When I first heard of unschooling, I was not part of some radical, anti-vaccination group of hippies. I was studying a Master of Teaching at University. Yes, in a teaching degree, I heard about unschooling. Not only did the course mention it, it was discussed in detail as a philosophy which could improve the current education model which continued to advocate for a cookie-cutter mentality to produce workers for jobs which are disappearing, and have been for a long time. The pandemic has only accelerated some of the decline for specific industries and has greatly improved accessibility to work from home, study from home and use technology for more of our daily lives.
But what is unschooling? It is not neglectful, it is not just uncaring about your children’s education and future. It’s a philosophy that connects to freedom. It is about overthrowing systemic marginalisation and oppression. It’s about intersectionality; the idea that those in minority groups are discriminated against and oppressed on multiple fronts. For us, this is disability specific but for others it is gender, skin colour, nationality etc.
What is unschooling? It’s about giving your children a childhood. It’s freedom and choice. Autonomy. It’s about acknowledging that children know a lot about what they want to do. It’s about recognising that coercing children to value education models from more than 100 years ago is probably not very progressive. It’s about stopping, pausing, reflecting on what you actually think is important for your children’s future.
For us, the wellbeing of our children comes before anything else. Going to school for a lot of autistic, PDA, etc etc neurodivergent children is incredibly difficult and often leads to severe mental health issues. Not always, but often. So, for us, that is more important than getting good grades or conforming.
Why is conforming valued? Mostly because when society values the same things, it functions well, but it isn’t the whole story. Society operates through a system of discipline in which every person watches others, their choices and behaviour and mimics it to stay part of the in group, to be a part of society and not be the odd one out, the weird one.
However, there is absolutely nothing written anywhere in the entire universe which states that being part of the in group actually matters. In fact, what psychologists and academics understand is that personal autonomy, agency and being able to make your own choices and be yourself are incredibly important to a person’s sense of self.
For as long as I can remember I valued all the wrong things. But then I had my children and realised that they were not going to fit into my narrow perspective of the rest of my life. So I could rail against it, or I could change. I could adopt a different way of thinking and meet their needs. Which ultimately meant that my own wellbeing was prioritised and I finally felt free to make my own choices.
That is what unschooling is. It’s about stepping back, it’s a thought process. It’s courage to say ‘that’s not for me’ and take a different path.