“Unschooling:” Less Factory, More Garden

schoolsucksUnschooling takes to heart the old maxim that one should never let one’s schooling interfere with one’s education. This article from CNN describes unschooling in a formal setting, but it is more commonly practiced as a form of home-school:

Six-year-old Karina Ricci doesn’t ever have a typical day. She has no schedule to follow, no lessons to complete.

She spends her time watching TV, doing arts and crafts or practicing the piano. She learned to spell by e-mailing with friends; she uses math concepts while cooking dinner.

Everything she knows has been absorbed “organically,” according to her dad, Dr. Carlo Ricci. She’s not just on summer break — this is her life year round as an at-home unschooler.

“It’s incredible how capable she is,” Ricci said in a phone interview from his home in Toronto, Ontario. “And I think that all young people are that capable … if you don’t tell them they can’t or they’re not allowed, they surprise us in a lot of ways.”

Ricci is professor of alternative learning at Nipissing University and an advocate of unschooling, a concept that’s gaining popularity in both Canada and the United States thanks to frustration with the current public education system. In unschooling the child is in control of his/her learning. They are free to decide what they want to study, when they want to study it.

Experts say there are about 2 million home-educated students in the U.S., and Ricci estimates 10% adhere to unschooling ideals. In addition, there are more than 20 Sudbury schools — private institutions that follow the same philosophy — in North America. Anew one is set to open in Toronto next fall.

The unschooling philosophy is based on education pioneer John Holt’s 1964 book “How Children Fail.” Put simply, Holt wrote that living is learning. He believed children should follow their innate curiosity and passions rather than being forced to learn hordes of information they will never use.

“I think our education system as a whole is, to me, in a very delicate and precarious place,” Sudbury Valley staff member Mimsy Sadofsky said. “It keeps trying to do what it can’t do, which is make every child learn everything in the whole wide world. It’s like heading toward a cliff.”

[Read on at CNN.com]

23 Comments on "“Unschooling:” Less Factory, More Garden"

  1. atlanticus | Sep 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm |

    Ever since I heard of un-schooling I felt so cheated, but it’s precisely what I want to do for my kid should I ever procreate.

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 28, 2013 at 8:12 pm |

      same. i liked the article except for the television aspect. film, yes. tv, no.

      • atlanticus | Sep 28, 2013 at 8:53 pm |

        I hadn’t noticed that, but I don’t watch TV myself, so I don’t imagine I’d get satellite just for the kid…but I have sometimes thought about what ages would be best to show certain films to potential progeny…

      • Anarchy Pony | Sep 28, 2013 at 11:19 pm |

        Watching actual television, with ads and all? Hell no. But there are some excellent series and dramas aired on television.

        • Jin The Ninja | Sep 29, 2013 at 8:22 am |

          agree! in MY mind i included: anime, bbc documentaries, good series, anything interesting and substantial really. just no actual sitting there watching with commericals etc. i want kids not consumers.

          • Anarchy Pony | Sep 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm |

            You know, I am simultaneously actually sort of intrigued at the possibility of seeing how early I could train a child to learn to deconstruct advertising and other propaganda and how quickly they could become immune to it.

          • Calypso_1 | Sep 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

            The daycare at my university system actively teaches this. They use ads from cereal boxes, toy commercials etc to show the kids how it makes them want things. Basic conditioning techniques – chaining & shaping, etc are used to insert blocks to conditioned stimuli & access to self-induced cognitive function instead of reaction.

          • Anarchy Pony | Sep 29, 2013 at 4:35 pm |

            How young are the kids?

          • Calypso_1 | Sep 29, 2013 at 4:41 pm |


          • Anarchy Pony | Sep 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm |

            And they’re showing success?

          • Calypso_1 | Sep 29, 2013 at 5:10 pm |

            Yes, but you have to realize that these kids are not representative of the general population. It has very limited placement & they are mostly kids of profs, docs, grad students etc. People get on the waiting list prenatally. The program is run by the dev psych & edu departments w/ lots of grad student involvement (so yes the children are lab rats). These kids will go on to Montessori & magnet schools & have exceptional parental support providing direction into other specialized educational institutions.

    • I want to do it, too.

      I got something similar from a private school I went to in middle school. In some ways, it was kind of a joke–you could goof off all you wanted, and your teachers would be like “You know, it’s really disruptive when you burn things down.” On the other, it gave me the space to do my own reading and pursue my own interests, and some of the experiential learning sticks with me to this day–I still like to look at pond water through a microscope. All in all, I think I got more from that school than I did from the standard education I received before and after.

  2. kcnickerson | Sep 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm |

    Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

  3. I don’t think the kind of New Age-y education put forth in the article would work for all personalities, abilities, or ages of children. Peer-matching and/or mentorship are better options if this route is to be followed.
    I highly recommend Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” to anyone interested by this article. The purpose of deinstitutionalizing schools should be deinstitutionalizing the world. It’s available free here, in text and audio:


    Some tastes:

    “Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”

    “School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age.”

  4. The Well Dressed Man | Sep 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm |

    public schools are fucked up. and yet i’m leery at the efficacy of home schooling. critical thought, the scientific method, and strong mathematical fundamentals seem to be in short supply. how many parents are really prepared to effectively tutor?

    • It’s definitely not for everyone…but if you can provide that to your kid, it’s worth thinking about.

    • My “homeschooled” (aka unschooled) sister, is 17 and has been paying for her own private tutor over the last year. She’s got a lot to learn, but nothing that 13th grade, aka community college won’t make her hungry for.

  5. InfvoCuernos | Sep 28, 2013 at 9:31 pm |

    Wait a second, if your kids don’t go to school, where will they say the daily pledge of allegiance? Who’s going to take down their reports against their family? How are they going to learn to manipulate the system and cheat? Next you’ll be allowing these children to chose their own career and where will we be with a society full of content, self educated people? Madness.

    • Charlie Primero | Sep 29, 2013 at 10:08 am |

      I agree I.C, this madness must stop. An orderly, well-functioning, eco-friendly society absolutely requires that children be programmed to obey authority, consume correctly, and submit to societal needs, especially children of the Delta, Epsilon, Vaishya, and Panchama classes.

  6. BuzzCoastin | Sep 29, 2013 at 12:38 am |

    school was a great idea
    about 500 years ago
    unfortunately it tenaciously holds on to its role as a pedagogue
    when its now only an impediment to learning & creativity
    at best

    • BuzzCoastin | Sep 29, 2013 at 12:40 am |

      All the world’s a stage,
      And all the men and women merely players:
      They have their exits and their entrances;
      And one man in his time plays many parts,
      His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
      Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
      And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
      And shining morning face, creeping like snail
      Unwillingly to school.

  7. if school had been more like disinfo i woulda turned up a hell of a lot more often.

  8. I was “homeschooled” but stopped receiving any form of education before I hit middle school. I taught myself how to use a camera, play instruments, use computer software, read tons of college level literature. I was scared to death of being an uneducated failure in my adult life. My own personal motivation and desire to “know” fueled me.

    I was told I wouldn’t have a job, or at least one worthy of a career. I was told I could never make it into college. I make more money now than most of my friends who went through the public education system. I have never flipped a burger for minimum wage in my life.

    I’m not going to knock public education, but I’m not going to accept the idea that a diploma means anything at all.

Comments are closed.