Thoughts About Unschooling


I just listened to a workshop about unschooling, and the whole idea fascinates me, to be honest. I love the idea of delight-directed studies, and my own children probably unschool for the second half of the day. But for the first half, I want my kids to have self-discipline and be involved in learning as a family. One of the reasons I homeschool is to be together as a family. Unit studies is really the only way to do that, teaching a topic (like Ancient Egypt) and living and breathing that topic as a family. That can’t be done with unschooling where kids only do whatever they feel like.

I asked the speaker whether you can just throw math out the window, and she said we don’t need all the higher math in real life anyway. I see many problems with this answer. First of all, you can’t internalize math unless you practice it. It’s similar to reading. It’s a skill that builds on itself, and if you stay in a weak position, you will always remain weak. That affects your ability to balance a checkbook, stay out of debt, or even pay bills. Secondly, if you ever want to go to college, you’re screwed. Thirdly, your kids don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I guarantee that they will change their minds many times (even as an adult). What if they need higher math for the very thing they will love doing? You basically eliminate all possibility of many occupations. And is your child truly educated without knowledge of math?

She also said that children are naturally born good. This is simply not true. Scripture says we are born with a sin nature (Romans 3:23), and any mother of a toddler can testify to the fact that the child will insist on his own way and scream if he doesn’t get it. This is sin in its most raw state, out of control. Adults who do not deny themselves and follow Christ are equally selfish, but they manipulate their environment to make themselves look good. See, our time is not our own. Our time belongs to God. God, what do you want me to do with my time today?

Playing video games all day is what many children would do if left to themselves. “A child left to himself will bring shame to his mother,” is what Proverbs tells us. Children need to learn to obey when it’s the opposite of what they want to do. Otherwise it’s not true obedience. It’s just agreement that they feel like doing what you asked.

So many times in my own life I have had to crucify my own desires and do the right thing. Day after day, I need to do all the yucky jobs I hate. Like having to train my children in character when one child hits another child or is selfish. It takes so long. I just don’t feel like doing it. But I have to, or they will become worse. Doing the right thing is hard. Ask Jesus. He didn’t want to go to the cross. He denied Himself. He didn’t do “what He felt like doing,” which is what unschooling is all about.

That said, I do see unschooling working in an environment where there is self-denial and a transforming work of the Spirit in a child’s life. He would do what needed to be done (like math or writing), even if it wasn’t his favorite thing, just because that is what God requires of him, to be a good steward of his time. Then he would pursue other delightful interests that could help him have a specialization in the future.

However, laziness and selfishness are the natural results of a totally unschooling philosophy. That is what will naturally occur even in a believing Christian. This is hard to counteract.

Another idea that ran through my mind is that Jeremiah tells us that “our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) I can’t even trust my own motives. I often realize later that I had selfish motives, when at the time I thought I was being altruistic and putting others first. So much more with children. When people say, “Trust your children to know what they should learn,” do they really know? “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” (Jeremiah 17:9) Scripture says that he will foolishly choose the wrong things if not directed.

Even though I enjoyed the workshop and would like to incorporate more delight-directed learning in my home, these questions are troubling to me. So I guess I’ll never really be a true unschooler.

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10 Responses to “Thoughts About Unschooling”

  1. SnoopyGirl says:

    I have to agree with you that I find unschooling troubling. I share both of your concerns regarding gaps in learning that will possibly cause a child to fail to achieve their potential or calling, and the feeling that the foolish immaturity found in children cannot be trusted to lead them to act responsibly in the pursuit of education or anything else requiring discipline. This job of motherhood is a tough one. I appreciate your timely reminder to stick with the discipline and guidance in training my children even when it is tough and I don’t feel like doing it! The payoff is worth it all!

  2. I think there are as many types of unschoolers as there are fish in the ocean or sands on the beach. We are “unschooly” in many aspects, but we are not radical unschoolers by a long stretch.

    For our family we view ourselves as facilitators of our child’s education. We guide and give opportunities and take cues from her for readiness to learn something new. I suspect that many do this.


    • Susan says:

      “We view ourselves as facilitators of our child’s education.” – I love that! So many times I’ve seen a fascination in one of my children, and I have tried to nurture it. I do want to be open to what my children are interested in.

  3. Kathy Balman says:

    I agree with Garden. There are various forms of unschooling. We are unschoolers, hackschoolers, relaxed, delight-directed what ever you want to call it homeschoolers. My kids learn at their own pace and about what interests them. We do practical math and lots of financial literacy stuff. My kids are 6 and 8 and already both have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up, so we focus on their passions and interests. I too debated the unschooling philosophy but the more I tried it the more we fell in love with it and now embrace it. We have curriculum but the kids decide what they want to use and we basically use everything as a resource. We do lots of fieldtrips and are constantly learning and exploring together as a family.

  4. Susan- I have to disagree on the whole idea that you can’t come together during the day if everyone is doing what they feel like doing. I think you have some misconceptions here friend. We are in conversation with each other and we are consultants on work together even if we are not all studying the same thing. I came to a point in our homeschool where I had to let go of my desire to keep everyone together on some things and let them flourish in the areas where they are most passionate. Ultimately, my goal is to have children who can be creative problem solvers and stick to a task.

    My day is full of consultation and helping my children to focus on real work- not contrived school work that I create or that a curriculum creates.

    I would not in any way equate working hard on their own pursuits as producing laziness.

    Reading up on what unschoolers are up to may reveal more commonalities than you think.

  5. I agree. I’ve seen what a child left to himself reverts to, and it’s laziness and computer games all day. I’m sure there are kids whose curiosity prompts them to learn some things, but as for us, we need a little more direction.

  6. Jodi Stevens says:

    Kids can’t have self-discipline if you don’t let them do things by their self.

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