Do unschoolers hate schools?

Some do and some don’t. I’m in the camp in between, it depends on the learner more than anything else, I dislike the lottery parents feel they are forced to play when selecting a school (if they even have that choice) and ending up with teachers that may or may not be kind to children. It can work beautifully (for the few who fit in or desire to be there) or it can be a disaster. Most of the time, the risk of disaster is just too high for unschooling parents because they remember their own not so groovy experiences.

I hated primary school, the teachers were babysitters for the most part. Plenty of my questions went unanswered due to being off topic. I only remember feeling like an idiot for remedial English classes and feeling like I was above others for advanced math classes. The in between was pathetically boring, hopelessly uninspiring, the rewards and real life uses for our education were distant and unseeable, it felt like make work for gold stars, (woo hoo! so useful those gold stars were, why do we belittle kids effort like that?)

High school was different, my overall nerdy was valued and I had some amazing teachers and mentors;
One who though classes outside for geography were the way to go (by far the most excursions happened in this class).
A tech drawing teacher that included visits to the wood and metalwork classes to see designs being built, our schematics being used.
A biology teacher that was more like a friend, (I remember ice pops in the science office and just chatting about random stuff).
A physics teacher who hung out with us during breaks chatting theory and encouraging us to mess around with real life physics… with cars in empty car parks!
A chemistry teacher who let me mix stock solutions for the labs of other classes, helped me find my work experience placement and trusted me to mark younger students papers when she was tired and pregnant.
A math teacher who told us the most hilariously lame math jokes and crazy riddles.

This brings me to the idea of teaching. What is a teacher? To me it is simply someone who passes information between generations, much like a human version of a book or the Internet. They are a generalized or topic specific mentor. However, to others they are figures of authority. They have power over children. They are the perpetuators of the educational system’s indoctrination. Teaching isn’t loaded for some and is for others. It’s down to personal experience with that concept.

Power struggles and resentment never came into my school life with my teachers once I hit high school, fear was only around exams which is above the schools control (something I believed was a necessary evil at the time) and the people I talked to consisted of teachers, administrators and other students of all ages, without any issues. But I’m not so blind to think it was or is like that for everyone.

There’s bullies, arbitrary controls and peer pressure built into that system. Confidence can get broken in a moment and not return for years, there’s friendships and relationships, there’s distractions and emotional investment, there’s exams, grades, assignments and heavy textbooks, there’s lots and lots of lost sleep with study. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it can break people. I think I was just lucky.

Unschoolers (and home schoolers in general) challenge the notion that kids need this environment to learn. To be honest, looking back on it, schools are not ideal places for absorbing the most information even if you are lucky and survive it. You study, you pass and you move on to the next exam. It’s too stressful to retain all that information with everything else that is going on.


Schools are also false communities, they take one age, one demographic children and pit them against each other for grades and other extrinsic rewards, they pay no thoughts to the realities of how varied learning can be and the much higher value of intrinsic reward in the learning process. They disrupt flow with change in classes which can make the absorbed learner quite frustrated. (I suffered from this a lot all through my schooling.) Even in the more communal classrooms, students are expected to all behave in the same way. What if your kid is quiet? What if they are the loudest? What if they like or don’t like groupwork? What if they need to move to think? What if they want to stand up or sit on the floor to learn? What if they learn best by doing, not taking notes. What if the content of the curriculum is of no interest to them? Will it ever be of interest to them? Will they need it in a decade or two’s time when they enter the adult world? Who decides what they need then and do they even care if they are wrong?

Handwriting class is a good example, why? We scrawl notes that only require a few to read, print is required on forms, we type or voice almost every other form of communication so being forced to learn perfect letter formation on the lines in Victorian cursive is wasteful yet schools all over Australia dedicate plenty of time to teaching it. In essence, schools fail students because they put classroom management and current economic climate over the needs of the individual learner preparing for adulthood many years into the future.

The obvious follow on question from there is does one need to even be taught if current schooling methods are so far from learners needs?

Humans can absolutely survive without it in a schooled sense. The concepts everyone seems to care about, (reading, writing and basic math) come in their own time to children who have their intrinsic motivation intact and are immersed in a learning rich environment. It just happens, they can’t avoid it much like learning to talk or walk, it’s part of our daily lives. But if we think ahead, those skills are not where humanity is unique. We are uniquely creative beings, those skills are merely tools to express that. Creativity is something kids are born experts at.

Kids may not need to be taught but some might want to be to master more complex tasks. It’s like a useful shortcut. It’s convenience. Like any convenience it has a cost, (a decrease in respect of what one learns in this case.) Being taught is like a sometimes food for learning. One wouldn’t eat convenience food all the time for your health, teaching is the same for learning, it can (if used all the time,) damage intrinsic motivation which is part of a healthy learning diet. On the flip side, we only live so long, if we want mastery of something then standing on the shoulders of others to attain it is the path of least resistance to successful mastery.  That is where teaching comes in along with any other tool used to access information faster than figuring it out individually. Teacher, mentor, facilitator, static information access and learner are all part of the one movement of information, I don’t think they can even be separated,  It has been like this for most of humanity in one format or another, we would all be sitting here discovering wheels without that process.

We often also feel the need to teach, I believe this desire stems from our genetic memory, to pass on to the next generation. The entire animal kingdom does this, humans are no different. The how for us is what is askew. We would do it naturally but that would look nothing like what mass society describes as teaching in schools.

Unschooling is defined by John Holt as living as if school doesn’t exist. That isn’t necessarily the institution itself, it’s just a building after all, and humans can be natural learners anywhere. It’s more about the mindset of modern schooling and the motivations behind that system of mass indoctrination.

This mindset is as follows:
Adults forcing (denying them an exit) a child to learn (by being passive in their education) a particular set of facts (designated by someone unknown as important for their life 15-20 years into the future) in a particular way (likely not suited to their individual learning style) inside an institution (a false construct of a community where segregation is based on birth date, demographic or even gender) via a teacher (whom is from the learners perspective, an arbitrary individual that has power over children and their life choices) for particular hours of the day (which may or may not align with the learners natural capacities to absorb information) while adhering to behavioral standards (which pay no heed to culture or individual personality.)

So after all that, can an unschooled child attend school and still be an unschooler?

This might sound contradictory but yes they can, provided there is an exit strategy and they have made that well informed choice themselves.

An unschooling parent would first ask the child why they wanted to attend. They would then actively listen to the answer. Based on that answer a parent could then try to satisfy the child’s needs via alternate means, with anything from after school classes, more or less group activities to on line study. If the child still feels they wish to attend there is no real change in trust or respect, every effort has been made to allow them the freedom of that choice. The parent must then allow them to choose and if school is where they are at so be it. They are living as if the schooling mindset does not exist and by their own choosing are willing to take on the constructs of that system knowing they can stop at any point.

That freedom is theirs continuously. They are trusted in their actions and they are respected to do as they please with their own education. This is why I can say it depends on the learner more than anything else with regards to my like or dislike of schools as an unschooling parent. It isn’t my place to decide that for my children. That’s pretty much it.

Thanks for reading, from Becca.


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