Entrepreneur, Utah, USA
The thought of sending my children to school sends shivers down my spine. The reasons for this are many-fold, but primarily it is my commitment to raising my children without coercion or manipulation. My discovery of unschooling came just after my wife and I decided to raise our children without either punishments or rewards, but instead with connection, love, and reason. My oldest, a son, was five at the time and experiencing his first year of school, pre-kindergarten. Since the time he was about three we would either put him in time-out or spank him in the attempt to “correct” his behavior that we didn’t like. After a friend introduced us to Alfie Kohn’s work on parenting, titled Unconditional Parenting, we decided that using punishments and rewards to discipline our children was not in their or our best interest.
Now that we’ve put away these punitive and manipulative tools, I was conflicted about the environment he was going to spend half his day in. That environment, the school environment, was built and is maintained with these discarded tools. I feared our work at home at disciplining our children with connection, love, and reason would be undone if he went to school. The two environments are antithetical to each other and the one antithetical to the culture of peace that we wanted to build. So I decided to search for alternatives.
My search first brought me to the more recent online-based options. Programs like K12 offer the schooling model over the Internet. I was intrigued. My children could do schooling but avoid most of the environment. Of course K12 still does grades (rewards), but it seemed like a step in the right direction. I was thinking very seriously about this alternative when a friend recommended I read a book about the homeschooling model that his family follows, titled A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver DeMille. I did so immediately. My excitement over what this book had to offer grew after every page. The “TJEd” philosophy is all about structuring time instead of content. It offered a vision of guiding your children toward their interests in various subjects as scheduled throughout the day, but not in choosing for them what they will study within each subject. The parent’s job was to schedule their child’s day around the content they chose based on their own interests. It also stressed the inclusion of “classic” works throughout the year, I suppose through parental recommendation.
As I researched TJEd online, I came across the awkward yet edgy term of “unschooling.” It immediately piqued my interest. I searched the term and discovered all sorts of amazing resources, the biggest of which was probably Sandra Dodd’s website. She had links to every unschooling and parenting topic under the sun, with a consistent theme running throughout: the absence of coercion and manipulation in the educational pursuits of children and adolescents. I felt like I’d found the holy grail of educational philosophy, but I had so many questions and concerns about things like reading levels, mathematics, the possibility of college, future jobs, state requirements, etc. I even had concerns about things like children and eating, sleeping, chores, and all the non-educational aspects of raising a family and maintaining a home. I found very interesting perspectives on all of these things at Sandra Dodd’s site and others. How they talked about these concepts was completely new to me. It was obvious that they held a very different paradigm regarding these things than anything I’d ever experienced or heard about in my life.
I became less and less convinced that my children needed to be coerced or manipulated into learning or doing anything as they grew up. My job now was to pass on this new knowledge to my wife so that we could make the decision to give our children real choice together. I appreciated her skepticism toward this radical new (to us) idea of “unschooling” our children. Though she was reluctant to make such a drastic change, she nevertheless decided to trust that I was only trying to do what I thought was best for our children’s futures. And we took the plunge at the beginning of my son’s kindergarten. He attended for a week before we went on family vacation, at which time we explained to him his options and let him decide if he wanted to stay in school or come home and try unschooling. Needless to say he became a kindergarten dropout and has never even thought about going back. He’s almost ten now and is living a very joyful, yet often challenging, life.
Last year my daughter was faced with the same choice toward going to pre-kindergarten or staying home and continuing the unschooling that she had lived with since birth. She decided to try it, probably after seeing how often school is heralded in many of her favorite television shows. (They never depict the boring hours-long classes or grueling homework, of course.) So we signed her up. A week before starting, she and my wife attended the orientation. The teacher explained the rules, such as raising your hand to speak. That must have struck the wrong chord with my daughter. You see as unschoolers we don’t really live by rules, but rather principles, and so when she heard that she had to raise her hand if she wanted to do something as freely as speak, she didn’t like that. The orientation filled her curiosity and she no longer had any interest in attending pre-kindergarten. It certainly helped that it was at this time that she began playing Minecraft with her big brother. She was entering the very exciting and very relevant world of computing. Both she and her brother are avid gamers and Googlers today.
These days our week is filled with computers, YouTube videos, television shows, video games, park days, play dates, library visits, museums, swimming, hiking, family vacations, and everything else that we feel like doing or exploring. My children have real control over their lives and the things they do and the knowledge they obtain. They are very happy. Of course things break or don’t work quite right and emotions sometimes run high, but we’ve all evolved to a real place of peace and life-long learning. Every day brings new challenges and new knowledge. My wife’s reluctance has faded quite a bit now that she’s witnessing our children’s joy. For me, that’s the primary focus of unschooling: helping our children live as joyfully as possible. Everything else will naturally follow from that. As long as our children are happy, they will have confidence in themselves that they can achieve anything they want to in life. I truly believe that, and unschooling is the better vehicle toward living joyfully than any schooling-based alternative.
One final note—I’ve continued my study of childhood education and discovered last year a scholarly work by evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray of Boston College. His book Free to Learn argued quite convincingly using our evolution as a species, anthropology, and his experiences with the Sudbury Valley schooling model (based on the unschooling philosophy of total educational freedom) that play is the vehicle through which human beings learn best. This has given me added confidence that my family is on the right path toward a peaceful, joyful, and prosperous future.
 Read “Post-Punitive Parenting” by the author at http://skyler.link/sjcpostpunitive
 Available in several formats at http://skyler.link/amznakup
 Available in several formats at http://skyler.link/amzntjed
 Visit SandraDodd.com