The Myth of the Lazy Unschooler

A few months ago, Ren Allen and I had the opportunity to do a joint presentation at the Northeast Unschooling Conference entitled "Unschooling Myth Busters." It was very fun; we tackled myths such as TV, video games, bedtimes, socialization, and motivation, among others. It never ceases to amaze me just how many unschooling myths are out there, especially considering the fact that virtually everyone in the world was unschooled long before formal education systems came along. In my mind, unschooling is neither new nor radical; it is completely natural and has been in our world since the dawn of man.

Still, the idea of unschooling seems "new" and "radical" to many people, particularly when compared to the more established and traditional form of public education. As with anything new, the ideas behind unschooling have seemingly earned a special place in the darker hearts of many people, and unschooling itself has been reserved as a special target for people who want to hurl vitriol and disgust upon it. Normally I don't mind that too much; I understand that not everyone agrees with my views and that sometimes new ideas can be threatening, causing people to lash out. You can call me stupid and shortsighted and irresponsible all you want, I can take it. But call my kids The L Word and you'll have a fight on your hands.

What is The L Word? Why, it's "lazy" of course.

I can see how some people might think my kids are lazy. See, my kids essentially do what they want to do every day. Some days that involves getting together with friends, and some days it is spent in peaceful solitude at home. Some days that means road trips, and other days it means moving from one chair to the other. Some days it means computer or gaming time, other days it means sports or arts and crafts. Sometimes it is Wikipedia, sometimes it is the library, and sometimes it is talking with and listening to new friends or strangers. By any existing measure, on any given day you could look at my kids and be amazed at the depth and scope of their interests and activities. On any other day, you could be equally amazed at the amount of different things they do. And on some days, you could be astonished by the amount that my children are seemingly not doing, and you could easily turn around and call them lazy.

Really, all kids could be viewed this way, not just unschoolers. We see kids who are up and active and busy and think of them as motivated, with little regard for the source of their motivation; after all, they could be motivated by peer pressure, or fear of disappointing their parents, or any one of a number of factors that are potentially damaging. By the same token, we see kids who are sitting quietly inside reading or playing a game and we think of them as lazy, with little regard for the source of their motivation, which could be rooted in a deep interest or passion about what they are doing. For some reason, it is in our nature to quickly assume and judge based on easily observable factors, with little thought to what lies just beneath. In these examples, the easiest way we could find out whether or not our children were content and happy would simply be to ask, but sometimes that seems just too difficult.

But the way we spend our day - the particulars of our schedule, our activity levels, and our actions - are in many ways moot to the discussion at hand. Why? Because regardless of how my kids are spending their time each day, regardless of how inert it may seem sometimes to some people, my kids are at their essence living each day in an outright challenge to the status quo of how kids are raised in this country. They are out there in the world the way it is, with it's temptations and comforts, experimenting freely without hesitation or judgment. They are learning about life by living life, not by reading about it or having someone tell them about it. They are partnering with their friends young and old, and with their parents, on a voyage of joyful experience. I'm not sure how that could ever be considered to be lazy.

Answer me this: which person is more lazy, the one who chooses to watch TV all day, or the one who submits to their daily indoctrination at the hands of our education system? The one who is engrossed in a video game of their own choosing, or the one who is being forced to take music lessons? The one who spends hours petting and playing with their cat, or the one who goes outside to play because they were told to? The one who is able to view the world in new ways, or the one who tries to figure out how to exist in the world the way it is today? The one who challenges, or the one who accepts? The one who experiments, or the one who follows?

Now, I am not saying that all unschoolers are motivated for all the right reasons, and that all kids who go to school are truly lazy because they accept the status quo. To suggest that would be ludicrous; life is not so neat as to be easily bisected into good and bad, right and wrong, motivated and lazy. Not by a long shot. What I am saying is that when we think of laziness, it might be better to not think of it in terms of physical activity or even in terms of what our children have "accomplished" each day. Why? Because no child should have their lives summed up in such narrow terms; it is fundamentally disrespectful.

Laziness is so much more than a moniker to bestow when a child doesn't want to get themselves a glass of milk or go outside to play. It extends far beyond that. It extends into their spirits, their ideas and ideals, their thoughts and hopes and dreams. I would be willing to bet that when kids are allowed the room to choose while surrounded by understanding and compassion and support, they will begin to blossom. And when they blossom, they will find that special place where their spirits can soar. When their spirits are set loose on the world, laziness - by any definition - simply does not apply.


  1. Fantastic! I love the direction you went in for this post!

  2. What about the unschooling parent being lazy? As a mostly unschooling parent, I often feel that way about myself. Never, though, do I think my unschooled kids are lazy, though I do wish they'd pick up more around the house.

  3. Good question, MissMookus. I wonder if our notions of "lazy" aren't somehow founded in our thoughts about what we are doing relative to our expectations. I can easily see how I am sometimes "lazy" if I choose the couch over mowing the lawn, or reading/sleeping rather than cleaning. But really, it's just my own expectation of myself and my sense of "having" to do things that sets me up to view myself as lazy. Not saying we should lower our self-expectations, but that perhaps we should default to allowing ourselves some leisure time as opposed to increasing the pressure we put on ourselves. Interesting.

  4. Enjoyed reading this post...was just "cornered" at a park day yesterday about unschooling and it was easy to discern that the general thought of the other parent was that my kids would grow up lazy and stupid. Needed this boost! :-)

  5. So glad to be your friend. xoxo

  6. Another great post. I have put my comments in a blog post as they are sometimes swallowed up. Hope this is okay. There are no adverts on my page.

  7. love this. laziness is a social construct that people love to label others who aren't doing what THEY expect them to do. it drives me crazy.

    thanks for this lovely, lovely article!

  8. Vicki JohnsonBarrettApril 13, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    I think often, in our culture, we interchange "inactive" with "lazy". In my unschooling life with my son (14), I make sure to ditch the guilt about not being active. We are often on the computers, or video games, or reading. That's just who we are, and to me that is not lazy, but authentic.
    Thanks for addressing this subject!

  9. I appreciate that you pointed out that unschooling is actually an ancient method of learning rather than a radical new hippie trend. That helps me when I start feeling anxious about our path, and I think it's a great practical reminder for those people in our lives who question our choices.

  10. My daughter is homeschooling my two granddaughters. I see her dedication. I see such wonderfulness in the two girls. I don't worry.

  11. I'm so glad you joined up with the Natural Parenting Blog Party! I'm a big unschooling believer, myself. I'm embarrassed to say that my oldest attends *GASP!* public school. But, to be true to my beliefs, I had to let him go if he wanted to - unschooling is essentially allowing your kids to follow wherever their educational desires take them, right? I am just hoping that my little guy doesn't make the same choice.
    I look forward to reading more from you!

  12. Thanks, Alicia! From looking at your profile, including your musical choices, you and I would have a LOT to talk about :-)

  13. I've given a lot of thought to the accusations of laziness, too, but haven't tackled it in writing yet (not out of laziness: out of doing a great many other things, and simply being).

    I was at that wonderful talk at NEUC.

    I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Every time I read here, you shift my perceptions or clarify my muddy thoughts or open my eyes.....

    You can claim your award at

    Thanks for your words and ideas!