On Not Being an Unschooler

I talk about unschooling concepts often, but I don’t like calling ourselves unschoolers. Nor do I like to use the term “unschooling” when I can use a different term to describe the same thing.

Why don’t I like the word? Because there is so much misconception about what it is, that as soon as I bring it up in conversation, it drags along with it a ton of assumptions that reduce the impact of my subsequent points.

In the same way that saying “homeschooling” to the general public brings up images of hours sitting in front of a blackboard hanging on our dining room wall, “unschooling” brings up images of kids sitting around doing nothing all day and never working “hard” and eating candy as their primary food, all cuz “that’s what they want to do”. While there might be families who live up to both stereotypes, neither of these scenarios indicate what’s at the heart of homeschooling and unschooling.

Don’t let labels trip you up. See behind the label and if someone says “unschooling” without clarifying it, ask questions to find out what they mean.

In an email conversation I was having with several people, one of the moms made a reference to unschooling by saying, “My kids unschooled math.” What the heck does that mean? That means nothing. That gives me absolutely no information about what her kids did to learn math. The reason why it doesn’t tell me anything is because I know that unschooling is not, in and of itself, a method. It is a free-form dance. Some unschoolers will study math with books, others in a class, others in a group, other with a computer program, others at a job, others by volunteering, others by… the list in infinite. “Unschooling” in this context can only mean one thing; they learned math their own way at their own pace with their own flair. That’s the only thing I know. I don’t know how fast they learned. How hard they worked. Whether mom was the teacher. Whether they had a schedule. Whether their learning was structured. Whether mom or dad made the structure for them or they made it themselves. Whether mom made suggestions along the way. Whether mom signed them up for classes, he went. None of this is implied, or not implied, by the word “unschooling”. I just can’t know.

If “unschooling” is used without clarification, make no assumptions. Ask for details. Then once you have the details, that’s the time for discussion. Or to just think about it. Once you get past the “whats” of “unschooling”, and start digging into the “whys”, there are a lot of interesting things to consider.

So, my plan is to consider these things without clumping them together and calling it something. I want to consider each perspective in its own right, and see what happens. If I use the word “unschooling”, it won’t be to describe a way of learning, because there is no one way of learning to attach to it. So, I’ll try to just dump the whole terminology altogether, and discuss the “why”‘s. I’ll let you all figure out the “what”‘s in your own way.


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