Why an innovative educator cares about homeschooling / unschooling and why you might too

I’ve been a public school educator and administrator for more than a decade and have loved my work for most of my career. I have a passion for making learning real, relevant, engaging, fun and meaningful for learners. I have had wonderful opportunities to bring that to life in my work such as with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Joe Renzulli’s Schoolwide Enrichment Model, and the programs I’ve lead to integrate technology into learning like this one.*

So, some may wonder why I’m interested in homeschooling. Let me start by explaining there are different types of homeschooling. I see it as sort of a continuum that goes from "doing school at home" to "life without school." The "school at home" works for many families, but that was not what really struck my interest. I was more interested in how a "life without school" works. Some people call this unschooling, some call it natural living, some call it organic learning or life learning. For purposes of this article, I’ll call it unschooling.

One reason unschooling was so fascinating to me (others are here) is because I’ve spent a good portion of my life learning about how people learn and supporting children and adults in their learning. I was trained in various techniques, learned various methods and models, and I believed that people learned from being taught in school. What's strange is that I believed this even though, when I look back, I realize I never learned that way.

Unschooling shattered every myth I held to be true and made me question everything I’d been taught about learning. Not only that, but upon studying how unschooling works, I discovered people that seemed to be really smart, passionate, successful, and satisfied with their lives. All that and they never had to be tortured in an Algebra, History, Science, or English class! They learned a lot even though they were never forced to take a test. They didn’t have to be at school every day at some ungodly hour. They learned to read and write without classes or teacher, when they were ready, which may be as early as 2 or 3 or as late as 11 or 12. I learned there was a whole world of peaceful living and learning where the parents and children and grown children seemed quite happy.

This was of great interest to someone whose passion is to support learning that is real, relevant, engaging, fun, and meaningful. I also felt kind of cheated and angry. Cheated that I had been forced to do all these things that I didn’t really need to do, rather than discover and explore my passions, talents, and interests. Angry that kids, like those featured in Race to Nowhere, were being forced to do the same. In many cases this leads to detrimental effects that include mental, physical, and emotional distress and even attempted and successful suicide. There were cases where schools were bullying parents and their children for not wanting to comply with their demands even though it was making the child sick. The school system I worked in moved from being one where "children were first" to one where "data comes first" and it was the school’s role to extract it.

When I would see or hear about such things I wanted others to know that school is a choice, but it is not a necessity. In fact many people are living lives without school and then moving on to great success in career OR college. To share this message I wrote The Teen’s Guide to Opting Out of School and The Working Home Educator’s Guide to Success.

I also started a group specifically created for parents, students, teens, and teachers frustrated with traditional schooling to come together to discuss the more effective options they are pursuing. This is a wonderful group that I encourage anyone interested in pursuing this path to join by visiting this link.  If you do, we have a weekly live chat and you will find discussions about topics like the ones below.

Ironically after all the years I’ve spent being schooled on how to learn, in the end I discover that for many, learning can be best achieved without a school or a teacher. If you want to learn how, I hope you’ll take a look at some of the material I've shared and keep the conversation going in our group.  
*Unfortunately there has been a recent shift in educational priorities where I work, but that's fodder for another post.
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