Nurturing Independent Learners

And the tricky business of writing about unschooling, when there is always a risk of being labelled irresponsible, by those who feel they know better.

To me, unschoolers are independent learners. At least mine are. What further can I say? Because one sentence isn’t much of an article, I decided to do a little research to see what other people have to say about this topic.

I did some Googling, but before I found what I was looking for, I got side-tracked by an article written by an author who believes it is irresponsible for parents to allow their children the freedom to learn in an unschooling way.

The author says children are too immature to take on the role of directing their own learning. Perhaps children can’t see the Big Picture. Therefore they won’t make the best decisions concerning what they need to know. Parents can’t sit back and take the easy pathway and let their children learn what they want when they want to. What if their children are not motivated to learn anything, let alone the necessary things? No, parents have to keep control of their children’s education. It’s their responsibility.

On the surface of it, the author’s opinions sound very reasonable. Even a little doubt passed across my mind for a split second. What if I’ve got it all wrong? What if my children can’t be trusted to learn all they need to know? Am I an irresponsible mother? And then common sense returned. I have been homeschooling for 21 years. I know unschooling works.

So why did this article cause even that split second of doubt?

I think about the Critical Thinking course Imogen completed not so long ago. It reminded me that we have to read articles carefully and critically. Just
because something is written in an authoritative manner, doesn’t mean it was written by an expert. Stating something as a fact doesn’t make it a fact. It remains an opinion unless, of course, it is backed up by evidence. And where was this author’s evidence? Did she unschool a child all the way to graduation? Did she even start unschooling? Or was she never able to trust enough to let go and let her children take more control over their education? How can you make statements about something you have never tried? There were no examples or personal stories or even footnotes to back up this author’s opinions. Now if she said that unschooling didn’t work for her family because… But she didn’t.

I can only talk for my own family. I do know my children can be trusted to learn all they need to know. I have four children who have
graduated from homeschooling. They have all studied at tertiary level without problems. I feel they are well educated. They received an education far superior to that I received at school. They are equipped to take on the challenges of the world. And I see no reason why the younger girls won’t achieve as much as their older siblings.

Writing about homeschooling is a tricky business. After reading this article, I sat and thought about how I’d feel if someone criticised my posts and articles. Suddenly I lost all enthusiasm for writing.

And then I decided that as I only ever share what is going on in my own family, how can anyone criticise? Readers cannot tell me unschooling is not working for us when I know it is. They can’t say I am wrong to trust my children when I know the end results of trusting.
What readers can tell me is that unschooling is not right for their families, that they feel unable to let go and trust their children with so much freedom. And that’s okay. I respect that. We are all different.

No, I am not writing as an expert. I am just sharing stories, stories that might interest you, or might not.

And this is my experience…

I once wrote: “Everyone thinks I homeschool my fourteen-year-old daughter, Charlotte. I don’t. She homeschools herself.”

I guess you could say my highschooling unschoolers have the reins of their education completely in their own hands. They have their own ideas about what they want to learn and they are keen to go off on their own adventures. Of course, I am always around to give them ideas, expand their world and its possibilities, discuss problems, find resources and help in any way I can. But my role isn’t that of a teacher. I don’t homeschool my high school students. They educate themselves.

Is that irresponsible of me? Will my children learn all they need to know? Can I trust them? Is it right to give them so much freedom?

Please share the following story from my archives: Why I Am Not a Good HomeschoolingTeacher.

This is Charlotte’s story. She knows what she wants to learn. She knows where she’s heading. She’s a homeschooling high schooler. And she’s an independent learner.

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  1. Reply

    Thank you for being willing to talk honestly about your unschooling! It's really hard to find others, especially Catholics who are willing to talk about it, probably for fear of being judged.

    If you want to make it sound more official, you could say that you're following the "Gradual Release of Responsibility" model. That's a concept that's taken very seriously in "educational circles." But it is what you're doing: You model behavior, you supply decreasing levels of support until the child can do it on their own, and then you let them do it.

    It's ironic, but since you are much more attuned to when to let them take over, unschooling gives you kids who become adults sooner. I'm also seeing this with my high schoolers.

    1. Reply


      "If you want to make it sound more official, you could say that you're following the "Gradual Release of Responsibility" model." I like that! It's amazing how important language is. The way we use words is very important. Words can be so powerful, influencing others. That's why I didn't like the article I was talking about. I can imagine new homeschoolers reading it and being influenced by the author's opinions, just because it was written in an authoritarian manner, as if the author was THE expert on homeschooling.

      I've been thinking about those decreasing levels of support you mentioned. It is true I spend far more time with my younger girls than the older ones. They like sharing things with me and we enjoy spending time together, having learning adventures. But I know there will come a time when, like the older ones, they will drift off, absorbed entirely in their own projects. We'll still chat about things and I will still be on the lookout for resources and things to help them. But they will truly have the reins of education entirely in their own hands, as they pursue goals they have made for themselves.

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Reply

    I can relate to this so much, Sue. We are really happy and stimulated with where we're at but I can't bring myself to write about it publically anymore. And, the only thing I think that my children 'need' to know for sure is their faith in God. The rest takes care of itself through prayer and following God's will. I know that sounds simplistic but I found that looking too much outside our own family instead of being at peace within just over-complicated homeschooling.

    I appreciate the honesty of your posts, too, Sue.
    God bless:-)

    1. Reply


      There are so many ideas and opinions about homeschooling floating about out there in the Internet, it is easy to get side-tracked from our own principles and methods. We can lose our peace when we compare ourselves to other families , or when we pick up a new idea and wonder if we should adopt it for our own children. I like this quote from "A Little Way of Homeschooling":…

      'Spend time listening to Him, and let Him tell you what He desires for your family. It may be unschooling… Whatever it is, you will recognise it by the peace it brings to you and your children. Do not settle for anything else.'

      I feel very peaceful about what we're doing. I guess I share my stories just in case anyone wants to see how Catholic unschooling could work. I especially want to promote Suzie's book because, despite its critics, I think unschooling could be the answer for many families who are finding homeschooling a struggle.

      Yes, I could be judged and I was thinking about that when I wrote this post. But I am tough and I always make a point of talking from a personal viewpoint and not an authoritarian one, so I feel able to defend myself.

      I find it sad we feel the need to criticise at all. If we were all more accepting of each other and our methods, we'd all feel so much more encouraged.

      God bless!

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