The Truth About Unschooling

unschool-bus

What if I told you that kids didn’t have to sit inside a classroom to learn? Well, all over the world there is a revolutionary phenomenon taking shape; it is a phenomenon of true education and it is called unschooling.

Wikipedia defines unschooling as “a controversial range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum.” Wow, you mean parents actually let their children learn from natural life experiences? Shocking!

Whatever your opinion is of unschooling, I can tell you that it works. Maybe not for everyone, but for the many, unschooling seems to be one of the best ways to embrace the natural intelligence that we are all born with. Why? That part has to do with the way our compulsory school system has become corrupted.

If you think back to childhood, most kids learn by asking questions about the world around them. They’ll ponder, “Why is the sky blue? What is the name of that flower? What is your favorite food?” and other endless questions. Interestingly enough, this is unschooling in action. Small children are naturally curious about the world and they seek to satisfy their curiosity with lots and lots of questions. Oh, but along comes school, which teaches children not to “ask stupid questions.” School forces children to “learn” about things they have no interest in. The system focuses on rote memorization rather than intellectual curiosity. Unnecessary questions are frowned upon and the “students” spend more time staring at sheets of paper than at the world around them.

We are built to learn. We are built to soak up knowledge from anything and everything. There is no need for such a process to be forced upon us. When it is however, the result is usually a severe weakening of our sense of curiosity. Why is it that a large number of high school students often hate reading on their own free time? Could it be that they have been forced to read so many books that do not interest them that they’ve become burned out? If left unaltered, I believe there is evidence to show that reading is naturally enjoyable, for the simple fact that it plays upon our curiosity.

Those few people who know that I graduated from a state university with a perfect 4.0 GPA sometimes ask me how it was possible, especially while holding down two jobs and serving in various organizations. In response, I tell them that I’ve been preparing for college all my life, from the day I was born, by learning to love learning. While not as bad as our compulsory education system, college faces its own set of roadblocks to natural learning. Nevertheless, college can be fun and it offers unschoolers the opportunity to succeed in new ways. You just have to want to be there for the right reasons.

In conclusion, I’m not an extremist when it comes to unschooling. In fact, I was only unschooled from the fourth grade onward. That means I learned how to read and write and how to multiply and divide in public school (blame the typos on that). So there is hope for our school system, if only we embrace the unique learning style of each student. In that case, teachers have the toughest and the easiest job on the planet. On one side of the coin, they must work to identify those learning styles and build upon them. However, they must also step back and allow our world to become the greatest teacher of all. For there is a teacher all around us, moving at the pace of our individual curiosity, never focusing on memorization and never testing us without a good reason. That is what unschooling is all about.

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Comments

  1. Kelleigh says

    Yeh! Great post. Thanks for sharing. I still find the use of the term "controversial" so entertaining when defining "unschooling"! Like you say, how "shocking" it is that parents might allow the world to be a child's classroom! And for an unschooler (you) to do so well in life! Shocking:)! It is sad, however, that teachers, with the constant pressure to make sure their students are ready for standardized tests, can't allow for the "world to become the greatest teacher of all". That's why I left the classroom and am now a full-time proponent of unschooling. Come on over to my blog (kidzinky.com) to see my thoughts.

  2. says

    Wonderful post! Yes, child-led learning works. It works only when the family support the child's decisions and empowers him / her to follow their inspiration. Children that are empowered to explore grow up empowered adults. And this is coming (as you likely suspected) an unschooling parent who sees this first hand. Thank you for the wonderful article, I'm going to share it with my community. http://www.raisingmiro.com/2011/04/28/a-parents-g
    My recent post 3 Creatures I Hope We Never Run Into Part 6

  3. Kimberly Sharpe-Slage says

    As an unschooling Mom of two daughters ages, 11 and 17, I am so thrilled to find your post. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this!

  4. mama mary says

    awesome.my son did up to grade 4 and then last yr. i found out i had the right to 'unschool' him… it fit perfectly into our lives and he is doing great! thanks for this! spreading the word is important because even though i had explored homeschool nobody at any of the educational places i talked to ever offered up the unschool information. i guess i just got busy with daily life for awhile and didnt explore more after they crushed my dreams telling me i had to write him a curriculum that they could approve…That was scary to me and im sure alot of other parents hear that and choose school because they have no idea where to start writing their curriculum. Here it was just a cruel trick to tell parents they HAVE to write a curriculum that is government passable because then i found out later there are multiple school boards not just ONE and there are school boards that allow no curriculum!! This is why is is very important to spread the word about unschooling..We are truly lazy creatures when it comes to questioning the 'norms' such as school and work but is that directly school related? The passions are all beaten out of us!.

  5. Peter Bortolon says

    I am a 14 year old boy, I have lived in a way to suggest that I have a healthy amount of "unschooling". I go to school though and enjoy it; sure some kids say they wish they were home-schooled and that they would be able to get out of school but truthfully every child loves school for the reason that is friends. When being home-schooled one does not get the proper amount of social activity. Sure there are video games and friends that they might meet online that are suitable to trust in there minds, but, you can never be sure this "friend" could be actually trying to shape a young mind into a different view and commonly its their own direction, but I'm getting off topic. What I am trying to say is that they don't get enough social experiences, sure they get to live life go outside enjoy what the world has to offer them but who's going to teach them how to act at their first college party or if they don't go to college a first date, this kid could live in absolute solitude and be a genius but would never be able to experience what I would call "life". He would never be able to regain the time lost either. It would be a shame to "unschool" because your taking someones childhood. They could have friends but where are they going to learn how to deal with enemies, work bullies, someone who just wants to pick a fight. If they lived with no solitude and a lot of options they still would be under informed. When they are undergoing the "unschool" prosses they can choose who they see or not, if a bully of any kind were to pass them and them feel threatened, they would simply not talk and or avoid the other child. School is a place were there is no escape, but, there is no escape from experience, theirs no escape from the real world. Correct me if I am wrong I'm only 14 I still have a lot to learn I also can't speak for children being "unschooled" but this is my opinion on the subject and thank you for the post :)! It really made me think about it for a while. I also don't mean to contradict your post you have some seriously excellent points on serious subjects but I think social behavior is very important in life and the best way to learn how to deal with a situation under this category is by going to school, any school will do really. Just as long as there are people around you feeding the natural need for human companions in your life.

    • says

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog article. You brought up some great points. Clearly you are thinking deeply about the pros and cons of different methods of education and that is what matters. While we may disagree on a few things, I think we can both agree that the important part is to always stay curious about the world and to never stop learning.

  6. says

    This is very interesting, and eye opening!
    I flt like I just realized what learning is all about, and how it comes that I only ever learned stuff for a text in school and then forgot all about that info shortly after.
    If only schools were more versatile.
    =o)

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