Will unschooling get them into college?

Maybe it's just simple fear holding me back from unschooling.

Let's say you're certain that the only way to keep from drowning is to strap on as many swimmies as you can and hold onto the side of the pool. If someone says they've taken off their swimmies and has let go of the side, the only apparent outcome for them it seems is drowning.

If we take away school, it seems like we're left with nothing between birth and college or job.

This site is about what fills that hole left by school.

The amazing thing is that once you get school out of life, you realize that school wasn't a natural part of life and didn't leave a hole.

School is like a stack of dry books on "all the stuff it's important to know" in a windowless room. When people first hear of unschooling, it sounds like we're removing the dry books and leaving kids in a windowless room. But we're removing the windowless room to let kids see they're in the middle of a vast library full of wonderful media to explore. They could look at the dry books, but they probably won't because they have much more interesting ways of exploring the same things.

I just fear they won't learn enough to get by.

School is like a grocery store. It's everything you might need to cook with. And what schools do is spend 12 years cramming the entire grocery store into kids so they can be prepared to cook anything they want.

But how much of the grocery store do you ever use?

Unschooling is about browsing the grocery store, learning about what's available, having access to recipes and cookbooks and cooking shows, but taking home just the stuff that you'll actually use and eat.

An unschooling life is about browsing the world, seeking out things that look intriguing. Looking closer at what interests them. And delving into what they find themselves passionate about.

No one needs the whole grocery store. They just need to be able to find what they need when they need it.

Colleges are very picky now, and employers only want to hire the best.

Standard American dream is success leads to happiness. Success is usually defined as a high paying job that allows someone to purchase the "good life" for their families. And to get that high paying job you need to go to a really good college. And to get into that really good college you need to get good grades in high school.

Unschooling is about replacing that path with something better.

My oldest son who is in high school would think I was nuts if I said let's just learn through life and not worry about college or the future.

Yes, he would. As would most people who've been through school or are in school.

Everyone can see every single day that the sun obviously goes around the earth. Anyone who says otherwise is nuts. So if someone thinks they already know what is true, anything outside that truth is going to sound false.

When someone knows there are only two options: stay in school or be a drop out, then anything other than school sounds nuts.

I was always taught to train them for a higher goal including reaching for the best financially or otherwise.

Again, standard American dream. But how does it turn out in truth?

Standard thought is that school prepares kids for life. But how many kids is that true for? We want to believe it's true. We focus on the kids who appear to be models of success. We find ways of explaining the failures of school -- and point to causes other than school like unmotivated kids and uncaring parents and bad environment that school can't compensate for.

But in general -- not in every case, but in general -- people find success to be an elusive goal and the happiness that was promised with it never quite there.

If pursuing the American Dream led to happiness, then everyone who set out on the path to pursue it would be happy. But they aren't. And some people who reject the American Dream are happy.

Since pursuing the American Dream isn't a guarantee and some people find happiness without pursuing the American Dream, there's some other factor involved.

That other factor is what unschooling is about. It dispenses with the false hopes dangled by the American Dream and focuses on joy being the goal.

My oldest son has always been free to explore life but he has always had rules to live by. Not too strict, but still rules.

If your son is in school, his freedom to explore life is severely limited. If he can't do whatever he wants whenever he wants for as long as he wants -- free from messages that what he's choosing isn't as good as what's done in school -- then he isn't truly free.

If he's convinced that school is the best path to be on and that doing homework is better than reading the "fluff" he enjoys, then he doesn't have true freedom. He is confined by false beliefs that are as secure as iron bars. But they're invisible so he doesn't even realize he's confined.

My daughter has had true freedom and no rules and she's a great kid. So there's some factor other than rules that creates great kids.

I just can't wrap my mind around how they will be prepared for college and employment.

You can't imagine it because it isn't in your experience. Reading here will help you fill the vacuum that's left behind by school.

Just as finding out about the structure of the solar system will help someone reconcile the sun they see moving across the sky with what is really true.

I guess part of me is still trained to feel that doing well in school is the only way to get ahead in life.

Well, yeah. If someone could get to a similar place that school takes them just by living life, why would anyone stay in school? So you have to believe that.

I want my boys to have the best of both worlds, free to explore life but still having all the education they need to get ahead in life. Did you ever feel so torn about your decision or did you just know it was right?

It wasn't until I realized that unschooling offered something better than the standard path to (supposed) success that I finally understood what unschooling was all about.

I could tell you that unschooling is about happiness and joy and pursuing passions, but at this point I suspect you'd dismiss it as pie in the sky. I would have.

What made me stick with investigating unschooling was the belief that there had to be more interesting ways to learn than how school went about it. Life was interesting to me and I wanted to know more. But school only offered dull ways of learning about interesting things. I did well in school, but it felt unsatisfying.

When I first started out investigating homeschooling, I read posts from people all along the spectrum of homeschooling. All the homeschoolers pursuing more schoolish methods were rarely having fun. Most of their posts were about how to get their kids to do their work, or how to handle more grades than one, or what are the best resources. But the unschoolers were living joyful lives while they learned. And since my daughter was only 4, any concerns I had about algebra could wait for several years.

Before I got unschooling, I thought the best I could offer my daughter was to prepare her so she could go to MIT if she wanted. But sticking with unschooling for the early years allowed me time to realize that it's better to help her be who she is so that if she were someone who wanted what MIT offered, she'd naturally be heading in that direction pursuing interesting things that would make MIT a viable option for her. (As it is, she's pursuing writing and drawing with a passion.)

Last updated: April 2009