The Unschooling List FAQ
This was compiled from many of the wise voices of a great internet list
called The Unschooling List. For more information about The Unschooling
List, please visit here.
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Yes, and no.
Unschooling is a specific form of homeschooling. Of course, many homeschoolers hate to be labeled. We all have more than a little bit of rebel in us or we wouldn't be homeschooling! Homeschooling is simply trying to meet the needs of your family - so to label it and dissect it is distasteful. However, in an effort to allow like minded individuals to come together, the following attempt at clarification will be made.
Homeschoolers come in many different varieties. There are as many styles and methods as there are families who homeschool, because we all are homeschooling in order to meet our unique families unique needs. None of us is 'doing' homeschooling wrong if we are happy and functioning as a learning family.
Many homeschoolers choose to follow a structured curriculum approach similar to what they are familiar with in the schools they attended and that their children may have attended in earlier years. This approach is often referred to as "School-at-Home"
Many others follow a somewhat structured program but allow an amount of educational freedom for each child to peruse individual interests. This approach comes by many names, and fits comfortably in the middle. Everything from Charlotte Mason to Montessori to unit study fits well within this definition.
Many follow a child-initiated unstructured approach where the adult's role is as a facilitator and the child's role is as a guide. This last approach, this great leap of faith, is known as unschooling.
Deschooling is the process every person goes through after formal schooling. Schooling by nature has a tendency to spoon-feed knowledge, give a lot of external rewards and reinforcements and keeps a person on a tight schedule. A lot of folks leave school and find they don't know what they want to do, or how to get it if they did. They have lost the sense of 'themselves'. They want to do nothing more than sit around and play vegetable for a while. Estimations of how long this can take vary from a few weeks to a few years (in cases where they went to school for a long time and had a bad experience).
Kids who are allowed to deschool generally survive and do start asking questions and reading and DOING within a few months. Don't panic! Don't insist! They are not going to ruin their lives in only a few months of watching TV and playing with LEGOs. They are re-learning who and what and why they ARE.
Adults who come to unschooling after enduring 13+ years of schooling usually take a little longer. We are pretty set in our ways, and it occasionally takes years of deschooling. We read, we watch, we think, and although unschooling seems so wonderfully natural and seems so promising, we just have a hard time letting go of the preconceived notions that have followed us throughout life. Many of us have had to be taught by our children the importance of deschooling and unschooling. I find my children are very wise.
One of the hardest obstacles to overcome, in fact, is the parent's need to deschool. We fret and worry and complain to each other all the time on the Unschooling List because of this. We, the grown-ups, do not feel in control so we worry.
We are unschooling ourselves, and deschooling ourselves in the process.
It is hard! Don't worry though, support is available.
A Recovery Program for Homeschooling Paranoia by Diane Flynn Keith
This is one of the hardest questions to answer because unschooling is really a belief system rather than a method. This is the opposite of the cookie cutter mentality or the 'education is the great equalizer" mentality so often found in our culture, so it is difficult to explain let alone understand.
Unschooling is not how we do something, but why.
Unschooling is the belief that all people, no matter how old or young, have a built in desire to learn (unless that desire has been crushed by outside forces). It is a belief that if you allow a person of any age to pursue their own interests throughout life they will end up gaining the knowledge they will need in order to pursue the life they want.
Unschooling has nothing to do with tools that one may use to learn something, it is pure technique. Assuming the person wants to learn this way, it allows for structure or no structure, textbooks or no textbooks, workbooks or no workbooks. It includes the taking of classes. It allows for correspondence courses and private lessons. It allows for field trips, mentorships, jobs and volunteerism. It also allows for months of just playing with LEGOS or street hockey or endless computer games or taking apart the old car, if that is what the child needs then. It allows the person, no matter what age, to pursue their own goals and their own interests without guilt. It allows for educational freedom.
So what is this thing called unschooling?
by Carol Burris
Many of you are new to homeschooling. Or, maybe you've been doing it for a while but things aren't going as smoothly as you'd like. You hear all these terms floating around homeschooling circles - unit studies, portfolio reviews, unschooling, socialization. Hey, wait a minute. What was that? Unschooling? Now what in the world is that?
Well, unschooling is something we've been doing in my house for years. We didn't really start there, but when we started almost ten years ago my husband had just gotten through graduate school and we didn't have a lot of money to spend on all this "curriculum" stuff. So we went to the library - a lot - and cobbled things together from here and there and after a few years I began to hear this term unschooling and I came to realize that was what we were doing.
Good, you think, now we're getting somewhere. Here's someone who can tell me how to DO unschooling.
Oops. Sorry. I can't do that. You see unschooling isn't about a technique. It isn't about the tools you use to do it. It isn't about doing this or not doing that and not using textbooks. It IS an attitude. It is a frame of reference. It is a belief that people, including little people, have an inborn drive to learn and really do know what they need and when they need it. It's about trust - trusting yourself and trusting your children. It's about not relying on "authorities" to tell you what you or your children should learn and when and how and in what order. It's about learning all the time, both parents and children. Recognizing that all of life is there for us to learn from. Going with the ebb and flow of the seasons in nature and the seasons of your own soul.
I asked Chase to read this and she said, "Mom, you can't leave them here. You've got to give them SOME idea of what we do." So I'll try.
If I had to pick one thing that makes what we do different from what those following some other styles of homeschooling do, I think I would have to say it's a question I ask of the kids at least once a day. On most days it goes something like this. We'll be sitting at breakfast and I'll look at Donald (Chase will still be sleeping since she was up until 1 or 2 AM doing her own thing, from working on her brother's Christmas present to writing or doing Latin) and say "What are your goals for today? What's the most important thing that we should get to?" That sort of sets the tone of our unschooling and of our day. What we do each day comes from the children as much as possible. Of course, some days things are structured by outside events, dental appointments, activities, 4-H due dates, homeschooling functions. And some days I preface that question with things that I have to get to that day as well, such as "I have a meeting at ___" or "the bread has to get made this morning since we have fencing this evening." Then, of course, there are those days which we have to take moment by moment, when someone is sick, for instance. But in general that question sums up our philosophy. What the kids want to do is the point from which we start. This also carries over to a respect for what they are doing, which means not interrupting them while they are doing it if that is at all possible.
But that could be the subject for another article in itself, so I'll leave it here for now.
copyright ©1997 Carol Burris
Unschooling is not ignoring your kids or letting the wolves raise them. It is a very interactive type of parenting and requires, for most of us, a great deal of effort and restraint. It means really sitting down and listening to your children, taking them by the hand and acting as a guide through this complicated thing we call youth. It is answering endless questions and searching for countless resources. It is occasionally doing the unheard of like helping to mummify chickens in your kitchen, or finding a person to mentor them in calculus because the book doesn't make any sense and your child really want to understand.
I find unschooling is more about what I do *not* do as a parent, than what I do. It is hard not to insist that they be reading by 6 and multiplying by 8. We have all heard the stories of exceptional families where they are writing concerts and operas at age 8, but we must sit down and realize that for many of us this was never a reality in the first place. Some of our children do have exceptional gifts in one or two areas, but all of our children do have special gifts and needs and the right to lead their lives as independent and self fulfilled human beings.
Because unschooling doesn't usually involve pre-packaged curriculums it also means though that you are taking the ultimate responsibility. There is no fall back position, there is no blame to be laid after a rough week. You and your child must simply fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go along. It is scary. It is also wonderfully freeing and empowering to know that you can do what you feel is right for your child.
Carol Burris remarked that:
This doesn't mean that we do nothing. Not at all. Our jobs are to be the facilitators, the drivers, the librarians, the buyer of craft supplies, the askers of interesting and sometimes difficult questions, not so often the answerers, but that sometimes, too. I think one of the most important things we have to show our children is how to find out what they want to know, to leave them feeling that there is nothing they can't learn about when and if they want/need to. We do that by helping them find resources for their interests and by pursuing our own at the same time.
The "pure" unschooler would not *require* that any particular area be studied but would be open to the opportunities that everyday life presents to make those areas (typically, math and reading) of intrinsic interest. In an ideal world, these things will come naturally and at the child's time table. Unfortunately, some of us live in states that require some form of evaluation and we are not always free to let certain areas go totally. So, each family does what they can within the constraints society places around them. For most families, though, it is the process of unschooling that "convinces" them of its appropriateness for them, as over the course of time you see what has happened.
First, look to your own life. What do you do in your life? Did you learn it in school, or from life experience? Most adults find that the things we spend our time on, from job skills to cooking and cleaning to woodworking to raisisng a family to fishing were all learned DOING them. Schools and formal curriculums don't teach life skills, they teach skills needed in life. But in simply living life, wouldn't you learn the skill?
By playing Monopoly, don't you need to use percents, division, adding and subtracting?
By baking muffins don't you use fractions and reading dials (turning the oven on, adjusting the timer) and measuring and nutrition and food storage techniques and sanitation and the chemistry of baking powder?
By fishing don't you learn not only about the many species of fish, but which ones are reasonably edible, where they live, what they eat (the food web), how they react to different weather situations and to the changing seasons. If you fish frequently you learn about pollution and biological oxygen demand and about turnovers and fishkills and their causes. You learn about limnology (the study of freshwater ecology). Best of all, you learn about yourself (and your level of patience!) while you stare into the calm waves lapping onto the shore.
Oddly enough, almost every adult unschools freely throughout their adult life. We learn what we want in the best method available for us to learn it. We expose ourselves to fun and interesting topics. We engage in activities where we can learn more. We are unschoolers.
Second, look to history. Up until about 150 years ago almost everyone was homeschooled. There were no compulsory schools. There were some schools you could attend if you had time that day, and a nickel, and could get there - and these schools had actual BOOKS, an item seldom found in the common home of the day. To find a real book it was worth going to school and spending a nickel. It was a treat - and they wanted to learn.
When compulsory schooling first began in the mid 1800s, no more than 49% of United States citizens had ever attended school, yet we had a literacy rate of 98%. Schools back then had 60-80 children, one teacher, an age range of 6-8 years (usually 7-12 years old were the only ones mandated to attend school) and all in one room. Children had to attend a total of 12 weeks out of the year, and it was their choice as to when they attended during that time. They didn't have to attend every day or even once a week - just 12 weeks out of 52 total.
In 1941, The Army Intelligence Test said that 4% of the white group and 20% for the African American group were illiterate. In 1997, however, the same tests show that 17% of the whites can't read and 44% of the African Americans can't read.
If we look at children's reading levels on books printed in the 1940s-50s and then look at reprints of the same books today we can see that the reading levels of each of these books has gone up.Way up. In fact, a Boxcar Children book printed in the 50s at a 3rd grade reading level is today considered a 5th grade reading level. The book hasn't changed, only the style of education.
And yet, we require, as a nation and as a society, more days, more time each day and more seatwork than ever before!
What is going on here??? The Big Business of Formal Education.
Lastly, look at the research:
There was recently a Smithsonian Institute study of twenty-three world class geniuses in an attempt to find out what made them stand apart in their fields. The study found three things in common. All the children had warm, loving, responsive parents - little contact and involvement with peers outside of the family - and all were given unrestricted creative freedom (within healthful parameters and with parental guidance) to explore their own interests.
Andrew Nikiforuk, in his 1994 book, If Learning Is So Natural, Why Am I Going To School?, cites a recent U.S. study of 4,600 children. The study found that students learning at home regularly outperformed 80% of all other students on Standardized Achievement Tests.
The National Home Education Research Institute, run by Dr. Brian Ray, in conjunction with the Home School Legal Defense Association has produced a variety of reports available at http://www.nheri.org. My favorite for ease of reading and great graphics and low cost (perfect for the grandpa with no time but lots of opinions) is his "Home Education Across the United States".
Here is a list of folks who have been homeschooled, many of them in very unstructured settings. These were/are not necessarily naturally gifted people, but they were all highly successful in their own right. Does unschooling work?
John Quincy Adams - U.S. President
Konrad Adenauer - Statesman
Hans Christian Anderson - Favored children's author
Alexander Graham Bell - Inventor
Pearl Buck - Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning author, humanitarian
William F. Buckley, Jr. - Author, columnist, TV personality, and vocabulary wizard
John Burroughs - Naturalist, author
Andrew Carnegie - Industrialist
George Washington Carver - Scientist
Charles Chaplin - Actor
Winston Churchill - Prime Minister of England
Agatha Christie - Author
George Rogers Clark - Explorer
Noel Coward - Playwright
Pierre Curie - Scientist
Charles Dickens - Author
Thomas Edison - Inventor
Benjamin Franklin - Statesman, inventor, author
William Henry Harrison - U. S. President
Bret Hart - Author
Patrick Henry - Statesman, author
Stonewall Jackson - Confederate General
Robert E. Lee - Confederate General
C. S. Lewis - Author
Abraham Lincoln - U. S. President
Douglas MacArthur - U. S. Army General
Cyrus McCormick - Inventor
Tamara McKinley - 1983-84 World Cup skier
James Madison - U. S. President
Clad Mount - Artist, painter
George Patton - U. S. Army General
William Penn - Statesman, author, human liberty advocate
Franklin Delano Roosevelt - U. S. President
Woodrow Wilson - U. S. President
Wright Brothers - Inventors
Andrew Wyeth - Artist, painter
Jamie Wyeth - Artist, painter
(Special note on the Wyeth's - here is an excerpt from "A Secret Life" by Richard Marina:
"NC (Andrews father) considered even school contaminating. The year Andrew was born, NC wrote: "The sheeplike tendency of human society soon makes inroads on a child's unsophistications, and then popular education completes the dastardly work with its systematic formulas, and away goes the individual, hurtling through space into that hateful oblivion of mediocrity. We are pruned into stumps, one resembling another, without character or grace."
Needless to say, all of the Wyeth's were homeschooled.
Frequently we have found that the avoidance of the word unschooling is prudent, but if real questions start coming up and you need to answer them, Carol Burris has a great approach:
"The approach I have been using so far (beyond example) is to use the term unschooling, but immediately follow it up with either interest-based learning or child-led learning and then go on to explain what that means. I also talk about the fact that you can't STOP kids - make that people - from learning without going to extreme measures. In some cases I will also talk about unschooling as a lifestyle rather than an educational choice. That we choose to devote our time to our children, to be with them and grow with them and share with them and learn with them, not "teach" them, except perhaps through example. That we learn from life and it goes on for our entire life. That many questions arise from what life presents us, from current events to the weather to family crises to everyday things."
Or as Karen Gibson says:
I usually say that we don't use any set curriculum, except for some occasional math workbooks. That we believe in interest-led education, and that our children are learning from their interests and from every day living. We try to include them in everything we do, and they learn from that. We also live at the public library, and fully explore any topic that the children are interested in.
I'm not sure that people really understand what I'm talking about.... I really think that unschooling is something you learn by doing. Those who live very compartmentalized lives ... children should do this, adults should do this... I think have a hard time understanding it.
Cassady, a person who was raised as an unschooler and now is unschooling her own children, explains it this way:
This was my folks main argument for unschooling their kids, that true learning must have interest (initiated by the learner). My parents' interests often didn't equal mine, and so they learned what they wanted, and I learned what I wanted. This is part of what puzzled me when I began to hear of "other" education philosophies: this idea that KIDs need to be pushed to learn certain things, while ADULTS could basically choose what they want to learn and when.
(learning = interests to me)...why is that? Why should kids interest be any different than adults? Why should true "learning" (finding out more about what interests you) only be okay at certain ages. Why does traditional education philosophy seem to say that education is complete at age 18 or 24...when you unschool, it's not something you do TO your kids, it's the way you and your kids LIVE. When something interests me, I find out more about it. That to me is learning, and it didn't stop when I was 18, 22 or even now...why should it? I don't want my kids to think that "learning" is something kids have to do till an age when they should know enough, and then they stop learning and start living...how warped is that???
Because you love your children! Every parent will worry, because none of us can see into our children's future to be sure. We all know in our hearts that nothing, even the schools we grew up in, can ensure security and a bright future for our children.. Branching out on our own though seems even more frightening because we have always been taught to accept the judgment of others, the wisdom of others and the control of others over us as 'for the best'. Cindy Stanley describes it this way:
"Unschooling is one great, big Great Leap of Faith, after all. But, we all know in our heart of hearts, that unschooling feels *right*, it feels *natural*, and it's one of those things we've always been searching for but didn't know what it was called. Insecurities in and of themselves are frustrating to be sure, but they're just part and parcel of ANY thinking-person's life."
Unschooling is scary. It feels like tightrope walking when you can't see the safety net even though you know it is there. Or, as Valorie B said "The incredible is invisible. And the closer you get to God, the harder it is to explain." Yup, that's unschooling!
Unfortunately, there are so many really good books out there it is almost impossible to acknowledge them all, but I will name some of the ones that seem to be more helpful to those I have spoken with. These vary from pure unschooling theory to more general philosophies that blend nicely with unschooling. As with anything else here, if the book doesn't seem right for you, put it down and move on. None of these is a prescription, they are only suggestions.
Branden, Nathaniel. The Art of Living Consciously
Dobson, Linda. Homeschooling Book of Answers and The Art of Education
Elkind, David. The Hurried Child
Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down
Griffith, Mary. The Unschooling Handbook and/or The Homeschooling Handbook
Gross, Ronald. The Independent Scholar's Handbook
Guterson, David. Family Matters
Holt, John. Learning All The Time, How Children Learn, How Children Fail and/or Teach Your Own
Liedloff, Jean. The Continuum Concept
Llewellyn,Grace. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
Moore, Dr. Raymond and Moore, Dorothy. Better Late than Early
Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael or My Ishmael ( I think . My Ismael stands on its own even though it was written as a sequel - and is better than the first)
Rapp, Rebecca. The Complete Home Learning Source Book
Wallace, Nancy. Better Than School
- Back issues of Growing Without Schooling are still available.
- Home Education Magazine
- F.U.N. News (The Family Unschoolers Network)
- Educational Freedom.com (formerly HELM Online)
- Life Learning: The International Magazine of Self Directed Learning
Are you looking for a home schooling conference? Try the NHEN Homeschool Events & Conferences site.
F.U.N. Books: This website has both thumbnail and in-depth descriptions of homeschooling & unschooling books, out-of-the-ordinary learning materials, manipulatives and imaginative children's literature.
Home School Resource List: Tons of homeschooling/unschooling links and articles!
"Can a Christian Be An Unschooler?": An informative article written by Pat Ferrenga, publisher of Growing Without Schooling magazine.
Essays and articles by John Taylor Gatto.
France & Associates
School-Free: Pursuing Real Life - A new website for unschooling teens starting up
Are there other homeschooling lists on the internet?
Karen Gibson has put together the Homeschool Lists web page.
Where do I find out where the homeschooling laws in my area are?
USA: Visit Ann Zeise's A - Z Home's Cool site.
United Kingdom: Education Otherwise
Canada: The Canadian Homeschooling Resource Page
I am always looking for other sites. If you know of more, please let me know!
Can you help me find a group in my area?
Check the A to Z Home's Cool and Home-Ed Magazine pages for groups in your area.
How do I subscribe to the unschooling-list?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of the message put "subscribe unschooling-list your name".
The mailing list software does not understand HTML or MIME formatted messages. You will need to set your mail software to Plain or Text. Check your manuals or help files for assistance.
It's as easy as 1-2-3.
After clicking any of these subscription commands: enter your name where indicated and then send the message. Thanks.
Who is the list owner?
Hi! I'm Kathy, an Illinois unschooling mom to 2 boys who have unschooled their entire lives, and are now 14 and 16 years old.
Just so you know my biases and time constraints in advance, I am a former junior high and high school science teacher who, in addition to being an unschooling mom, wife, sister and friend also volunteers in a wide variety of capacities including being the Homeschool Parent Advisor for our local library's Homeschool Resource Center, President of our local library's Friends of the Library group, am a merit badge counselor for a variety of BSA badges, coordinate a whole foods buying cooperative, deliver Meals on Wheels with my family, work with the non-sectarian group Illinois H.O.U.S.E. on a variety of levels, own 5 email lists, and work on several homeschool related web pages. In addition I also have frequent paying gigs doing public speaking at conferences and workshops for librarians and homeschoolers and I teach regularly scheduled math and science classes for homeschoolers.
Needless to say, I'm not home a lot! Please realize that I usually check my mail at least once a day, but usually at night when the house begins to be a bit more quiet. I promise I will get back to you within a day or so. No offense, but my family comes first.
Why the big issue about tolerance?
True tolerance can be a very hard point for many of us to achieve in any aspect of our lives, but it is especially difficult in e-mail. Our writings seem private because we don't really know who most of the folks are who are reading these messages, but of course, they are not private. Some 300 folks read these messages, and they have the ability to reread each and every line (and word) over and over if they feel they want to. It is all too easy to accidentally offend under that kind of scrutiny. Many folks won't even post if there is any fear of someone disagreeing with them, especially over one or two poorly chosen words.
Folks who have found the UL have a tendency to all be wonderfully headstrong, opinionated folks who know that they way they are raising their families works and is the right way. Of course though, we have all chosen different ways that work. It is all too easy to preach about what someone is doing wrong or how they should do it, but it only offends most. The best way seems to be to post "the way we did it was" or "have you tried?" messages. You will slowly get your message across to those who are ready and able to hear it, without being coercive.
Why does this list always seem to be off topic?
Courtesy of former UL Mom Cindy Stanley, "The UL is not only a place to discuss unschooling, but also a place to *practice* unschooling. Yes, our meandering conversation threads may seem aimless and silly and irrelevent a lot of the time. But, isn't this how real-life, unscripted, unrehearsed and unedited conversations actually sound? Isn't this how your everyday converations with your children sound, too? Your kidlets don't wake up each morning and begin discussing "algebra" or "vocabulary words or ask you to explain the pros and cons of Educational Theory X, do they? Nahhh. Instead, they'll probably ask you normal curious-kid questions such as, "why is the sky blue?" or "did the Egyptians really worship cats?" or "why do my feet smell?". We ULers ask each other oddball questions like this, too. The meandering conversation threads that follow are a prime example of how one interest leads to another, how a simple question can develop into a hobby or even a career, and how, just by living our lives, it's possible for us to learn everything we ever wanted or needed to know. In other words, the UL is a place to practice Real-Life Immersion Unschooling. A place to experience, for yourself, just how and why this unschooling thing works."
How did this list get started?
The UL has been online since August, 1995, when Diane Solbach started
it. Cindy Stanley took it over in March/April of 1996, and ran it until
December 9, 1997, when it passed to Pat Willette. On December 7, 1998, Pat
passed the list back to Cindy Stanley, who passed it on to me on January
Needless to say the list has enjoyed a number of visions and revisions in these years, and I only hope that I can fill the shoes of the wonderful women who have passed the torch on with so much concern and love not only for the 'cause' of unschooling, but for this list.
What do all those acronyms mean?
This site has most of our more commonly used acronyms. We seem to use FOMS (Fear of Missing Something) a lot though (usually in reference to refusing to just toss out 100 unread digests)! Check out Common Emoticons and Acronyms or Internet Acronyms and Emoticons for a list of acronyms.
Can I find archives for the UL?
We do not have any archives anywhere on the net. This was done so that there would be a sense of freedom and openness sometimes hard to have on lists where everyone is worried who will read your comments. Luckily, however, we do have a long term UL member with a heart of gold and a great big hard drive!
Tim (UL-Dad) is our friendly volunteer UL archivist. To request back issues of the digest, send mail to him at email@example.com with DIGEST REQUEST as the subject line.
Let him know the approximate time period, Digest numbers and/or specific subject(s) you're looking for.
A Final Note:
I don't consider this done. I consider this a draft of a work in progress. I really want lots of ideas and contributions from folks. It seems the more I think about it the more I want to add, the more resources I am sure must be out there and my search engine just isn't finding. On the other hand, if we add too much we might take away some of the voices that speak so well and so clearly on the list. Therefore, please ask questions and please offer suggestions, that way we all learn together.