Unschooled, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, was first used in 1589 as an adjective meaning not schooled—untaught, untrained. It also has a second meaning of not artificial, natural—as in “an unschooled musician.” John Holt coined unschooling as a noun and a verb in 1977 in the first issues of GWS.
“All John Holt meant to do with the word unschooling was to find a more expressive and expansive term than deschooling or homeschooling, both of which gave the impression of abolishing or creating miniature copies of conventional schooling in the home. Holt created the word unschooling to indicate that children can learn in significant ways that don’t resemble school learning and that don’t have to just take place at home.
However, now unschooling is also known as interest-driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e. a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an on-demand basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work. So, for instance, a young child’s interest in hot rods can lead him to a study of how the engine works (science), how and when the car was built (history and business), who built and designed the car (biography), etc. Certainly these interests can lead to reading texts, taking courses, or doing projects, but the important difference is that these activities were chosen and engaged in freely by the learner. They were not dictated to the learner through curricular mandate to be done at a specific time and place, though parents with a more hands-on approach to unschooling certainly can influence and guide their children’s choices.
Unschooling, for lack of a better term (until people start to accept living as part and parcel of learning), is the natural way to learn. However, this does not mean unschoolers do not take traditional classes or use curricular materials when the student, or parents and children together, decide that this is how they want to do it. Learning to read or do quadratic equations are not “natural” processes, but unschoolers nonetheless learn them when it makes sense to them to do so, not because they have reached a certain age or are compelled to do so by arbitrary authority. Therefore it isn’t unusual to find unschoolers who are barely eight-years-old studying astronomy or who are ten-years-old and just learning to read.”
—Pat Farenga, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling
Unschooling is not unparenting; freedom to learn is not license to do whatever you want. People find different ways and means to get comfortable with John Holt’s ideas about children and learning and no one style of unschooling or parenting defines unschooling, as the following selection of books demonstrates. — PF
Unschooling References and Information:
Finding Joy: A Christian’s Journey to an Unschooled Life by Julie Polanco (2011) Buy now
Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves (2002) by Alison MacKee. Buy now
Christian Unschooling (2001) by Terri Brown with Elissa M Wahl. Buy now
The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith (1998). Buy now
The Teenage Liberation Handbook (1998) by Grace Llewelyn. Buy now
Information Online from Alphie Kohn:
- VIDEO: Two appearances on the CBS Early Show, one in 2005 about Unconditional Parenting and the other in 2006 about The Homework Myth.
- VIDEO: Two education lectures delivered in western Canada, one about standards and testing (at Simon Fraser University in 2006), and the other about helping students to be caring people (at a middle-school conference devoted to “the whole child” in 2007).
- VIDEO: A lecture based on the book The Schools Our Children Deserve that was originally broadcast on C-Span in 1999.
- VIDEO: A lecture entitled “The Trouble with Pure Freedom: A Case for Active Adult Involvement in Progressive Education,” followed by an extended discussion, at the Alternative Education Resource Organization conference, 2005.
- VIDEO: An old interview about competition on the now-defunct public television show “Open Mind,” from 1986.
- AUDIO: An interview about progressive education (dealing with pedagogy, discipline, competition, grades, and excellent vs. “good enough” schools) by John Merrow for his PBS program, from 2000.
- AUDIO: An interview about parenting on Wisconsin Public Radio, from 2005.
- AUDIO: A webinar presentation called “Why Incentives Can Never Make Us Healthier”for health-promotion and wellness professionals, from 2011.
- AUDIO: An interview about homework on the NPR program “Here & Now,” from 2006.
- AUDIO: A conversation about classroom management released in conjunction with the 2006 edition of the book Beyond Discipline, published by ASCD.
- AUDIO: A conversation about children and competition recorded in early 2008 for a podcast show called “What Really Matters” hosted by two moms.