they don't harm themselves or others along the way. Learning to target shoot in an unschooling way would not be handing a child a gun and letting them do whatever they want with it. That obviously would be unsafe. It is too heavy a responsibility for them to hold the full weight of that alone. But you could help them find books, videos, courses, clubs, virtual experiences, instructors etc who can safely guide them in their learning in a way they're open to. This approach can respectfully maintain their need for autonomy, opportunity, and support.
Some of the biggest "benefits" of unschooling are that it can foster life-long confidence and trust in one's self and one's abilities; it teaches people HOW to learn without the threat of externally driven rewards and punishments hanging over them; and it teaches them how to seek out good resources and knowledgeable people to help advance them towards their learning and life goals. It creates people who resist subjugation for the sake of maintaining the status quo, who maintain more of their natural curiosity and creativity, and who see the world differently
When we try to impose our ideas of what's important for a child to be taught, when we unschool for "everything but…" I believe we also reduce or even lose out on those big benefits of Unschooling. "Actions speak louder than words" as they say. We can call it unschooling, but if we don't actually trust our kids and their abilities, our actions are going to reflect it and our kids are gonna feel it.
Unschooling is at least as much parental unpacking of unconscious beliefs and old wounds as it is something our kids do. lol.
So what if this all makes sense…. what's next?
If it makes sense - - and you wish you could do it but for whatever real life reasons you can't - you can still do the work of unpacking your own beliefs; healing your wounds; providing true respect, autonomy, opportunity, and support for your kids in other areas of their life; limiting the influence of school on their home life by saying no to things like homework and/or organized adult-driven extra-curriculars; building connection and trust and free time into your family life; and you can talk with your kids in age appropriate ways about how the school system is harmful and what you're doing together to help mitigate the effects of harm while still being in the system because of your needs.
And if it makes sense - - and you want to do it and you're able to do it - Jump In!
Look up the laws for your jurisdiction to find out what you need to do next legally. I'm in Ontario Canada so have added a couple good links specific to that, below. Connect with homeschool or unschool groups and associations for input on local or relevant resources. Learn, learn, and learn some more. And while you're learning, start living a new life. I believe in you.
References, Resources, and Further Reading
Unschooling Canada Association
Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents
Happiness is here
I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write.
Dr Naomi Fisher
Raising Free People
Beyond Groos: A biological theory of education
The Most Fundamental Right is the Right to Quit
Freedom vs Autonomy
White Supremacy Culture
Natural Born Learners: Unschooling And Autonomy In Education
Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves: Transforming Parent-Child Relationships From Reaction and Struggle to Freedom Power and Joy
Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content
Untigering: Peaceful parenting for the deconstructing tiger parent
Changing Our Minds: How Children Can Take Control of Their Own Learning
A Different Way to Learn: Neurodiversity and Self-Directed Education
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
John Taylor Gatto
Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
Instead of Education: Ways to help people do things better
Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling
John Holt & Pat Ferenga
Punished By Rewards
Parenting Beyond Power
Jen Lumanlan l
(With the caveat that I don't love chapter 7 and especially chapter 8 and feel like the book would have been better without them)
Raising Free People: Unschooling As Liberation & Healing
Akilah S. Richards