Some Thoughts on Unschooling and Experts

I’m browsing the Internet, hopping from one unschooling site to another. And I notice that some authors sound more expert than others. They write with authority. They use language such as, “You should do this or that or the other.” I get the feeling there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. The writers sound so sure of what they’re saying. Obviously they are unschooling experts. And I should listen.

Experts? I wonder what makes someone an unschooling expert? No one goes to university and works towards an unschooling qualification. Is it more to do with experience? There’s no doubt that the longer we unschool, the more we learn. But no one knows everything. We’re all continually learning. And if we do get to the point where we feel we know a great deal, we can only consider ourselves experts as far as our own families are concerned, because no family is exactly like another. Oh yes, we might use the same principles. There’s definitely an unschooling philosophy. Some of us may understand that better than others. But the details of how to put this philosophy into action will never be exactly the same.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other. We read about other unschoolers’ experiences and wonder if we can apply what they have learnt about unschooling to our own families. And I guess that’s why I sometimes receive an email asking for some help on a particular aspect of unschooling, despite the fact I’m not an expert.

Yes, I’m definitely not an expert. I have learnt a great deal while I’ve been homeschooling my children but I still haven’t got everything totally worked out. There are many questions and ideas I’m still pondering. Actually the longer we unschool, the more I realise I don’t know. Perhaps that sounds depressing to some people. It might be nice to read a book or a blog and discover the perfect way to unschool (or parent). But I don’t think it works that way. We can only learn by engaging with our children, by experiencing unschooling for ourselves, by living life. And life is always changing. I find this exciting.

So I have no advice. But there is something I can offer: some suggestions. We can talk mother-to-mother, mull over some ideas, share what’s worked and what hasn’t, listen, accept or reject… learn from each other.

The other day someone asked me for some tips on how to make the transition from structured homeschooling to unschooling. I’m happy to chat about this. Perhaps you’ve been in this position. You might have some ideas to share too. I thought I’d write about this topic in a few short posts (because it is easier for me to find a few minutes here and there to write, rather than work on a long post). What do you think? I hope you’ll join me.

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    • Hwee
    • March 13, 2014

    Hi Sue.

    I wanted to leave a comment on yesterday's post first: I'm glad that you've found a way forward with your writing and blogging — I'm extra happy that you've decided to continue in the way that feels most natural to you, as I've enjoyed reading your posts and learning from them, although I don't comment on every post. 🙂

    Comment on today's post:
    I totally agree witih you that, when it comes to homeschooling, we are at best the expert of our own homeschool due to the difference in family dynamics and individual personalities. However, there seems to be many, many people who like to position themselves as "experts" who have all the answers. I can think of a few people who I've met along the way in homeschooling circles who claim to be experts in certain divisions of homeschooling styles or who "own" these ideas, e.g. Montessori homeschooling, autonomous homeschooling, etc. Newcomers are normally drawn to these people for a while because they are the ones who shout the loudest (although not necessarily the most helpful or the most knowledgeable). Soon enough people will realise that these so-called experts mostly crave attention and "power" rather than are genuinely interested to help others find their own way, so they end up isolating themselves for the most part in the long run. I think it's their dishonesty and hypocrisy that people find most offputting. Hence, I appreciate very much your honesty and sincerity at sharing what you've learnt on your journey.

    As to transiting from structured homeschooling to unschooling, I've made that same transition myself a few years ago. It was a gradual process and I've written a few posts that spanned a few months (from September 2011 to March 2013) that showed our transition. Let me know if you'd like me to provide the links to those posts here for easy search, and I shall be glad to help. 🙂

      • Hwee
      • March 13, 2014

      Just to add that there'll always be people who feel that they can only ever listen to those who put themselves out as experts, at least in appearance, so that's why the cult of experts continue to this day. It's an interesting insight into some people's psychology, in that they will unquestioningly follow the instructions/advice given by "men in white coats" or other forms of perceived (but not necessarily real) authority. This was discovered in a famous MIT experiment on human psychology conducted in the 1960s.

      Until people start taking the responsibility of thinking for themselves seriously, they will be prone to seek the path of least resistance/effort, i.e. to have someone else do the hard thinking than just tell them what to do. 🙂

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, there are certainly lots of people who want to be told what to do. I think that's why blogs/ websites that are written in an authoritarian way are so popular. Initially mothers might find these sites useful and then maybe they start to feel guilty because they can't do everything they are told they must do.

      I always look carefully at the language writers use and then check their credentials / experience / any business interests etc. We can be influenced by the language a writer chooses. Two of my older children have done a critical thinking course at uni, and we all learnt a lot about language and communication…about the different ploys writers use for influencing readers.

      I've been thinking a lot about control recently. How people in general feel the need to control others. Maybe some 'experts', as you say, are more interested in their own power than really helping. To help others effectively I think we need to walk beside them, not out in front telling them what to do. Help them find what suits them best. I'm a former counsellor if you haven't already guessed! Anyway, it's an interesting subject!

      Hwee, thank you so much for your encouraging comment. I do appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

    2. Reply


      I am so sorry… I forgot…Yes please link your transition posts, here or on the next post. They'd be a great help I'm sure! Thank you for your suggestion.

  1. Reply

    Great post, Sue. We've linked to it here on a little blog that we sponsor as an aside to Life Learning Magazine, and that we hope will help empower people to be their own experts.

    1. Reply


      Thank you so much for the link. That's very kind of you!

  2. Blessings Sue, I couldn't agree with you more on this post. I think it goes way past unschooling and is an issue that covers all spectrum of homeschooling. Those experts can be very intimidating and in a since could even scare newbie homeschoolers/unschoolers from this wonderful journey. I don't think any of us have all the answer and how boring it would be if we did. Part of the beauty of it is the journey of growing and learning.I asked my grandma once when I first became a mother," how will I know I'm doing this right?' She told me to listen to my heart. That is what I tell all homeschoolers I meet. Listen to your heart it will guide you where you need to be.

    1. Reply

      Oh I love what your grandma said! Listen to our hearts. Yes! I think we can forget to do that sometimes when we are bombarded with so many expert opinions. Our hearts are tuned into our own children. We know and love our kids better than anyone else.

      I used to think I'd homeschool and parent one child, learn everything I needed to know and then apply it to the rest of my children. Easy! But it hasn't worked out that way at all. Like you said, we are on a journey of growing and learning. I find that exciting. Wouldn't life be boring if we came to the end of the journey so quickly? It sounds like you are a great mentor to new homeschoolers!

    • Gina
    • March 13, 2014

    Sue, since you have been homeschooling and unschooling longer than me, I consider you one of my mentors 🙂 What if you strew history books and documentaries and historical fiction, and the child isn't interested? Is it okay to let it go and try again and hope the child will be interested sometime in the future? I do not think my teen is reading much history right now but he is certainly reading lots of science fiction and science. I told him I want him to read more history so I can give him a history credit for his transcript. I think I may be able to get him to watch some more history on netflix so maybe I will try that. Even though I am trying to strew and be laid back, I still think in my head: what should I try to encourage for history, science, literature, etc. Do you ever do that or do you just see it all as learning about life? I know many kids in traditional schools will not remember certain history events or dates, but I worry that there will be more holes with the unschooling. Any suggestions? Also, with my teen, I really do not discuss what he is reading with him. Sometimes he will bring up something he read but not in that great of proportion to the total amount he reads.

    1. Reply


      You are always so kind. I enjoy talking with you about unschooling and our children.

      History… I never did any history while I was at school. I did science and maths instead. The timetable didn't allow for all three. But I do love history. I started reading history as an adult. I guess what I'm saying is we can live without knowing too much about history and it's also never too late to learn it if we decide we need it or want to know more. I suppose the real problem is the dreaded transcript. You need something to write on it, perhaps? I like your idea about watching history rather than reading about it. How about movies if your son doesn't like the idea of documentaries? There are so many interesting historical movies. I've just finished reading The Book Thief. I imagine the movie version would immerse anyone in WW history. if you watched movies together you could chat about them afterwards.

      I do keep my eye out for different resources and ways of exposing my children to such subjects as science and history and literature. We also have to fulfil certain homeschooling requirements. I also think it's good to show our children the possibilities. They might discover something they really enjoy. But if they're not interested, I don't insist. I just keep searching for another way to approach the subject. For example, Gemma-Rose's maths doesn't look anything like the maths her grade 5 school peers would be doing. but it's still maths! (She's been watching videos, doodling, folding paper, composing music…)

      I could never keep up with all the books my girls read. Like your son, they sometimes want to share something they've read with me. Other than that, we just discuss the books we are reading out loud together. The girls will talk about their books with each other though.

      Lovely to chat with you!

  3. Reply

    I have been pondering this for a few days now. You mentioned walking along side them instead of in front of them, and that is just what I am learning with my children. Thanks in part to you, with whom God has given me as a help. I heard once that He speaks directly to us and if we don't hear, through others. Wisdom tells us that no one has all of the answers. I am looking forward to more of this. Blessings.

    1. Reply


      We started talking about walking alongside other mothers and I love the way you have extended this to our children. You are so right. That's exactly what we need to do. We treat our peers with respect and we should also show respect towards our children. Oh yes, no one has all the answers but together we can share and learn from each other. Friends are a blessing. I'm so glad we can help each other!

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