Friday, January 7, 2011

20 Characteristics I’ve Discovered about Unschoolers and Why Innovative Educators Should Care

Some innovative educators are perplexed as to why someone like me who has a career vested in the educational system is interested in sharing the idea of unschooling. I’m interested because the ruse is up. Many students who are in and graduated/dropped out of school realize that what they learned didn’t prepare them for life and sucked the passion and love of learning right out of them.

While I had been vaguely familiar with the concept of homeschooling, it wasn’t until Kate Fridkis began contributing here at The Innovative Educator that I’ve learned more about both homeschooling and unschooling. Before that my perception was that homeschooling was for kids who either had stay at home moms or dads who wanted to devote their lives to giving their children individualized learning or that this happened in remote communities where getting to school was difficult, or this was for students with special needs. While those are certainly reasons for homeschooling, the reality was I hadn’t given homeschooling much thought, and I’d never heard of unschooling. While I’m certainly no expert [yet :-) I hope to keep learning] In my short time exploring this model of learning, I’ve discovered that grown unschoolers posses many of the following characteristics.

20 Characteristics Common Among Unschoolers
  1. They are driven by passion.

  2. They have a love of learning.

  3. They want you to know that school isn’t the best place to learn lessons on socialization.

  4. They are happy.

  5. They have interesting careers that they enjoy.

  6. They are artistic in some way.

  7. They they are creative.

  8. They have a concern for the environment.

  9. They consider learning in the world far more authentic and valuable then learning in the school world.

  10. Those who are blogging and sharing their stories publicly are predominately white. At least all the ones I’ve read about. Looking to be proven wrong here.*
    Update: This refers to the blogs and stories I had discovered as of the writing of this original post. Since then I've collected several other online spaces in my post A More Diverse Sampling of Unschoolers where unschoolers from a variety of diverse ethnic backgrounds are sharing and connecting. I'm still searching for more links to grown unschoolers blogs and stories to share from all backgrounds so if you have any you'd like to share I invite you to share them in the comments.

  11. They deeply consider whether college is the right choice for them rather than it being a given.

  12. They have no problem getting in to college and many do so before they are 18.

  13. They appreciate some aspects of formalized schooling in college if they’ve decided to attend.

  14. They advocate for themselves and their right to a meaningful curriculum in college.

  15. They don’t believe that they are an exception because they are especially self motivated, driven, or smart, though they like to be called that. Rather unschooling has empowered them to be this way.

  16. They shrug off the criticism that they won’t be able to function in the real world. Unlike functioning in the school world, learning in the real world prepares you for the real world.

  17. They don’t expect learning to come just from a parent, adult, authority or teacher. They know how to independently tap into many resources for learning and discovery. Adults are just one resource.
    --This nugget from
    a respected voice on the topic of unschooling, Sandra Dodd:
    Learning only happens inside the learner.
    I think your statement would be true if you said "They don't expect instruction..." or "They don't expect information..." But learning doesn't come from anyone outside the learner.

  18. They are often defending the fact that they were unschooled, but know that if you knew what it was really like you might be jealous.

  19. They are adventurous. For some that means local adventures, and others world adventures.

  20. They are grateful that they were unschooled for the most part.

So, there’s a quick recap of what I’ve learned from reading a couple dozen blogs (which you can visit here) and profiles of unschoolers. They don’t all have all these qualities, but most have many of them. A similar list of students from compulsory schools would look very different and might be a fun follow up post. So, unschoolers, if you’re reading this, how’d I do?


*As noted in this post, this is based on my initial investigation of the blogs found here and stories found here. I am hopeful that a more diverse sampling can be found and encourage readers to share your findings in the comments for inclusion in a future post.

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