School is Bullshit: One Level Deeper, with the Unschoolers

In an earlier post, I described how learning about the existence free democratic education rocked me back on my heels and forced me to confront the possibility that coercive education is unnecessary and unjustified.

If you can just let kids play all day and only go to class if they feel like it, and the kids still turn out fine, what are we doing all this “formal education” stuff for?

But it got worse about a year ago, when I started learning about the Unschoolers. I first heard about this from an episode of wife-swap, where one of the families was a sort of hippy-ish, stay-at-home-dad-having family with two little girls who were ‘unschooled’. The swapped-in mom was appalled, and lobbied hard to get the girls some standardized testing. When I first saw it, I was on the appalled mom side. You don’t do school AT ALL with your kids? You just let them do whatever they want and answer their questions and maybe take them to some museums or something? That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, that would never work!

(“That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” has been a recurring theme with me as I delve into this stuff.)

Contrary to my expectations, it actually seems like it does pretty much work. I read Sandra Dodd’s The Big Book of Unchooling, and her website. Then I read some blogs of grown unschooled-kids. Although anecdote is the weakest form of data, it is still data. This data was enough to convince me that it’s at least possible to unschool your kid and still have them turn out well-adjusted, literate, educable, and intellectually curious.

One of the few studies (h/t SSC) conducted on unschool kids showed that while public school kids from the same income bracket and parental education level were above grade level, the unschooled kids were only at grade level.

Let me restate that. Without doing ANY SCHOOL AT ALL. EVER. you can still do only slightly worse than kids who’ve done YEARS of public school on school-based tests. Anecdotes from the unschooling community suggest that the kids who wanted to go to college caught up in a year or two and did at least as well in higher ed than their peers.

This is a very small amount of evidence, and it has numerous problems. (More on those later.) I’m not suggesting shuttering all the schools tomorrow. But it’s enough to convince me that the possibility exists that without any school whatsoever, kids can still have perfectly good academic and life outcomes. This possibility should strike terror into the hearts of the entire formal education establishment.

Leave a Reply