Thinking Critically About Unschooling


The other day I was talking about obstacles to unschooling. I said, “So I wonder if there are things about unschooling that bother you, It can be a useful exercise to think about what it is that’s stopping you from unschooling. Write it down. It might be that those things which you don’t like about unschooling aren’t really unschooling. With a little bit of information, some research, you might discover that they’re not obstacles at all.

Where should we look for information about unschooling? What sources can we trust?”

Today, I’m going to continue the conversation…

Where should you start researching? We have wonderful resources these days. We can find out anything because, of course, we have the Internet. The only problem with the Internet is that there are just as many people out there who criticise unschooling as praise unschooling. Actually, there are probably more critics. They’ve got a very loud voice. Unschooling does suffer from a negative image. This is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about writing and speaking about it. Let’s set the story straight. Unschooling is not what some people think it is.

So when you go looking for answers to questions, it can be a good idea to find out a little bit more about the author of particular articles or the presenter of videos. Are they unschoolers? Have they any experience with unschooling? Are they criticising unschooling but have never actually tried it themselves? Because I think until you try unschooling, nobody really understands the process. It’s a very deep way of life, a deep philosophy. As the years have gone by, I’ve learnt more about unschooling by actually living it. It continually surprises me. I learn something new about it all the time. I’ve learnt that it’s not a method of education. It’s more a way of life.

Back to researching unschooling…

So some people criticise unschooling, but they’ve never tried it themselves. For some reason, they don’t like the sound of it and they’re going to warn people off. And then there are other people who may have tried unschooling, but it didn’t work for them. But maybe it didn’t work for them because they didn’t give it a fair go. It does take time for children to trust their parents and for parents to trust their children. It takes time for people to let go, to get used to a new way of doing things, to live life in a different way.

It could also be that a parent unschooled but didn’t really let go. Maybe she had her own ideas about what unschooling should be, and so it was a failure, and now she wants to warn other people about it.

Or maybe some people have seen unschoolers and want to warn others because they don’t like what they see: “I know a family who unschools and their children are wild.” Maybe those children aren’t unschooling in the way that I’m describing. Or maybe those children aren’t really wild at all. Perhaps someone is just judging them.

So it can be tricky getting the right information from the Internet.

And even if you read blog posts and podcasts from people like me who want to tell you all the good things about unschooling, you still might not think it will apply to your own children. You might think I have a special kind of child who is especially suited to the unschooling way of life. It won’t work for your children. Well, I don’t really believe that. I think it will work for any child. It just needs time and understanding, and commitment, maybe, to let go, to trust. But I can’t just tell you this. You’ll need to find out if what I’ve said is really true by trying unschooling yourself.

Can you do that? Will you give it a go?

I transcribed this post (with minor changes) from episode 57 of my Stories of an Unschooling Family podcast: What’s Stopping You From Unschooling?

Since I recorded this podcast, I’ve had a couple of other ideas which might be useful when researching unschooling.

Sometimes emotional writing can distract us from the facts. We can get carried along by the author’s feelings. We can feel her anger or horror or indignation. We begin to wonder: Perhaps she’s right to warn us about unschooling. Similarly, we can be affected by feelings of love and joy. Perhaps unschooling will fulfill our need of these emotions. We want to agree with the author. We don’t look very closely at the facts.

And then there’s authoritative language. When someone speaks with authority telling us what we should think and do, we might be tempted to believe they are experts, We wonder if we should listen.

But in all these situations, what are the facts? Where’s the evidence for the arguments? Is there enough evidence to avoid unschooling? Or are we reassured and so are willing to give it a go?

Of course, I have a problem with unschooling critics. But I do value critical thinking. A couple of my unschoolers did a critical thinking unit at university. I observed from the sidelines. It was an interesting and valuable experience. Being able to think critically about any subject helps us to navigate our way through a vast sea of opinions

I’ve only touched on the subject in this post, but maybe you could use my words as a starting point.
So what do you think? Will you get carried away by my emotional words of joy and peace? Will you give unschooling a go? I hope so!

I took these photos when I went on a photography expedition with my daughter Sophie. Yesterday evening, cameras in hand, we strolled along the disused railway track in our village. I was tempted to think there wasn’t anything worthy of a photograph until I got down on my hands and knees and examined the weeds from a lower angle. Wow! Looking closely changed my opinion about weeds. They can be beautiful!

Someone left this comment on one of my photos on Facebook: “One man’s weed, another man’s wildflower.” Perhaps the same can be said of unschooling. Critics may see weeds. I see an exquisite wildflower!

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