Unschooling? Does That Simply Mean UnJobbing?

Yesterday was a big day for me. It was my son’s very first day of school. First day of kindergarten, in fact. This isn’t little league, anymore. I’m not just making sure I find the right daycare where they will send him back home to me alive and fed. I’m not just sending him to preschool where he plays all day outside while occasionally learning letter sounds. No… this is the big leagues, son! This is where it all begins! My boy is going to a school that will challenge him, help him learn, help him grow and really set the stage for the rest of his life!

Ok… maybe that’s a bit much, but I’ve never sent a kid to kindergarten before.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about early education. When I originally started college, my goal was to become a teacher. Therefore, I know just enough to be dangerous and really piss off the real teachers when I clearly don’t know what I am talking about but like to pretend I do because I once took “Reading for the Elementary School Teacher” in college. Now that my kid is of elementary age, I have been re-educating myself in education… uh…stuff.

In my recent perusals of academic archives, I learned about a new thing. I hesitate to call it a fad because I don’t think it’s popular enough. But, it’s definitely a thing. It’s called “Unschooling.”

You see, unschooling is the act of essentially NOT sending your kid to school. We’re not talking home schooling here. We talking about unschooling.

In unschooling, there is no curriculum. The student/child gets to decide what they want to learn about. If the kid wants to be a chef when he grows up, he learns to cook. If a kid wants to be a pilot, she takes flying classes. Wait… actually… does she take flying classes? I don’t really know. That would be schooling.

The concept is THAT confusing to me.

Check out this article from my favorite radio station. There’s a lot of typical hippie blabber in here about the child not being restricted to a desk and being forced to learn about things they don’t want to learn about (you know, like math) and blah blah blah.

Nine-year-old Marie loves unschooling because, “You don’t have to sit in a class for six or seven hours a day and do homework. I used to be super excited about homework for some weird reason. I just like unschooling because it’s really fun. We just get to do… not whatever we want, we don’t get to go out for ice cream every five seconds. But, like, we have road trips. I’ve been to Disneyland five times, I think, and Disney World once or twice.”

Who wouldn’t love unschooling if they got to go to Disney 7 times in 9 years?

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clark Aldrich, author of a book about unschooling, as well as a Woodstock hippie (allegedly), says, “The notion of parents dropping off their kids at school, organizing the kids into large groups, having those large groups sitting in classrooms being lectured to and taking tests to reach these weird standards set by a third party has no standing in real life.”

Yeah… not unlike dropping yourself off at work where you are organized into a large group that sits in an office and gets bossed around while completing tasks given to you by a third party.

I think they should just change the name of this nonsense to “Unworking.” Because, that’s really what you’re doing. These kids are being set up to fail. No structure? No standards? No accountability? There is no way these uneducated children make it into the real world. They’ll all grow up to work at McDonalds.

Except… this NPR article tells me that’s not true. Some professor dude named Peter Gray out of Boston College (a Jesuit school, hardly a liberal bastion) says that he did a survey. From his studies, he concluded that “it’s possible to take the unschooling route and then go on to a highly satisfying adult life.”

See, when I am thinking about unschooling, in my head, I instantly think there is no way these kids are getting into college. And, without college, there is no way they can make it in the big wide world of professional life. But, this is apparently not the case. Dr. Gray finds that it’s actually the opposite. Apparently, of those that wanted to go to college, most were able to gain admittance based on their interviews or their portfolios. Some decided to go the community college route. They didn’t even need SATs.

63 of the original 232 received a follow up survey asking about their employment status. From this number, more than ¾ said they were financially self-sufficient.

Smack me in the head and call me Sackett! I am shocked.

So, I won’t judge anymore. The bottom line, if you come to me with a degree from MIT, I don’t care if your 3rd grade teacher was Master Yoda, Bozo the Clown or a series of YouTube videos. If you come to me showing me you figured out repetitive motion, I don’t care if you spent your entire childhood at Disneyland.

My kid will continue at Our Lady of Guadalupe. But, to the rest of you, do what works!

FOT Background Check

Jason Pankow
Jason Pankow realized long ago that he wasn’t smart enough to actually program video games and game consoles. So, he found another way to participate! In between bouts of pwning newbs in Halo or scoring mad gamerpoints, Jason spends his time as the Staffing Program Manager for Microsoft’s Devices and Studios Division. Jason’s day is spent running programs that help recruit the obscenely talented developers, designers and engineers that have blessed the world with the likes of Xbox, Kinect and tons of other rad stuff, much of which he can’t tell you about. So, don’t ask. In non-nerd speak…what this means is that Jason has the coolest recruiting job in the world! Look him up as “Satchmo Baggins” on Xbox LIVE. But, watch out for the dreaded headshot!


  1. Luba V. says:

    I love this post! Your comments made me chuckle.

    I’m glad you found my article about the unschooling survey interesting. There’s a lot more info about this “thing” (unschooling) here, if you’re interested: http://www.AlternativesToSchool.com. And yes, lots of unschoolers do take classes. The distinction is that they do it by choice, not compulsion.

    • Jason Pankow
      Jason Pankow says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Luba! I found it very interesting, indeed!

  2. Lori P says:

    Initially I thought the exact same thing about the “unschooled” but then I met a few of these folks in real life … aged 16 and 17 year old kids … and was amazed! They were articulate, bright, and for the most part seemed a bit more focused on their life goals and a bit more mature than some traditionally schooled peers.

  3. Stewart Farr says:

    Some of the greatest things I learned…….I was forced to learn.
    Until I had a personal drive to exceed my own expectations – if it wasn’t put in front of me, I rarely seek it out.

    I am all for people having passion, and drive to know all there is about that passion. I have many things in this domain.
    But likewise, you have no appreciation for a shovel – if you never dug a hole.
    You have no appreciation for physics, until you try and beat it.
    You have no appreciation for math, until something is presented to you that defies the first principles you know.

    3.141592 is a useful number – but I would have said “I dunno” if I was not forced to learn it.
    Basically – you don’t know what you want, until you are shown something different than you know. Not everyone has the personal drive to know more than they know…….which is far to obvious in some adults.

    • Wendy says:

      Ah, yes. Most children won’t know what’s out there without it being put in front of them. That’s why unschoolers introduce their children to everything they can. There are library visits with LOTS of books both checked out and read in the library, play groups, hiking and observing, field trips to museums, banks, fire houses, police departments, ice rinks, bakeries, factories, laboratories, colleges, gymnasiums, florists, photography studios, dance studios, art studios, music studios, radio and tv stations, etcetera.

      There is a big, wide world out there, and sitting in a classroom isn’t the only way, isn’t the ideal way, to learn about it.

  4. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Moderate Republican – FTW!

  5. Chris says:

    People always make the “well, you have to sit in an office 6-8 hours a day….” when trying to draw the relevance of schooling to real life. It’s so easily forgotten, or ignored, that the central difference between school and work is that the latter is not compulsory. Even if we “have” to go to work, we still have the choice to leave that office ANYTIME or leave that company if it doesn’t suit us. Children are totally without choice in school. I’m not for abolishing all classrooms, but if we simply give our kids the choice to sit there or not, we may be surprised to find how much kids will choose to learn. As Peter Gray says in many of his articles, kids can’t NOT learn! However, many kids can be sabotaged by the physical, emotional and mental difficulties of sitting in a classroom for hours. One thing to consider is how many more Mondays your son now has to dread in his life. Whereas, and unschooled 5 year old may not have the same nauseous response to Mondays. Some lucky adults are working in a field where Mondays are not feared or loathed. Unschooled kids are the same about Mondays, just starting out a lot younger.

  6. Lua Wells says:

    So glad when I come across someone who can get past their first impression (this is crazy – they’ll all be homeless bums), and do a little more research and thinking about the subject of unschooling — which is an approach that actually makes a whole lot of sense once you think about it for a while. If you’re interested in hearing another true story of unschooled kids who go on to college and find their passions (and jobs to fit), please take a look at my short TEDx talk called “Skipping School.” http://youtu.be/23jVmKXk2I0

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