A Plea On Behalf of Unschooling Newcomers


As a relative newcomer to unschooling, I like to read up on blogs and online discussion groups dedicated to unschooling/homeschooling topics. Since we are the only expat family in our community whose children don’t attend school, I sometimes need support, even if it’s virtual. It’s comforting to see so many people out there asking the hard questions and seeking information. It’s even more encouraging to find so many others willing to share their experiences in a genuinely thoughtful, heartfelt and open-minded way.

What I find surprising is the amount of judgemental mudslinging going on out there. Some of it makes me cringe, and I can’t help wondering about the impact this might have on unschooling newcomers or those considering life without school.

I think we can all agree that, among the myriad of possible reasons we believe our children are better off without school, one of the biggest is that our educational system likes to break down and categorize both our children and what they learn. So why then is there so much sorting and categorizing going on within the online unschooling community?

My fear, in reading some of the exchanges, is that if rigidity exists in how we define our learning philosophy ( i.e. homeschooling, interest-led, unschooling, radical, etc.) that rigidity may create dissonance. And if someone is looking for answers or support within that community, but doesn’t necessarily agree with every aspect of that particular philosophy, they may feel either ostracized or pressured to conform. Which to me looks a lot like a subtle form of bullying.

There is a natural insecurity involved in stepping outside the educational box for most of us. Are we doing the right thing for our children? How will they learn? What does unschooling look like? Some may wonder, ‘what will others think?’ Those are the general questions that get asked and the responses vary greatly. The spectrum naturally exists, as it should. As to where each of us falls on it, the marker may fluctuate according to our individual needs and those of our children as they grow. Our diverse lives should shape our diverse learning philosophies. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a fair amount of the opposite. When a particular philosophy begins to define our lives, the whole notion of unschooling risks losing credibility and begins to resemble a fad, complete with trend-setters and gossip columns.

If we were each to fit neatly into an unschooling category further defined by what we eat, whose philosophy we follow (or don’t) and whether or not we have textbooks in the house, wouldn’t we then be classifying ourselves and each other? And isn’t that the exact thing we are trying to get away from by choosing to be autonomous parents who trust their children to learn passionately with our guidance and love?

And if we are willing to offer this respect to our children– often against social, familial and sometimes spousal opposition– shouldn’t we naturally extend the same courtesy to our fellow unschoolers? They deserve to be trusted to come to their own decisions and forge a unique path to unschooling without coercion, criticism or judgement. If we can do that for each other, the opposite ends of the spectrum have a good chance of coming together to form an endless circle. That’s a nice image in my book.

(Originally published in 2013 at SenegalEase.blogspot.com)









2 thoughts on “A Plea On Behalf of Unschooling Newcomers

  1. I see you ran into the Unschooling Purist Gatekeepers. (Sadly, I can probably name the folks you ran into). I’m sorry that happened to you. For many years I lurked those pages, rescuing hapless newbie unschoolers from the clutches of the UPGs who insisted that any problem the newbie mom faced was because she wasn’t doing unschooling the right way. (FWIW — I happened upon your blog when Pat Farenga linked to it on facebook — if there’s someone who “gets” unschooling, it’s Pat, who took over GWS when John Holt died in the 80s). Warmly, –Jen Garrison Stuber


    • Thanks Jen, it seems like the UPGs have loosened their grip, although it might just be that I no longer frequent the sites where I first encountered them. Glad you found my blog and thanks for the comment. Have a lovely day, Ellen


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