Friday, November 13, 2009

Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves

When I checked this book out from the library I wasn't really expecting an "unschooling" book. I know that sounds silly since "unschooling" is in the title, but our library doesn't particularly have a huge array of homeschooling books, so I didn't trust they'd have such a radical book. I checked it out, but didn't start reading it until a few days before it was due because I wasn't sure it was something I was going to be interested in.

I was wrong. It is a wonderful book. Alison McKee wrote her story of how they found homeschooling, their choice to unschool, and their thoughts. She was a teacher/tutor for the blind and worked with various children who have vision impairments. Through her experiences with one student in particular, Germain, she saw first-hand how the school system destroyed his love for learning and eventually segregated him from his classmates being labeled as a "behavior problem" due to his reactions to a school system that didn't meet his needs. Because of this, when McKee saw the same inquisitiveness Germain once had in her own son, she started to question if sending him to school would also kill his love for learning. They decide to try homeschooling and unschooling for both their son and daughter. The book follows their learning until their son goes to college.

For a lot of the book, McKee reflects on the aspect of trusting their children to learn everything they should. I think that is a concern for a lot of parents considering homeschooling. I went to school from age 5 until 21 and then I spent the majority of the next school year as an instructor at an elementary school. The culture of school is definitely imprinted on my brain as it is a lot of people's. To go outside our own experience is scary. McKee talks about the journey in learning how to trust her children and says it best when she says, "Here we were trying to create something, which we had never experienced - by relying on our past experience! Such a premise was flawed from the start. We realized that the only possible way to rectify our situation was to rely even more heavily on our children to show us the way (HOCUO, 63)."

This is something McKay and I have discussed many times, "How can we be sure our kids will learn everything they need?" Of course, the opposite is a valid question too, "How can we be sure that state regulated curriculum will be everything they need?" Our doubts in our children's ability to learn came from years of being told by our school system, "We won't learn anything unless we're forced to," and then at some point we start to believe that. Even in college when I took classes for the major I chose to study because I found it interesting, grades were a constant reminder that I wasn't trusted to learn the material without an incentive or threat of a bad grade.

This book gave me a lot to think about, and I'll do another blog post about more thoughts related to it. In the mean time, I'd recommend going over to Alison McKee's website. She has some interseting essays there that promise to be good reads.


  1. Great post! I occasionally have the same doubts about home/unschooling...

    It's difficult to do something in a way that you haven't been brought up doing (finding that out big time atm)

  2. I have mixed feelings about unschooling. Sometimes I love the idea. Then I look at myself and see how I sometimes need structure. (I was trying to teach myself Spanish, and I wasn't doing well until I got into a structured learning program.) I understand that kids can learn without that if things are introduced to them properly, but there has to be the correct desire. All the same, we will actually probably unschool for the most part.

  3. I'll have to put this on my book list. I was one who saw the flaws in the school system even as a child. I used to want to be a teacher, and I think it's because I wanted to make a change. When I finally got into the photography field--something I truly wanted to learn, I didn't let grading interfere with what I wanted to learn. I took lots of risks, didn't always get the best grade, but ended the program as the "best" in my class. School forces students to "play it safe" instead of being curious and trying new things of their own accord.


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