By Idzie Desmarais
In every collection of unschooling skeptics I’ve come across–such as that found in the comments section any time unschooling is covered in a major outlet–you’ll always find the question of why people can’t just unschool part time. Why does it have to be a full-time gig? Can’t children just go to REAL school to get a REAL education and do that self-directed nonsense in their downtime?
I’ve found myself explaining, over and over, with as much patience as I can muster, that they’re missing the point. Here’s why…
Between school, and homework, and extracurricular activities, and things like sleeping and eating, your average child has very little actual free time. And in what little free time they have? They’re tired. They need to relax, to unwind, to veg out. That time can certainly be an important part of learning, as I’ve discussed before. But to suggest that all the richness of a self-directed education can be squeezed into what little free time a child has leftover is completely absurd.
The way education is approached in school, the fundamental ideas underpinning it, are antithetical to unschooling. Children in school are being taught that learning is something done to them; that learning can only be imparted by experts; that other people know what’s best for them and hey get no say in how their education unfolds; that children are not capable of making any decisions about their learning; that learning is always difficult and complicated. Unschoolers, on the other hand, know–and live the knowledge–that learning is ever-present, and happens with all different people in all different places; that play should form the basis of childhood (and of learning!); and that children are perfectly capable of directing their own education. Ideas about what education is and how people are educated differs dramatically between conventional schooling and unschooling, and without making a conscious effort to reject strict school-based ideas of how education works, you can’t really unschool.
Unschooling is a way of life. It’s a full-time commitment to living a rich life with children, providing a safe and resource-filled environment, building respectful relationships, seeking out opportunities in the community, and trusting that children are incredibly capable learners. Unschooling is a philosophy that trickles into every aspect of your life, colouring all your relationships with a greater understanding of everyday consent and principles of non-hierarchical living.