When someone who has never considered the concept of unschooling first hears about kids having no lessons and no curriculum, sometimes the initial reaction is shock. It has been pounded into our collective heads for so long that school is necessary for learning. “What, just leave them to be illiterate with no skills so that they’re a burden on society?”
The institution of education is revered. Worshipped, even. Helping kids succeed in school is equated with good parenting in mainstream circles.
I am here to very irreverently tell you that school isn’t only unnecessary for learning, but it’s bad for kids. Very often, kids are there against their will, which is a violation of their basic rights. Make no mistake: For kids who have been given no choice, school is essentially a day prison. We justify it because we say it’s necessary for their learning and development. It is what we’ve been told for many generations, but it is not true. School is not necessary.
Sometimes, having been given no choice in their younger years, kids may consent to school because they’ve bought into the belief that it’s necessary in order to learn. Or they think life would be too uninteresting without it. Or they’ve been led to believe that “good kids” are invested in doing well in school, and because they want to be a “good kid”, they make themselves try to fit the mold.
School institutionalizes children, uses grades and gold stickers and teacher approval to measure a child’s worth and intelligence,and trains kids to rely on an institution for learning, social life, and their future. That is unhealthy.
I’m not just talking about brick and mortar schools. Cyber schools and homeschools do the same thing in different degrees. Most people aren’t as shocked over traditional homeschooling because it’s doing school at home. It’s the unschooling that really throws people for a loop.
If school isn’t necessary for learning, why does it exist? Why do we force lessons and curriculum onto kids? Why indeed.
Without school, kids still learn to read. It is natural for kids to learn to communicate in the way that those around them communicate, and in our culture, that includes the written word.
Without school, kids will learn to use money, measure, and work with numbers, because in our culture, those things are used on a daily basis.
Without school, we engage in the world around us, interacting with interesting people, places, and projects. We still learn those things that school categorizes as subjects: Science, social studies, geography, history, math, reading, writing, spelling, phys ed, health, music, art… all of those things. We learn them naturally, through living interesting lives that follow all the things that interest us and call to us.
We value learning. We engage in it constantly. We just don’t buy into the idea that it has to be forced and unpleasant. It can be pleasurable, interesting, and natural.
I’m going to go over my calendar and memories of the last month and remember as many things as I can that we learned together without school, and what subjects school would categorize them. The kids in our family who would be school if we lived mainstream lives are ages 17 and 5, and the three year old would probably be in preschool. This list is in no way comprehensive, and every family’s list is different.
-Playing on playground equipment with friends at several different playgrounds
-Lots of walks with the puppy
-playing with and/or holding snakes, chickens, cats, rabbits, ducks, and ponies at a friend’s farm
-Finding and observing caterpillars
-Finding and observing ant hills
-Creek exploration at several different creeks. We caught frogs, saw a snake in the wild, saw a snapping turtle on the creek bank, a bird nest on the ground, found tadpoles, and built a bridge out of sticks.
-Because of some electrical problems in our house, we discussed polarity with our electrician. He showed us how to use a meter to test grounding and his ticker to check for polarity in every outlet in our home.
-identifying the sound of a woodpecker while playing outside
-after going out for ice cream with a friend, we played around their turkeys and peacocks
-Making bath bombs
-Got a new puppy. Worked on training her, took her to the vet and discussed what a dewclaw is and the pros and cons of spaying a dog.
-Exploring Hershey Gardens with friends, including their butterfly house
-Virtual Reality at the Franklin Institute
-Identifying and picking mint to make mint water
Discussions inspired by things we read online
-Current events including North Korea, President Trump,and whether England’s royal family is necessary.
-What the US was like during the cold war?
-How did WWII affect industrialization, the economy and the every day lives of Americans?
-Which country has the safest fallout shelters?
-Which countries have mandatory military enrollment?
-Which countries have the best economy?
-almost daily conversations with our UPS driver, trips to local businesses, the bank, post office…
-Tour of sturgis pretzel factory
-observed chocolate being made at Wilbur chocolates
-Caboose museum at playground in Lititz, PA
-Lego land (playing on slides, lego car racing, making “earthquakes”, pirate adventure, laser tag, seeing all their models)
-Toured Utz potato chip factory
-Watched anime and discussed the differences in Japanese houses
-Discussed Scotland, inspired by pictures on a catalogue
-multicultural food, including a Japanese restaurant, Indian restaurant, and Chinese restaurant as well as making homemade curry.
-Discussion of how many states we’ve visited and where we’d like to visit next.
-Looked at an old globe and discussing why it’s outdated
-Looked at San Antonio on a map and discussed how close it is to Trump’s wall
-Discussion of whether lyrics are necessary to convey the passion in music
-Discussion of and listening to a wide variety of genres including classical, jazz, heavy metal, Christian, country
-Discussed the literary value of video games.
-a typo in a text resulted in brainstorming words that sounded like anime: anemone, aminomethane, animosity…
-Lots of sharing and discussing articles, most of which had to do with history, world cultures, or politics
-We saw vamoose on a video game and looked up its origins. This led to continued discussion on the origins of languages.
-We discussed that one reason the Japanese language needs characters is because they have so many words that have completely different meaning based on which syllable gets an emphasis. We brainstormed English words that are pronounced differently when they’re nouns instead of verbs (conduct, for example).
-Seventeen-year-old has been consistently studying Japanese language on his own, just because he loves to do it.
-Inspired by a discussion about the character of Totoro in My Neighbor Totoro, we discussed plot and character arc
-The electrician working in our home explained why it was important to not touch exposed wires, especially to the little ones while he had a light switch without a cover on it for awhile.
-Reminders about looking both ways before crossing the street
-Talked to the dentist about dental hygiene
-Discussed pros and cons of pesticides for ticks and fleas, the need to check the bodies of both people and animals for ticks after being outdoors
-Review of how to use fire extinguishers
-Discussion of why flickering lights is a fire safety issue
-Through our family business, buying items and preparing items for shipment: Weighing, measuring, estimating, percentages, addition, using spreadsheets, reading graphs
-Lego and wooden train track building
-Discussing a budget
-Decorating Easter eggs with parents, grandparents, and great grandparents
-making homemade mother’s day cards
Uncategorized: Using tools to fix things throughout the house such as reattaching a cabinet door and putting a new screw in a recliner. Mixing cement and patching up spots that need it. Cooking. Chopping vegetables. My uncategorized category would be shop and home ec in school, I suppose.
What natural learning has happened in your house lately? If your kids are in school, you probably see some of it on weekends or evenings. Imagine how much more there could be if they didn’t have school to get in the way! If your kids aren’t in school, know that the more you do to expand your kids’ world, the more you’ll see. Push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit and go to that playground, make that phone call, get out those paints. Get interested in life, roll up your sleeves, and know that the more you do, the more your kids will follow suite.
It’s a big world with so many opportunities. Kids deserve so much better than to waste their childhoods on boring lessons and pointless homework.