Richard | 01-12-2017

Unschooling, isn’t that fringe?

You want to unschool? What are you talking about?

Your kids, spouse, family, or you yourself are struggling with your child in public or private school. You don’t know what to do about it, you can’t afford the private school you’d like, or you work full time and can’t “unschool” so what to do? Who even has time to think about this question? And if you talk to your friends about it, will they just shoot your idea down anyway? Won’t they think you’re a science hating religious zealot?

You’re a rational person, as long as your kids are in public school, you are part of the mainstream and don’t have to defend an automatic part of being in society.


But what happens when you decide to homeschool?

Everyone knows the lady with 12 kids and long skirts who believes the earth is 3000 years old. No one wants to be that person, and you fear you’re going to get lumped in.

And you haven’t even started thinking about what your child needs to learn, that is the Mt Everest of homeschooling looming in front of you. What do you do!? My journey began late, I have 5 kids (yes, I know how that happens, I love family and no I’m not Catholic, or LDS (full disclosure: I was raised Catholic and have no enmity with either)), and while I struggled and railed against the demonstrably harmful and impossibly rigid public school system, I couldn’t figure out an alternative.

I work full time, my wife is in no position to lead the homeschooling thing, and with a stereotype of a kid doing at home what they would do in school, I was at a creative impasse and saw no way forward. The idea of homeschooling didn’t die, and my frustration and reasons for leaving the public school system grew as I experienced more of what “the system” had to offer my children.

My daughter’s Solution

Then she came to us, our oldest daughter, with a compelling argument for unschooling, one she spent substantial amounts of time researching, anticipating our resistance and providing answers. She even agreed that she would return to public school if the attempt was an utter and complete failure. I was petrified. I’d never found a way to solve the problem at the intersection of my full time work and my wife’s health. My daughter did.

She would use Ron Paul curriculum for her coursework, everything would be online, she would swim and walk for PE, use Rosetta Stone for her foreign language and continue with her clarinet and take up piano with lessons. Then she agreed in advance to return to school if it didn’t work on the trial run.

We were already inclined and she took away all the problems for us. We agreed to embark on this tremendous experiment with her. Then my mom asked me the dreaded questions, what is your curriculum, will she be ready for college and how will she be socialized? Dang mom, stop asking typical conformist questions.

I was raised believing children would get no socialization outside of school and only kids that went to college were successful (no surprise here, how many of us weren’t?). This warped my ability to frame my thoughts correctly later, and it wasn’t until I began shifting towards individualism that it even occurred to me that I should question this narrative.

The School Narrative

The narrative is something like this, kids at home will be isolated without exposure to other (unrelated?) children, school provides this socialization, therefore kids not in school are inadequately socialized. Did you see the skip in the logic there? The conclusion only follows if you literally lock your child in a closet and refuse to interact with them while you homeschool.

What use is an age (not ability) locked peer group to a child? At what point in their life after rigid age passed Prussian model education will your children be expected to only interact with other people their age? Never again. The entire remainder of their lives they will need to successfully interact with and sympathize with people of different age groups and ability. Locking them in this rigid age/caste structure is retarding, not improving, their ability to socialize.

College? Hello, Bill Gates, millions of small business owners, Steve Jobs. Look at Praxis and the average pay of a licensed plumber. College for everyone is propaganda and an extension of the technocratic expert belief system that is like a cancer on public educators.

“But I’m not a teacher”

So then what—you’re not a weirdo—your kids will get socialized, but what are you going to do about teaching them? You’re no teacher! Ignore that. You are a teacher. You’re the most important teacher your child will ever have. You will provide the structure and experiences that will define your child, school is just the knowledge that fills in the magnificent frame you’ve created and shaped into a wonderful person.

Now, how do you provide knowledge? Let me tell you, it is intimidating, stressful and an anxiety ridden experience. But don’t falter—persevere. You’ll gain more knowledge, fail some, gain more experience, fail more, find the resources you need and suddenly you’ll feel successful. The difficult parts will be behind you and you’ll race out into the world full of hope. Then you’ll fail again. Persevere. There are so many resources, Khan Academy, Liberty Classroom, MIT, so many schools post their material online—The Well Trained Mind—and formal curriculum where there is a definite teacher-student dynamic.

How she learns without teachers

What we found works for us is a mixture of all of these and none. Only our oldest daughter is unschooled, the others have, so far, stayed in public school. We found Ron Paul Homeschool Curriculum worked very well for some courses, not at all for others, so we shifted to Khan Academy for sciences and Liberty classroom for economics.

This part of the unschooling/homeschooling is the hardest part. I’m not crunchy at all. Like zero on the one to hippy scale. I wear slacks and a formal long sleeve shirt to work year round, ties on important days and a full suit when it tickles my fancy. Analyzing is my strong suit and this beast of finding the guardrails while giving your child freedom to run down new ideas and explore tangents is an art, not a science.

Some months she is just barreling through her work, and then suddenly, she needs to set up a WordPress site, go on a creative blog writing binge, go to an economics conference and figure out everything there is to know about web hosting options and search engine optimization, and then read the Hobbit. It is like that, and my highly structured brain is often reeling trying to keep up with whatever she is learning this week. Our guardrails fall on her getting a full education, so advanced math, science, civics, history and English.

When kids direct their learning, they go beyond curricula.

What we never expected is how much more she packs into her unschooling that we don’t push. Economics, blogging, web hosting, monetizing ideas, marketing research, search engine optimization, learning to code for android, clarinet, piano, websites with business partners and late night development meetings. Did I mention reading, all the time, and creating and more dev work?

I never expected her to expand her knowledge and interests so expansively because of unschooling. The first year was slow, and we accepted that there would be a lot of failures, and accepting that gave us tremendous space to experiment and dynamically adjust her schooling to her interests in such a way that she met our basic requirements.

Unschooling enables her to grow more intellectually and socially

So that is the short version, we experienced problems with public schools, couldn’t creatively identify solutions, our 13y/o could (derp!) and we set about blowing up homeschool myths right and left. She just spent a weekend socializing with a wide age group, including older adults, middle aged parents, college, post college and high schoolers at Voice and Exit here in Austin.

Did my now 16yo have a great time, yes, did she make new friends, absolutely, is she the best thing since sliced bread, of course? That is how we manage unschooling, it is fluid day to day and structured for outcomes, and the outcomes are phenomenal. Better learning, more in depth where she wants it, broader where she would like it and sometimes completely new and unexpected subjects fold into her education.

All this while she is trying to finish and graduate early by a year and a half. Everything can be done, and for less than you’d think in time, emotional investment and dollars.

Take the leap, you won’t regret it.


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