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Grown Unschoolers Evaluations of Their Unschooling Experiences: Report I on a Survey of 75 Unschooled Adults

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Seventy-five adults, who had been unschooled for at least the years that would have been their last two years of high school, responded to a survey about their experiences. Their responses indicated that their parents generally played supportive, not directive roles in their education and played bigger supportive roles for those who started their unschooling early than for those who started later. The great majority of respondents reported that they were very happy with their unschooling. Nearly all of them valued the freedom it gave them to pursue their own interests in their own ways, and many reported that unschooling promoted their capacities for self-motivation, self-direction, personal responsibility and continued learning. A minority said they experienced a learning deficit as a result of unschooling, and most of those said they easily made up that deficit when they needed to. Most said they had satisfying social lives as unschoolers, and many commented on the special value of having friends of a wide range of ages. Only three respondents said they were unhappy with their unschooling, and those three all said that they were socially isolated, in dysfunctional families with mothers who were psychologically depressed and fathers who were uninvolved.
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Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives
ISSN 2049-2162
Volume 4 (2015), Issue 2 · pp. 8-32
8
Grown Unschoolers’ Evaluations of Their Unschooling
Experiences: Report I on a Survey of 75 Unschooled Adults
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
Boston College and Hunter College, US
Abstract Seventy-five adults, who had been unschooled for at least the years that
would have been their last two years of high school, responded to a survey about
their experiences. Their responses indicated that their parents generally played
supportive, not directive roles in their education and played bigger supportive roles
for those who started their unschooling early than for those who started later. The
great majority of respondents reported that they were very happy with their
unschooling. Nearly all of them valued the freedom it gave them to pursue their own
interests in their own ways, and many reported that unschooling promoted their
capacities for self-motivation, self-direction, personal responsibility and continued
learning. A minority said they experienced a learning deficit as a result of
unschooling, and most of those said they easily made up that deficit when they
needed to. Most said they had satisfying social lives as unschoolers, and many
commented on the special value of having friends of a wide range of ages. Only
three respondents said they were unhappy with their unschooling, and those three
all said that they were socially isolated, in dysfunctional families with mothers who
were psychologically depressed and fathers who were uninvolved.
Keywords unschooling, homeschooling, grown unschoolers, educational freedom,
self-determination, self-directed education
Introduction
This article is the first of two, published back-to-back, which together present the
results of a survey we conducted of 75 young adults who had been “unschooled
during part or all of what would have been their K-12 school years. In this first
article we review previous research on unschooling, describe the methods of our
survey study, and present our findings concerning the participants’ recollections of
their experiences as unschooled children and their evaluations of those experiences.
In the second article (Riley & Gray, 2015), we report specifically on the
participants’ experiences with higher education and careers.
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
9
Unschooling is, for legal purposes, a variety of homeschooling, but differs
from conventional homeschooling in that the parents do not try to replicate school
or school-like activities at home. There is no schooling, as commonly understood
no curriculum, no imposed lessons, no testing. In unschooling families, children are
in charge of their own education and are expected to “learn through living” rather
than to think of learning as something distinct from life itself. The term unschooling
was coined, in the 1970s, by the author, former teacher, and educational theorist
John Holt and was initially described in issues of Growing Without Schooling, a
magazine that Holt published until his untimely death in 1985 (and which continued
to be published by his associate Pat Farenga until 2001see Farenga & Ricci,
2013).
No firm data exist concerning the number of unschoolers, but the number
appears to be growing at a fast pace, at least in the United States, where
homeschooling overall is growing rapidly. According to surveys conducted by the
US National Center for Educational Statistics (2008, 2013), the number of
homeschooled children in the United States grew from about 850,000 in 1999 to
about 1,770,000 in 2011, or from 1.7% to 3.4% of the school-age population. Those
surveys did not distinguish unschoolers from other homeschoolers, but did reveal a
decline over the years in the percentage who were homeschooling primarily for
religious reasons and an increase in the percentage who were homeschooling
primarily because of dissatisfaction with the methods and environment of
conventional schools. This, at least, is consistent with the hypothesis that a growing
percentage of homeschoolers are unschoolers, as other data indicate that
unschoolers are far less likely than other homeschoolers to cite religious reasons,
and far more likely to cite dissatisfaction with the methods of conventional
schooling, as their main reason for opting out of conventional schooling (Grunzke,
2012). People familiar with the homeschooling community estimate that roughly
ten percent of current homeschoolers consider themselves to be unschoolers (Gray
& Riley, 2013). If this semi-educated guess is correct, the number of school-aged
children currently unschooling in the United States is about 180,000.
Many studies have been conducted concerning the experiences and
characteristics of homeschooled students, and a number of comprehensive reviews
of that research have been published. For example, Gloeckner & Jones (2013) and
Ray (2013) reviewed research on the academic success of homeschooled students
and found that, at least for the samples studied, homeschooled students, on average,
outperform conventionally schooled students on every measure used, including
scores on standardized tests at all stages of their home education and grade point
average in colleges and universities. Similarly, in a review of research on the social
and emotional characteristics of homeschooled students and graduates, Medlin
(2013) found many studies showing that homeschoolers were more socially skilled,
happier with their social lives, and more well adjusted emotionally than were
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
10
students or graduates of conventional schools and found no studies showing the
opposite. As the reviewers readily admit, none of this research proves a cause-effect
relationship between homeschooling and the measured outcomes. Children in
families that choose to homeschool might be different from those in other families,
from the beginning, in ways that predispose them to do well. Moreover, none of the
studies involved a random or normative sample of all homeschoolers, so bias in
who is recruited into the study could play a role. At minimum, however, the
research fails to confirm the fear of many educators that homeschooling would
generally lead to academic and social incompetence (Ray, 2013).
But unschooling is quite different from conventional homeschooling.
Conventional homeschoolers do school at home, and apparently many do it quite
well, but unschoolers live their lives without, in general, doing anything that looks
like school. There is no reason to think that the findings from studies of
homeschoolers would generalize to unschoolers. In contrast to the many studies of
homeschoolers, the formal, published studies of unschoolers to date can be counted
on the fingers of one hand. It is worth reviewing those studies before going on to
the present study.
Previous research on unschooling
The earliest formal research into unschooling that we could find is a doctoral
dissertation in anthropology, conducted by Donna Kirschner (2008). By
volunteering at a resource center for unschooled children and through word-of-
mouth, Kirschner identified a set of unschooling families in and near a city in the
Northeastern United States, where she lived. She visited the homes of 22 of these
families and repeatedly visited a subset of them. Using traditional ethnographic
methods involving interviews, informal conversations, direct observations, and
qualitative analyses, she set out to characterize unschoolers as a countercultural
community. She described unschooling as not just an educational choice, but a life
choice. Unschoolers, as she saw them, were trying “to achieve an alternative way of
being human, an alternative moral and social order of sorts.” Their lifestyle
generally included attachment parenting, concern for the environment, preference
for the homemade and for natural foods, and unhurried lives (especially for
children). Concerning education and parenting, their approach was to “trust” their
children. They saw themselves not as teachers but as “available” and as “resource
brokers” to their children.
Another anthropological investigation into unschooling, for a doctoral
dissertation, was conducted by Rebecca Grunzke (2012). Her goal was to compare
the viewpoints and lifestyles of unschooling mothers with those of conventional
homeschooling and public schooling mothers. She found her subjects through
mothering listserves, chat groups, and bulletin boards on the Internet. She analyzed
the discussions found at such sites and, through those sites, recruited mothers to
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
11
answer questionnaires and perform list-sorting tasks aimed at characterizing their
parenting practices. One of her main conclusions was that the unschooling mothers
she sampled could be characterized as a cultural subgroup very different from other
homeschooling mothers. The unschooling mothers, on average, engaged in far more
“alternative parenting tasks” than did the conventional homeschooling mothers.
These included natural childbirth, no circumcising, having a family bed (co-
sleeping with infants and young children), extended breast-feeding, babywearing,
preparing whole/organic foods, and the like. In contrast, she found no statistically
significant difference between the homeschooling and public schooling mothers in
their frequency of performing such tasks. She concluded that, at least in terms of
parenting practices, conventionally homeschooling mothers are more like public
schooling mothers than they are like unschooling mothers.
Grunzke also noted that 22% of the unschooling mothers in her sample
reported a family income under $25,000 a year and only 11% reported a family
income above $75,000 per year, in contrast to 16% and 33%, respectively, for the
conventionally homeschooling mothers. The only other study to compare incomes
of unschoolers and conventional homeschoolers likewise reported lower income for
the formera median income in the range of $20,000 to $40,000 for unschoolers
and $40,000 to $60,000 for homeschoolers (Martin-Chang, Gould & Meuse, 2011,
study conducted in Canada). These findings seem consistent with the view that
unschoolers are more willing than conventional homeschoolers to sacrifice income
in order to pursue their chosen style of life.
In a smaller-scale study, Rebecca English (2014) interviewed 30 unschooling
mothers in Australia and obtained findings quite consistent with those of Kirschner
and Grunzke in the United States. The mothers in her sample commonly reported
that they chose unschooling because it matched their attachment parenting
philosophy and allowed them to maintain a trustful, respectful relationship with
their children.
In a study that preceded the present one, we (Gray & Riley, 2013) conducted a
survey of 232 unschooling parents, mostly mothers, who were recruited through an
announcement on websites frequented by unschoolers. The respondents filled out a
relatively extensive questionnaire concerning their approach to unschooling, their
path into unschooling, and their perceptions of the benefits and challenges of
unschooling. We found that only a minority (28%) of this sample started with
unschooling, with their first child. Another 19% started with curriculum-based
homeschooling, which became increasingly relaxed over time and eventuated in
unschooling. Another 16% started with schooling and then switched to unschooling.
The largest sub-group (37%) went through the whole sequenceschooling, then
homeschooling, then unschooling. Those who unschooled from the beginning
seemed to be most like the unschoolers described by Kirschner and Grunzke; for
them, unschooling typically followed naturally from a lifestyle that included natural
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
12
living and attachment parenting. This was less true for the other groups. They were
more likely to choose unschooling because of observations they had made
concerning their children’s unhappiness in school and/or their children’s eagerness
and competence in self-directed learning. The most frequent benefits of unschooling
reported by the whole sample included the children’s improved learning, better
attitudes about learning, and improved psychological and social wellbeing; and
increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family, which followed
from being free from the school schedule. The most frequent challenge expressed,
by far, was that of overcoming feelings of criticism or social pressure that came
from others and from their own culturally-ingrained, habitual ways of thinking
about education.
All of the studies just described were aimed at characterizing the beliefs,
practices, and observations of unschooling parents. The only study prior to the
present one to look at unschooled young people was conducted by Sandra Martin-
Chang, Odette Gould, and Reanne Meuse (2011), and even that look was something
of an afterthought. These researchers set out to compare homeschooling children
with a demographically similar group of traditionally schooling children, ages 5 to
10, on standardized academic tests. As part of the study, they interviewed mothers
of the homeschoolers about their homeschooling methods and found that 12 of them
described their methods as very relaxed and unstructured (and 9 of these used the
term “unschooling” in their descriptions). They decided to separate these 12 from
the other homeschoolers and treat them as a separate group. The main finding of the
study was that the “structured homeschoolers” significantly outperformed the
traditionally schooled group on all of the academic tests. In what they described as
an “exploratory study” (because of the small sample and its unplanned nature) they
also compared the scores of the “unstructured homeschoolers” with those of the
other two groups and found them to be significantly lower than those of the
structured group, and also lower (but not statistically significantly so) than those of
the traditionally schooled group.
This finding, by Martin-Chang et al., is sometimes referred to by others as a
condemnation of unschooling, but unschoolers themselves (when we have described
it to them) are unsurprised by the finding. As one said, the only surprise is that the
unschooling families agreed to be in it. It is certainly no surprise that children, age 5
to 10, who have been studying a standard school curriculum would perform better
on tests of that curriculum than those who have not been studying it (but have,
perhaps, been baking bread and chasing butterflies). It is interesting to note that the
largest deficit of the children in the “unstructured” group was in reading. Informal
surveys have revealed that unschooled children often don’t learn to read until
several years later than the standard school age for reading, but then become highly
proficient readers, quite quickly, once they develop an interest (Gray, 2010). It
seems quite likely that at least some of the “unstructured” children in the Martin-
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
13
Chang et al. study would not yet have begun to read. Any real assessment of the
effectiveness of unschooling would have to take a longer view: What are these
young people like as adults? Do they have happy, successful lives? Or, even more á
propos: How do they define happiness? How do they define success? Their
definitions might be along lines not measured by standardized test scores or income.
Rationale and general methodology of our survey of grown unschoolers
The main purpose of the present study was to gain insights about unschooling from
the vantage point of those who were unschooled, as all previous studies had viewed
it from the vantage point of unschooling parents. We chose to survey adults (over
age 18) who had been unschooled, so they could tell us about their past experiences
as unschooled children and their experiences in life so far as adults. We chose to
recruit only those who had been unschooled for at least what would have been their
last two years of high school (grades 11 and 12), as one of our main interests was in
how unschoolers cope, in higher education and employment, without having a
standard high-school diploma or taking the courses that would most immediately
precede that diploma (discussed in the second paper in this series, Riley & Gray,
2015). Most of the participants, however, were unschooled for more years than that,
and some had been unschooled for all of what would have been their K-12 years.
In March, 2013, we posted a call for survey participants on the Psychology
Today blog, Freedom to Learn (Gray, 2013), and that post was subsequently
reposted or linked to by others to help recruit participants. In that call, we defined
unschooling, for purposes of the study, as follows:
Unschooling is not schooling. Unschooling parents do not send their
children to school and they do not do at home the kinds of things that are
done at school. More specifically, they do not establish a curriculum for
their children, do not require their children to do particular assignments
for the purpose of education, and do not test their children to measure
progress. Instead, they allow their children freedom to pursue their own
interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to
follow those interests. They may, in various ways, provide an
environmental context and environmental support for the child's learning.
In general, unschoolers see life and learning as one.
We noted further that we were seeking participants who were at least 18 years old
and had been unschooled for at least the final two years of what would have been
their high school years (they could not have attended 11th or 12th grade at a high
school). The call included Gina Riley’s email address, with a request that potential
participants contact her to receive a copy of the consent form and survey
questionnaire.
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
14
The questionnaire included questions about the respondent’s gender; date of
birth; history of schooling, home schooling, and unschooling (years in which they
had done each); reasons for their unschooling (as they understood them); roles that
their parents played in their education during their unschooling years; any formal
higher education they had experienced subsequent to unschooling (including how
they gained admission and how they adapted to it); their current employment; their
social life; the main advantages and disadvantages they experienced from their
unschooling; and their judgment as to whether or not they would unschool their
own children (see Appendix for the full form). We received and accepted completed
questionnaires over a period of six months following the initial call.
We analyzed the questionnaire responses using a grounded theory approach
(Thornberg & Charmaz, 2012). For all questions other than those that called for
strictly factual information, we each, separately, read and reread the responses and
jotted down key terms referring to the main ideas expressed. We then each listed
those key terms, for each question, to develop categories of responses that seemed
to occur frequently enough to be of interest. At the next step, we compared the
response categories that we had independently developed and, through discussion,
developed a common list of those categories and a shared understanding of how to
code for each. Then we each read all the questionnaire responses again and coded
them using the codes that we had generated. Finally, we compared notes on our
coding of the response to each question, for each respondent, and resolved
discrepancies through rereading and discussion.
Although unschooling is generally considered to be a variety of
homeschooling, in the remainder of this article (and in the second article in this
pair) we use the two terms to refer to distinct categories. Homeschooling, for our
purposes here, is schooling at homeschooling with curriculum and assessments,
in which parents are playing the teacher role. Unschooling, in contrast, is the
practice we described in recruiting participants into the study.
The limitation of this study resulting from the non-random sampling method is
similar to that in all other studies of unschooling to date. Because there is no public
listing of unschoolers, there is no way to sample them by normative or random
means. It is reasonable to conjecture that those who volunteered for the present
study might generally be among the more successful or satisfied unschoolers.
Moreover, our choice to include only those who stayed with unschooling through
what would have been their last two years of high school may further bias the
sample toward the more satisfied. Our purpose was not to assess the degree to
which unschooling is successful for all families that try it. Rather, it was to describe
the experiences of a group of volunteer participants who were unschooled during a
significant portion of what would have been their school years and who entered
adulthood without a conventional high-school diploma. The study, at minimum,
shows what is possible for unschoolers, even if it can’t address the question of what
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
15
is most typical for all who try this practice. The design also allows us to compare
participants who were unschooled for their entire K-12 years with those who began
unschooling later, and it allows us to identify common features in the lives of
satisfied unschoolers and in their perceptions of the unschooling experience. We
also expected to find at least some who were unhappy with their unschooling and to
learn about why they were unhappy with it.
Survey participants and their division into three groups
Eighty-one people completed the questionnaire and provided informed consent to
participate, but we dropped six from the study because they did not fully meet the
criteria for inclusion (they were either under 18 years old or had some schooling or
homeschooling in 11th or 12th grade). For the 75 who met the criteria, the median
age was 24 years, with a range from 18 to 49. Eight were in their teens, 48 in their
20s, 17 in their 30s, and 2 in their 40s. Fifty-eight (77%) were women, 16 were
men, and 1 self-identified as gender queer. Sixty-five were from the United States, 6
were from Canada, 3 were from the UK, and 1 was from Germany.
For purposes of comparison, we divided the participants who met the criteria
into three groups based on the last grade they had completed of school or of
curriculum-based homeschooling. Group I were entirely unschooledno K-12
schooling at all and no homeschooling (by our definition of parent-directed
schooling at home). Group II had no schooling or homeschooling beyond sixth
grade; and Group III had at least some schooling or homeschooling beyond sixth
grade. Respondents were placed into Group II even if they had only one year of
schooling or homeschooling prior to sixth grade, and into Group III even if they had
only one year of schooling or homeschooling sometime after sixth grade and before
eleventh grade. So, in theory (and in fact), those in Group II could have had
anywhere from 1 to 7 years (K-6) of schooling/homeschooling and those in Group
III could have had anywhere from 1 to 11 years of schooling/homeschooling (K-
10). As shown in Table 1, the three groups were quite similar in number of
participants, median age, and percentage female, but, of course, differed in median
number of years of schooling plus homeschooling.
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
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Table 1 Division of Participants into Three Groups
Group:
I. No schoolinga
II. No schoolinga
past 6th grade
III. Some schoolinga past
6th grade
Number of participants
24
27
24
Age: Median (range)
24 (18-35)
25 (19-37)
24.5 (18-49)
Years of schoolinga:
Median (range)
0 (0-0)
5 (1-7)
8 (1-11)
Gender: Percent female
19/23 = 83%b
20/27 = 74%
19/24 = 79%
aThe term schooling in this table includes homeschooling as well as attendance at a school.
NB: One participant in Group I self-identified as gender queer and was not classed as either male or female.
All inferential statistics were Chi square for 2 X 3 contingency tables, to determine
if the three groups of participants differed significantly in the presence or absence of
a particular category of response according to our coding. We considered such
differences to be statistically significant if p (the probability that the differences
could occur by chance) was less than 0.05.
Their reported reasons for unschooling
Question 3 of the survey read: “In your opinion, why were you ‘unschooled’ instead
of going to school or doing school at home? Is this something that both you and
your parent(s) wanted to do?” For this question, we coded each response for
whether the mother, father, or child was mentioned as an initiator of the decision to
unschool. We also coded reasons given for unschooling into a number of categories,
including Parental Belief (cases where the respondent indicated that one or both
parents felt that unschooling is a preferable means of education in general).
One clear finding is that mothers were the most influential family members
regarding the unchooling choice. All (100%) of the respondents in Groups I and II,
and 48% in Group III, mentioned their mother as an initiator of the decision to
unschool (difference across groups was highly significant, p < .001). In contrast,
fathers were mentioned as initiators by only 50% in Group I, 42% in Group II, and
26% in Group III (differences across groups not significant, p = .24). Over all three
groups combined, 31 respondents mentioned their mother but not their father as an
initiator, but only one respondent mentioned the father without mentioning the
mother. In most cases where we recorded the father as one of the initiators, the
respondents had referred to their “parents” as initiators, without specific mention of
the father.
The child (the respondent) was mentioned as an initiator of the decision to
unschool by 21% of respondents in Group I, 50% in Group II, and 74% in Group
III. This increase across groups (which was statistically significant, p = .0013), is
not surprising, as it is reasonable that the child would more often be the initiator in
families where unschooling was started later, when the child was older, than in
families where it was started earlier. Indeed, for 11 of the respondents in Group III,
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
17
the child was the only initiator mentioned. These were cases where the child
decided to leave school and had to convince his or her parents. In three of these
cases, the respondent mentioned Grace Llewllyn’s book, Teenage Liberation
Handbook (1998), as playing a major role in their decision to leave school.
Parental Belief was a stronger reason for unschooling for Group Ithe group
who started unschooling right from the beginningthan for the other groups. By
our coding, 79% in Group I, 46% in Group II, and 39% in Group III cited this as a
major reason for the unschooling choice (group differences significant, p = .012).
As children got older, the decision to unschool was based less on initial parental
belief about the value of unschooling and increasingly on such factors as the
parents’ observations about their child’s unhappiness or boredom in school, the
child’s manifested ability to learn through his or her own self-directed efforts, the
child’s own determination to leave school, and frustration with attempts to enforce a
curriculum at home. Our previous survey, of parents in unschooling families (Gray
& Riley, 2013), provides a better breakdown of such reasons for choosing
unschooling than we could provide in the present study, partly because of the larger
sample size there and partly because parents’ knowledge and memories of the
reasons were more complete than those of grown unschoolers.
Role of parents in the respondents’ education
Question 2 of the survey read: Please describe briefly how your family defined
unschooling. What, if any responsibility, did your parent(s) assume for your
education?” We coded the responses here into three mutually exclusive
categoriesA, B, and Cdepending on the degree to which the parents seemed to
assume responsibility for the child’s education.
Category A referred to cases where the parents assumed least responsibility,
that is, cases where the unschooling situation was least like homeschooling. These
were cases where, according to the respondents’ descriptions, the parents did not
deliberately or explicitly motivate, monitor, or guide the child’s learning, though
they might be responsive to the child’s questions and requests, readily share their
own interests, and influence naturally through example in everyday life. For
example, one response coded as in this category was:
We defined unschooling as the freedom to do and learn what you wish, as
long as it was not harmful to yourself or others. My parents created an
open, supportive environment for my brother and me. They shared their
interests with us, brought books and movies and experiences into the
house, and let us move at our own pace. I think when we began
unschooling, my parents let go of their self-imposed responsibility for my
educationthey had confidence in my ability to organically learn what I
needed.
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
18
We found that 17% of respondents in Group I, 37% in Group II, and 54% in Group
III fell into this category (across-group difference significant, p=.0238). Apparently,
and perhaps not surprisingly, the older a child is when unschooling begins, the more
fully the child is expected to assume responsibility for his or her education.
Category B were cases where parents were to some degree deliberately and
explicitly involved in the child’s education, though still in ways viewed by the
respondent as facilitation and not as direction, prodding, or coaxing. A sample
response in this category was:
Our unschooling was very self-directed. My parents were involved in the
role of facilitator, and, well, Parents! They took us places like the library,
zoo, museums, etc. They helped us when we needed help with a project
we wanted to do and my dad very frequently would do so much research
into whatever thing we kids were currently into that he would become a
bigger expert in it than we would!
It was the last sentence in this description that made this example a B rather than an
A. By our coding, 58% of respondents in Group I, 33% in Group II, and 29% in
Group III fell into this category (differences did not reach statistical significance,
p=.08).
Category C were cases where parents seemed to have at least some relatively
specific educational goals in mind for their children and seemed to work
deliberately toward achieving those goals. They didn’t require specific learning
(which would have made them homeschoolers, not unschoolers), but made clear
efforts to encourage it. Such cases lie at the border between unschooling and what is
often called relaxed homeschooling. A response illustrating this category was:
Unschooling for us meant my parents observed my siblings and me and
continuously supplied materials and information sources for anything we
were interested in. In the areas where my parents actually had significant
knowledge of their own to share, they sought relevant moments to share
it. From ages 7 through 16, my mother did encourage me to progress
through a set of math textbooks and requested that I write something she
could read and edit at least once a month to encourage me to improve my
English skills. From time to time we haggled over some school
assignment or other my mother felt she ought to assign when she was
stressed about trying to prepare a report for the public school officials and
worrying that it needed to sound more like public school.
By our coding, 25% in Group I, 30% in Group II, and 17% in Group III fell into this
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
19
category (group differences not significant, p=.55).
Over all groups combined, 39% fell in category A, 37% in B, and 24% in C. In
our previous study (Gray & Riley, 2013), we asked parents in unschooling families
essentially the same question about their role in unschooling. Using the same
method of categorizing their responses as we used in the present study, we found
44% in A, 41% in B, and 15% in C. All in all it appears that the parents in roughly
15 to 25% of families who identify as unschoolers, to some degree, encourage or
coax their children toward specific learning goals (our category C), while parents in
the large majority of such families help their children achieve the children’s own
goals but do not attempt to direct their education. We note further that unschooling
is not incompatible with formal study at home or even with taking classes outside of
the home, as long as those are clearly the unschooler’s own choices. As discussed in
the second article in this pair, a number of the participants in our survey took
community college courses while they were still unschooling, to gain specific
knowledge or to prepare themselves to apply to a four-year college.
Their social experiences
A common stereotype is that children who are educated at home, whether in
homeschooling or unschooling, are socially isolated and socially awkward. In our
survey of unschooling parents, the great majority indicated that this stereotype was
not true of their children (Gray & Riley, 2013). They generally reported that their
children had rich social lives, with friends across a wide spectrum of ages, and were
more socially adept than they would have been had they been schooled. We were
curious to see if grown unschoolers would agree with such an assessment; so, for
Question 6 of the present survey, we asked: What was your social life like growing
up? How did you meet other kids your age? How was your social experience as an
unschooler similar to or different from the types of social experiences you have
now?”
We coded the responses first for whether they reflected generally a Good,
Poor, or Mixed (partly good, partly poor) social life during their years of
unschooling. Overall, 52 (69%) of the responses were judged as Good, 9 (12%) as
Poor, and 14 (19%) as Mixed. There were no significant group differences here. For
example, the percentages coded as Good for Groups I, II, and III, respectively, were
76%, 63%, and 67% (p=.430).
Most of the respondents appeared to have had no particular difficulty meeting
other children and making friends. Overall, 55% wrote that their local
homeschooling group was a major source of friendships, and 43% stated that
organized afterschool activitiessuch as dance, theatre, sports, and art classes
provided opportunities to meet others and make friends. Many also mentioned
church or religious organizations, community or volunteer associations, and such
youth organizations as Boys and Girls Clubs, 4H, and Scouting. Teenagers who
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
20
took part-time jobs met others through their work. Eight participants made special
mention of Not Back to School Camp as a place where they made lasting
friendships with other unschoolers, which were maintained through the Internet
when camp wasn’t in session. Some also stated that their families were very social
and involved in the community, so friends were made through family connections.
One of the more extreme examples of a response in the Good category, which
illustrates many ways of meeting others, is the following, from a 19-year-old
woman:
I made friends at church or in the neighborhood or through sports or
random classes I would take. I made friends at the store, at the post office
or at the park. I made friends with people of all walks of life, all ages, all
social and economic backgrounds. Our house was and still is a meeting
place for many different types of people. We have always had the house
where hungry kids came for a meal, where any of my mother's friends or
brothers would come for a place to crash when things went awry or a
place for just hiding out for a weekend from all that was bothering you.
Some nights we cook for 20 people, others only for our family, so it is
never dull. It is a great way to learn about people when you see them in
all different situations and all different lights. I have learned what true
friends are and have the ability to discern true friendship from passing
friendship in most cases. My best friends are a 15-year-old girl who loves
to dance and who is crafty, a young man my age who is slowly going
blind but who is very driven, and an older woman who is enjoying
retirement. It gives me perspectives I don't think I could gain from a
group of people only my own age.
Even though we didn’t ask about age mixing, 68% of the respondents mentioned
that an advantage of not going to school was that they interacted with and made
friends with people of all ages. Some of these added that they felt advantaged
socially now, because the age-mixed social world they knew as children was similar
to the social world of adult life beyond school.
The nine respondents categorized as having Poor social lives as unschoolers
wrote mostly of social isolation. An example of such a response is:
My social life was pretty much nonexistent as an unschooler. I had
friends from when I was in school, and then the only other friends my age
I really ever had were neighbor kids, in my early years of unschooling. In
my middle and high school years, I really didn't have friends my age. I
interacted in various online communities a lot and would make
friendships online and would meet a few of these people later in my high
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
21
school years. I also did have a few friends during the late high school
years while I was working retail, from work.
Those coded as Mixed typically wrote of difficulties finding compatible friends
difficulties that might or might not be attributable to unschooling. Some of these
people indicated that they were introverts, by nature, and were in some ways happy
not to have the forced social interactions that would have occurred in school.
Their perceptions of the advantages of unschooling
Question 7 of the survey read, “What, for you, were the main advantages of
unschooling? Please answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing up
and how you feel now, looking back at your experiences. In your view, how did
unschooling help you in your transition toward adulthood?” None of the categories
of responses to this question, or the next (on disadvantages), differed significantly
over the three groups of participants, so we present the findings only for the total set
of participants.
In response to this question, the great majority wrote enthusiastically about the
advantages of unschooling. Overall, 77% of the participants mentioned advantages
that we coded as Time to Pursue Own Interests and 75% mentioned advantages that
we coded as Freedom/Independence. These are very similar categories, and when
we combined them into one category we found that 95% of the participants gave
responses in the combined category (in one or both of the original two categories).
Sixty percent mentioned advantages that we coded as Improved Learning, meaning
that unschooling improved their motivation to learn or allowed them to learn in
their own ways, by their own schedules.
In describing continuing effects in adulthood, 75% noted Self-Direction and/or
Self-Motivation, 48% noted high sense of Responsibility, 44% noted Continued
Learning (sometimes expressed as continued interest in learning because of not
being burned out by school), and 43% noted Self-Confidence as results of their
unschooling. Some of the other advantages frequently mentioned were that
unschooling allowed for a smooth transition to adulthood (33%), allowed them to
avoid stressors associated with school (28%), and gave them more time to spend
with family (24%). Many also reported advantages that they had previously noted in
the question about their social lives as unschoolers, especially that of interacting
with people of all ages. In addition, many indicated that their experiences as
unschoolers gave them a head start in their higher education and/or career
(discussed in the second article of this pair).
In our previous survey, of parents of unschooling families, we asked a similar
question about advantages of unschooling, and the two most frequent categories of
responses there were Improved Learning and Family Closeness, each mentioned by
57% of the parents (Gray & Riley, 2013). Concerning the latter, parents noted that
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
22
unschooling allowed family members to spend more time together, get to know one
another better, and engage in more activities together than would be possible
otherwise. It’s perhaps not surprising that the value of family closeness was not as
frequently mentioned by grown unschoolers as by unschooling parents. No matter
how much children may love and appreciate their family of origin, their destiny is
to move on and become independent of that family. That may help explain why the
grown unschoolers saw the advantages of unschooling more in terms of their own
freedom, independence, and responsibilityand less in terms of family
relationshipsthan did the parents. As illustration, here are excerpts from four
participants’ responses to Question 7chosen semi-randomly but partly because
they are concise and touch on many of the most frequently cited categories of
advantages:
The main advantage has been my freedom to learn whenever and,
perhaps more importantly, whatever I want. When I found an interest
in something, I had the ability to pursue it as focused or widely as I
wanted. I've been left with a sense of initiative and self-direction…. In
terms of the transition to adulthood, there really wasn't one! I've always
socialized with adults and my parents always fostered a sense of
responsibility in me. The day I became a legal adult came and went
without fanfare. I had already started my business and was planning for
the future. The time I've spent getting to know my parents has been
invaluable. …
I have very fond memories of my childhood. There was much time and
space in my life for reading as much as I wanted, being creative, and for
play of all kindsalone and with friends. I strongly feel that unschooling
builds a foundation for questioning and challenging the mainstream
aspects of society. It provided me the ability to be confident in not blindly
“following the crowd” and being comfortable about being myself and/or
different. … I think that I have more ownership over my life than I see in
the general population, generally speaking.
As a teenager, I cherished that unschooling let me pursue my interests. It
opened up experiences that are extremely unlikely I would have had the
opportunity for if I was schooled: living in South America for six months
when I was 15-16, working as an apprentice on vegetable farms when I
was 16; all the travel I did around the USA and Canada from 14-19. As
an adult, I see how strongly my independence and self-reliance were built
during those years, especially with the travelling I did alone and then
living away from my family working on farms. My curiosity and thirst
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
23
for knowledge blossomed during my years unschooling and I expect will
stay with me throughout my life. …Unschooling kindled my passions and
destroyed the concept that learning only occurs in structured
environments.
The main advantage of unschooling was that it supported me in
understanding myself clearly and helping me craft an adult life which is
meaningful to me. I do not identify as ever having stopped unschooling
I am continuing to learn as much as I did as a youth. When I was 15 I was
studying microscopes and nuclear particles, and now I am studying
nonprofit bylaws and building codes, or training for a marathon. I am 30
years old, and I have been practicing how to run my life, be motivated
towards my own goals, think creatively for myself about how to solve a
problem and seek out what interests me for 20 years. I find myself
consistently in an advantageous position compared to my “schooled”
peers.
Their perceptions of the disadvantages of unschooling
Question 8 of the survey read, “What, for you, were the main disadvantages of
unschooling? Again, please answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing
up and how you feel now. In your view, did unschooling hinder you at all in your
transition toward adulthood?” In response to this item, 37% of the respondents
indicated no disadvantage, and most of the rest made it clear that, to them, the
disadvantages were minor compared to the advantages.
The most frequent category of disadvantage, by our coding, was Others
Opinions (dealing with others’ criticisms of unschooling or ignorance about it),
mentioned by 28% of the participants. This was also the most frequently mentioned
disadvantage in our previous study of unschooling parents, where it was mentioned
by 46% of the respondents (Gray & Riley, 2013). Dealing with others’ opinions
seemed to be more distressing to the parents, in the previous study, than to the
unschooled children, in the present study. Perhaps this is because criticisms and
doubts are more often directed toward parents than toward children, and parents feel
responsible for the unschooling decision. A typical comment in this category, in the
present study, was this: “As a kid, I found it endlessly annoying that I had to
constantly explain my family’s choice to unschool. It wasn’t the norm, which was
equally exciting and inconvenient.”
The next most common disadvantage, mentioned by 21% of the participants,
was that which we coded as Social Isolation, which varied in degree and typically
derived from a lack of other homeschoolers or unschoolers nearby and difficulties
of socializing with school children because of their busy schedules and different
orientation toward life. For example, one wrote:
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
24
The main disadvantage of unschooling for me was that I wasn’t in close
proximity to other unschoolers after the age of 13….My closest friends
during my teen years... were people I met through NBTSC [Not Back to
School Camp] and lived far away.
Only eight participants (11%) mentioned any sort of learning deficit as a
disadvantage. Three of these described this as a major disadvantage; the other five
presented it as a relatively minor problem, solved by making up the deficit when
they needed to.
The three participants who saw learning deficits as a major disadvantage were
also the only ones who indicated that, for them, the disadvantages of unschooling
outweighed the advantages. Although they came from three different families their
stories were quite similar. All three described their mothers as in poor mental health
and their fathers as uninvolved. All three indicated that their parents did not allow
them the choice of going to school and that they felt socially isolated, ignorant, and
stigmatized. Two of them attributed their isolation partly to the fundamentalist
Christian beliefs of their parents. It is instructive to look a little closer at each of
these cases, to identify conditions in which unschooling may be a bad idea.
One of these respondents grew up in the UK and was entirely unschooled (i.e.
was in Group I). She wrote:
I actively disagree with unschooling because I believe that it is a very
easy way for unwell parents to bring their children up without those
parents needing to actively participate/integrate into society…. Because
of my mother's poor mental health she found it difficult making friends
and generally disliked attending social events, etc. I think this was the
main reason she decided to unschool us.
This person went on to say that, as an unschooler, she didn’t study anything or
develop a satisfactory plan for her own life. She went on to higher education in the
fine arts, and a job as an art teacher, not because she was interested in art or enjoyed
teaching, but because she didn’t feel qualified for anything else.
Another was Christian homeschooled through third grade and then was
unschooled, not, she claimed, because of a deliberate decision, but because of her
mother’s psychological and physical disabilities and consequent inability to manage
homeschooling. This person also wrote that her mother kept her and her sister out of
school “to be able to control the kinds of information we were exposed to, including
sex education, science, or health, as well as control the kinds of people we
interacted with.” She wrote further:
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
25
Disadvantages would be not having the groundwork of basic knowledge
and social skills! I am also uncomfortable with most people and prefer to
be alone, which may be from my experience growing up alone and
unsupervised, but also might just be my nature, I don't know. As a kid the
main thing was knowing that I was not fitting in anywhere, our always
being the “weirdos” in the neighborhood, always missing rites of passage
and being alone too often.
As an adult she had worked mostly at temporary jobs such as cleaning or house
painting, but at the time of the survey she was enrolled, at age 35, in a bachelor’s
program in industrial design.
The third of these respondents wrote that her mother pulled her out of the
Baptist academy she had been attending, in 4th grade, because of the mother’s
conflicts with the staff. The mother intended to homeschool her after that, using a
Christian curriculum, but failed to follow through because of her own struggles with
depression. In this respondent’s words:
In my opinion, I was unschooled simply because my mother could not
tolerate the anxiety of having me in public or private schoolwhere other
non-Christian people could “negatively influence” me. She needed me at
home to do chores and take care of her, because she was a non-functional
depressed person.
She wrote further:
As an adult looking back, the main disadvantage was that the social
isolation allowed my parents to get away with more abuse and neglect
than they otherwise would have. Lacking a formal education did chip
away at my self-confidence as I transitioned toward adulthood. I still
feel permanently damaged in some way, like I am a freak who was kept
in a cage and not educated formally. As I prepared to begin formal
college education, my unschooling experience hindered me by having
failed to provide standard levels of math and science knowledge. I had to
tutor myself to pass the GED. I had to tutor myself remedial math and
science skills to keep up in introductory-level college courses.
Apparently, however, she succeeded quite well in tutoring herself, as, at the time of
the survey, she was a 29-year-old Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at a prestigious
university. Although this person felt negatively about her own upbringing, she
(unlike the other two) was not dead set against unschooling in general; she even
indicated that, depending on circumstances, she might unschool her own child.
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
26
Would they unschool their own children?
The final question of the survey read: If you choose to have children, do you think
you will choose to unschool them? Why or why not?” One respondent omitted this
question. Of the remaining 74, 50 (67%) responded in a way that we coded as Yes,
indicating that they would definitely unschool their own child, or would unless the
child expressed a clear preference for something else or circumstances prevented it.
This number includes eight respondents who already had children of school age and
were unschooling them. The reasons they gave for preferring to unschool their own
children were quite similar to the answers they gave to the question about the
advantages they experienced in their own unschooling.
Another 19 (25%) responded in a way that we coded as Maybe, meaning that
they would consider unschooling, but would weigh it against other possibilities,
such as a progressive or democratic alternative school. Five (7%) responded in a
way that we coded as No, meaning that they would definitely not unschool their
own child or would be very unlikely to. Of these, two were among the three who
were unhappy about their own unschooling (described above); another felt that
unschooling worked well for her but poorly for her younger brother, so she was
against unschooling except for highly self-motivated individuals; another preferred
democratic schooling (such as a Sudbury school) over unschooling, for the greater
sense of community it offered; and a fifth, who was in the military, favored a semi-
structured school environment, such as a Montessori school, so the child would
learn to adapt to imposed structure. It’s noteworthy that all of the respondents who
mentioned that they had children of school age were unschooling them; nobody said
that they had a child of school age in school or doing curriculum-based
homeschooling.
Concluding thoughts
In sum, the results reported in this first article on the survey indicate that (a)
mothers most often initiated unschooling for younger children, but the main
initiators for those who began unschooling after sixth grade were often the children
themselves; (b) parents of those who were unschooled from the beginning played a
larger facilitative role in their children’s education than did parents of those who
began unschooling later; (c) most participants reported that they found friends
through community activities and were happy with their social lives, both as
unschooled children and later as adults; (d) most reported that a social advantage of
unschooling was the opportunity to become friends with people over a broad range
of ages; (e) the most frequently reported advantages of unschooling were time and
freedom to pursue their own interests, improved motivation and ability to learn, and
development of a sense of responsibility for their own lives; (f) the most frequently
reported disadvantage was the annoyance of having to explain or defend
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
27
unschooling to others, who did not understand or approve of it; (g) all except three
of the participants indicated that, to them, the advantages of unschooling
outweighed any disadvantages, and the great majority indicated that they would
unschool their own children; and (f) the three participants who were unhappy about
their unschooling reported that they came from dysfunctional, socially isolating
families.
As noted earlier, because the participants were self-selected, any temptation to
generalize these findings to the unschooling population as a whole must be treated
cautiously. However, the results indicate considerable uniformity, among those who
were happy with their unschooling, in their reasons for that happiness, and great
uniformity among the three who were unhappy with it in their reasons for that. The
results also reveal consistent differences among the participants in the parents’ roles
in unschooling, and in the reasons for choosing unschooling, depending on the age
at which unschooling began. Even if the present study includes a disproportionate
number of satisfied unschoolers, these contingent differences may well represent
differences that would apply to a normative sample of unschoolers.
An unanticipated consequence of the self-selection into this study is the over-
representation of women; only 16 of the 75 are men. Other surveys, on other topics,
have likewise revealed a higher response rate from women than from men (e.g.
Smith, 2008), but not by as great a proportion as occurred in the present study.
There is no reason to believe that more females than males are unschooled; indeed,
our survey of parents (Gray & Riley, 2013) revealed slightly more unschooled boys
than girls in the families that responded. It is noteworthy, however, that both the
present survey and our survey of parents revealed that mothers are much more
directly involved in their children’s unschooling than are fathers. Perhaps many
more women than men responded to this survey in part for the same reason that
many more mothers than fathers responded to our previous survey. Women may
generally be more invested in the education of their own children than are men and
may, therefore, place relatively higher value on any study pertaining to children’s
education. The gender imbalance becomes a somewhat bigger issue in the second
article of this pair, where we discuss the participants’ choices concerning further
education and careers.
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
28
References
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margins and the spaces in-between: New possibilities for education research
(pp. 112-124). London: Routledge.
Farenga, P. L., & Ricci, C. (2013). The legacy of John Holt: A man who genuinely
understood, respected, and trusted children. Medford, MA: HoltGWS.
Gloeckner, G. W., & Jones, P. (2013). Reflections on a decade of changes in
homeschooling and the homeschooled into higher education. Peabody Journal
of Education, 88, 309-323.
Gray, P. (2010). Children teach themselves to read: The unschoolers’ account of
how children learn to read. Blog at Psychology Today: Freedom to Learn,
Feb. 24, 2010. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn.
Gray, P. (2013). Seeking unschooled adults to tell us about their experiences. Blog
at Psychology Today: Freedom to Learn, March 12, 2013.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn.
Gray, P., & Riley, G. (2013). The challenges and benefits of unschooling according
to 232 families who have chosen that route. Journal of Unschooling and
Alternative Learning, 7, 1-27.
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Grunzke, R. Z. (2012). Pedagogues for a new age: Childrearing practices of
unschooling parents. Dissertation, University of Florida. Ann Arbor, MI:
Proquest LLC.
Kirschner, D.H. (2008). Producing unschoolers: Learning through living in a U.S.
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http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3309459.
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a real life and education. Eugene, OR: Lowry House.
Martin-Chang, S., Gould, O.N., & Meuse, R.E. (2011). The impact of schooling on
academic achievement: Evidence from homeschooled and traditionally
schooled students. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 43, 195-202.
Medlin, R. G. (2013). Homeschooling and the question of socialization revisited.
Peabody Journal of Education, 88, 284-297.
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http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009030.pdf.
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Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
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Ray, B. D. (2013). Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
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outcomes but educators do not promote it. Peabody Journal of Education, 88,
324-341.
Riley, G., & Gray, P. (2015). Grown unschoolers’ experiences with higher
education and employment: Report II on a survey of 75 unschooled adults.
Other Education, 4(2), pp. 33-53 [this issue].
Smith, W. G. (2008). Does gender influence survey participation? A record-linkage
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Author Details
Peter Gray is Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College. Contact address
is 9 King Philip Trail, Norfolk, MA 02056, US. Email grayp@bc.edu
Gina Riley is Clinical Professor of Special Education at Hunter College. Contact
address is Department of Special Education, 695 Park Avenue, New York, New
York 10065, US. Email professorginariley@gmail.com
AppendixConsent form and survey questionnaire
Consent Form
You have been invited to participate in a research study focusing on the experiences
of adults, age 18 and older, who have been unschooled. We ask that you read this
form and ask any questions you have before agreeing to be in the study. This study
is being conducted by Dr. Gina Riley from Hunter College; and Dr. Peter Gray from
Boston College.
Grown Unschoolers: Report I
31
Background Information: The purpose of this study is to gain insight into the
experiences of unschooled adults.
Task: Individuals participating in this study are asked to submit their responses to a
brief survey pertaining to unschooling.
Benefits: By participating in this study, you will be advancing academic research
related to unschooling. This research may help other families make informed
decisions regarding the education of their children.
Confidentiality: The records of this study will be kept private. In any sort of report
that might be published, we will not include any information that would identify a
participant. Please note that this survey is completely voluntary.
Contacts and Questions: Any questions relating to this study can be addressed to
professorginariley@gmail.com via email.
Statement of Consent: By returning the survey below, I am giving consent for my
participation in this study.
Survey of Unschooled Adults (Age 18 and older)
You may respond simply by returning this email to professorginariley@gmail.com
with your answers typed in below each question.
Name (Please note that names will not be used in any reports that come from the
study):
Gender:
Birthdate (written as month/day/year):
1. Please tell us about your history of schooling/homeschooling/unschooling:
(a) Did you ever attend a school, as a regular student, when you were between
the ages of 5 and 16? If so, please list any schools you attended by type of
school (e.g. public, Montessori, etc.), your age when you attended and when
you left, your grade level(s) at that school (e.g. kindergarten through 5th
grade), and your understanding of why you left that school.
(b) During the years when you were not in school, between age 5 and 16, did
you ever do homeschoolingthat is, school at home, where you were
following a curriculum determined by your parent(s) or another adult? If so,
please describe that experience, how long it lasted, and your age at the time. If
you switched from homeschooling to unschooling, what led you and/or your
parent(s) to make that switch?
2. Please describe briefly how your family defined unschooling. What, if any
responsibility, did your parent(s) assume for your education?
3. In your opinion, why were you “unschooled” instead of going to school or
doing school at home? Is this something that both you and your parent(s)
wanted to do?
4. Are you currently employed? If so, what do you do? Does your current
employment match any interests/activities you had as an unschooled
child/teen? If so, please explain.
Peter Gray & Gina Riley
32
5. Please describe briefly any formal higher education you have experienced,
such as community college/college/and graduate school. How did you get into
college without having a high school diploma? How did you adjust from being
unschooled to being enrolled in a more formal type of educational experience?
Please list any degrees you have obtained or degrees you are currently working
toward.
6. What was your social life like growing up? How did you meet other kids your
age? How was your “social” experience as an unschooler similar/different to
the types of social experiences you have now?
7. What, for you, were the main advantages of unschooling? Please answer both
in terms of how you felt as a child growing up and how you feel now, looking
back at your experiences. In your view, how did unschooling help you in your
transition toward adulthood?
8. What, for you, were the main disadvantages of unschooling? Again, please
answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing up and how you feel
now. In your view, did unschooling hinder you at all in your transition toward
adulthood?
9. If you choose to have a family/children, do you think you will choose to
unschool them? Why or why not?
This work by Peter Gray and Gina Riley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
... Some of the results of this research are similar to those of previous work on unschooling: an educational experience driven by the satisfaction of immediate needs or desires; the advantages and limits of autodidacticism; the free use of information technology and its reappraisal; a socialization marked by a feeling of belonging to a support group (Bertozzi, 2006;Curtice, 2014;English, 2014;Gray & Riley, 2013, 2015a, 2015bGrunzke, 2010;Kirschner, 2008;Siconolfi, 2010) -but also by solitude and marginalization. As in the study by Gray and Riley (2015b), most participants note a strong connection between centres of interest developed during unschooling and their jobs or current fields of education. ...
... Furthermore, the gradual slide of homeschooling to unschooling, and the association of unschooling with a "counter-cultural" lifestyle are consistent with the results of Kirschner (2008), Grunzke (2010) and O'Hare and Coyne (2020). An appreciation of time spent with the family, and the value of freedom are apparent, as in the studies of Gray and Riley (2013;2015a) -but also testimonies of parental negligence and enforced isolation. ...
Article
Full-text available
To better understand the experience of unschooling, non-directive in-depth interviews with five Quebec adults who had experienced it were conducted according to a phenomenological approach, revealing their perceptions of their educational experiences and their families, as well as their views of the world. Certain aspects of the testimonies corroborate the results of previous studies concerning self-directed learning, use of information technology, development of interests, and participation in a support group; others reveal limits when it comes to learning perseverance, pursuit of complex learning goals, school integration, and evaluation. The participants also spoke of family conflicts, parental control, negligence, and the influence of this experience on their views of society, work, the school system, and the role of government in education.
... an educational experience driven by the satisfaction of immediate needs or desires; the advantages and limits of autodidacticism; the free use of information technology and its reappraisal; a socialization marked by a feeling of belonging to a support group (Bertozzi, 2006;Curtice, 2014;English, 2014;Gray and Riley, 2013, 2015a, 2015bGrunzke, 2010;Kirschner, 2008;Siconolfi, 2010)but also by solitude and marginalization. As in the study by Gray and Riley (2015b), most participants note a strong connection between centres of interest developed during unschooling ...
... Furthermore, the gradual slide of homeschooling to unschooling, and the association of unschooling with a "counter-cultural" lifestyle are consistent with the results of de Kirschner (2008) and Grunzke (2010). An appreciation of time spent with the family, and the value of freedom are apparent, as in the studies of Gray and Riley (2013;2015a) but also testimonies of parental negligence and enforced isolation. ...
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Français Pour mieux comprendre l’expérience de l’unschooling, des entretiens en profondeur non directifs avec cinq adultes québécois l’ayant vécue ont été menés selon une approche phénoménologique, révélant les perceptions de leur vécu éducatif et de leur famille, ainsi que leur vision du monde. Certains aspects des témoignages corroborent les résultats d’études antérieures concernant l’autodidaxie, l’usage des technologies de l’information, le développement des intérêts et la participation au groupe de soutien; d’autres relèvent des limites quant à l’apprentissage de la persévérance, la poursuite d’objectifs d’apprentissage complexes, l’intégration scolaire et l’évaluation. Les participants parlent aussi de conflits familiaux, d’emprise parentale, de négligence et de l’influence de cette expérience sur leur vision de la société, du travail, du système scolaire et du rôle de l’État en éducation. English To better understand the experience of unschooling, non-directive in-depth interviews with five Quebec adults who had experienced it were conducted according to a phenomenological approach, revealing their perceptions of their educational experiences and their families, as well as their views of the world. Certain aspects of the testimonies corroborate the results of previous studies concerning self-directed learning, use of information technology, development of interests, and participation in a support group; others reveal limits when it comes to learning perseverance, pursuit of complex learning goals, school integration, and evaluation. The participants also spoke of family conflicts, parental control, negligence, and the influence of this experience on their views of society, work, the school system, and the role of government in education.
... An additional consideration is whether SDL, developed initially for adult learners, is relevant to children's learning. Extensive, longitudinal research has been conducted to confirm both the appropriateness of SDL for young people (referred to as unschoolers) and its ability to support mental health and career aspirations [215,216]. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted continuing constraints on the ability of students to interact with teachers and peers. Regarding this imposed segregation, what has not been considered is the effect of learners seeing self as other. With respect to augmentations of their body in interpersonal space by, (1) extending the body through witnessing themselves regularly in videoconferencing learning sessions, (2) isolating the body as a result of spending time apart from peers, social distancing at home, and (3) protecting the body through required mask-wearing where learners now consider who they represent in a mask, there are three important ways in which learners have felt unable to recognize themselves as they did pre-COVID-19. This migration from self to other, involving ingroup/outgroup distinctions, will be investigated from a number of perspectives—both sociological and psychological. Why the turning of self into other is problematic to the psyche will be discussed, as will the possible consequences for this ongoing lack of learner recognition long term, including focus on the new norms or embracing self-directed learning. Based on this analysis, the type of mentorship by teachers and parents that may be appropriate for helping learners contend with these changes will be recommended.
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This chapter focuses on the academic and social outcomes of those who have been homeschooled. What happens to homeschoolers when they grow up? Are they able to attend college? Are they employable? Are they socially, emotionally, and psychologically healthy? Are they happy and well adjusted? Numerous researchers have studied the outcomes of those who are home educated, with very positive results. This chapter focuses on the conclusions of these studies and ends with an analysis of how research on adult homeschooled graduates must grow and change to represent the shifting data on homeschooling itself.
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The global and growing phenomenon of home education is regulated differently in different countries and different states. Where is it legal the regulatory burden on home educators ranges from low to moderate to high. A range of commentators, including home educators, work to shape the frames through which home education is understood and subsequently regulated. Using an illustrative case study, this chapter shows that regulation impacts on child wellbeing and that home educators take different motivational postures based on a range of factors, of which their relationship with the regulator is one. The degree to which regulators cultivate a cooperative relationship is proposed as a critical factor in developing a positive regulatory environment. Co-production of home education regulations, as was previously undertaken in Tasmania, Australia, is presented as an effective and more acceptable approach to regulation. This is recommended as a model of practice to be undertaken in other settings.
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One of the most common questions asked of unschooling families is “How do children learn if there is no set curriculum?” In this chapter, subject-based learning in unschooling is reviewed. A large portion of the chapter is dedicated to how unschoolers learn to read and do math. Additional parts of the chapter concentrate on how unschoolers learn science, history, and second languages. One of the major benefits of unschooling is that unschoolers tend to know how to learn what they need to know. Gaps in learning within both unschoolers and traditionally schooled students is also discussed.
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Although it is John Holt who devised the term unschooling in the 60s, and Ivan Illich who called to de-establish schools in the 1970s, many newer educational and psychological theories support the enhancement and utilization of self-directed, intrinsically motivated, multifaceted learning, and reinforce ideas inherent within the philosophy of unschooling. The theories discussed in this chapter include Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination and Cognitive Evaluation Theory (Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. Plenum Press, New York, 1985), John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory (A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Development. Routledge, London, 1979), and Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basic Books, New York, 1983).
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In this chapter, the challenges and benefits of unschooling according to research are discussed. Challenges include feelings of social pressure regarding the decision to unschool, practical considerations for parents including time, career, and income factors, the perceived socialization issue, and legal issues associated with unschooling. Benefits included increases in children’s learning and intrinsic motivation, increased family closeness, and improved family freedom of schedule.
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This chapter provides an answer to the question “What happens to unschoolers when they grow up?” Research focused on unschooled adults’ feelings about the unschooling experience is considered. Unschooled adult outcomes regarding higher education, careers, financial independence, and future plans are reviewed. The chapter concludes with an in-depth profile of a grown unschooler.
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Unschooling families (families that don't send their children to school and don't school them at home) were invited to participate in a survey about their unschooling practices. Two hundred and thirty two self-identified unschooling families, with at least one child over five years old, completed and returned the questionnaire. Qualitative analyses revealed considerable variability in the routes to unschooling and in the ways in which the parents saw themselves as involved in their children's education. The biggest challenge expressed was that of overcoming feelings of criticism, or social pressure, that came from others who disapproved and from their own culturally-ingrained, habitual ways of thinking about education. The reported benefits of unschooling were numerous; they included improved learning, better attitudes about learning, and improved psychological and social wellbeing for the children; and increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family.
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A sample of 75 adults, who had been unschooled for at least the years that would have been their last two years of high school, answered questions about their subsequent pursuits of higher education and careers. Eighty-three percent of them had gone on to some form of formal higher education and 44 percent had either completed or were currently in a bachelor's degree program. Overall, they reported little difficulty getting into colleges and universities of their choice and adapting to the academic requirements there, despite not having the usual admissions credentials. Those who had been unschooled throughout what would have been their K-12 years were more likely to go on to a bachelor's program than were those who had some schooling or curriculum-based homeschooling during those years. Concerning careers, despite their young median age, most were gainfully employed and financially independent. A high proportion of them— especially of those in the always-unschooled group—had chosen careers in the creative arts; a high proportion were self-employed entrepreneurs; and a relatively high proportion, especially of the men, were in STEM careers. Most felt that their unschooling benefited them for higher education and careers by promoting their sense of personal responsibility, self-motivation, and desire to learn.
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Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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In this study, I explore some of the inherent and lived tensions or paradoxes produced through the principles and practices of the governmental and educational contexts of the neoliberal milieu, through the lens of a contemporary countercultural movement. In the particularities of this movement, a community of practice known to insiders as the “unschooling movement,” families seek to challenge the rationalization and standardization that they perceive as rampant and objectionable in state-overseen education. This is an ethnographic study of the countercultural praxis and identities entailed in cultivating unschooled children through distinctive childhood, familial, and community-based experiences. I consider dimensions of lifestyle that include attachment parenting, the organization of space and time, consumption, community-based education and legitimation (portfolio evaluations) to prove educational equivalence. This study reveals the hidden resources of social capital and educational capital used to sustain a countercultural educational alternative.
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This article reviews research on homeschool learner outcomes and evaluates opposition to homeschooling. It synthesizes research on learner outcomes related to homeschooling in areas of students' academic achievement and children's social, emotional, and psychological development and the success of adults who were home educated and finds generally positive outcomes on a variety of variables are associated with homeschooling. The author identifies four classes of negativity expressed toward home-based education by the education profession, such as the claims homeschooling is bad for the collective good and that without much state regulation significant numbers of homeschooling (home schooling) parents will harm their children. The evaluation reveals that proactive opposition to homeschooling and calls for significant state control over homeschooling do not offer any empirical research evidence that homeschooling is bad for individual children, families, neighborhoods, or the collective good. The alleged harms of homeschooling or arguments for more control of it are fundamentally philosophical and push for the state, rather than parents, to be in primary and ultimate control over the education and upbringing of children so they will come to hold worldviews more aligned with the state and opponents of state-free homeschooling than with the children's parents and freely chosen relationships.
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This article reviews recent research on homeschooled children's socialization. The research indicates that homeschooling parents expect their children to respect and get along with people of diverse backgrounds, provide their children with a variety of social opportunities outside the family, and believe their children's social skills are at least as good as those of other children. What homeschooled children think about their own social skills is less clear. Compared to children attending conventional schools, however, research suggest that they have higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults. They are happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Their moral reasoning is at least as advanced as that of other children, and they may be more likely to act unselfishly. As adolescents, they have a strong sense of social responsibility and exhibit less emotional turmoil and problem behaviors than their peers. Those who go on to college are socially involved and open to new experiences. Adults who were homeschooled as children are civically engaged and functioning competently in every way measured so far. An alarmist view of homeschooling, therefore, is not supported by empirical research. It is suggested that future studies focus not on outcomes of socialization but on the process itself.
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This article reviews selected research on successes of homeschooled students over the past decade. The article raises several methods issues, especially related to sampling issues and recent changes in some state laws. In addition the article reviews research collected from college admission's officers’ on their perceptions and attitudes relate to homeschooled students. The comparative results of the studies reported in this review, combined with the data collected from college admission officers provides evidence that homeschooling is an effective alternative path to college for the children of many families.
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The purpose of this study was to examine the correlation between online survey non-response and various demographic factors, including gender. Studies have shown that trends exist with regard to who responds to surveys, at least with regard to traditional modes of survey administration. Reports suggest that many demographic and other correlates with non-response to online surveys may indeed mirror those of more traditional modes of survey administration. However, the influence of such a basic demographic factor as gender on online survey response behavior is unclear. In this study, a record-linking technique was employed to compare the gender of online survey respondents directly to available demographic data of all members of a sampling frame, thus allowing comparison of demographic information of both respondents and non-respondents. The sampling frame, which consisted entirely of university faculty members of a large research university in the southeastern United States with a full-time faculty of approximately 1000, was specifically chosen to minimize the effect of other potential correlates to non-response behavior, such as education level, Internet access, geographic location, occupation, and income. Pearson's chi square analysis showed a significant relationship between gender and survey response rates: female faculty members contributed disproportionately to the respondent data set. One possible explanations for the observations is that the observed differences in female and male faculty response rates is a product of differences in female and male values operating in a gendered online environment. Results of this study suggest that researchers should not assume that response behavior toward online surveys, and therefore data gathered from online surveys, is free of gender bias. (Contains 2 endnotes and 4 tables.)
Too cool for homeschool? Accessing underground unschoolers with Web 2.0
  • R English
English, R. (2014). Too cool for homeschool? Accessing underground unschoolers with Web 2.0. In K. Trimmer, A. Black, & S. Riddle (Eds.), Mainstreams, margins and the spaces in-between: New possibilities for education research (pp. 112-124). London: Routledge.