In 2005 I created An Unschooling Life, a blog detailing our unschooling experience after adopting our three children. Over time, An Unschooling Life became a hub for unschooling support and advice. The blog has been featured in print and digital media and was home to the popular Unschooling Carnival. I’m in the process of updating and moving all the posts to this blog where they will be housed under the An Unschooling Life section. This post was originally published on March 1, 2007.
A few months ago, a student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism contacted me and asked if they could interview me about unschooling for research they were doing. Here are her questions followed by my answers.
1) You address a lot of the day to day in your blog, but what are the biggest hurdles to starting unschooling?
For me, it was changing the way I view education, school, and learning. Real learning – learning that truly means something to an individual. Learning has nothing to do with passing or failing, dividing the world up into subjects or taking a standardized test. That’s not learning.
Education is not telling students that it’s June 1 and today is the day you need to learn about dolphins. Also, when you’re done “learning”, you’re going to be tested to see if you can regurgitate all the facts back. And if you do, bingo!…you’ve learned! For me, seeing the learning in everything and not dividing the world up into educational and not educational has been very helpful.
In Guerrilla Learning, by Grace Llewellyn she says;
“Real learning requires meaning. Meaningless information can be memorized and repeated, but it’s not learning. For information to have meaning, there must be meaningful context for the information. That’s why most people unless they are really good at absorbing and retaining meaningless data, forget most of what they learned in school. In school, subjects are artificially separated from each other. It’s as if schools believe that if you give kids one tree at a time, year after year, they will save them up and make a forest out of them. School can sap kids interest in learning, confuse them with so many meaningless “trees” that it may take years to recover and begin to see the “forest” again. School can simply eat up so much of their time that there’s none left for the real learning, for spontaneous exploration or free play. Instead of discovering their unique gifts and talents, many learn to see themselves as “disabled” if they don’t keep up with the traditional school systems standards of measurement.”
2) And what are the unexpected benefits you find along the way?
For my children, one of the unexpected benefits is how they (especially my youngest) are starting to question things more. They’re interested in knowing things. They’re curious. They’re starting to see that learning is not something you do just to pass a test. For me, an unexpected benefit was how much I would change through this journey.
3) How has unschooling helped your children blossom?
Unschooling is allowing them to be free and they’re blossoming in that freedom. They’re starting to become surer of themselves, which isn’t hard to do when you’re not in school. There’s nobody telling them that they’re failures so their confidence in themselves is soaring. They are starting to see that life is not sectioned into educational and not educational and that they’re interests take them places that school could never dream of.
I love the idea of this style of learning. My kids only seem to behave at school though. We are lucky to be in a good district with great speech services for my little ones. It is cool that you can have more of a flexible schedule.
I think it is incredible what homeschooling parents take on. I know some personally and they go above and beyond to give their children experiences to enhance their learning!
Two of my foster children were home from school sick this week. One of them, Daniel (9), has been unschooled much of his life and in school for about 8 weeks. The other Ata(10) has been in school since the age of five and been living with me for six months. When she first arrived with her brother they often scoffed at Daniel, telling him school was best and you can’t learn at home, all homeschoolers are dumb and so on. Daniel, a true unschooler and very sure of his educational choice, stood his ground well but Ata and her brother could not understand something so far out of their own experience. Until this week, when Ata had a taste herself.
Today, I overheard Ata telling her brother and his friend how much more learning you do at home compared to school and how much fun it was. To an outsider all they have done all week is play – create with lego, make monkey nests in the tree, build volcanoes, trenches and islands in the sandpit, light fires in different containers and discovered what it needs to burn, art, craft, read books together, learnt why we need the sun to survive, baked, made slime, gone on trips to the library, bank, supermarket, watched videos, listened to music. They have organised a garage sale, made signs, priced everything, discovered the power of advertising, dealt with costumers, given change. With the money they made we went to the hydroslide in the next town and had Mcdonalds for dinner.Daniel tried making a working fireplace, learnt aluminium melts and can’t be soldered to a metal baking dish. He’s planned, measured, cut, made a chimney and realised his idea needs improving and outside help. Throughout the week there has been lots and lots of discussion, debate, questions and googling. I’m not sure what my 12 year old foster son learnt at school this week and I don’t think he does either. He can’t even tell me what his new topic subject is because the teacher wrote it on the board and he doesn’t read very well. I’m now wondering why I even went there with school for Daniel. But oh how the clean house, well planted, weeded gardens, long peaceful walks and hot spas in solitude are tempting me to continue with it just a little while longer.
I have to say that I am not as brave as you in that I do not homeschool my 3 boys. However, I did a teacher training course last year and it really opened up my eyes about education and what my values are. The result surprised me …
In fact, I totally agree with you that learning is not about regurgitating facts and passing exams. I think it is about helping kids have the confidence to question the world around them and find answers for themselves. It is about giving them thinking skills and encouraging them to stretch themselves and push the boundaries. Unfortunately, schools often lose sight of this and the goal becomes more important than the process.
Habitat for Humanity has newly created lesson plans, assessments, and other resources for children in grades 3-12 to help teach them about housing issues around the world. I hope you and your readers find these tools helpful! You can find them here: http://www.habitat.org/Habitat_Learns/default.aspx
I love what you have to say about unschooling!
.-= Kristy´s last blog ..ABC MAGNETS =-.
I love your unschool blog. I’m putting together an free e-book with home schoolers stories-why you homeschool- to encourage new homeschool families.
And I would love to include your story with a link back to your blog. Please let mw know if that’s okay. I couldn’t find anywhere to contact you.
.-= Jana´s last blog ..How to Teach History With Just One Book =-.
Mary Ann Johnson says
I had the opportunity to home school two of my seven children and today I coach and mentor home school children and parents. I have seen first hand what you have experienced. Education and learning when child driven and not adult driven is a magical thing to watch! Just magical!
I really enjoyed reading your interview. Your answer on question #1 really reflects the way I felt about my own school experience growing up, and this is why I don’t want that for my son. I am hearing more and more about unschooling, and, even though at first the name “unschooling” turned me off, I am seeing that this is something I really need to take the time to learn more about. It seems like such a good way to learn. Thank you for sharing!
.-= Tea´s last blog ..ABC Game =-.
Home Schooling Expert says
I agree with your answers and home schooling in general. Home schooling in my experience has been very successful, as far as I can see standardized tests mean very little. What actually keeps students learning is curiosity and self motivation not pressure from the “people in authority”. I know when I was a kid apart from wanting to spend time with my friends I would have been all for home schooling.
.-= Home Schooling Expert´s last blog ..Unschoolers Drawing – How I came to unschooling =-.
Julie from Homeschooling-ideas says
Good interview. I liked your answers. I think maybe an unexpected benefit of homeschooling for me is that “I” am more curious, more interested in knowing things. Homeschooling has caused a big change in me and the way I see the world!
It really does become a whole way of life, instead of just a ‘method of education’ doesn’t it?
best wishes, Julie.
.-= Julie from Homeschooling-ideas´s last blog ..Jun 15, Home Education Subjects =-.
Michelle Breum says
I like the way you’ve expressed your views. I see the drawbacks of traditional schooling. There is a huge amount of my children’s time wasted everyday. We learn many things together as a family when they are not in school, and I feel guilty some days sending my children to school. I volunteer at the school and stay involved. My children seem to be doing fine. I’m thankful for summer to spend all day with my three children, but I know I wouldn’t have the paitence to teach or be the facilitator of their education everyday. Good for you for taking on the task! You have lucky children!
.-= Michelle Breum´s last blog ..Magnetic Letters Can Be Organized And Used To Teach Reading =-.
Mary Beth Aasterud says
I just stumbled across this blog, and boy, did I need it. I have known for a while that the public schools were failing my kids, they have almost every label known to man, and all 3 have been recommended for special ed, 2 have an IEP in place, but only one of them is actually getting “help”. Away from school, they are much happier, better behaved, sweet kids. We had an incident this past week where I believe the school acted completely out of line, so we pulled our youngest out, and will be homeschooling, or unschooling for the rest of the year.
Jeri Graybill says
Thanks for your posting. I am learning about unschooling these days, and appreciate the concepts you mention.
This is wonderful, especially Llewellyn’s quotes which are so thought-provoking and inspiring. I’ve been thinking so much of #3 lately with my oldest (7) who has gone from being shy & very, very quiet to chatting up relative strangers. I saw it happening over time as well, the little bits of confidence growing and growing.
.-= Arp´s last blog ..Unschooling Language =-.