An Introduction to Unschooling

It is not terribly hard to find many faults with compulsory government/public schooling. Incredible taxation levels, standardized testing, one-size-fits-all curriculum, one-size-fits-all approaches to learning, one-parent families, poverty, bullying, lack of age mixing, immensely power teachers’ unions and many more factors all contribute to often lackluster results. Government schools control most of the marketplace, and in many location parents have few choices. Below is a popular video ‘indicting’ the outdated public school system model, and it raises many poignant feelings from those attending, or those who formerly attended, public schools.

However, I believe there is no miracle method, no panacea, no one way that will work best for all children and young adults to learn. In my opinion, there is simply no short cut to parents knowing their child, researching the best options, and choosing what best fits their son or daughter and their available budget. Many ‘products’ of public schools, myself included in this, simply bought or rented a home in a superior public school district figuring that this is the best way to help their child learn.

Alternatives or derivations from mass public schooling include homeschooling, cyber schooling, Montessori methods, private schools, community schools and charter schools that may suit some parents, children, and young adults. Keep in mind that more government taxation and spending on public schools certainly does not equate to higher quality or better learning experience.

One such radical learning alternative is unschooling. One form is the Sudbury School model, explained in a thought-provoking way below.

Unschooling occurs when the learner self-directs which activities to pursue. As Dr. Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn” explains:

“Unschooling is not schooling. Unschooling parents do not send their children to school and they do not do at home the kinds of things that are done at school. More specifically, they do not establish a curriculum for their children, do not require their children to do particular assignments for the purpose of education, and do not test their children to measure progress. Instead, they allow their children freedom to pursue their own interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to follow those interests. They may, in various ways, provide an environmental context and environmental support for the child’s learning. In general, unschoolers see life and learning as one.”

Unschooling can happen in a home environment, within a voluntary association of parents and their children, or within a Sudbury School-like environment. However, it is my own experience that understanding unschooling is a little mind-blowing after having been a product of the public schooling system myself.

I found I first had to understand the history of modern mass public schooling in America. A good source is Murray Rothbard’s “Education: Free and Compulsory” available for free here.

Next I had to put aside my own prejudices from having attended public schools and study how humans and children learn. Of several books I read, Peter Gray’s “Free to Learn” was the most thorough, best-documented, and easiest to read.

Most recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the Hudson Valley Sudbury School in Kingston, New York, and meet several people there after listening to a Tom Woods podcast interview of a young adult who attended the school for much of her life and one of the employed adults.

However, as a father of a 3-year-old and 5-year-old, I still have much to learn, particularly reading studies of Sudbury Valley School graduates and other unschoolers. The original Sudbury Valley School has been around for 50 years, and will hopefully one day help break the stranglehold and near-monopoly public schools have on American children’s future.

Suggested further reading or listening

Gray, Peter. 2008. “Children Educate Themselves IV: Lessons from Sudbury Valley.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200808/children-educate-themselves-iv-lessons-sudbury-valley

Gray, Peter. 2013. “Free to Learn.”

Hudson Valley Sudbury School website.

Rothbard, Murray. 1979. “Education: Free & Compulsory.” https://mises.org/library/education-free-and-compulsory-1

Woods, Tom. November 21, 2017 Podcast. https://tomwoods.com/ep-1043-spontaneous-order-or-lord-of-the-flies-an-inside-look-at-a-school-that-puts-students-in-charge/

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