The Long-Term Benefits of Unschooling

Among the things I am very grateful for is the burgeoning unschooling community here in San Diego that we are blessed to be a part of. We've got our own yahoo group (who doesn't these days?) that has recently become much richer in terms of the levels of discussion. Over the past few days, we've discussed TV watching. This is a familar unschooling subject, and we've heard from people in favor of restricting TV as well as from people for whom "anything goes." I've been ridiculously busy of late, but took the time to get some thoughts down in a posting to the list yesterday; this was in response to a poster who was talking about the fact that her family does not have plastic goods in their house (as well as other things) because they are made by child laborers and are bad for the environment.

You frame your viewpoint well. I would say that as long as your children are seeking information of their own volition and coming to independant conclusions that they don't want to exploit others for entertainment (as well as the other things you mention), that's quite admirable. A stricter unschooling view would suggest that you double check to ensure that your children's decisions to reject or embrace certain things are indeed their decisions. There is indeed a fine line between modeling your passions, and restricting information or exposure in an effort to get a child to see things your way; that's coercion.
Let's throw out the "unschooling" label for a sec and look at this pragmatically - we're trying to raise our children to think for themselves, to make their own assessments of good and bad, to see the world in terms of what makes sense to them. Only through truly free choice will our children learn a lesson in all it's nuances and subtleties, and therefore learn it deeply and permanently - and be able to decide, therefore, where their boundaries are and what can still be a moving target.
To do this as a parent requires a great amount of faith, with little real hope that our children will turn out to share our values. But for me, I don't want my kids to share my values neccessarily - I want them to define their own values, and learn to question, and be anything but the sheep that so many of us become because we've not been entrusted with the responsibility to think for ourselves. The passion that we all model for our children needs to be unconditional - a true reflection of ourselves and our values, our likes, and our beliefs. THAT's what we're modeling - not the values themselves, but the joy of having and expressing them.

Doing this is hard, no doubt. Many observers see us allowing our children to eat what they want, watch what they want, say what they want, etc, and make the natural assumption that we are indulging our children. They believe that these indulgences are short-sighted; that we are choosing the easy path of least resistance by being overly permissive now, but setting our children up for long-term difficulties as they try to adapt to the "real world." I understand that.

But I think it's bullshit.

I think that when you truly adopt unschooling, you're taking a long-term view of your child's life and setting them up for success beyond your wildest dreams. How? By setting up an environment in which we model the pursuit of our own passions without expectations or conditions; by allowing and encouraging our children's passions and exploration without judgment; by trusting that our children will do what's right for them even if it's not what we would choose for them or for ourselves. Doing this authentically and wholeheartedly helps our children understand that their views have value, that their passions have value, that their thoughts have value - that they have value. And that builds a confidence that enables them to try new things and explore their passions as well as their fears. But most critically, it enables them to see the world through their own eyes and to define success on their own terms.

I'm no unschooling expert, but that, my friends, is a long-term view. And it is a beautiful journey.


  1. Thank you for articulating that so clearly. You have a gift, my friend!

  2. I really enjoyed this! It is so hard to do - but I'm happy to have the opportunity!

  3. yes!!! and that was about all she could say...

  4. Long term view! :) Yay. :) Good reading.

  5. I've just found your blog and have been enjoying it. Our unschooling community has also recently been talking about limiting screen time, too!

    I agree with your idea about imposing our views on our kids. Using your example of plastics, I do try to keep them out of the house and I think carefully about what I buy and often choose deliberately to avoid plastic. However I am not preventing my daughter from adding to her beloved collection of plastic dinosaurs, nor am I telling my kids they can't have something because it's plastic, because I agree with you that it's not fair for me to force my views on them. Instead I'll share with my kids why I chose not to make a certain purchase and let them just think about it.

    One more thing - I don't consider myself a radical unschooler b/c I do put limits on some things such as sugar, because I do believe that some people are genetically predisposed towards addictive behaviours and sugar, for example, is quite addictive. I don't believe children are naturally equipped to deal with something like a refined substance that wasn't present during most of our evolutionary history. So while I agree with much of what you have said in this post, I do think there is a time and place for thoughtful parental limit-setting when it becomes apparent that the child has the need or desire to limit a behaviour, but is failing at doing so.

    JMHO and keep up the great blogging!

  6. Great points; I've been thinking about writing a food post for a while because there are so many great viewpoints on both sides of the coin. I do think that parenting without any restrictions at all is "unparenting" as opposed to unschooling, and the food issue (as well as vaccines, exercise, etc)is a very detailed and nuanced subject as relates to unschooling. Thanks for chiming in!

  7. Would you mind if I add this post in the carnival of homeschooling, which I'm hosting on Tuesday?

  8. Go for it - wish I could say I knew what the carnival was, but it sounds good!