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The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According to 232 Families Who Have Chosen that Route

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Abstract

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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The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According
to 232 Families Who Have Chosen that Route1
By: Peter GRAY & Gina RILEY
Abstract
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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Individuals learn through exploration and interaction with their environment. For
most children in school, this means interaction with teachers, same-age peers, textbooks,
assignments, tests, and the like, selected for the child as part of a pre-planned curriculum.
Teachers and educators commonly claim that the goal of school is preparation for the
“real world.” What if the child’s classroom were the “real world”? Unschooling is a
growing counter-cultural movement. At a time when the culture as a whole is moving
toward more narrowly defined curricula, more standardized testing, and more hours,
days, and years in school, an increasing number of families are choosing to keep their
children out of school and not do anything like schooling at home.
Unschooling is often considered to be a branch of homeschooling. While other
homeschoolers may do “school at home” and follow a set curriculum, unschoolers learn
primarily through everyday life experiences--experiences that they choose and that
therefore automatically match their abilities, interests, and learning styles (Wheatley,
2009). It is estimated that approximately two million children are being homeschooled in
the United States today (Lewin, 2011; National Center for Education Statistics, 2008).
There is no way to know for sure how many of these are unschoolers, as official counts
do not distinguish unschoolers from other homeschoolers. However, based on their
prevalence at homeschooling conventions and estimates from people familiar with
homeschooling generally (e.g. Farenga, personal communication, July 11, 2012), our best
guess is that roughly 10% of homeschoolers would identify themselves as unschoolers,
and that percentage seems to be growing over time.
It is difficult to define unschooling formally, as the practice is, by nature,
informal. John Holt, who coined the term unschooling and popularized this form of
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education beginning in the 1960’s, believed that “children want to learn about the world,
are good at it, and can be trusted to do it without much adult coercion or interference”
(1977, p.1). Sandra Dodd, who unschooled her own children and frequently writes and
speaks about unschooling, defines it as “creating and maintaining an environment in
which natural learning can flourish”. Many unschoolers see unschooling as a lifestyle
rather than a philosophy of education. Kirschner (2008) explains that unschooling parents
tend to facilitate self-regulation, self-understanding, and intrinsic motivation in their
children. Also, she writes, “these parents treat their children’s’ activities as intrinsically
valuable and therefore private; most unschoolers consider evaluation – whether in the
form of adult commentary or standardized testing – as disruptive to learning” (2008,
p.44).
Recent publicity by the mainstream media has helped to spread the word about
unschooling (Fuller, 2011; Wilson, 2011), and the general public has not been shy about
offering their opinions. Many people seem intrigued; others doubt that children are
competent to direct their own education. Because many people have never encountered a
homeschooled child and few have encountered an unschooled child,
the media plays a big role in the popular perception of homeschoolers and unschoolers,
and that perception may be quite distorted (Houseman, 2011). In a qualitative
analysis, David Cameron Houseman (2011) found that homeschoolers and unschoolers
were commonly portrayed in films and television clips as having paranoid, controlling
parents or as being “nerdy know-it-alls” basking in their self-proclaimed genius.
Although mainstream media have shown some interest in the unschooling
movement, there has been a conspicuous lack of academic research on unschooling. A
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literature search brought up only a handful of qualitative explorations, theses, and
dissertations. Martin-Chang, Gould, and Meuse (2011) discuss the difficulty of gaining
access to those within the unschooling community, given their ‘self-contained’ structure
and philosophical hesitancy to be involved in research.
Donna Kirschner’s (2008) doctoral research in anthropology is one of the few
studies specifically centering on the unschooling movement. In her qualitative,
ethnographic study, Kirschner spent a significant amount of time with 22 unschooling
families, 5 of whom she studied for five years, allowing her access to those who lived an
authentic unschooling lifestyle. This lifestyle commonly included a history of attachment
parenting, volunteerism, and creating and participating in online and in-person
unschooling meetings and conferences. Living an unschooling lifestyle also entailed
challenges, according to Kirschner, including the challenges, for both children and adults,
of dealing with societal pressures to conform to a more traditional lifestyle. These
pressures came from inside and outside the family network, and to some degree from
state education laws and regulations. Despite the challenges, most of Kirschner’s research
highlighted the benefits of unschooling, including the freedom unschooling families felt
in their lives and the “real-world learning” that happened every day.
The purpose of our study was to survey a relatively large sample of unschooling
families to learn how they define unschooling, why they chose the unschooling path, and
what they perceive to be the main challenges and benefits of this path.
Methodology
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In September of 2011, one of us (Peter Gray) gained access to those within the
unschooling community through his blog called “Freedom to Learn” at the Psychology
Today website. He posted an essay introducing readers to the unschooling movement and
invited unschoolers to participate in a survey focused on their experiences. The survey
form and information about how to respond was also posted on Pat Farenga’s Learning
without Schooling website (patfarenga.com) and Jan Hunt’s Natural Child Project
website (naturalchild.org). The survey asked for basic demographic data, as well as the
history of schooling, homeschooling, and unschooling for each child in the family. The
survey then asked respondents to define unschooling as it was practiced in their home, to
describe the path that led them to unschooling, and to describe the biggest challenges and
benefits of unschooling for their families. The specific wording of the relevant survey
questions will be given within the results sections of this paper.
Demographics of Those Who Responded
A total of 255 self-identified unschooling families responded to the survey, by
emailing completed forms to Peter Gray, all of them providing informed consent on
behalf of all members of the family. In 23 of these families, the oldest child had not
reached school age (5.0 years), and we chose not to include those families in our
analyses, which left us with 232 families. A majority (80.1%) of the respondents resided
in the United States. Thirty-four states in the United States were represented; those with
the largest number of respondents were California (23 families), New York (14 families),
Oregon (13 families) and New Jersey (10 families). Nineteen families lived in Canada,
and 26 in other countries, including Austrailia, Costa Rica, France, Finland, Hong Kong,
India, Ireland, Israel, Puerto Rico, and the UAE.
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Of the individuals who filled out the questionnaire, 221 (95.2%) were mothers, 9
were fathers, and 2 were unschooled young adults writing about their family of origin.
Two hundred and ten (90.5%) of the respondents identified themselves as married and/or
living with a significant other. Twenty two (21 females, 1 male) identified themselves as
not married or not living with a significant other. Regarding number of children in the
family, 21.6% had one child, 44.8 % had two children, and 33.6% had more than three
children.
Participants were asked (in Question 3 of the survey): “What is your main
employment? Does that employment generate income, and does it take place primarily at
home or away from home? If you have a spouse or other domestic partner in your family
who is also a parent or guardian to the children, please also answer these questions for
that person.
In answer to that question, roughly half of the respondents identified themselves
as primarily stay-at-home moms (many of whom also mentioned part-time jobs). This
was not surprising, as it takes time and energy to unschool. Overall, the responses
concerning employment of both mothers and fathers, made it clear that these families
represented a wide range in terms of socioeconomic strata. Many parents identified
themselves as professionals of one type or another; others defined themselves as self-
employed entrepreneurs, or as blue-collar workers. The great majority of the fathers in
the survey were employed full time.
The Spectrum of Unschooling
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People who identify themselves as unschoolers vary, to at least some degree, in
their educational practices. In the blog essay announcing the survey, unschooling was
described as follows: Unschoolers 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, they do not require their children to do
particular assignments for the purpose of education, and they 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 also, in various ways, provide an environmental context and
environmental support for the child's learning. Life and learning do not occur in a
vacuum; they occur in the context of a cultural environment, and unschooling parents
help define and bring the child into contact with that environment.
As Question 5 of the survey, we asked: “Please describe briefly how your family
defines unschooling. What if any responsibility do you, as parent(s), assume for the
education of your children?” We coded these descriptions into three categories according
to the degree to which they emphasized the role of the parents as compared to that of the
children themselves in the children’s education. The coding was based on our
interpretation of the descriptions the respondents gave us, and we cannot judge to what
degree they reflect differences in their actual unschooling practices.
We labeled as D0 those descriptions that placed all or almost all of the emphasis
on the role of the child in directing his or her education. Unschooling parents within this
category, according to their own descriptions, did not deliberately attempt to motivate,
guide, direct, or monitor their child’s learning; any involvement in that learning was at
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the child’s request. One hundred and one families (43.5% of the total) received this code.
These families emphasized the child’s freedom as a central concept to unschooling. For
example, one parent in this category stated: For us, unschooling is self-directed,
interest-driven, freedom-based learning all the time. We do not use curriculum, nor do
we have certain days or hours where we schedule learning. We are learning as we live.
We view learning as a natural part of humanity, and we believe that learning is naturally
joyful and desirable. We value a spirit of wonder, play, and meaningful connections with
others. We seek to experience ‘education’ as a meaningful, experiential, explorative,
joyful, passionate life.
By our coding, 96 (41.4%) of the responses fell into category D1. These differed
from D0 only in that they made some mention of deliberate parental roles in guiding or
motivating the children's education. Respondents in this category also often mentioned
some deliberate attention to nurturing a child’s interests. As illustration, one in this
category wrote: "We define unschooling as creating an enriching environment for our
children where natural learning and passions can flourish. We want our life to be about
connection—to each other, to our interests and passions, to a joyful life together….As a
parent, I am my children's experienced partner and guide and I help them to gain access
to materials and people that they might not otherwise have access to. I introduce them to
things, places, people that I think might be interesting to them, but I do not push them or
feel rejected or discouraged if they do not find it interesting...."
Finally, 35 (15.1%) of the responses fell into Category D2. These were responses
that seemed to occupy a borderline between unschooling and what is often called
“relaxed homeschooling.” The parents in these cases seemed to have at least some
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relatively specific educational goals in mind for their children and seemed to work
deliberately toward achieving those goals. For example, one parent wrote: "We believe
that, for the most part, our daughter should be encouraged to explore subjects that are of
interest to her, and it is our responsibility as parents to make learning opportunities
available to her... I usually ask her to learn something or do something new or
educational every day (and I explain to her why learning something new every day is
such a cool thing to do!)."
Paths to Unschooling
Question 6 of our survey asked families to discuss what paths drew them to
unschooling. Specifically, we asked: “Please describe the path by which your family
came to the unschooling philosophy you now practice. In particular: (a) Did any
specific school experiences of one or more of your children play a role? If so, briefly
describe those experiences. (b) Did any particular author or authors play a role? If so,
please name the author or authors and what most appealed to you about their
writing. (c) Did you try homeschooling before unschooling? If so, what led you from one
to the other?”
In response to Question 6a, 101 families (43.5% of the total) indicated that at least
one of their children attended school prior to starting unschooling and that the child's
experiences at school led them to remove the child from school. In their explanations, 38
of these families referred specifically to the rigidity of the school's rules or the
authoritarian nature of the classroom as reason for removing the child. For example, one
parent stated: "We were increasingly frustrated by the way things were taught to the kids.
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One example: kids who understood things quickly in math still had to go through the
tedious process of 'showing their work' even if they could figure it out in their heads.
Thirty-two referred to the wasted time, the paltry amount of learning that occurred,
and/or to the child's boredom, loss of curiosity, or declining interest in learning. These
families seemed to resent the amount of busy work and/or homework given in schools
and commonly felt that their child’s love of learning and intrinsic passion was
disappearing because of school. Thirty-two respondents referred specifically to their
child's unhappiness, anxiety, or condition of being bullied at school. One parent described
her daughter’s unhappiness as follows: "My older daughter was having test anxiety (it
was the first year that No Child Left Behind was implemented), wasn't eating at
lunchtime, was overcome by the noise and smells, and was distracted in the classroom.
My younger daughter was bored and beginning to refuse to participate in classroom
activities…. Things finally got to the breaking point and I pulled them out without having
a plan, but knowing I could definitely do better than the school. I was done sending them
someplace that made them so sad and created so much tension in our family."
For many families, the transition from traditional schooling to unschooling was
gradual, often starting with structured homeschooling using a prepackaged or state-
supplied curriculum. In response to Question 6c of the survey, 110 families (47.4%)
reported trying homeschooling before unschooling. As reasons for shifting to
unschooling, they commonly reported that their children resisted the structured
curriculum, that it was causing tension in the family, and/or that their children were
learning much more on their own than through the structured curriculum, so the
curriculum was unnecessary. For example, one parent reported: "We tried 'school at
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home' and it was a big flop; we were taking the problems that my son had at public
school and were just changing the location. We tried a number of different styles of
curriculum and they just didn't feel right. He and I were both happiest when I just let him
be. In the meantime I was researching all I could on different ways to homeschool and
each time I read about unschooling I thought, 'That would work for him, I just know it
would.' I was afraid to trust, though, so we muddled through pretending to homeschool.
When my younger two children taught themselves to read, I had the ah-ha moment and
said, 'Hey it really can work.'"
In response to Question 6b, the majority of respondents said that a particular
author or authors did play a role in their decision to unschool. Not surprisingly, the
author most often mentioned, by far, was John Holt (named by 127 respondents). Holt
was a former teacher who went on to condemn forced schooling and promote self-
directed education in books such as How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn
(1967). Holt also coined the term unschooling and founded the first magazine devoted to
it--Growing Without Schooling. Holt's work continues to be carried on by Holt
Associates, led by Pat Farenga. The next most frequently mentioned author was John
Taylor Gatto (named by 52 respondents), a former New York State Teacher of the Year
who left teaching because he was convinced that compulsory schools, no matter how one
taught within them, were doing more harm than good. Gatto went on to write, among
other things, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
(1992); A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling (2000);
and Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of
Compulsory Schooling (2001). The third most often mentioned was Sandra Dodd (named
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by 39 respondents), who maintains a very active website devoted to unschooling and
parenting, is author of The Big Book of Unschooling (2009), and promotes a version of
unschooling called "radical unschooling." Other authors mentioned by at least 9
respondents were Alfie Kohn, Grace Llewellen, Mary Griffith, Dayna Martin, Naomi
Aldort, Ivan Illich, Jeanne Leidloff, Raymond & Dorothy Moore, Jan Hunt, Pat Farenga,
Joyce Fetteroll, Rue Kream, and Susan Wise Bauer. In addition to mentioning specific
authors, many mentioned that unschooling websites, conferences, or lectures played a
role in their decision. Many also mentioned the role of friends or acquaintances who
were unschooling their children.
Eighty-six (37.1%) of the families indicated that they chose unschooling right
from the beginning, with no initial period of in-home or out-of-home school. Some of
these families said that they had made their decision even before they had any children,
on the basis of their overall philosophy of life. At least a third of the 86 mentioned that
their experiences parenting their young children, before school age, played a role in their
decision to unschool. Many of these respondents had been practicing "attachment" or
"natural" parenting, and the decision to unschool seemed to follow naturally from that.
For example, one mother wrote: "My first child was a very high need infant, as Dr.
William Sears calls babies who want to be in arms constantly. I learned to respond to her
cues from day one and it was hard at first, giving up my old life! I learned about
attachment parenting and implemented that brilliant idea into my life and followed her
lead since. My home births for babies 2 and 3 propelled me with strength that I could
also take control of my children's education, or really we could do it together, with them
leading the way and me there to support them."
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Seventy-four (31.9%) of the respondents mentioned that their own negative
school experiences influenced their decision to unschool their children. One parent
stated, "My own school experiences probably played a role. I discovered during my
college experience that all of my schooling previous to college was completely
unnecessary and a waste of time. ... My K-12 experience was the unhappiest time of my
life." Some of the unschooling parents had been teachers or school counselors and made
their decision based on those experiences. One in this category wrote, "My husband was
teaching in a small high school… by the time our oldest reached school age. I think the
experience of dealing with kids who did not fit the system really opened his eyes. It
pained him that so many students had simply given up all enthusiasm for learning at that
point in their lives. The kids had either learned to jump through the hoops or had
completely stopped trying, but there was very little real passion for learning left in them."
And so, the people who responded to our questionnaire came to unschooling by
many routes. Most often, it seems, the decision came from some combination of (a) a
philosophy of life emphasizing the value of freedom and respect for individual
differences; (b) observations of their children's learning and emotional experiences both
inside and outside of schooling; (c) reflections on their own negative school experiences;
and (d) knowledge gained from writers, speakers, websites, and the experiences of other
unschooling families.
The Challenges of Unschooling
Question 7 of the survey asked, “What, for your family, have been the biggest
challenges or hurdles to surmount in unschooling?” After reading through the responses
several times we concluded that the main categories of challenges expressed were (a)
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feelings of social pressure or criticism concerning the decision to unschool; (b) difficulty
on the part of one or both parents in ridding themselves of their own culturally-ingrained
beliefs about the value of school or curriculum; (c) practical issues concerning time,
career, and income; (d) difficulty arranging opportunities for their children to socialize
with others; and (e) legal issues associated with unschooling.
It’s difficult to go against cultural and societal norms. It is especially difficult if
relatives and those around you don’t seem to understand or support what you are doing.
The most frequently described challenge, noted by 101 (43.5%) of respondents, was that
of overcoming Social Pressures. These respondents wrote about negative judgments or
criticisms from others (from family, friends, relatives, and even strangers) and the
perceived need to continuously justify the unschooling choice to others. Many
unschoolers met the challenge partly by forming in-person and online communities,
conferences, and conventions to provide one another with social support as well as
information,.
The second most cited category under challenges was one we labeled
“Deschooling of the Parent’s Mind”—a parent’s need to overcome her or his own
culturally-ingrained notions regarding the value of traditional schooling. Ninety-six
families (41.4%) cited this challenge, which they sometimes described as an internal
conflict between their unschooling philosophy and old voices in their heads that argued
the opposite. Many respondents cited challenges in both this category and the Social
Pressure category, and some pointed to a link between the two. Others' criticisms would
sometimes reawaken old, socially normative ways of thinking and raise again the fears
that unschooling parents thought they had overcome, even when they could see that
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unschooling was working very well for their children. These fears could lead the parent
to begin trying to direct and control their children’s learning, which, if unchecked, would
defeat the unschooling practice.
Other challenges appeared in smaller numbers. Forty-five families were
categorized under the Time/Career/Income code, as they mentioned that a challenge of
unschooling was the amount of time it took away from self, career, or the opportunity to
provide additional income. Trouble Finding Friends was also mentioned by forty-five
families. It can be difficult for unschooling parents and children alike to find individuals
who share interests and/or a common philosophy. Legal Issues (problems deriving from
laws or regulations that make unschooling illegal or difficult to practice) were cited by 15
families. In the United States, each state has its own regulations regarding home
education, and some states’ regulations are stricter than others. Although Legal Issues
were cited by only 5% of families in North America, they were cited by 33% (5 out of
15) who resided in Europe and by 75% (3 out of 4) who resided in France.
The Benefits of Unschooling
The final question (Question 8) of the survey asked, “What, for your family, have
been the biggest benefits of unschooling?Not surprisingly, the benefits, as perceived by
our respondents, far outweighed the challenges. Far more words and passion appeared in
the responses about benefits than in those about challenges. The benefits described
included those specifically for the children, for the parents, and for the family structure as
a whole. Based on our reading and coding of the responses, we identified the following
as the main categories of benefits:
One hundred thirty three (57.3%) of the respondents described advantages of
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unschooling for their children’s learning. They perceived their children as learning more
efficiently and eagerly, and learning more life-relevant material, than they would if they
were in school. For example, one parent wrote, “The children can delve deeper into
subjects that matter to them, spend longer on topics that interest them. . . . The children
can participate in the real world, learn real life skills, converse with people of all ages.”
Many in this category also said that their children maintained a higher level of curiosity
and greater intrinsic interest in learning than would be the case if they were in school or
being schooled at home. One hundred twenty one (52.1%) of respondents mentioned the
emotional and social advantages they felt that unschooling gave their children. They said
that their children were happier, less stressed, more self-confident, more agreeable,
and/or more socially outgoing than they would be if they were in school or being
schooled at home. These responses contradict the common belief that children not in
school would fail to learn to get along well with others, outside the family. The
respondents felt that their children had a social advantage, not disadvantage, because they
were regularly in contact with individuals of all ages and from different backgrounds, in
the larger community as well as at home, instead of being in a classroom filled with
same-age peers.
One hundred and thirty two (57%) of the respondents mentioned Family
Closeness as a major benefit of unschooling. Parents reported greater closeness with their
children and improved sibling relationships. In the words of one parent, “Hands down,
the relationship with our kids has flourished. We have never gone through the typical
teen angst or rebellion so often touted as normal. I don't think it is. If you build up your
family life where members work together and help one another, where the focus is on
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happy learning, it's hard NOT to get along and enjoy each other's company! Schools
have an insidious way of pitting parents against kids and eroding the relationship that
could flourish outside of that environment. When kids, and all people really, can relax
and enjoy life and learn and pursue interests, they are happy. When people are happy,
they get along better, they work together and inspire one another, learn from one another
and grow stronger and healthier. All of that has spilled over into marriage life and all
family relationships, including siblings. I knew without a doubt that the learning would
happen and that it would be amazing! I didn't expect the stark difference in our
relationship with our kids, as compared to what I thought it should be like by what I saw
in other families with kids in school."
Eighty-four (36.2%) of the respondents mentioned a benefit that we coded as
Family Freedom of Schedule. Unschooled families are not fettered by the traditional
school schedule, of waking up early to catch the bus each school day and traveling as a
family only on school holidays. Instead, they can follow their natural rhythms to create
schedules that fit each individual and the family as a whole. One respondent in this
category wrote, "Enjoying a family-centered life rather than an institution-centered life
has been the biggest benefit of unschooling. Our late riser can rise late and our early
morning lover can get up early. We don't need to wrap our lives around the schedule of a
school. Our kids learn all the time, instead of being trained to learn one subject at a time
in 50-minute increments bookended by bells. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time
and place where we enjoy the free life of unschooling."
Discussion
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In summary, unschoolers vary in form and technique. For some families, unschooling is a
form of “relaxed homeschooling”. For others, it is completely child led and created.
Families come to unschooling from many different paths. Negative experiences with
traditional forms of schooling played a role for some. Some came to unschooling after a
period of more formal homeschooling. Books, conferences, and web communities were
mentioned by most when discussing their path to unschooling. These varied forms of
media provided information and support for those considering unschooling as well as for
those who had already made the decision to unschool.
The feeling of social pressure or criticism was the most often reported challenge
to living an unschooling lifestyle. Many families felt pressure from neighbors, extended
family, friends, strangers, and even from culturally-ingrained voices in their own minds.
However, they resisted such pressure because of their perceptions of the benefits of
unschooling. The reported benefits included, for the children, improved learning,
improved attitudes about learning, and improved social and emotional wellbeing; and, for
the whole family, greater closeness, harmony, and freedom.
Although “Finding Friends” was an issue for some of the families, most of them
felt that unschooling was beneficial for their children’s social development. A
misconception surrounding those educated at home is that they have no friends and are
socially awkward. In fact, the participants in this study generally reported that their
children were happier, more agreeable, or more socially outgoing than they would be if
they were traditionally schooled.
Unschooling apparently works very well for the families who responded to our
survey. A caveat, however, is that the respondents are a self-selected sample who found
Journal(of(Unschooling(and(Alternative(Learning(2013(Vol.(7(Issue(14.(
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the survey on the Internet or heard about it from others and chose to respond to it, not a
random sample of all families who have tried unschooling. It is possible that these are
among the more enthusiastic and successful unschoolers. At present, however, there is
no way to locate a random or normative sample of unschoolers, as there is no official list
of them. If we were to conduct a survey at a conference of unschoolers, we would have
the same problems; those who attend such conferences are not a random sample. We
can, with some confidence, however, say that our survey tells us about the views and
experiences of a large group of unschooling families who enjoy this path and (at least at
the time of the survey) have stuck with it.
Another limitation of the study derives from the open-ended nature of the survey
questions. The survey instructions asked respondents to be succinct in their answers.
Specifically, the instructions included the following sentences: I"realize"that"some"of"
the"questions"below"could"produce"very"long"answers,"even"books.""However,"I"am"
asking"for"relatively"short"answers,"which"just"hit"on"the"main"points,"without"great"
detail."But"don’t"hesitate"to"provide"those"details"that"you"feel"are"needed"to"make"your"
main"point(s)"clear.” Because of the open-ended form of the questions and the
instructions to be succinct, the percentage of respondents who described a certain type of
challenge or benefit almost certainly underestimates the percentage who would agree to
that challenge or benefit if it appeared in a list on the survey form and the task was to
check “yes” or “no” as to whether it applied to them or not. The percentages are still
useful, however, in showing the relative weight that the respondents gave to various
categories of challenges and benefits. It is quite significant, for example, that many
The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According to 232 Families Who Have
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respondents cited social pressures as a major challenge and far fewer cited time or money
problems, or meeting legal requirements.
A third limitation is that this was a survey of unschooling parents (mostly
mothers), not of the unschooled children. Although some the respondents made it clear
that they consulted with their children in answering the questions, we do not know to
what degree the children’s answers, overall, would be similar to those of their parents.
For example, would the children claim to value the increased time with their parents as
much as the parents claimed to value the increased time with their children? In the
future, it would be valuable to conduct a systematic study of unschooled children’s views
of the advantages and disadvantages of unschooling.
A big question relevant to parents, teachers, and administrators who wish to
assess unschooling is, “What becomes of unschooled graduates (or ungraduates)?” To
date, there has been no systematic outcome study of unschoolers, but some research has
been done on homeschool outcomes. We do know that although not all homeschooled
students choose to go to college, those who do are typically judged as very well prepared
(Cogan, 2010; Greene & Greene, 2007; Lattibeaudiere, 2000). A number of colleges and
universities, including many of the most elite schools, actively recruit homeschooled
students (Cooper & Sureau, 2007). Sorey and Duggan (2008) reported that 100% of
community college admissions officers in their survey believed that homeschooled
students would be as successful academically as students who attended a traditional high
school. A dissertation that focused on the academic success of homeschooled students
enrolled in a South Carolina technical college found that such students “compared
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favorably to their traditionally educated peers” (Bagwell, 2010, p. 122). Comparable
follow-up studies on unschooled students are yet to be done.
Although systematic research examining outcomes for unschoolers is lacking,
many unschooled young adults have been actively documenting their experiences through
blogs, videos, and social media platforms. Kate Fridkis, a writer and unschooled young
adult, writes a blog about body image called Eat The Damn Cake and another about
unschooling called Skipping School. Peter Kowalke, an unschooled adult, is a writer and
documentary filmmaker best known for his writings and speeches on homeschooling and
unschooling. And Idzie Desmarais, a twenty-year-old unschooler, has documented her
experiences in a blog called “I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write”.
In a Master’s thesis on media use that focused on five unschooling families,
Bertozzi (2006) wrote, “If the criterion is happy children who grow into self motivated
people with a love of learning – well then, yes, unschooling does work” (p.16). In
unschooling there is no worry about test scores or grades. Instead, unschooling parents’
main concern seems to be that of raising healthy, happy, responsible, intrinsically
motivated children. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that unschooling is a
solution to all problems. One parent reminded us that "Unschooling is not a panacea that
prevents all unhappiness or difficulty; it's important not to oversimplify or romanticize
this. Our daughters have had problems and struggles like all teenagers do in our society.
They are extremely smart and well educated, but I think that would be true if they had
gone to school. I think the biggest difference is that they know themselves better than we
did at their age. They may be a little closer to their true path in life. That was certainly
our hope, and if it turns out to be true, it's worth a lot."
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Maybe the key ingredient to an unschooling education is time, for parents and
children alike; time to explore, think, and make one’s own decisions. In our time-starved
society, where everyone is rushing from one responsibility or activity to another, time
becomes an important commodity. For unschoolers, how to spend time is the biggest
question of each day, and learning to make that choice in satisfying ways may be the
biggest lesson learned. As one of our respondents wrote, “The freedom from school and
its expectations, the freedom to be, to live, has been liberating for all of us."
Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, has conducted and
published research in neuroendocrinology, animal behavior, developmental psychology,
anthropology, and education. He is author of Psychology (Worth Publishers), a college
textbook now in its 6th edition. Most of his recent research and writing has to do with
the value of free, unsupervised play for children’s healthy social, emotional, and
intellectual development. He has expanded on these ideas extensively, for the general
public, in a blog that he write for Psychology Today magazine entitled Freedom to Learn
< www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn> and in his recently-published book,
Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier,
More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic books, 2013) <
http://www.freetolearnbook.com>.
Email: grayp@bc.edu
Gina Riley, Ph.D. is an educational psychologist who teaches graduate and
undergraduate courses in Psychology, School Psychology, Counseling, and Special
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Education at Hunter College in Manhattan and Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New
York. Her master's thesis and doctoral dissertation both focused on measures of self-
determination and intrinsic motivation in homeschoolers. Dr. Riley’s current research
interests include clinical child neuropsychology, homeschooling and unschooling,
intrinsic motivation in education, and the study of learning disabilities. She also holds
several certificates in online education, distance learning, and educational technology.
Email:professorginariley@gmail.com
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1(A(preliminary(version(of(this(report(was(presented(in(postings(on(Peter(Gray’s(
Psychology"Today(blog,(at(http://www.psychologytoday.com/(on(Feb.(28,(March(26,(
and(April(11,(2012.(
... My children's experiences to the lockdown, however, differed from those of traditionally schooled children. My family practices unschooling, a form of homeschooling which eschews curricula, assessment, and prescription in favor of self-directed education and experiential learning (Gray & Riley, 2013;English, 2020). This article was inspired by the initial observation that my children's responses differed from the other participants. ...
... This article was inspired by the initial observation that my children's responses differed from the other participants. My family practices unschooling, a form of homeschooling which eschews curricula, assessment, and prescription in favor of self-directed education and experiential learning (English, 2019;Gray & Riley, 2013). As unschoolers, New Zealand's Covid-19 lockdown did not disrupt my children's daily lives in the same manner as the participating children who were enrolled in traditional schools. ...
... Unschoolers in Grunzke's (2010) study also tended to pursue thrifty lifestyles given the reduction in income that corresponds with at least one parent being home full-time. While unschooling is often stereotyped as lifestyle choice that is only available to the wealthy (Gray & Riley, 2013;Riley, 2020), my family's status as non-residents of New Zealand made unschooling a more economical educational option, as nonresident school fees start at $11,000 per child per annum (New Zealand Education, 2021). ...
Article
Full-text available
This article presents a qualitative study in which families recorded themselves reading a child-friendly book about a bear in lockdown and combines ethnographic and autoethnographic methods to examine the reactions of home educated and traditionally schooled children during Aotearoa New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdowns. This research theorizes data sourced from family reading sessions through the writings of Philippine psychologist Virgilio Enriquez and the indigenous Philippine concepts of kalayaan (relational autonomy), katarungan (justice), karangalan (self-respect) and kapwa (shared inner identity). In so doing, it looks to subjugated knowledge, home education, and children themselves to consider the epistemological and ontological possibilities intimated in interactions rooted in a heightened sense of responsibility and care.
... In terms of methods, half are single-case studies and qualitative or mixed research design with ten participants or less; the other half of the corpus is made up of research conducted via online questionnaires with convenience samples, analyses of online conversations and interviews, discussion groups, and ethnographic or mixed research design, with more than 10 and fewer than 100 participants, except for a study by Gray and Riley (2013) that numbered 232 respondents. Six studies were master's or doctoral theses. ...
... Unschooling parents consider their children to be the first evaluators of their work (Curtice, 2014;Gray & Riley, 2013;Kirschner, 2008). They say they accept error and failure, as childhood is perceived as the best time to experience them (Curtice, 2014). ...
... Skills development is one of the main educational objectives of these parents, who value the ability to solve problems, with a view to self-actualization, and learning by direct experience, rather than preparation for future life (Kirschner, 2008). They believe that learning takes place at all times, through any experience (Curtice, 2014;Gray & Riley, 2013;Kirschner, 2008). They value a relinquishing of parental control, joy in family life, connection between parents and children, children's rights, and trust in children (O'Hare & Coyne, 2020). ...
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.
... It is typically framed as a radical 'disrupter' method that cultivates freedom and self-determination in the learner, unknowingly. As Gray and Riley (2013) illustrate: ...
... The authors use Self-Determination and Cognitive Evaluation Theory to explain how the conditions of: 1) competence, 2) autonomy and 3) relatedness lead to the self-reported mastery and confidence in unschooled young people (Riley, 2016;Riley & Gray, 2013). In this approach, parents are facilitators who provide learners with 'autonomy support'. ...
... In invisible pedagogies, what others have called 'autonomy support' (Riley, 2016;Riley & Gray, 2013), was mediated through what can be interpreted as a tacit and subtle form of control. This was evident in how parents described 'planting seeds' or 'leaving a trail' via the intentional arrangement of artefacts and everyday objects in and around the home for their children to accidentally notice. ...
Article
Home-schooling, or ‘elective home education’ (EHE) as it is more commonly known in the UK, invites contestation and controversies. Drawing on a UK-wide study of 242 families this paper explores a collection of EHE pedagogic practices within the socially situated contexts of doing everyday life. Through an application of Bernsteinian ideas, the findings surface some of the ways in which invisible pedagogies afforded children greater autonomy over the sequence and pace over their learning. It also considers how community development has helped some parents to harness the forms of capital which extend and remake new structures to strengthen the transmission of their social values. Contrary to the messages of EHE advocates, it shows that approaches inspired by unschooling are not devoid of power and control altogether. In considering the experiences of children and young people, the findings highlight the relative challenges and opportunities of transitioning from invisible pedagogies to formal qualifications in a context where access to public examinations can be difficult to achieve. Considering the tensions that these pedagogies reveal in the socialisation towards individualism, the author suggests solutions for questioning, challenging and bridging divides.
... This is in addition to the fact that the students utilising self-directed learning options need to adjust to and pay attention to achieving their learning objectives. According to Gray and Riley (2013) having investigated 232 families that were unschooling their children, they identified the following challenges of unschooling: ...
Book
Full-text available
What is tagged ‘a good afternoon conversation’ among African scholars at Charles Darwin University (CDU), Northern Territory, Australia has metamorphosed into a treatise for public consumption, especially for intellectuals and those individuals with a sense of curiosity about happenings in epistemological space in African education. This book titled ‘African Education and Diaspora Studies’ is a compilation of some outstanding papers presented at the 2019 African - Australian Education and Health Nexus at Charles Darwin University (CDU), Northern Territory, Australia. It presents some scholarly writing from interdisciplinary perspectives. The chapters are well structured and presented in a sequential order to make it more stimulating for our readers to understand issues and perspectives in African education. Readers would get to enjoy topical issues around philosophy, African and Western education, gender, linguistics, culture, policy and diaspora discourse.
... In research conducted by psychologists Gray & Riley (2013) on a sample of 232 families who practiced unschooling, they found out that as many as 83% of children continued their studies at universities and had no difficulty getting involved in classical education. ...
... A notable point of divergence between critical unschooling and Indigenous education is how each philosophy treats the notion of hierarchy. Unschoolers often argue that relationships between adults and children ought to be egalitarian, with children trusted to direct their learning while parents serve as mentors and guides rather than clear-cut authority figures (Gray and Riley 2013). Certain 'hierarchies' do, however, exist in Indigenous communities, as evidenced by the importance of land, environment, and ceremonial life through community. ...
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This article draws from autoethnography and historical analysis to examine how racialized people pursue educational justice, consent, inclusion, and enjoyment through non-hegemonic learning. A historical analysis of U.S. colonial education systems imposed upon Diné and Philippine peoples grounds a comparative study on two forms of anti-colonial pedagogy: Indigenous education and critical unschooling. These two lines of inquiry underpin autoethnographic analyses of our own experiences in non-hegemonic learning to offer direct insights into the process of experiential, and decolonial growth intimated in relational learning environments. Indigenous education and critical unschooling literature both affirm the notion that all learners are always already educators and students, regardless of their age, ability, or status. This notion reorients the processes and aspirations of education toward an understanding that everyone holds valuable knowledge and is inherently sovereign. These relational values link together to form systems of circular knowledge exchange that honour the gifts of all learners and create learning environments where every contribution is framed as vital to the whole of the community. This study shows that because these principles resonate in multiple sites of colonial contact across Philippine and Diné knowledge systems, through Indigenous education and critical unschooling, and in our own lived experiences, it is important to examine these resonant frequencies together as a syncretic whole and to consider how they can inform further subversions of hegemonic educational frameworks.
... (Holly) For Holly, the space created is separate from mainstream schooling, indicating an unschooling nature to the Forest School process, where children have the freedom to connect with others and their environment. Unschooling is considered an informal type of education offering hands on experience without much adult intervention, and benefits can include development of social skills (Gray & Riley, 2013). Unschooling and Forest Schools share similar thoughts on the need for space and autonomy in learning, with emphasis on learner freedom and self-motivation. ...
Article
Forest School provision is a growing phenomenon in the UK due to its perceived impact on participant learning and wellbeing. This study sought to understand the impact of Forest School provision on the social and emotional development of participants using practitioner's reflections. Semi-Structured interviews with six qualified Forest School Leaders explored practitioner experiences working with children and young people. A thematic analysis with a social-constructionist epistemology revealed three interrelated themes, which are inherent in the Forest School ethos. These themes show Forest Schools to be micro-communities constructed by participants. The study concluded that Forest School micro-communities are established by each Forest School that is formed. These micro-communities contribute to the social and emotional development of children and young people through the construction of a shared space, fostering a sense of community and a shared power paradigm between leaders and participants.
... It is a learner-centric model of education whereby children pursue their own interests, in the ways that they choose (Morrison 2016). Unschooling families do not use assessments or require particular assignments for the purpose of education, but instead are fully child-led (Gray & Riley 2013). Within unschooling falls world-schooling, free-range learning, life learning and radical unschoolingthe commonality between all the differing forms of unschooling being their fully child-directed learning approach (Morrison 2016). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
This study is currently the largest University affiliated Elective Home Education study conducted in the UK (as of August 2021). A commonly cited aspect of home education is that children may have less socialisation outside their own families and as such be less visible within society, particularly to professionals, than their counterparts who attend mainstream school. This research sought to establish how socially visible and engaged the home educated (HE) children of parents who use online home education support groups were. This was for the purpose of establishing whether there was any truth in this reported lack of socialisation and societal visibility or whether it was a stereotype. The nature of data sought was be qualitative, interpretative phenomenological analysis, so having considered multiple methods-online surveys were chosen as the most appropriate method. Had it not been conducted during a pandemic then case studies may have been used. The study found a highly engaged and visible community, with children attending a large variety of groups and venues, many of which would not be available to those outside the community. Participants’ children were also seen by a wide range of professionals and volunteers regularly, including Government employees. Themes emerged as to a lack of trust and regular visibility to Local Authority Elective Home Education teams due to poor communication and legal overreach. There was a reported lack of value exchange between Local Authority EHE staff and home educators. The overwhelming response to the research indicated that home educating parents were keen to contribute to academic research and to voice their views regarding visibility, socialisation and Local Government engagement. A lack of consistency between communication, expectations and engagement from Local Authorities and the Home Education community emerged.
Chapter
Homeschooling or home education is an alternative to a private and public schooling form of education that happens when parents take the primary responsibility for the education of their children (Chapman & O’Donoghue, 2000). This is to facilitate an appropriate learning and teaching environment for a school-aged child at home, rather than at school (Basham, Merrifield, & Hepburn, 2007). After the introduction of compulsory schooling laws in the 19th century, homeschooling became almost extinct (Ray, 2016). Before that, educating children at home was the natural practice in many countries (Basham, Merrifield, & Hepburn, 2007; Staroverova, 2011). In recent years the homeschooling movement has been experiencing a rebirth (Mayberry & Knowles, 1989; Arai, 1999; Jackson & Allan, 2010). The interest in homeschooling has also become evident in Kazakhstan (Atoyanc-Larina, 2015). However, the factors influencing the choice of parents to homeschool their children have not been adequately and sufficiently researched or documented. Why would parents like to take their children out of school and pursue different forms of homeschooling? It is important to explore this gap in the literature and to pose the following research question: Which factors influence parental choices for homeschooling as an alternative to private or public schools in Kazakhstan?
Article
Full-text available
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)
Article
For Katelin E. Dutill, high school began as soon as she woke up each day. During her senior year she would tackle her hardest courses first, while her 20-month-old sister was still asleep. That often meant taking a math or chemistry test and then turning to the teacher's manual to grade it, or logging on to her Advanced Placement macroeconomics course. Later she might read for her literature class while keeping one eye on her sister, or conduct Internet research for her paper on the historical accuracy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels. This fall Ms. Dutill, who has been home-schooled since kindergarten, is experiencing a classroom for the first time, as a freshman at Cornell University. She is one of thousands of home-schoolers entering colleges and universities around the country. The home-school movement, once considered the domain of religious fundamentalists and hemp-wearing hippies, is all grown up and going off to college. While exact numbers are hard to come by, recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Education place the home-schooled population at more than one million, or about 2 percent of the school-age population. As recently as 20 years ago, home schooling was illegal in many states. Today its students are edging toward the mainstream — and are eyed by some colleges as a promising niche market.
Article
Beyond Six Stars--A Manifesto For Liberty "Gatto draws on thirty years in the classroom and many years of research as a school reformer. He puts forth his thesis with a rhetorical style that is passionate, logical, and laden with examples and illustrations." ForeWord Magazine "Weapons of Mass Instruction is probably his best yet. Gatto's storytelling skill shines as he relates tales of real people who fled the school system and succeeded in spite of the popular wisdom that insists on diplomas, degrees and credentials. If you are just beginning to suspect there may be a problem with schooling (as opposed to educating as Gatto would say), then you'll not likely find a better expose of the problem than Weapons of Mass Instruction." Cathy Duffy Reviews In this book, the noisy gadfly of U.S. education takes up the question of damage done in the name of schooling. Again he touches on many of the same questions and finds the same answers. Gatto is a bold and compelling critic in a field defined by politic statements, and from the first pages of this book he takes even unwilling readers along with him. In Weapons of Mass Instruction, he speaks movingly to readers deepest desires for an education that taps their talents and frees frustrated ambitions. It is a challenging and extraordinary book that is a must read for anyone navigating their way through the school system. -Ria Julien -Winnipeg Free Press John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction focuses on mechanisms of familiar schooling that cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking, and create a false view of learning as a by-product of rote-memorization drills. Gatto's earlier book, Dumbing Us Down, put that now-famous expression of the title into common use worldwide. Weapons of Mass Instruction promises to add another chilling metaphor to the brief against schooling. Here is a demonstration that the harm school inflicts is quite rational and deliberate, following high-level political theories constructed by Plato, Calvin, Spinoza, Fichte, Darwin, Wundt, and others, which contend the term "education" is meaningless because humanity is strictly limited by necessities of biology, psychology, and theology. The real function of pedagogy is to render the common population manageable.
Article
Homeschooling has developed from a small, isolated, parent-led effort to a vibrant national movement to lobby for and legalize K-12 education at home in all 50 states. Although a majority of homeschool families are Evangelical Christians, the others come from a variety of religious and nonreligious backgrounds, giving homeschooling a broad national political and social base. Homeschool families have organized regional and national associations, gained children’s access to after-school and even during-school classes and activities in local public schools, and increasingly gained entry to college. About 1.35 million children in the country are being officially home-schooled, making it a vital and expanding form of private education and political force in U.S. society.
Article
An estimated 1.1 million students were homeschooled in the United States in spring 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (2006). This figure represents a sizeable increase from the homeschooling rate of 1.7 percent--or 850,000 students--in 1999. With the popularity of homeschooling strengthening, particularly homeschooling at the secondary level, the prevalence of homeschoolers attempting to enter higher education is escalating. Despite this trend, many college admission officers across the U.S. seem unprepared in evaluating these candidates for admission. This article describes an empirical research which provides a general overview of the collegiate performance of homeschoolers and highlights the perceptions of college and university staff members now serving this growing population. (Contains 3 tables.)
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In 2010, homeschooling was increasing in prevalence in the United States. Yet, little was known about the academic achievement of these students as they matriculated into colleges and universities. The purpose of this mixed methods sequential explanatory study was to examine the academic success achieved by the homeschooled population (N=273) and a sample of the traditionally educated students (N=273) who had enrolled in credit courses between the years of 2001 and 2008 at York Technical College, a comprehensive community college in South Carolina. In the quantitative phase of the study, academic success measures included COMPASS placement scores in writing, pre-algebra, algebra, college algebra, and reading and collegiate grade point averages for the 1st semester in college, math courses, science courses, English composition courses, and collegiate overall. In each measure except COMPASS college algebra, the homeschooled students had higher scores/GPAs and each of these differences were statistically significant with the exception of the COMPASS algebra scores. In the second phase, four homeschooled students and four traditionally educated students were selected from the enrolled population of the college and interviewed using a semi-structured methodology. The participants were selected to represent the diversity of both populations and to provide depth and context to the quantitative findings. Three themes emerged related to the preparation the participants received from their educational history: general preparation, math preparation, and social preparation. All participants felt their educational histories generally prepared them for college-level work, all of the participants felt their weakest area of preparation was mathematics, and all expressed thoughts related to their social preparation for college. Although there were similarities between the two populations in the thoughts expressed leading to the identification of the first two themes, there was more diversity between participants from the two groups related to social preparation. The findings from the quantitative and qualitative phases were integrated to offer a more complete analysis of the relative success of homeschooled students at York Technical College. This analysis has been interpreted to mean that homeschooled students compared favorably to their traditionally educated peers, but a possible area of concern was the mathematics preparation these students received prior to matriculating in college. This finding along with the theme of social preparation should be of particular interest to homeschooled students, their parents, and colleges that will enroll home-schooled matriculates. Advisor: Sheldon Stick
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This study examines how homeschooling, unschooling and alternative learners have been portrayed in five recent films and television programs. It also investigates whether the media are grounding their representations of these students and their parents in reality, or if it is disseminating harmful stereotypes that may have detrimental effects for those who choose to learn in this manner in real life.In the wake of numerous (and often misguided) school reform efforts across North America and much of the developed world, many students and their parents have become disillusioned with traditional forms of formal education and find themselves turning to homeschooling, unschooling and other methods of alternative learning that have gained steam and a great deal of credibility over the past decade (Lloyd, 2009). Lloyd (2009) notes that approximately 1.5 million students in the United States of America are homeschooled, with 10-15% of that number representing unschoolers. Homeschooling is a term with which most are familiar. It refers to children who receive their education at home rather than in the confines of a formal classroom. Unschooling, which can differ greatly from homeschooling, is a term used to classify a range of educational philosophies and practices predicated on allowing children to learn through life experience, play and social interaction without being forced to perform tasks by interfering adults (Ricci, 2009, p. 12). While these are two separate and competing educational philosophies, they have been lumped together for the purposes of this paper as the media texts used as the data sources for this study often blur the boundaries between these methods of learning. After a brief exploration of media culture and the ever increasing influence that television and films are having as socialization agents in the lives of youth and adults alike, this study will investigate how students who pursue alternative forms of learning are being represented in five films and television programs produced over the past decade. The images of their parents will also be investigated using a critical analysis approach in an effort to uncover any stereotypes or problematic assumptions embedded within each piece of media.
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Introduction: Rehoboth, the name of my hometown in southern Massachusetts, comes from the Hebrew work for "crossroads." Indeed there's not much in this rural town besides Route 44 and Route 118, with smatterings of horse farms and single-family homes. These two blue highways intersect at the town's only stoplight. A sign stands at this intersection at the center of town, in front of the Cumberland Farms convenience store, across the street from the new Dunkin Donuts. It reads: Rehoboth, MA: Birthplace of Public Education in North America. I'm a product of these schools, but in this thesis I explore the road not often traveled in education: unschooling, a type of homeschooling with unstructured, child-directed learning. Through an examination of the attitudes, beliefs and practices related to media and technology in the unschooling subculture, I come to a definition of participatory media.