“If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would create something like a classroom…”
—Dr. John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
Unschooling—What is it?
Unschooling is actively learning from life.
You’re unschooling right now. (Yes, you, graduated, college-educated adult.)
Today, lots of educators focus upon assignments or curriculum. Reading the classics or memorizing the periodic table.
That was not my school.
Instead, I homeschooled—or, more accurately, “Unschooled.”
Why not learn because you’re curious?
Unschooling was coined in the 1970’s by educator John Holt. After decades of teaching, Holt figured that the classroom model was completely counterproductive, creating a group of students where half were bored, half were left behind, and none invested in learning. The model of traditional school leaves any students’ innate curiosity unfed. School, he wrote in How Children Fail, could not service diverse students’ interests, needs, competencies, and learning styles. Furthermore, he wrote, it exacerbated students’ mental illnesses, particularly anxiety.
And, he wondered, was this information they were shoving down students’ throats even worth anything? Proved truer by the advent of the smartphone and Google—Why spend sixth grade memorizing what you could just ask Siri (or Alexa, or Google, or Watson…)?
And what about the system itself? When was the last time you submitted a multiple-choice contract? Made an “A” in purchasing a home? Got “extra credit” from your boss?
We attempt to help students by making them “well-rounded,” but are any of your friends? Is Bill Gates? A best-selling author? Can a silicon valley engineer discriminate between a simile and metaphor? How much, to anyone but their 6th grade teacher, does that matter?
And, after all this, how much of your school do you remember?
Do you know the difference between a simile and metaphor? What about when to use sine versus cosine? And, really, how much do you care?
Why subject students to a system they will never use and is also making them sick?
Holt’s proposed solution: Let students learn what they want, where they want, when they want. Simply provide resources and encourage them. (Because they will learn; children are endlessly curious.)
Enter: Unschooling. Where one’s goal is not to learn subjects but to learn learning. Not to force uniformity, but foster creativity by helping students learn about what interests them at their own pace.
How do you do it?
How would you learn something?
You’d Google it, read some articles, maybe check out some books. You might talk to experts about it. If you’re really interested, you might even sign up for a class.
But, really, how do I teach that?
You don’t have to. Watch your student for an afternoon. How many times do they ask Siri? Try something out? Phone a friend?
All you have to do is facilitate.
- Provide Resources.
Teach them how to use Google Scholar; drive them to the library; help them meet up with people who love what they do.
- Teach Source Evaluation.
Teach them how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Here are some articles on how to read academic papers. (Here’s a video)
Here are some articles about evaluating sources.
- Broaden and Piggyback.
Ask the question “What about…”
If you want to broaden their horizons, state a related thing or alternative view.
If you have a difficult subject, piggyback off one of the subjects they do
‘Sherlock Holmes likes chemistry, right? Doesn’t he need math for that?’
NOTE: Don’t underestimate your students. Give them the hard stuff. The real stuff. Part of learning is learning how to work through things that you don’t know. Go over it again next week or next month—resiliency is an even better lesson than content.
There. Three points. The secret sauce.
Now, close this blog, close your computer, enter into your new, free, unschooling life.
(Please, please come back for tips!)
If you’re not convinced…
Why (purposefully) do it?
‘So,’ you say, ‘It’s learning. We do it every day. What benefit might I get from pulling my student from school to learn something they already know, when they’re likely to go back? Why would avoiding a classroom matter?’
Let’s be honest. No one homeschools forever. And you’re right; everyone is always unschooling. Your official stint homeschooling will likely be a temporary one; out of the former homeschoolers I know, only three homeschooled to college. For many, it was only one year.
But even if it was a year spent fishing, that year was an important one.
And you take something from it—not just a graduation certificate from your Mom.
Because you don’t just learn the subjects; you learn yourself.
All the homeschoolers I’ve met are uniquely passionate. They don’t just clock in. They never learned how.
Instead, they learned to love their lives enough to live them.
Teaching your student how to ask and investigate the questions they have about the world lets them learn that.
Why subject them to a time-consuming, counterintuitive, potentially sickening system? Especially when you already have everything they need?
If you’re worried about math, science, falling behind, and/or socialization, fear not—I will write an article on that for you.
Because giving your student time to learn themselves is important.
Because even if the world is changing and knowing facts no longer matters because Google or Siri can learn them for you—learning how to live will still matter. Always matter.
(That means you’re just as much of a student as your student.)
Every one of the tips, tricks, and lessons on this blog are equally applicable to you, and every learning experience for your student is also one for you.
Because you’re not just homeschoolers, you’re a homeschool family.
And homeschooling (or unschooling), after all, isn’t a ream of paperwork, a classroom designation, or something that happened between 5 & 18. It’s a way of life.