Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unschooling is Not Relaxed Homeschooling

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm being rigid or judgmental somehow in my insistence that unschooling does have a somewhat agreed upon definition, and that it would be nice if people who choose to use the term unschooling agreed with the general understanding of the word.

Some would argue that there is no real consensus on what unschooling is, but I'd say that's not really true, because if you look at the main unschooling websites, the Wikipedia article on unschooling, and if you go to workshops at any unschooling conference or read any of the books out there on unschooling, you will find a definite consensus.

The consensus being that unschooling is student directed learning, which means the child or teen learns whatever they want, whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by an external curriculum, by teachers, or by parents. For an unschooler, life is their classroom..  Parents give up their ideas of what their children MUST learn in favor of supporting their children in following a path of their own choosing.

There is even a general consensus on what radical unschooling is, and that is giving children the freedom over academic choices, plus extending that freedom of choice to all other aspects of life: food choices, bedtimes, TV and computer usage...

Why do I think it's important that people who embrace the label of unschooling do actually follow that model of trusting children with their own education?

There are a couple of reasons:
  1. Unschooling is not very well understood by the majority of people out there (if they've even heard of it), and it seems to me that when lots of relaxed homeschoolers (parents who allow their children some freedom in what they learn, but still ultimately dictate their children's learning) call themselves unschoolers, it further muddies the waters.  It also gives critics the least "radical" people out there calling themselves unschoolers to latch onto: "well, obviously some of these 'unschoolers' teach their children what they need to know, it's just the radical/extreme ones who let their children do what they want!" Thus all opportunity for an understanding of true unschooling (a child or teen directing their own education, with parents/other adults in their life, acting as facilitators) is lost.
  2. This false view of unschooling completely misses the point of unschooling, which is the realization that life and learning are inseparable, and trusting that children and teens who are trusted and respected in their learning will gain all of the skills needed to be happy, "successful" (whatever that means to the individual) people.
I obviously personally feel that unschooling is the best option out there, but I want to emphasize that this does not mean I don't respect choices other than unschooling.  While I pretty strongly disagree with the schooling model in all it's forms, including school-at-home, I can still respect the individuals themselves who choose (or have no other option but) those paths in education.  And when it comes to relaxed homeschooling, I think it's an amazing and radical act to give up the traditional model of schooling in any way, even when that doesn't mean unschooling.

All I'm saying is that there's already a term for relaxed homeschooling: unschooling is something different.

You cannot unschool part time: for two hours a day or every Friday or one week out of every month.  Unschooling is a whole lifestyle and radically different way of looking at learning and life.  It's not something you can just turn on and off!

You cannot unschool except for math and/or reading and/or science.  Unschooling is genuinely trusting children to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it.  It's not really unschooling if you only trust them to learn a couple of things on their own, but think you have to force them to learn other things.

You cannot unschool only until you disapprove of what your children choose to do.  If you're happily "unschooling" during a time when your children are willingly and by choice doing math workbooks and reading the classics daily, but quickly step in with enforced curricula when your children instead start choosing to play games and read back issues of People magazine for a while, you weren't unschooling in the first place.  If you don't plan on respecting your children's choices in learning even when you'd prefer they be doing something else, then you're not unschooling.

I want to make it really clear that I'm not at all trying to diss parents on a difficult journey who sometimes panic and try to teach their uninterested 9 year old to read: what I'm saying is that there's a fundamental difference between families who believe in the principles of unschooling--in trusting children, and trusting the learning process, and who endeavor to follow these principles, even though they sometimes do panic--and families who stick the term unschooling on themselves without really trusting their children to learn at all.

My frustration, which I'm sure is apparent in this post, comes because as an unschooling advocate, I deal with people's lack of understanding about unschooling all the time, and that lack of understanding is exacerbated by the sheer amount of people using the unschooling term without really embracing the principles of unschooling.

Being the polite plus people loving person that I am, I'm not exactly going around telling people they're not really unschooling to their faces, but after reading through the comments on this post, the exasperation built to a level that just needed to be let out in a blog post.  (It's also important to note that the comments on this post are far more respectful than are often seen on unschooling articles: I wasn't angered by the comments, simply frustrated by the lack of understanding shown by many.)

I have no control over what terms people choose to use, and in the grand scheme of things it's not overly important.  But in my own work and from personal experience, I find it important to make a few distinctions.  And one that I see as being pretty important?  That unschooling is NOT the same as relaxed homeschooling.

59 comments:

  1. This was not judgmental at all. You did a great job at clarifying the misconceptions surrounding unschooling. I think this might help people new to unschooling/homeschooling and wishing to truly understand what these methods are about.

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  2. I think a different word (one that has nothing to do with "schooling" or "homeschooling") might help solve the problem...if it, indeed, is a problem. Not that I haven't said all that before. ;-)

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  3. I have found that unschooling is really a journey and it's very very difficult to come to a point of trusting your child to their own education. As a parent, it is quite scary to let go of that control and just believe in your child.

    This post and other articles that offer a clarification to what unschooling really is are so important. I imagine there are a lot of people who just aren't quite there yet with their journey and this sort of post can help them take that final leap.

    I have a lot more to say on this subject, so it will probably take the form of a post on my own blog soon!

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  4. It seems like there's much too big an expanse betweeen Unschooling and Relaxed Homeschooling. What about those of us in the gray? We don't get a word? :)

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    1. I use "Unschooly". It's relaxed homeschooling with an unschool outlook. In my case the kids choose what they want to learn, and how they want to learn it, but I'll suggest plenty of other things that they can add to it so that they are covering all the subjects. For example, they might not realize that they CAN learn math while studying unicorns. I'll help them locate unicorn related math or write it up myself. I'm sure older kids don't struggle with this as much as little ones do. My eldest is 9 and he'd pretty good about covering "all the bases". Keep in mind though that I'm not forcing them to cover all the bases, I just point it out when it's available and they almost always WANT to pursue it.

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  5. This definition is very helpful. I'm bookmarking it so I can send people here.

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  6. great job! :)

    why, oh why, do people feel this need to claim the unschooling label when they aren't unschooling? i just don't get it. if their 'club' isn't cool enough then they need to drop it and join in completely.

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  7. @Jessica... what do you mean you're in the grey?

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  8. Oh, you know. When you feel in between the black that is relaxed homeschooling but not pure enough to claim the white that is unschooling. :)

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  9. @Jessica: there are words, I have heard "tidal homeschooling" (http://melissawiley.typepad.com/bonnyglen/2006/01/tidal_homeschoo.html)
    and "zen schooling"(http://www.justenoughblog.com/?cat=25), I'm sure there are more...

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  10. This is so interesting. I am an "adult" unschooled "kid", does that make sense? When we were growing up we simply called it "Life School" and we were "Learners at Large"... In today's definition as "defined" above, we would have been considered "radical unschoolers" but back then we were simply OUTLAWS. Thank goodness we have the legal freedom to join our own kids in "Life School" without hiding out. We are out of the closet Radical Unschoolers learning in Life School and yes, it can be a frustrating road sometimes but SOOOO worth it!

    Rebecca Atlee

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    1. What did you do in order to hide back then?
      I'm interested because we are in this exact situation now here in Germany.
      To me it's so funny to read thousands of comments about just a word definition ... I think more about how to do things in order to not get discovered by the authorities.

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  11. I've seen the same things you have and have been frustrated too. Especially about unschooling part-time! You're right, it is a lifestyle choice - it's really leaving all "schooling" behind - and I've discovered a lot of homeschoolers think they get unschooling and don't.

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  12. @Jessica
    Maybe just say "relaxed homeschoolers with an unschooling bent" or some other phraseology that feels accurate. Whether you aspire to unschooling or not, it's okay to express ambivalence or "grey" whether by design or by transient uncertainty.

    You know Idzie I've always thought Unschooling like Feminism is a term one can self-apply and *we have to ask more information* if we want to know more (and if they want to share)... and yes, many people who claim titles, when we press further for their worldviews, we find they adhere to beliefs that don't seem at all to be what we believe about the title or term. Like feminists who are real crappy about breeding or stay-at-home-moms. Etc.

    I have to say though, you've really nailed some of the reasons the co-opting of the "unschooling" term is annoying and to some extent destructive. I use the phrase "life learning" a bit but I've seen that co-opted too. These days I just say, "my kids don't go to school", since, sadly, the by-rote assumption of 99.9% of EVERY adult (and child) you meet is that kids go to or do school, period, so saying that seems simple but a good reorientation to have from the get-go (when it's relevant). Pretty funny because I can see the confusion this begets. I'm happy to talk more about it but I also think conversations are two-sided (or more) things so I don't assume people WANT to know more.

    One thing I don't like is when people get pissy about homeschoolers (or compulsory schoolers) claiming the unschooling label, when they say, "Why don't you just admit you aren't an unschooler, unschooling isn't for everyone anyway". I think if we think about it for about two minutes we'll realize that these parents like lots of aspects of the unschooling theories - or maybe these parents/carers want US to know they aren't rigid or whatever. Their openness to the term is better than we run across in many mainstream discussions. We can have conversations about what unschooling means to us vs. what it means to them, and in fact these conversations are probably really important ones to have.

    Thank you for another good piece. Like has been posted here, I'm going to bookmark and send people here!

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  13. Very well said! I also keep seeing people say that there isn't much consensus on what unschooling is, but it really is quite simple... it'll be different for everyone, but that's only BECAUSE they can choose what to do.

    (Also, I see this post got featured in the AERO newsletter)

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  14. Oh well done ! it is such a pain to explain to others what homeschooling is, let alone unschooling... i have stopped trying... but I love your post !
    Cath (UK)

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  15. I hate what schools do to our children and love real life applicable learning AKA unschooling. My husband prefers the relaxed method which is the control factor. I have attempted to transform public education as a candidate for State Superintendent of Education and most recently won election to the School Board. I think my efforts would be better served as a private nonprofit unschool. Thanks for the blog and clarification.

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  16. I am wondering why it is so important to you to make a distinction between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling? Who benefits from this distinction? Unschoolers?

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  17. Love this. It's clear to me that very few people are comfortable letting go the idea that there is some core body of knowledge/thinking that everyone must complete, even if they go through it in a non-traditional way. That, to me, is at the heart of the unschooling choice.

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  18. I have 3 kids in the institutional equivalent of unschooling: a democratic free school (The Brooklyn Free School.) They are free to guide their own school days as they choose. They all entered after they had received several years of regular education, 1 at 6th grade and 2 at around second grade so they all entered the free school environment having at least basic academic skills that they could build on.

    Over the years I've watched families come and go from the free school and it is clear that there are some parents who cannot face the long-term uncertainty of not knowing if their kids are going to read or not (not to mention more advanced academic skills.) Parent meetings are always marked by people who want clear-cut required classes and achievement, even though the structure of the school is very clearly delineated as not including this kind of thing.

    What I realized recently when thinking on whether unschooling type approaches were viable for the general student population is that I do have a bottom line. I would expect that my kids were able to read with a reasonable level of ease, write with comprehensible clarity and do basic arithmetical computation by the time they reach college age. I realized that I believe that if kids don't achieve these skills then they are being done a serious disservice. Does this make me a control freak? I don't think so but I'm left wondering where this expectation can fit in with a general support of the unschooling philosophy.

    But what I don't know is if these things actually happen to most/all of the students who are raised with unschooling type educations. My kids came to the free school already knowing how to read. Their skills only improved as they pursued their own interests and needed to become more skilled for that pursuit. But what about all the other kids? What about the ones who don't live in houses with educated, curious, encouraging parents?

    We can't promote these concepts in the general population based on faith, anecdotal evidence and wishful thinking. So I'm left wondering what if any facts support or refute an unstructured approach to education and what actually happens to the majority of kids who are educated (or uneducated) in this manner.

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  19. @Kelly H.

    Offtopic... but do you mean that stay-at-home mums can't be feminist by this comment? "Like feminists who are real crappy about breeding or stay-at-home-moms."

    I'd have to correct your assumptions and ask you why you believe that. I'd like to address this unless I have completely misread your comment.

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  20. hart-
    if you have had your children in educational institutons all their lifes and you think that unschooled children many not be able to learn how to read than you have no understanding of how learning happens and how and why unschooling works.
    Also democratic schools are not even close to what homeschooling, let alone unschooling is.
    I have never heard of an unschooler that has not learned to read well.
    My odest has learned to read without ANY instruction whatsoever!
    At 8 he reads t a 5th to 6th grade level if not more, is an amazing speller and reads so fast people are impressed.
    The youngest is on her way and it is amazing.
    You need to really understand how learning happens. Have you read any of John Holt books or any sites about unschooling?
    They are a good place to start if you are interrested in learning more how unchoolers learn.
    Yes and I agree with you that unschooling is not for every family. I think all kids would do wonderful unschoolig but not all parents can be good unschooling parents. They first need a deep understanding of why and how unschooling works and learning happens.

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  21. Just was sent to your blog by a mutual blogging friend. I am enjoying reading a bit.
    I am a "grown up" unschooler, it was virtually unheard of when my parents were doing it, in our area anyway.

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  22. @michelle
    Not at all, many at-home moms and dads I know consider themselves feminists or subscribe to feminist theories. I'm an at-home parent and consider myself very interested in and active in feminist work. I was speaking of the other way around: feminists who exclude SAHMA and routinely dismiss the concerns, lifestyle choices, and struggles of at-home moms/women with children/women who spend time and effort in "traditional" women's work.

    @Anonymous
    I am wondering why it is so important to you to make a distinction between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling? Who benefits from this distinction? Unschoolers?

    I can't speak for Idzie but I can say like any other philosophy and practice, I think distinctions are important because the ideas are important. I don't think everyone who wants to talk about ideas is primarily trying to form cliques or anything.

    I have had many a conversation where someone assumes I'm a "relaxed homeschooler" and then as we talk they hear more about consensual living and RU (I don't use those terms necessarily but the principles as I understand them). Questions soon follow as they are amazed and surprised and maybe inspired (or maybe repelled). Our lives have changed and continue to change since our journey from compulsory-schooling, to homeschooling, to relaxed homeschooling, to unschooling... People like Idzie who write quite a bit about theory and experience are hugely inspirational to me. They are pioneers and they are passionate and without them the conversation would be a lot duller.

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  23. Yes! Thank you!! I get so irritated when people tell me that they unschool everything but math. Or that they unschool, but insist their child learn math and a language (I've heard that several times recently, ugh!). I'm posting this on Facebook. Very well said!!

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  24. Well said Idzie. and as usual... I agree!

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  25. God, I hope my posts on that pioneer woman thread qualify as a 'proper' unschooler :-)

    Becky

    (Rebecca on the thread)

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  26. Very well said! I lean more on the relaxed homeschooler side than the unschooling, but I don't see anything wrong with unschooling. I do not know much about it which is why I love your blog. The little bit I've ever heard about unschooling is the clips on TV were the radical parents take it to an unhealthy extreme. Thanks for explaining the differences so well!

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  27. Elizabeth, what you mean is "where the media depicts normal, happy unschooling families as parents taking it to an unhealthy extreme". If you knew these families and read their own descriptions of themselves and their lives, just as you have Idzie's, you would understand that they are living the unschooling life just in the way that Idzie describes and advocates for.

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  28. @Hart
    Hart said: o I'm left wondering what if any facts support or refute an unstructured approach to education and what actually happens to the majority of kids who are educated (or uneducated) in this manner.

    Here's some evidence: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201003/when-less-is-more-the-case-teaching-less-math-in-schools

    The rest of Peter Greys blog should also speak to your questions.

    Of course, there's always the fact of babies learning to talk and walk...no school involved there, just life.

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  29. What a great post to be able to link to. Thanks, Idzie!

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  30. Some of us aren't lucky enough to fit into other people's preconceived label.

    Compared to other homeschoolers, we're unschoolers. My son does chooses what he wants to learn 99.99% of the time. Regular homeschoolers would be horrified and shocked by the amount of freedom he has. They'd definitely see as unschoolers Rigid unschoolers would want to kick us out of the category because a few times a week, I have my child do about 5-10 minutes of math online.

    So that's why I ended up calling my blog "Sort of Unschoolers But Not Really".

    We don't religiously follow any type of learning/parenting philosophy. And no, I'm not ashamed of that. I like being a free-thinker rather than a strict follower.

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  31. I love this post, as I do all of Idzie's posts. I have learned a lot about unschooling from reading this blog. But I am with Dina on this. We also do not fit into the "preconceived labels" for either side. And that is why I am sticking with the term "relaxed homeschoolers".

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  32. "Whatever Works Parenting". As far as education goes, that's called eclectic homeschooling. Whatever works.

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  33. @Kelly Hogaboom: As usual, love what you have to say! And I'm totally with you on how lousy it is when people tell parents they must just not be cut out for unschooling. Just seems dismissive and mean. I think it's lovely when parents draw inspiration from unschooling, even if they aren't unschooling themselves!

    @Anonymous #1: I feel like I said in this post why I feel it's important to make a distinction between relaxed homeschooling and unschooling: " 1. Unschooling is not very well understood by the majority of people out there (if they've even heard of it), and it seems to me that when lots of relaxed homeschoolers (parents who allow their children some freedom in what they learn, but still ultimately dictate their children's learning) call themselves unschoolers, it further muddies the waters. It also gives critics the least "radical" people out there calling themselves unschoolers to latch onto: "well, obviously some of these 'unschoolers' teach their children what they need to know, it's just the radical/extreme ones who let their children do what they want!" Thus all opportunity for an understanding of true unschooling (a child or teen directing their own education, with parents/other adults in their life, acting as facilitators) is lost.
    2. This false view of unschooling completely misses the point of unschooling, which is the realization that life and learning are inseparable, and trusting that children and teens who are trusted and respected in their learning will gain all of the skills needed to be happy, "successful" (whatever that means to the individual) people."
    In regards to #2, when people miss the point of unschooling, they miss out on understanding what I consider to be a wonderful way of living, which saddens me, and it also increases misunderstanding of unschooling, which makes things difficult for unschoolers. So yes, I think that making a distinction benefits unschoolers.

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  34. @hart: Having met hundreds of unschoolers, all of whom learned to read and do basic math, I feel like I've seen this question answered a hundred times over. I trust my personal experience above all else, so don't feel like I "should" have studies lined up to back me up before daring to promote unschooling. I'm not basing my opinions on "faith", and when enough anecdotes pile up, I consider them to be pretty reliable. What I'm basing my opinions of unschooling on is my experience not just in my own life, but on SO MANY unschoolers that I've come across. To me it seems horribly elitist to decide this way of learning might not be suitable for the masses, so we should just keep it to ourselves until more "proof" surfaces... That seems just icky to me on multiple levels.

    As for studies, well, they would be nice, if for nothing else simply to convince the doubters. But the one person I know who was interested in doing studies on unschooling a couple years ago wasn't able to get funding. I believe Peter Gray has done some research, actually: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn

    What happens to the kids "educated in this manner" (I don't believe there's any such thing as "uneducating", and especially not in regards to unschooling)? Well, every single one I've met has all the skills they need to pursue whatever it is they want to.

    @Becky: I never meant this post to be judgmental, and I'm really sorry that was your reaction to it!! I greatly respect people who are seeking more freedom for their children, and whether that means relaxed homeschooling or unschooling, I think they're doing a wonderful thing.

    @Elizabeth: I'm a strong supporter of radical unschooling, and I don't believe the families shown on TV take it to an "unhealthy extreme" at all! What I do believe is that the mainstream media loves to make things as sensational as possible, and thus cut their stories in the way most likely to horrify their viewers. I really respect the people who choose to allow the media a glimpse into their lives, knowing how much judgment is likely to fall on them!

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  35. @Dina: It sounds like you're doing a wonderful thing for your children, whether it's easily labeled or not! My intent wasn't to criticize anyone's choices at all, and I'm sorry if it came across as if I was.

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  36. VedetteTX wrote: ... it's very very difficult to come to a point of trusting your child to their own education.

    That may be true for many (or most) people, but for me it is easy to trust my son to learn plenty through his interests. What I don't trust is his relationship to things we haven't evolved with - sugar and technology ('screen time').

    I totally trust our innate desire to learn, perhaps because it is so strong in me.

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  37. I would like some clarification, please: You DO distinguish between "unschooling" and "relaxed homeshooling" AND you DO distinguish between "unschooling" and "radical unschooling" - correct?

    It seems to me that your difference between "unschooling" and "radical unschooling" is that an "unschooler" chooses how, what, when, where to learning. The "radical unschooler" chooses the above, plus is allowed to make all food choices, bedtime choices, etc.

    Am I correct in your interpretation?

    Thank you so much....

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  38. @Anonymous: Yes, you're entirely right in that interpretation!

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  39. I hear you. I have friends that say we are unschooler's and I have to correct them all the time. I go with "relaxed". What are your thoughts on the parent (me)assisting her son in planning what he is wanting to do?

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  40. Hey Idzie, don't know how I missed this as I follow your blog! This is a great piece...

    And I also really like what Kelly H. wrote. I don't think that unschooling needs "policing" as sometimes seems to happen "out there" -- it comes across as very dogmatic and rigid and is, frankly, a turn-off.

    I've often thought of unschooling as a continuum... that people step onto it where they feel most comfortable and then either keep moving more fully into it or stay where they are. Maybe "unschooling" itself isn't the continuum -- maybe it's a place on it -- but I do think that becoming an unschooling family is often a process that takes time and thought. It's not often an immediate "conversion" experience.

    We've decided to skip "the label" for our family ("we learn at home"), although we wholeheartedly follow an unschooling philosophy in terms of learning. I'm always exploring how to do that best... when to offer, when to support, when to step back. And it's clearly something very different than being "relaxed" as per asking my child to do 15 minutes of math a day. Although, I confess, we did try that (didn't work very well).

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  41. The other thing that puzzles me: why are we all so keen on labeling what we do??? It plagued me for years (trying to get it "right" so that I met the club entrance requirements) and I get that people want to hang something tangible onto what we do (perhaps to define ourselves)... but why is that?

    I've got some theories. Perhaps for some people it's a remnant from being schooled themselves (and categorized, labelled, and boxed themselves) and they feel safer fitting into a category. Another theory has to do with insecurity... it feels too scary to not identify with something specific. Not for everyone, though. Perhaps some/many people just enjoy being part of something larger than themselves -- perhaps they just want to belong.

    Maybe every individual has their own unique reason for wanting to label what they do. But I do think, whatever it is, it contributes to the phenomena of people who clearly don't follow unschooling philosophy calling what they do "unschooling". They want to belong, perhaps, to something they admire but aren't willing to fully commit to - yet.

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  42. I wonder what you would do if it turned our your child had multiple learning disabilities that prevented them from being able to learn certain things without help? I am in that situation and am realizing that I'm probably more an eclectic homeschooler now due to the fact that I myself have multiple learning disabilities and don't have the ability to do a planned curiculum without a great deal of structure!

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  43. Oop, sorry Idzie, I really didn't feel criticised or that your post was judgemental - I was just joking (excuse the English dry humour!).

    I think your post was spot on, and am pretty confident in our self-chosen label of unschoolers, though not quite radical yet! However, I'm sure I'll get to that and exasperate my family even more than I already do.

    Becky
    xx

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  44. Jen-Jen, I was thinking this...especially while reading the comment "Of course, there's always the fact of babies learning to talk and walk...no school involved there, just life."

    My daughter is delayed in her expressive and receptive language. 'Just life' didn't teach her. She needs to be taught how to learn.

    In case one might suggest that she is the result of my parenting, I would offer that I also have a son who is gifted. I do not claim this to be a result of my parenting either. They are who they are.

    ~Cora

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  45. @Jen-Jen & Anonymous: I don't think unschooling is so much about learning everything yourself/without being taught, as it is CHOOSING what and how to learn. Seeking out classes, teachers, and tutors, or asking a parent to teach you something, is still unschooling to me. It's not about a lack of structure: it's about the freedom to choose as much or as little structure as the learner wants. I hope that clarifies what I was trying to say!

    @Becky: Woops, I feel silly for not realizing that! It can be so very hard to tell what's humour and what's serious online, without all those useful body language and tone of voice cues... :-P

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  46. You know what the funny thing is for me --and I am not alone in this-- is the fact that some of us radical unlife...we are hsers who trust our children to decide screen time, food, sleep etc, but who fall more on the relaxed rather than unschooling spectrum. I know it sounds crazy. "You don't care what time your children go to bed, or how long they work on the computer, or whether they have cookies for breakfast, but you stick how to write paragraphs or learning how to write roman numerals into some of your days?" Yes. So the unschoolers are confused, and the relaxed hsers are confused. The school-at-home-ers call it 'unparenting'. "Eat candy, don't brush your teeth, but pretty please, let me teach you how to diagram a sentence."

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  47. @ Laurie - oh lord you just summed it up. Idzie's post is something that I think we all struggle with but your comments really hit it for me - we try very hard to practice pure unschooling, but I'll also throw in some worksheets pretty regularly (assuming my son wants to work on them) in order to give him an EASY way to practice handwriting, fine motor control etc. A lot of the time these worksheets give me a hands on way for him to practice what is happening in his learning curve. Even within my own family I've been asked, "well.... what standards does he have to meet and when? and Who decides that?" The last time I was asked that I replied with, "who's to say that he NEEDS to meet a standard by a certain age?" I think it got the point across!

    To the anon who asked why the need for clarification? I think it's because there's SO much confusion out there, even among the families who do practice unschooling to one degree or another, that we often find ourselves debating the meaning of it when we could be spending our time in a more productive way - collaborating toward better ideas!

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  48. Thanks for this. I'm new to all of this, so you definitely helped clear things up for me. I also appreciate your non-condescending and non-judgmental way of explaining things. There are some unschooling sites that can be quite the opposite.

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  49. Thank you that was fantastic. And I agree with you completely. My blog notes we are "unschooling or something like it" and I think that's the important part. We are not, clearly, unschoolers. My children asked, yes really, to go to a part time classroom program for homeschooler. They are in their second year and love it. When they come home, we unschool. No agenda outside their own ideas and passions. It was explained to them that during these 6 days a month they would need to follow what the teacher had outlined and they still wanted to try. They have the option to quit anytime they wish - mid year - whatever. But they love the friends they have made and enjoy the work. They shuffle them around as needed (ie. my youngest didn't want to be with his grade 1 class so they put him in his brother's 2/3 class last year. Teacher just rolled him and read to him or scribed for him) and when I say "we were unschooling before" they point out that the class work is entirely up to the child - there are no tests or homework - all projects are voluntary. So, now I'm not sure what to call us. My oldest takes guitar and I needed to explain to the teacher how we roll. She thought the whole idea was brilliant and never asks "did you practice" or gives rewards for such drivel. She's so excited a child is there of his own passion and believes he'll play more on his own when it gets fun to play. Great! So what now? Help me out. Should I just say "relaxed homeschooler" and call it a day? I miss the unschooling community I had online - I don't feel I belong there anymore.

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    1. i read this post a while ago, and now am reading it with a new set of eyes, as our life circumstances have changed in the time being. we were, by definition, unschooling, and now i feel we are still unschooling, but with a part of our life involving school. obviously that does not meet the definition criteria. but what i wonder is, can a school meet unschooling criteria if it does not force or enforce certain learning? i have often heard the term "strewing" used liberally in unschooling circles, and i guess i would argue that a school offering certain lessons (that can be opted in or out of) is just a way of strewing certain material in a child's path. where is the line between strewing worksheets and books, vs a piano and a backyard? if the school is also responsive to what a child is asking for more of, and if the child is totally free to opt out of a lesson on any given day, and if the child does not have to take a single test, and if the child is free to choose during every aspect of their day, if in fact, the child is free not to go at all and not to attend the school ever again if he decides one day he wants to quit, does it meet unschooling criteria? just curious where that line is, and if it is more about where or more about how. i think of myself as an unschooler still, though i'm considering seriously whether i should change that after reading this, which is why i'm pondering this, and this other comment i'm replying to (i realize i'm way out of date here) is one i could relate to. i just thought i would comment since it was so thought provoking a post that i have now read it twice, and because i am curious what your take is, on a school where kids choose research topics like minecraft, my stuffed bear, the relationship between birds and dinosaurs, and teenage mutant ninja turtles.

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  50. Thanks for clarifying. I knew there was a difference, but I was having trouble pinpointing it and this post did that admirably (and not at all snarkily, in my opinion).

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  51. I'm excited and relieved to find a school of thought that redefines "pupils" as "people" and "school" as "life". The unschooling ethos seems to me to be far less arbitrary and counter-intuitive than the system of subjects and targets.

    There is an area that I'd love to get other unschoolers thoughts on, though. I would say that under any system, there are certain life skills that all parents should make sure their children know about, such as water, fire and road safety, potty training, housework or the facts of life. Does a real unschooler throw caution to the wind and address these sorts of issues in detail only if their child shows an interest?

    P.S. I'm not being facetious, I'm genuinely asking!

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  52. I'm too much of an anarchist-hippie to give a toss about labels lol, but I do however appreciate the need for clarity in words. One problem though is that I don't feel that life is really that black and white.

    That aside, what I wanted to comment about was any indication that one method is better than another. You do a good job of stating that you respect other methods, as long as terms are used correctly. However, many times I read an unschooler using terms to describe those that do not unschool such as 'don't trust your child', or 'dictate'.

    Respect for everyone's methods has to mean more than justpaying lip-service, it means using positive words to describe what they do.

    I'm very anti-hierarchy and see too much arrogance in the unschooling community. They 'trust' and so by default everyone else doesn't. It can be subtle, and often is, but the implied criticism is there.
    They often forget that every child is different and for some unschooling would be a big mistake. There is NO perfect method, every child is unique, and NO one knows that child like the parents.

    I've always enjoyed your writing and just wanted to add these thoughts to the mix in your head, lol, because you are a strong voice out here and I want real powerful POSITIVITY spoken about ALL home educators.

    peace

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  53. I teach my kid at home. Period. I don't have a term nor a definition for it. We have a bucket with Popsicle sticks. Each has a topic in it. We blindly pick one. Go to the library get a book on it. This week it's greenhouses. RoadKill is the latest interest. History of Mustangs are on Netflix. Do a math sheet call it a day. Then he reads to me at night. I read to him. 7 days a week we do something.

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  54. I believe in kids being able to choose what they want to learn and following it - to some extent. I do not for one second believe that children will always make wise choices. Kids may quit things because they lack self esteem or because a friend says xyz is not cool, or because they are scared. They may not chose to study something not because they dont want to but because they do not know it exists or because the have a preconcepted idea of what it entails that does not match up with reality. They may not want to study something but not realise that it is a common requirement into many degree courses that they are interested in. Kids dont always think about the consequences... even if you tell them about the consequences - because for a young kid more than a week away is not comprehensible. My kids get choice, but if she wants to cook i will teach her measurement and fractions while she does it etc. Following the childs interest can be very powerful, but it is quite different from letting a child do whatever they want and justifying that with the word 'trust'. To me it sounds like a lack of parenting.

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  55. I believe in kids being able to choose what they want to learn and following it - to some extent. I do not for one second believe that children will always make wise choices. Kids may quit things because they lack self esteem or because a friend says xyz is not cool, or because they are scared. They may not chose to study something not because they dont want to but because they do not know it exists or because the have a preconcepted idea of what it entails that does not match up with reality. They may not want to study something but not realise that it is a common requirement into many degree courses that they are interested in. Kids dont always think about the consequences... even if you tell them about the consequences - because for a young kid more than a week away is not comprehensible. My kids get choice, but if she wants to cook i will teach her measurement and fractions while she does it etc. Following the childs interest can be very powerful, but it is quite different from letting a child do whatever they want and justifying that with the word 'trust'. To me it sounds like a lack of parenting.

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