Unschooling vs. Schooling
In my last post, I wrote about 6 problems with school:
- general knowledge
- standardized testing
- the classroom setting
- extrinsic motivation
There are many responses to these issues: stay in public schools and work towards reform; send your kids to private school; homeschool your kids, etc.
Very few choose to unschool.
Yet I I believe that unschooling is the best response to these schooling problems.
Creativity over Compliance
Schools train kids to obey, to follow instructions, to color within the lines.
But I don’t want kids who are good at doing what they are told, yet don’t know how to think for themselves.
I don’t want them to follow the step-by-step LEGO instructions, but not be capable of creating something from their own imagination.
I want them to be Master Builders.
Unschooling fosters that creativity.
Creativity involves flexibility, problem-solving, and originality. It requires time, autonomy, and unstructured play. Unschooled children are encouraged to learn and explore without the constraints of meeting adult expectations, or the fear of mistakes that comes from being constantly evaluated.
“Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today.” – Peter Gray
Unschooling provides the kind of non-controlling, non-judgmental environment that allows creativity to thrive.
Individuality over Conformity
The beauty of unschooling lies in its ability to foster each child’s individuality.
That’s because unschooling is not a method at all. It’s not a system. It’s simply the freedom for children to pursue their interests, at their own pace, in a way that fits their personality and learning styles.
“It is absurd and anti-life to be a part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.” – John Taylor Gatto
Unschooling relies on a child’s self-initiation and self-direction to guide their customized education. Such children are self-aware. They know what they enjoy. They know who they are. They can tap into their own curiosity.
There is no expectation from adult authorities to conform to arbitrary standards. There are no milestones that need to be hit at a certain age. There are no subjects that children are compelled to learn.
Each child is accepted just as they are and free to live out their individuality.
Depth over Breadth
“Practice makes perfect.”
Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book, Outliers, that an average of 10,000 hours is needed to gain exceptional mastery of any skill. Although not a causal factor, it is still undeniable that time and practice are needed to gain competence and expertise.
Unschooling provides kids with this valuable resource: time.
It allows kids to spend indefinite amounts of time pursuing the activities and topics that they love. They can more quickly gain skills and knowledge because they’ve been given the freedom to delve as deeply as they desire, for as long as they desire. This freedom to have a singular focus and passion is what has produced many a renowned musician, artist, athlete, inventor, and innovator.
Even if a child’s interests change over time, having a greater depth of knowledge in any one area still prepares them for greater success in other areas. A study from the University of Virginia shows that “high school students who study fewer science topics, but study them in greater depth, have an advantage in college science classes over their peers who study more topics and spend less time on each.”
Unschooling allows for learning that is focused, deep, and complex, paving the way for future success.
True Knowledge over Test-Based Knowledge
Since there is no testing in unschooling, kids learn simply because they want to. They are not motivated to memorize meaningless facts for the sake of passing an exam or getting a good grade. Teachers don’t teach to the test. Students don’t pass over interesting topics simply because they aren’t covered on a final.
Instead, children learn for the sake of learning. They gain knowledge and assess their own understanding because they are actually interested in what they’re learning.
They see their education as meaningful, valuable, and relevant. They welcome feedback from others as a growth opportunity, not as a source of self-worth.
Real-World over the Classroom Setting
Unlike some who choose to homeschool to protect their kids from the corrupting influences of the world, I want to teach my kids to be curious about the world, not afraid of it.
I want to expand their learning environment beyond the classroom walls, beyond the textbooks, beyond the artificial social setting of schools.
“Children learn from anything and everything they see. They learn wherever they are, not just in special learning places.” ― John Holt, Learning All The Time
In unschooling, the world is the classroom. Learning happens by doing. It is contextualized by real-world experiences and authentic relationships.
Because of that reality, learning never stops.
Intrinsic over Extrinsic Motivation
The unschooling philosophy believes in a child’s innate drive and ability to learn. It believes in a child’s natural curiosity and ability to problem solve. Just observe any healthy infant: they are natural observers and scientists!
Unschooling doesn’t see children as fundamentally lazy and indifferent to the world. It doesn’t rely on extrinsic motivation like a carrot on a stick to persuade children to study. It doesn’t introduce fear into learning through external punishments.
Instead, unschooling trusts in a child’s intrinsic wonder and inquisitiveness. Children are given the freedom to follow their interests and inner curiosity with adult support, but not adult interference.
“We learn because we want to learn, because it’s important to us, because it’s natural, and because it’s impossible to live in the world and not learn.” ~ Peggy Pirro
It may seem that my choice to unschool is simply a reaction to the problems I see with school.
But even without traditional schooling as a contrast, I still find the vision of unschooling compelling.
It celebrates a child’s creativity, autonomy, individuality, and innate curiosity.
It values innovative problem-solving, applied knowledge, contextualized discovery, and intrinsic motivation.
It paints the most captivating picture of lifelong learning that I have yet to find: one where a joyful and free childhood flows into a promising and fulfilling future.