Considering Community, Collaboration, Unschooling & Democratic Education

Considering Community, Collaboration, Unschooling & Democratic Education
December 22, 2013 Lainie Liberti

Examining the challenges inherent to unschooling

I don’t mean to be controversial, nor do I want to anger the amazing visionaries who have pioneered this incredible style of education and helped change the way natural learning is perceived. I am a supporter of learning without school and have written many posts about its virtues and our unschooling successes. Unschooling, natural learning, living without school and following our interests within the context of “education” has been our passion for several years now, as Miro and I are self-proclaimed, self-directed learners. And we love it.


But, as I wrote about in my last post called Finding Community, Dealing with Teen Isolation- Unschooling & Travel, we are looking for ways to combat isolation. Isolation is one of the greatest challenges for the home educated child regardless of the learner’s age and applied style of education.

We received an outpour of support, offering words of advice and extensions of friendship as a result of opening up in that post. We also received many, many suggestions that we are currently exploring, and we are looking forward to seeing what unfolds for us in the future. Sharing these sorts of struggles are scary as we are aware that we are opening ourselves up for public criticism. However, through sharing these seemingly insurmountable struggles, we have experienced an incredible sense of community, including an outpouring of support that has blown both Miro and I away. For that we are so grateful.

Creating community has become one of our priorities as we plan for 2014

That includes launching our temporary learning community here in Peru, with our project called Project World School and other explorations for 2014. Miro and I find we both are passionate about creating “community” as part of our current unschooling experience, and that is our theme for the upcoming year.


And so, down the rabbit hole we go…..

As a parent, my journey into “unschooling” has guided my investigation into the nature of “learning” itself. I have explored the biological, rational and intellectual qualities associated with development and learning and have tried to support my son in his journey the best I can. I understand and agree that learning happens naturally and the principles behind unschooling are there to support the learner through facilitation and trust. I wrote an article about the role of the unschooling parent here called Reflections of an Unschooling Parent, talking about my role and responsibilities as I understand them. Unschooling certainly is not Unparenting  and requires the highly engaged parent. But, as I review all that I’ve read and learned about supporting my child as a natural learner, I don’t think I’ve read very much about the community aspects.

Unschooling is simply defined as:

“Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that rejects compulsory school as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, game play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction.”

Yes! I agree as a definition, but the trick comes into balancing the application to the lives of a single unique family. Many unschoolers focus on “interests” to guide learning. That’s great. And as a fairly new unschooling family, I too explored interests as a way to guide my son’s educational pursuits. I even saw through travel, the world providing a source in inspiration to guide deeper learning outside my son’s primary interests as his focus widened as the stimulus expanded. But I never looked at “community” as an equal contributing factor until we were inspired to create Project WorldSchool Peru.

But still, community as it relates to learning is that elusive thing we are both grabbing at. We know we are reaching for it. We know it’s important. We know it’s a valid aspect contributing to learning. We even know it’s necessary, not only to learning, but to general human development as we are social animals. We know we are reaching for community, but that all elusive promise of community holds us at a stand still since we do have not recognized it or obtained it yet.

And to be clear, we completely support unschooling as the most valid and effective form of education for our family, but we are noticing there is a key element that is missing in the process for us. Community and collaboration.

Considering Democratic Education

This is a concept we are exploring right now, as it meets the needs we find within our personal journeys through the emotion of isolation. But lately, we’ve been reading about the ideas that surround what’s known as “Democratic Education”.

Democratic Education is defined as:

“Democratic Education is an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction. It brings democratic values to education and can include self-determination within a community of equals, as well as such values as justice, respect and trust.”

Sounds ideal to us! It employs the virtues of natural learning, interest driven curriculum and self-determination within the context of a community.

Collaboration“Imagine a school where children and teenagers are accorded all the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship; where students truly practice, rather than just read about, the principles of free speech, free association, and freedom to choose their own activities; where students vote on the rules that affect them, and serve on juries to try those accused of violating those rules. What better training than this to prepare students for democratic citizenship?”

Quote taken from here.

This is an option we would like to explore. I recently read an article about Sweden’s newest school system which has no classrooms. Adapting the value of collaborative learning in a creative space seems ideal. I would have thrived in an environment like that and I’m sure Miro would too.

“There are collaboration zones, houses-within-houses, and a slew of other features that are designed to foster “curiosity and creativity.”

I only started reading about alternative schools, which include Democratic Education, over the last year or so. I have no personal experience with any of these institutions, but Miro and I are considering pursing this as an option.

After discovering the vision behind the Summerhill School  and the Sudbury School and other democratic schools, I witnessed an overwhelming feeling of community. That’s what we think we want next. That’s what we think we will seek, but at this point, we are not sure how to proceed.

What if we can participate in an international democratic school? I know it’s a radical idea for us. But I think it might be something worthwhile, and we discovered this giant list in which we may persue here  & here. Since we are on a totally limited budget, if we decide to persue this route, we’ll have to find a situation that both Miro and I can participate. Perhaps I can work on staff, and he can attend. Unfortunately, like many families, we have financial restrictions to be able to freely say, “let’s go to a democratic private school next year” as our solution. So, we will have to be creative, if we decide to pursue this option. If you have any connections or leads for us, we’d love to hear from you.

When we feel the isolation of unschooling and traveling, we see the positives of collaboration and community within the democratic education option.

So maybe we’d like to try that for one year.



  1. Jenni 10 years ago

    There are, thankfully, a lot of options out there! Democratic schools may just be what you are after. In any case, I hope you and Miro find the exact right fit for you- education and community wise 🙂

  2. Winter 10 years ago

    Oh how I wish there was a democratic school near us. I have also been doing a lot of reading about them in the recent months and I think, and my teen agrees, that they would provide the best of all worlds. My younger two kids don’t yet seem to need more. We have a very active co-op that includes many unschooling families and that provides all they need for now. It doesn’t provide the sense of autonomy and community that I think would be found in a democratic school setting, which seems to be more important as they move into the teen years.

  3. Jade Griffiths 10 years ago

    Great stuff Laine; Im hearing an increasing number of people opt for unschooling. My daughter and I are also currently travelling and schooling on the go and I love reading your posts 🙂

  4. karrie 10 years ago

    My son loves our life, BUT he is extremely extroverted and I suspect he would thrive at a place like Sudbury where he could bounce ideas off of others and have fun. We’ve also discussed how a similar arrangement might be something to try. There are a fair number of homeschoolers in our area, but so far I haven’t met any who are more eclectic and unstructured. It’s challenging to make connections and hell, even just to find kids who have free time to just hang out in the backyard.

    Regular school didn’t provide enough opportunity for him to share ideas and connect with other kids either. He was in trouble all the time for things like talking “too much” during lunch. (Yes, really. The poor kids are subjected to something called Silent Lunch, complete with a traffic light that monitors the noise level in the cafeteria. If they’re collectively talking “too loud”? They wait for it….lose time from recess. So wrong.)

  5. Sheila 10 years ago

    My kids and I went to an open house at a Democratic School (The Circle School in Harrisburg, PA) at a time when we were really seeking community. There were things about it that we liked, but the main reason they chose against it is because of all the rules. Sure, the rules were all instituted by the children themselves, but they were still rules that were way too limiting for my always-unschooled kids. For example, my then-12-ish-year-old was very into an online video game that she played hours every day. They don’t allow rated-R games. My youngest (who was 6-ish at the time) didn’t like that I wouldn’t be able to stay with him (parents aren’t welcome to stay with kids at the school). And it was a long drive–it would have taken us an hour each way, which I would have been willing to do if it had felt right to my kids.

    We are, yet again, in search of deeper community. I was just blogging about the same thing, actually. I don’t think it’s just unschooling that causes the lack of community. People don’t know their neighbors like they used to. They don’t get together with other friends to share work. People, in my area at least, tend to have their community revolve around their school, yes, but also around their town sports teams, their church, and their work. If you don’t participate in those things, you don’t have much community unless you find less mainstream avenues for it.

    We’ve had limited success with homeschool groups, but in a homeschool group with 90+ families in our county, it’s like pulling teeth to get people to participate in activities. I don’t know if it’s because they have their community in other places? We’re still putting some energy into the homeschool group for now, though. And we’ve gotten involved in a Unitarian Universalist church, and there is definitely some sense of community there.

    I wish you luck as you see to nurture community in the upcoming year. I share the same goal!

  6. karrie 10 years ago

    Meant to add earlier that I wouldn’t worry about upsetting visionaries, or apologizing in advance for ANYTHING you and your son consider that might add joy, connection or otherwise improve your lives. I totally understand not wanting to hurt other people, but you don’t need anyone’s permission or blessing. Think of it this way: Did you feel a guilty need to apologize to those who live more conventional lives when you decided to travel and live without formal schooling?

    You and your son obviously have your own visions. Honor them!

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