Unschooling as an Alternative-The De-humanizing Aspects of Education

Unschooling as an Alternative-The De-humanizing Aspects of Education
June 17, 2013 Lainie Liberti

I have become a supporter for the practice of unschooling and believe wholeheartedly in the virtues of natural learning, but unfortunately it’s led me down the path of becoming anti-traditional schooling, especially in the United States. I see how damaging the school paradigm has become  through engaging in deep conversations with my step- mom who is a former teacher, I see how difficult it’s become for her to do what she’s passionate about, teaching. As you can see those are two different approaches to the ‘education process” but we both agree on one thing, the conventional educational / school system is broken and does not promote an atmosphere of engaged learning.

I tend to have more of an anti-authoritarian approach in my opinions about school, but these five  “truths” answer the question “What does school really teach children?” quite nicely taken from this post.

What does school really teach children?

  1. Truth comes from authority
  2. Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat
  3. Accurate memory and repetition are rewarded
  4. Non-compliance is punished
  5. Conform: intellectually and socially

As I dug deeper, I have found that there are many critics quite vocal about the  traditional schooling paradigm as it functions today.   I have never worked in the schooling system, therefore I have no first hand knowledge. My interest is that as a parent,  but being outside of the system for a period of four years I see the indoctrination as an experience I had as a child and worse, an experience my son started to endure during his public schooling experiences in the Los Angeles county.


I found this article, and with permission,  we are reprinting it here. This article is written by Eric Anderson.

I feel this article should be read by every parent who has school age children and living in the United States.

Unschooling is a word coined by negating the idea of schooling; it starts off with a negative definition. What, specifically, is it about schools that unschoolers want to do without?

The School Organization

  • Breaking up the day into learning time and play time.
  • Starting and stopping learning (or shifting topics) according to an externally imposed schedule.
  • Telling students what they should care about.
  • Telling students when they should care about it.
  • Telling students what is good enough.
  • The complex hierarchy with the student at the bottom.

The De-humanizing Aspects of Schools

  • Having to ask permission for basic human needs.
  • Having to supply “acceptable” excuses for absence or lateness.
  • Routine abridgment of human (constitutional) rights.
  • Standing in lines, waiting for everything: food, water, attention of the teacher, time on the computer, etc.
  • Group rewards and punishments.
  • Neglect of individual gifts and problems.
  • Moving at the sound of a bell.
  • Students coming to view themselves as products, moving down a 12-year assembly line, with bits of knowledge poured in or bolted on by others as the belt moves along. Seeing the primary responsibility for their education as being in the hands of others.

Isolation from the Real World

  • Segregation by chronological age.
  • Separation from family.
  • Isolation from the working world.
  • Isolation from the effects of age and disease.
  • “Free” education isolates children from economic reality.
  • Subject matter is divorced from context.

Schedule Rigidity

  • Having to be in school at certain times means you can’t see the World Cup or a solar eclipse if it happens during the school day, and you can’t see the late show or a lunar eclipse if you have to get up in the morning.
  • Having to be in school limits your ability to travel.
  • Having to be in school limits your ability to do any time-consuming worthwhile activity.

Note that these issues do not address the questions of “problem schools.” They are unrelated to questions of crime, drugs, threat of violence, time spent in forced commuting, illiterate teachers, etc. The problems unschoolers specifically care about exist (to a greater or lesser extent) even in “good” schools.

Moreover, many educational reform proposals act to make these problems worse. Improved security measures increase the dehumanizing aspects of school “discipline”. “Back-to-basics” programs increase the rigidity of the curriculum, and often further divorce it from context. “Mainstreaming” programs exacerbate the effects of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, and often take up huge fractions of teachers’ time and energy. Many reformers want to increase the number of hours in a school day or schooldays in a year, eliminating the chance for a student to educate himself in the off  hours. The solution to the problems inherent in mass-produced education is not more of the same.

Unfortunately, telling what unschooling isn’t doesn’t tell what it is. In some ways, all homeschooling is unschooling — we don’t isolate our kids from life, or move at the sound of a bell, or require permission slips, or neglect the individuality of our children. Where unschoolers differ from other homeschoolers is the extent to which we let children be responsible for their own education.

Unschoolers believe that the natural curiosity of a healthy child, given access to a rich environment, will lead the child to learn what he or she needs to know. When learning comes about as a result of the child’s desires, it is absorbed easily, enthusiastically, openly. The child works harder because he is doing what he thinks is important, rather than what someone else has told him is important. New knowledge starts with a context because it fits in with things the child already cares about. Learning driven by real desire is so much more efficient than passive absorption that unschoolers can tolerate much more exploration, dabbling, dawdling and play than can curriculum inflictors. The unschooling literature abounds with stories of children who paid no attention to math or reading for their first ten years and then caught up in just a few weeks.

When learning is imposed from without, there are many deleterious effects. The child may not be ready for the material or may be beyond it; the child may resist it, either because he has something better to do or just out of general orderliness. When you force a topic, you short-circuit precisely the volitional parts of the mind that are critical to real learning. You may produce memorization, but cannot effect understanding. You risk the child developing a dislike for the topic, for the teacher, and even for learning itself.

Child-driven learning is fundamentally active. Children are doing things because they have taken responsibility for carrying out the actions needed to fulfill their desires. Unschooling is centered around the idea of learning, with the student as the center of action and the source of activity, rather than on the idea of teaching (with the teacher as the center of action and the source of activity). Not only does this make the learning more effective, but it encourages the child to develop virtues: independence, self-reliance, and a sense of responsibility. The child learns that if he wants something to happen, he has to make it happen.

As Jim Muncy pointed out in his “spectrum of unschooling” post [home-ed mailing list, summer of ’94], homeschoolers unschool to varying degrees. Unschooling families do not set up miniature classrooms, with time set aside for studying, a parent playing the role of teacher, formal lesson plans and imposed curricula. Beyond that limit, we differ in how much order we try to lend to the learning process. “Radical” unschoolers impose little or no structure, though books and such are available to act as guides. Others allow children to learn what they wish, but provide strong organizational assistance to help the children reach their goals. (Assistance can take the form of lessons, or workbooks, or even assigned projects.) Some families use curricula for some subjects (often math) but are freer with others. Most try to squeeze learning out of the activities of everyday life. The common bond is acknowledging that the enthusiastic participation of the child is the most important single factor in the child’s education.

I am convinced unschooling is the best choice for us. I would urge you to consider all the information in this article too and share it with others who may not have even considered unschooling as an option.


  1. Yvy 11 years ago

    If you haven’t already, you should read the works of Paulo Freire: “Education as the Practice of Freedom” and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

    • Author
      Lainie Liberti 11 years ago

      Thanks Yvy! I haven’t read either of those books. I’ve put them on my list. Thank you for the recommendations!

  2. Cheryl 11 years ago

    We believe it with all of our hearts that unschooling/interest-led learning is the way to go. We must walk bravely into the future, hold on tightly to our beliefs that the government cannot take away, and if all else fails move to another country that allows freedom to an individual. Not only “freedom” for the State.

  3. Carolyn 11 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this article! My daughters have never been to school and we’ve been radical-unschooling for going on 6 years. I, too, have developed a real aversion to and concern about the system of education in this country. It amazes me how blindly our society accepts something which is so damaging to children. 150 of brainwashing is pretty thorough. Whenever I hear about shootings, suicide, drug use, and many other tragic things I truly believe that most of these happen as a result of the dehumanizing institutions most children are forced into. We don’t need stricter gun control, more medication for school kids, or better crime prevention, we need to love and respect our kids! I am so glad to be part of this revolution, and I am so grateful for those who have the talent and willingness to write about it so succinctly! ~ Namaste!

  4. Glenn R. Tankersley 11 years ago

    There’s only one answer to that: more rebellious children.

  5. Brianna 11 years ago

    Unfortunately, condensing an industry under a central authority by law is absolutely guaranteed to turn into an exercise where that central authority is going to tell the people under its care that they had better want what the authority says they should want, or else. This is because it is far easier for a small central body to dictate to the millions under its aegis what its tastes should be, and then cater to those manufactured tastes, than it is for the body to first find out the different needs of millions of individual people, and then attempt to cater to all of those needs. So long as we allow a small centralized body to rule our children’s minds, that body is not only going to fail to serve our individual needs, but they are going to program our children into the thinking and habits they require in order to function… in other words, they will teach our children not to be individual free thinkers, but to be cogs in a machine whose job is to do what they are told, wait until they are served, and like it… or else.

    We don’t permit the government to tell us what to eat… yet what we put in our minds is surely at least as important as what we put in our bodies. Why did we give government the right to program our children, and when are we going to take it back?

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