Sunday, November 15, 2009

Unschooling Thoughts

I wrote this a long time ago, but realized I never shared it here on the blog, so here goes:

There are two days about which nobody should ever worry, and these are yesterday and tomorrow.
Robert J. Burdette

Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are. Marianne Williamson

Unschooling is a terrible term to use to describe what I envision our life with our children to be. The focus on the "un" brings up a negative connotation from the start. And the word "school" emphasizes the exact opposite of what we will be living. "Unschoolers" have gotten into the habit of defining what they do by what they don't do. This tends to look like we are running away from something (the school model), rather than striving towards something (living and learning as inseparable). It makes us look like we are basing our decisions on fear of school rather than simply choosing differently.

For me, it is about choosing a lifestyle for our family that can offer so much more than the public school model. It is about allowing our children the opportunity to figure out Who They Are and then live that Truth. Starting Now, not some distant time when they are set free to "find themselves", as so many young people seem to need to do once they get out of school.

Unschooling allows our children to discover and learn freely, when the interest strikes and as they come upon new things, not according to some predetermined schedule set by someone else. The learning is more real and the "lessons" are forever. When you think of the things that you have learned in your life, I would bet that most of the learning that you actually use in your life is the stuff you have learned on your own or that which you were already interested in when it was taught to you. How much of what you learned in school do you even remember, let alone make use of in your life?

Unschooled children will most likely not learn the same things that their peers in school are learning and they will learn similar things at different times. This is okay because unschooled children will be learning every day the things that are important to them and the things that are relevant to their lives. They learn the things that they need to accomplish their goals according to their passion. Over time, this leads to a vast repertoire of knowledge that they can actually use in their lives. During this effortless process, they are learning the most important thing of all, how to think.

Learning to think for your self is a crucial skill and unschooling is an excellent way to "teach" this skill. If you don't know how to think for yourself, you are forced to let others do the thinking for you and are therefore under their control. It is a common practice of some organized religions, in order to protect their dogma/tenets, to encourage their followers to avoid questions about their faith. Do you know why? It is because the dogma does not hold up to critical analysis. It usually does not even pass the internal BS meters of the followers of the faith, as evidenced by the infinite individual interpretations of the tenets. For example, the Catholics who think that birth control or abortion are okay, a belief that is directly contrary to the teachings of the church. Why is it so important that everyone follows the dogma, or at least keep their mouths shut about it if they don't, and not trust anyone who questions their beliefs? Power. Plain and simple, it is an issue of power for the institution of the Church. It affords the institution power and therefore control over the followers.

The institution of school has power over us for the same reason, although maybe not so overtly. But we generally do not question the necessity of school. And if our children do question us, we silence them with dogma about how it is good for them and how they won't succeed without a good education. Most of us have not stopped to question our motives and goals for sending our children to school. We go along with what we were taught, what everyone else is doing, and never stop to think that there might be a different way, let alone a better way.

It is imperative that our children learn to think critically, lest they be controlled their whole lives by the institutions of our world; church, school, medicine, etc. They must learn to march to the beat of their own drummer, to know and follow their hearts, to seek and meet their life purpose and goals. The best way to do this is to ask themselves, as they encounter new ideas, "Is this what I believe?” "Does this support Who I Am?” "Why, why, why?” Otherwise they will live unexamined lives, pushed along by the groupthink, never truly happy, never knowing what it all means.

And this brings me back to unschooling. This is the hands down best way for children to grow up knowing Who They Are. It requires living in the moment, leaving out fear of a future never actually experienced. The future is truly a figment of our minds. When the future gets here it is then Now. Now is All There Is. If now is all there is, then there is no sane reason to spend all your time preparing, and poorly at that, for a future that will never come. This is school. You work so hard to learn the stuff someone else has decided is important for your future (and risked being judged poorly if you do not "learn" it well enough). No one can know what you will need in the future, not even you. All you have is the now, and all you can do is be in the present moment. All you can do is use your resources, both internal and Divine, to act appropriately in any given life situation. The more present you are, the more effective your actions will be, unmuddied by fears of the future or weighed down by thoughts of the past.

Unschooling allows for living in the moment, pure and simple. That is what unschooling is. You live your life, now, and along the way you learn. You follow your passion, now, and it leads to a successful life. If you define success by the amount of Love, Joy, and Peace in your life, not by how much money you make, that is. Fortunately, for you skeptics out there, a life filled with Love, Joy, and Peace tends to include all the money you need.

It is an exercise in faith and trust to unschool. As the saying goes, faith is stepping out into darkness and knowing you will either find solid ground beneath your feet or you find that you can fly. Unschooling is leaping off the cliff and finding you can soar to heights never dreamed of while standing at the edge.

Copyright 2004 by Miranda Demarest


Raechelle said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I found your blog through twitter. I enjoyed your post and liked the thought of unschooled kids "finding themselves" as they grew instead of having that moment when they hit 20, or 30, or 40. I look forward to reading more from you.

Annette said...

I LOVE this!

Anonymous said...

Yes, but tell me, how many children are actually interested in Algebra? Probably not many. In such cases, they will never learn such an important subject because they don't care to. Public school is set up to teach children, not to help them find themselves. Have you explained to your followers that children who are "unschooled" will never have a true high school degree? They can only ever get a GED. What happens when an employer sees this? You are setting these children up for failure in the real world. What about getting into college and having to take exams and answer essay questions that are way over their heads? If they are unschooled they are not taught the true meanings of so many things such as teamwork and critical thinking skills.

Basically, they are learning what their parents want them to learn...that to me, is not finding one's self.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above me, you act as if children can't think for themselves. As a matter of fact, they can. Try to re-frame your thinking along that line, and you will notice where you've gone wrong.

Also, if I may add a personal note, I've never learned anything remotely close to teamwork or critical thinking on school. Actually, I learned those only outside of school.

I'm not sure if I understand what you mean with learning the true meaning of teamwork and critical thinking skills. Because I know for a fact that those are not a part of a school's curriculum, nor does the school system support learning about them. I'd rather think the contrary, with the competitive classes and the generic assignments that discourage teamwork and critical thinking, respectively.


Sam said...

Brilliant! Couldn't have said it better :) Found you through a twitter RT. Glad I did.

Chris said...

Anonymous 4:00 PM seems to have stumbled into the wrong place.

Algebra. Seriously. What the heck is this Algebra-is-Education hang-up? I've heard it time and time again. Even when we started our unschooling journey, we thought "oh dear, what'll we do about algebra?!"

Then it dawned on me. There is not a single person I know who says "if it wasn't for pondering algebraic equations as a child, then I just don't know if I'd be who I am today!" Not even a high school algebra teacher would say something ridiculous like that.

Same goes for the big S word. Socialization. After living an unschooled life, I now realize that our culture's understanding of socialization is completely backwards. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that thinking that the type of socialization school gives children, a peer/youth oriented socialization, has brought us nothing but an identity crisis across the entirety of our society.

And at the end of running the 12 or 13, sometimes 14 year gauntlet of schooling, schooled children are then spit out at the end with the unnerving task of finding themselves — becoming aware of their own true identity and interests. This usually means they languish in an extended childhood until they're about 30 years old.

Tara @ TheOrganicSister said...

Anon #1: You are *hardly* the first person to ask these same questions.

Algebra is hardly an "important subject" to everyone. My husband the carpenter hardly even uses it! And the geometry he does use, he learned on the job because the school math he was taught failed him "in real life".

Also, I would highly suggest looking into the real reason public school was established. It's quite obvious it was not to "teach" or maybe teaching was the byproduct or maybe the guise under which real motives hid. Read some Gatto or Illich. Get a real education.

Hundreds of thousands of homeschooled and unschooled kids are learning in alternative methods and succeeding in spelling bees, finding jobs or going to college. Untaught does not equal uneducated. It's different, not new and not impossible. Maybe something you've never seen but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Oh and did I mention I was unschooled? Yup, no high school diploma here! And I've never had a complaint from emploeysr. But then I guess I wouldn't seeing as how I'm self-employed. ;)

Miranda, loved the article, as usual. Apparently it's gotten some time on Twitter, which oddly enough was not my doing this time!

P.S. I wish my kid would only learn or do what I wanted him to learn or do. But my free-thinker will have no brainwashing, even from his parents. He knows himself too well for that. ;)

Mar said...

I want to comment here as well and I hope that I'll hear some feedback too. I've never called what I do "unschooling". I call it "homeschooling". My children have only set foot inside of a school building when they were there with me to demonstrate and teach about our culture or when my son was in cub scouts and a school sponsored it. My oldest child is now 19 years old and to this day has no idea what algebra is. He works in a store where he meets and greets customers, calculates their purchases, makes correct change, gets along great with customers and co-workers, trains new employees,.... he is the youngest to ever be placed in a position to work alongside management in this store. He reads exceptionally well and has made efforts to study (on his own of course) two Native American languages. He (and all my children and husband) went just last week to a college to speak on our culture and teach students there to think in a little different manner than they are accustomed to. My son has no high school diploma and it does concern me that he has an interest in college and his diploma difficiency might be a problem for him. But at the same time, he has excellent recommendations from current employers, an eagle scout award to speak for him and a character that far outweighs what a lot of public school friends of his display. He knows far more history than I have ever cared to know about and his problem solving skills are something I'm proud of. I have 3 younger children following in his footsteps, and I don't regret a day of their personal educations. My kids are recognized in the community by so many people, and I credit that to what they gained at home. No, my children aren't strong in geometry or algebra,...but to tell the truth, I was public schooled and I can't tell you much about them either! I don't use any of it in my job or in my ways of running my household, so I don't see it as a problem at all.

What do I find difficult is the state laws I have to work with. I dislike making declarations of what we called "education" today and I don't like a testing requirement to measure intellectual levels. But I feel trapped there. So I follow their rules, but that only accounts for about 4 1/2 hours out of the day.

I thank you for the description and your thoughts, as well as those thoughts of posters responding to your thoughts. It was encouraging :)

Miranda said...

I don't have a lot of time to respond right now, but I wanted to say hi and thanks to all my new reader/commenters/followers. "HI!" "Thanks!" ;-)
And anon #1, your ignorance is showing. Might want to tuck it back in and go do some research.
OK, that was snarky, but really, people, or should I say my dear "followers", I couldn't help myself. Anon must have discovered unschooling for the first time today and had the typical response. I'm happy to plant the seed. Maybe someday when (s)he has kids, it will germinate and grow.
One more. Mar, your kids are getting to BE themselves fully and that is why they are so noticed in the community. They stand out because most people don't even know who they are, let alone get to be that. What a precious gift you have given to your kids and the world!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for writing this, Miranda. We too are loving our time together, discovering the world, having fun as a family. Every time I read something like this it makes my heart a little lighter about our uncommon lifestyle. If only it were more common to trust children, to encourage them to follow their interests, to give them more control and choices... I like to think that the rest of them will head that way - eventually. We are just a little ahead of the pack. :)

Susan Gaissert said...

This is beautiful. I host the Blog Carnival of Unschooled life and, if you ever want to submit a post, that would be wonderful. You can learn more about the Carnival at

Thanks for this post,

Anonymous said...

Hate to tell you this- Anonymous- but yes homeschoolers/unschoolers can get a REAL highschool diploma. Like many others that do not understand-you need to check up on your laws and legislatures..

Kelly said...

Just this: thanks! Great blog!