Life Learning: An Unschooler's Perspective

 On her blog, I'm Unschooled.  Yes, I Can Write, Idzie shares her thoughts on unschooling as well as her passion for learning and discovery.  Idzie, now 19, addresses some of the myths surrounding unschooling and explains her learning process.

First can you tell me a little bit about your education/how you learn?

Well, I’m a lifelong home learner, and for much of my traditionally “educational” years I’ve also been an unschooler!  Unschooling is student directed learning, which means the child or teen learns whatever they want, whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by a curriculum, by teachers, or by parents. For an unschooler, life is their classroom.  An unschooler is in charge of their own education, with parents acting as facilitators instead of teachers.

As for how I learn, this question feels like a different take on the question I’ve heard and seen a lot, which is “what do unschoolers actually do?” And my answer is that I wander, explore, read, write, discuss, laugh, play, run, hike, create, grow, garden, identify, search, talk, listen, swim, hang out, organize, breathe, gather, touch, work, participate, watch, help, ask, meditate, daydream, wonder, connect, think, learn.  Unschooling is the realization that Life and Education are not two separate things.  Simply by living, I’m learning!

To give a slightly more concrete example of how that plays out regularly in my life: I’m very interested in current social justice and environmental struggles, and can often be found reading about those topics online.  Reading, and then sharing the info with my family!  Because discussion is how I best process things, figure things out, connect the dots, and form opinions.  Friendly discussion, a sharing of ideas and opinions, a making of connections between diverse topics and situations, is a regular and joyful occurance in my house.   I’m very hesitant to say that this is how I learn best, because there are so many different *types* of learning that happen very differently for me, but lots of discussion is definitely a very important part of how I learn.    

Did you ever go to school?

My only experience with institutionalized schooling was half a year of Kindergarten before my parents pulled me out and we became first very relaxed homeschoolers (parents in charge of education, but lots of freedom for kids), then after a few years, unschoolers (children/teens in charge of their own education, with parents acting as facilitators)! 

Do you think you missed out not being in school?

Are there a few things I’ve missed out on?  Definitely.  Have any of those things been *good*?  I definitely don’t think so! 

I should point out that had I wanted to go to school at any point, my parents would have supported that decision.  But nearly daily I thank my parents for never sending me to school.  Knowing myself, I would have done horribly in the toxic environment that is your typical high school (I’m judging this not from having been in high school, since I haven’t, but from my experience with large groups of high schoolers.  A bunch of kids in a place they don’t want to be, trying to survive and stay on top, with crappy teachers and bullying and all that jazz, creates a very negative social culture.  For someone like me who’s very sensitive to both injustice and other peoples emotions, being in that type of atmosphere on a daily basis would have been hell!).

But who taught you to read, write, do math, etc?

Simply by living in society, you can learn all the skills necessary to function in society.  No one taught me any of those things!  As an example, I’ll take reading, since both reading and writing now hold a place close to my heart.

When I was first taken out of kindergarten, my mother bought a reading program, and I did that for a while.  However, it was, unsurprisingly, pretty boring, and when I decided to stop doing it, my mother had no problems with that!  At that point, I could sound out some words, but not really read, and I didn’t have any interest in doing so for several years.  Than, at age eight or nine, my mother was reading Harry Potter aloud to my sister and me, but she wasn’t reading it as fast, devoting as much time to it, as I (being impatient to see what was going to happen next) would have liked.  So, I picked up the book myself and started to read!  I haven’t looked back since.  

Do you think you are prepared for the real world?

Yes, I do think I’m prepared for “the real world”.   Because, well, I live in the real world!!  And I’ve lived in the real world my entire life.  What better way to learn how to function in the world than by living in it?  Personally, I think school is FAR away from being anything like the real world!  Where else are you forced by law to go five days a week, to sit in age-segregated classrooms and listen to lectures on things you may or may not be interested in?  Where else do you have to ask permission to use the bathroom, where else can your property be searched at will, where else can you not choose to leave the building if you want to (without facing possible legal action if you do it too often), and where else are you often drugged if you won’t conform and sit still?  Doesn’t that sound just a bit like prison?  The film The War on Kids, which I highly recommend, has an interesting take on that.

Have you ever been tested?

Recently?  No.  When I was young, maybe nine or ten, I took a few tests of my own free will (and scored at or above “grade level”).  I’m not a fan of testing, and do not believe it’s an accurate judge of either intelligence or competency.  Is it a useful tool in some situations?  Probably, but I believe the way testing is implemented right now, as the be all and end all of schooling, and as the ultimate judge of a persons intelligence, skills, competency, etc. is ridiculous.

Will you go to college?  What do you want to do?

At this point, I have absolutely no desire to go to college or university.  If I wanted to, all the universities in my home city of Montreal accept homeschool applicants, so that wouldn’t really be an issue.  But since none of the things I’m interested in doing require your typical college education, I don’t plan to waste money on a degree I’ll never use!

Which brings me to the things I’m interested in possibly doing to make money.   I don’t consider any of them to be potential careers, simply because I think the idea of picking ONE thing and doing it your entire life sounds stifling!  I think it’s much more important to cultivate a variety of skills.  So the things that look most interesting to me right now are writing and editing, both of which I’m currently doing (one for pay, one not).  Becoming an herbalist or natural medicine and nutrition consultant of some sort.  Possibly being a vegetarian cook and caterer, or maybe teaching primitive skills…

What's one thing you wish people knew about unschooling?

I wouldn’t say unschooling, per se, but there is one thing I wish that people would realize: that people, all people (children, teens, adults), don’t have to be TAUGHT to LEARN, and in fact will even learn better when engaged and interested in the subject matter, pursuing learning of their own free will.  The belief that teaching is necessary for learning, and that learning is something difficult and un-enjoyable, so that people must be FORCED to do it, is one I find very frustrating.  That belief is the biggest thing standing in the way of people understanding unschooling!