Barriers to Unschooling

I really want to unschool…

But I don’t feel confident in teaching my children.

Do children need teaching? What is your understanding and expectations in regards to children and learning? Where did they come from? Could they be challenged? What knowledge and skills could one need for the life that they live that wouldn’t also be provided by it?

Are people learning here? Most probably, it’s kind of an unavoidable side effect of life. But we aren’t here in this moment to learn anything in particular, we are here to live and learning is just a part of what makes that a possibility. — Teachable Moments/Stolen Moments

Consider how your child learnt to talk or walk. Did you ever consider that you wouldn’t be able to support them? Did you feel you needed to alter your interaction with them in anyway?

If you can’t envision being comfortable long term; could you simply sit with the discomfort for now? Is there a rush to teach today? Tomorrow? Does teaching really require 12 years of dedicated days of teaching?

…the available “data” that drives it [education reform] is not, as a matter of fact, the “science of how people learn.” It is the “science of what happens to people in schools.” — Carol Black, A Thousand Rivers

School or curriculum delivered at home will always be an option you can come back to, what if you just committed to simply delaying for now? You have time to wait.

But my child isn’t motivated enough.

Perhaps your child isn’t motivated about the things school would expect of them or that you do but are these necessary? Could you observe what it is that genuinely inspires them? Could you connect with them where they are passionate?

A person can not determine how self-regulated looks in another individual. There is no universal ideal for what regulated should look like so when a parent is suggesting that a child’s reality conflicts; what are they actually making this judgement against? Their own expectations… — The Self-Regulation Lie

Is there room to find value in things not because of how they contribute to your idea of who your child should be but because your child values them and because they contribute to who your child actually is?

A person’s learning may not look anything like you would imagine it to if your experience is based mostly on what you’ve witnessed through schooling but that doesn’t mean it is invalid.

What if you stopped considering what somebody else’s perception of education demands of your child and began to focus on what your child should be able to expect from an education? What is it they actually want and need to live their life?

But my child needs structure/routine.

Which came first; your child’s need for structure or the expectation on them to conform? Is the reason you feel your child need’s structure or routine because it helps them to meet expectations or for their genuine comfort and benefit?

Her internal experience would remain the same but she might have felt compelled to alter her external expression because she would have been conditioned to believe them to be unacceptable. — Ableism In Disguise: Early Intervention

If the need for routine stems from external motivations, then it is not your child who needs it but you or school or society. If the need for routine stems from internal motivations, could that not exist consensually without schooling?

Life without it can be customised completely to an individual’s needs; whether that be for flexibility or dependable rhythm.

But I don’t have the patience.

What is the patience one needs to school a child? Patience whilst getting ready each morning on time, patience whilst getting children to bed at a “reasonable hour” whether they are ready for rest or not to ensure adequate sleep, patience in completing homework whether it interests them or not, patience in assisting a child with the emotions one needs to process due to schooled circumstances. Patience for dealing with schedules and expectations arbitrarily defined rather than by that of a family and its specific needs.

The truth is that I didn’t feel capable and introducing kindy to the mix hadn’t really helped. That year, I so often felt impatience knocking at my door, trying to squeeze its way in and it scared me – maybe I wouldn’t be able to cope with homeschooling. Trying to live by the schedule and expectations of others had brought about a myriad of conflict that didn’t feel easily resolvable. — Trying Kindy Before Homeschooling

What is the patience one requires when they live alongside a child without school? A child who is able to listen to their own feelings of hunger, tiredness and passion? When a family doesn’t have to live within the limitations of schooling? When you can spend each day getting to know your child better as they get to know themselves and building a close relationship?

And what if you run out of patience? Couldn’t that be handled in a way that validates your feelings and helps you process them? Do you never run out of patience now with school in the equation? Is school really addressing the problem effectively? Or could it be contributing to it? Surely, for it to be a valid option for this reason you’d want it to be VERY effective in maintaining ones patience.

The second thing that happened is she grew. And though I then came to have another baby. That baby grew too. And I realised it was never really within my ability to control how much I was needed. Space found me. And it is bittersweet. — Without school, when do I get ‘me time’

But there isn’t an active unschooling community where I live.

The most important first step is to figure out what it is you’re actually seeking. Are you looking for company for your child, for you, for both? How often? What would this look like? And then consider; could school even adequately address your needs?

Have you exhausted all the channels you can to find what you are needing? Have you considered creating it yourself? Do you know even one other person who will be choosing a similar path to you that you can work with to do so? Does your child have siblings?

What are your conditioned expectations surrounding socialisation? Are you looking for too much? Are you looking in too narrow of a scope? Could you socialise beyond unschooling circles? Beyond homeschooling circles? Beyond children of a similar age?

When a family decides to forgo school, it can feel necessary to replace so many aspects of it even though it’s really not. Socialisation is a big one of them and if you seek (and live in a reasonably populated area) you will be able to find ways to fill just as much time with peers as school would produce but why?? — School Is Not The Standard For Socialisation

Is moving an option? Is the location you currently reside in more important to you than choosing what you feel is ideal for your children’s childhood?

If you’re needing more support for yourself, could you join online groups?

But to reduce our income isn’t financially viable.

In some circumstances this is legitimately the case, I would never deny that reality but what I cannot accept is it being swept up in other’s agendas for pushing the necessity of school. It’s manipulative to suggest that for one to care for the well being of children as a collective (particularly those in distressing circumstances), one must care for the well being of school; I want to have something better to offer than schooling and I know that that something can exist. School, rather than addressing these situations in any meaningful way, actually contributes to creating and perpetuating them.

The dirty underside of our system is that schools as we know them today are structurally designed to fail a reliable percentage of kids.  Interestingly, they reliably fail a much higher percentage of kids in low-income areas than they do in affluent areas, and this is true from Detroit to Gilgit-Baltistan. — Carol Black, Three Cups of Fiction

In other circumstances, what one can actually mean is that to reduce their income would compromise not on their survivability but their quantity of life (not necessarily linked to quality).

It would be uncomfortable if they rephrased their choice as a reflection of their priorities; a bigger house (or whatever it is this added income provides) being of more importance than protecting their child’s autonomy because I don’t believe this is actually a reflection of their intention.

Finances are also often used as a barrier even when it is something else that is preventing a different decision from being made because it is one of the most difficult things for other’s to address.

It is rarely acceptable to suggest somebody reconsider their financial choices even if it is in the interests of them achieving something they’ve expressed desire to do. It is a quick and reliable measure for shutting down the conversation when in reality, the vast majority of people have the means to unschool and it is another value that is preventing them from doing so that they perhaps feel less comfortable admitting, even to themselves.

But my child wants to go to school/loves school.

Have you asked what it is your child likes about school or the idea of school? Have you explored the options for meeting them in different ways?

If your child trusts you and you have sent them to school, perhaps their love for schooling is related to their love for you? If your actions are validating this option and they value your perspective, that is going to influence their own.

Do they feel like they have other options? Do they understand the viability of other options? If you do not yet have trust in learning outside of schooling, that is a feeling they too could absorb. If you radiate that validity of autonomous learning, that is a feeling they too could absorb.

Considering what schooling demands of a child, what could it indicate for somebody to love that? What could be influencing those feelings?

Loving something that removes your freedom and rights is not a positive thing — Racheous, But They Love School

But my partner is uncomfortable with the idea.

The two of you disagree, that’s unfortunate and I hope for all of you, a temporary situation. But why then does that mean school is the answer? Surely, home is the default rather than school. Children begin their life at home! To enlist school then CHANGES what is already in motion, how does that make sense?

And what if again we rephrased the choice as a reflection of our priorities; your partner’s comfort at the expense of your child’s. Who really needs your advocacy in this situation? The partner’s feelings are valid but that doesn’t mean the actions that follow are justified! Feel the feelings, express the feelings but the solution is to then PROCESS the feelings, not project the solution onto their child to maintain the status quo. It is not you or your child’s responsibility to invest in school for their benefit if you do not have any personal desire to.

It’s like forcing a jumper onto somebody because you feel cold; perhaps comforting for you but completely irrelevant and uncomfortable for the person who had no want or need for a jumper. The dynamic of a relationship whereby one party expects the other to resolve their issues at their own expense is not a healthy one. — When is School Ideal?

But I’m scared of the judgement.

Have you connected with people who understand? It can feel like you are all alone in the sea of mainstream opinion but the voice of unschooling is growing. Spend time with people who are going to inspire you towards your ideals, not away from them.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with — Jim Rohn

Have you connected deeply with your own ideals so that you can appreciate that somebody being confronted is not about your reality but their own?

Something I feel very strongly about is this: people should share honestly, whatever that looks like – they should feel like they can tell their stories without the weight of all the lives other people aren’t living on their shoulders. — Unschooling: Too Good To Be True

The more comfort you find in your choices, the less comfortable you need others to be with them. This relates to how you approach those who are uncomfortable and for those who approach you with their discomfort.

And what of the judgement of your own child? Is the opinion of other’s really more important than how your child would feel about your actions?

People who accept you conditionally, do not accept you at all. Do you really want to live somebody else’s life?

Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are. ― Brené Brown

So I’m going to make it a priority.

Unfortunately, the specific barriers one faces that prevents them from unschooling or the reasons one feels compels them to school have basically no impact on what compulsory education is. — When is School Ideal?

When you value children and their autonomy, you find ways to live with your barriers or process them that won’t compromise that ideal. When you value children and their autonomy, it becomes very difficult to find motivations that would lead to compulsory schooling being a viable resolution.

If you really want to unschool, then what are you going to do to make it possible?

You can commit to dismantling your barriers or you can live trapped inside your excuses, forever.

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  1. I really loved this post. I think these points will definitely help me explain my choices better to family when the time comes. My daughter is still only two.

    One thing I want to point out is there are democratic schools, where children either have complete freedom to pursue what they want to pursue, or at least have a voice in what they are learning. Every child, from the youngest to the oldest, get a vote in hiring teachers and things like this. If finances don’t allow unschooling from home, then maybe this is an option for some people. I know I have been thinking about this as an option for the future.

  2. My biggest fear was that it tapped into into my biggest fear. I was a school drop and although I pretty much unschooled myself through senior school, because I was registered in school I felt nothing bit shame and that I was a failure. It was something that haunted me for years. When I learn about unschooling I realised that was exactly what I had done as a teen, and I knew it worked – but all those negative emotions bubbled inside of me. I am glad I went with what my heart was telling me but it was a tough battle in my mind.

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