Homeschool vs unschool

At some point, maybe when I decided to let the kids spend their school days playing air hockey, I started to panic that my blog is mislabeled as homeschooling – it should be unschooling.

Finally I emailed my editor to ask if I should change it. He is used to these sort of crises. For example, I have another on-going crisis about what to do about how my bigger blog, or career blog or whatever it is,  has headlines without capital letters and my homeschool, or maybe unschool, blog uses conventional capital letters in the headlines.

We settled on the homeschool term because it's much better SEO than unschool. And also I thought I'd attract more interest from corporate types. But I'm seeing that that doesn't really matter. Because I'm lucky enough to have Federated Media selling ads on my blog whether it's unschooling or homeschooling (I cannot stress enough how much they do not care about this debate) and the corporate types I have attracted have mostly been trouble.

So I am left wondering if I should change to unschooling. And I was going to bother my editor on the weekend, even though he has three kids that he and his wife (well, let's be honest, mostly his wife) homeschool and he does not have time for me. So I was going to bug him again, but I had a revelation: There is no homeschooling vs unschooling. All homeschooling is unschooling. If you replicate school at home then you are not doing anything. You are depriving your kids of being in a system that has mastered the art of teaching to the test. If you teach to the test at home, you are not homeschooling.

I am declaring this. Homeschooing is unschooling. It's saying you want to do what is done better at home. And that is NOT teaching to the test. I am not sure what it is, but it is unschooling because it is not schooling.

So I am not worrying anymore that I am unschooling and my blog is called homeschooling. I think the unschoolers will win, and they will co-opt the term, and the unschoolers will get that awesome SEO after all.

Posted in Brainwashing
38 comments on “Homeschool vs unschool
  1. Bernie says:

    I like just "learning". Or even "living". Anything with school in it to me reinforces the "school" as the right or normal way. I know it is the most common way. anyway I say go for the SEO!

  2. Pamela says:

    In principle I agree with you that all homeschooling is unschooling. However, there are some fringe elements who abuse the "unschooling" term and create misunderstanding. Then again, there are people who do the same for homeschooling… so its prolly a wash.

    I just posted yesterday that we are "curiosity-driven homeschoolers" Wordy, yes. But it's also the most accurate description that I've come up with so far.

  3. Zellie says:

    When John Holt was writing to help people opt out of the school system he used the term unschooling. I think the child-directed people co-opted that term.

    Whatever it's called people continue to be fascinated that it is possible to keep kids at home. Homeschooling suits the topic just fine.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a really interesting comment. Because it reminds me that to *me* the important issue is that I'm not in school. But to a parent who is scared of homeschooling, the important issue is that their kids are home with them all day.

      I know this because I was really scared of having the kids home with me all day — that was my initial fear. Now I can't imagine not having them with me all day.

      So, anyway, Zellie, your analysis that to the wider public, the important part is *home* rings true to me.


  4. Angela Doll Carlson says:

    I would say that there are a number of people to whom it's important to make the distinction between "homeschooling" and "unschooling." Generally it's my very structured "homeschooler" friends on one end and my very unstructured "unschooler" friends on the other end who feel it's necessary to distinguish betweeen the two. Personally, I describe my children's schooling experience as "homeschooled" to those who don't know the difference. It's a quick answer and it satisfies most people. For those who want to know more I'll go into detail and describe our style as "child led learning" but for the most part, people make their judgements no matter how I describe it.

    Keep on, keepin on.

  5. Mark W. says:

    I don't like homeschooling or unschooling. School is at the "root" of both these words and according to Wikipedia – "A school is an institution designed for the teaching of students (or "pupils") under the direction of teachers." It's misleading and confusing to use either term but that's where we are right now. How about adding a tagline to this blog like – self-directed learning without socialization or something that describes and suits the content of this blog.

  6. amanda enclade says:

    yay unschool. I LOVE the word. it means un-doing what school does.

  7. Idzie says:

    I disagree, and I've spent a decent amount of time in both writing, and when speaking to people, in differentiating between the two. I'm an unschooler, NOT a homeschooler, and growing up, virtually all the people I knew where homeschoolers, NOT unschoolers.

    To me, unschooling is about giving the learner freedom of choice in what, how, where, and with whom they learn. It's giving the learner control over their own education. Most homeschoolers, in my experience, do not do that. Instead, homeschooling parents take control of their children's education. While that's a step in the right direction, I wouldn't say it's unschooling.

    Anyway, I've written more about terminology and why I make a distinction between unschooling and homeschooling here, if anyone is interested:

    • Zellie says:

      Generally people will not appreciate the distinction of unfettered learning unless they have experienced its effects. Like giving birth without interference, the process is driven by inner determination. When no one asks the birthing mother whether she wants to get in the bath or instructs her to lie down, she will do what her most instinctive self guides her to. In this "pure" way she can be led to find the way to best facilitate the baby's passage.

      Most people are just astounded by the fact that birth (or education) is done at home and the power of the unadulterated experience is lost on any but those who know it.

    • Lak says:

      Yes, I agree. The amount of folks discussing curriculum and the type of science or math versus another type of science or math are not the type that can believe that a woman can learn algebra by excel. Or would even be able to. Or would even want to.

      And some unschoolers have issues with classes in general. And if their child wanted to, say, opt out of cello lessons then they would support that without a lot of questions asked. Whereas a homeschooler might respond differently.

      This is a big issue in my mind because a lot of folks think unschooling is something you can do one or two days a week. But it isn't.

      And this is a quote from a Facebook group about this:

      "Elements of the philosophy can be used by anyone in any context – there's nothing really special about the philosophy of unschooling Except that it extends ideas about how people learn and grow and get their needs met to children, framing children as people in a more holistic way than any other philosophy has ever done.

      A bigger problem – and its right there in Joyce's quote, in fact – is that people get too focused on the label "unschooling" and forget it's a descriptive term for a particular philosophy of how children learn and how to support them in their endeavors. It's great when people want to bring more of the elements of that philosophy into their lives! But at the same time, I think its valuable to keep bringing up the fact that it Is a philosophy and not just a bunch of random rules as to how to be cool or modern or even "a good parent". That's the part which irks me – people using the word unschooling without really knowing what it means.

      Its not a bad thing to be a bit unclear on how learning happens and what that looks like in real life – that's normal, and that's where a lot of people get stuck trying to unschool. There's not a lot of cultural support for the idea that kids can learn what they need to live in the world without being taught or molded in a specific direction, so it can be hard to see how such an incredibly optimistic philosophy actually works in real life."

      So to me, I think it is okay that your blog is called homeschooling, but really unschooling might be closer to what you are doing. Better to err up than err down, if that makes any sense.

  8. Sarah Rain says:

    “Unschooling” already has a generally accepted definition. Deciding that you want to call everything that’s not test-focused schoolwork “unschooling” based on the word’s etymology is unhelpful to those who use the word to mean something specific.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      I think there are lots of words that change their meaning when the context changes.

      For example: Job hopper used to be something that implies negativity, but now job hopping is something you do to have a vibrant career – so job hoppers are not people who are disloyal, it's people who care about their career.

      English is a dynamic language. The faster we exchange information the faster the language changes. It's ironic to me that unschoolers — people who are, by definition, trend setters — want language to be static.


      • Idzie says:

        I, personally, have no desire for language to remain static. I'm fascinated by language, by how meanings change, how different people interpret different meanings from the same pieces of writing and words…

        But as an unschooler, I have absolutely no desire to be referred to as a "homeschooler." I wasn't schooled at home, as that word implies. It's precisely because of my love of language that I'm happy with the label unschooler. What I did growing up, and what I still do now, is something that looks nothing like school of any sort. It's UN-schooling.

        People who recreate, to a lesser or greater extent, school at home (I think my idea of what school-at-home looks like might be very different from yours), need a word for what they're doing. In many cases, the word they choose is homeschooling.

        People who choose to learn in a far more free way, instead, people who chuck school-ish ideas out of the window entirely, need their own term, I believe. And that term is unschooling (or sometimes life learning, natural learning, delight-directed learning…). I don't feel that a term that places school in the positive, home-schooling, a term that implies that children are being "schooled" in some manner, is the right word for what unschoolers do at all!

        I really don't care if people are essentially unschooling, but use the term homeschooling. That's their choice. All I'm saying is that there's a definite need for a term specifically for those who do not do school of any sort. And for me, that term is unschooling!

        • Homeschooled says:

          This conversation reminds me of when I worked in the paintball industry almost ten years ago. Around this time, leaders in the industry were trying to change the language, make it less connotative of war (which the game really is, but still). So, instead of calling the guns, "guns"…we called them markers. I remember listening to one of my favorite co-workers who was also my manager, attempt to describe the game using this radically new lingo. The person asked eventually, "What's a marker?" "Oh, it's a device with a long barrel type contraption that expels paint in the form of a ball." "Oh," the dude said, "you mean a paintball gun."

          No matter what, we cannot control the use of language. This is a direct violation of one of our most-protective rights, first as Americans, but also as readers and writers. The right of free speech. It is not the responsibility of the user of the word "home-school" or "un-school" to make sure that your world vision is adequately represented. It is the responsibility of you and your actions. I like this…yes, all homeschooling, REAL homeschooling…is unschooling. Go Penelope!

      • Lori says:

        some unschoolers (e.g., sandra dodd) are some of the most rigid and pedantic purists on the planet. it *is* really surprising, ironic, what have you. but you should go poke around on an unschooling site and say a few things and see what happens. BOOM.

        • Lak says:

          Yes, this is true. As much as it is horrible what happens to some. Every now and then the method works to break through to another level. (And I do hate to admit that.)

  9. Karen says:

    I would keep homeschooling just because it is the term that is best known within the general population and is most likely to be what someone would type into the search engine when doing research. I'd never even heard of the term unschooling until after I had already pulled my kids out of school. I seriously doubt that there are many homeschoolers who are simply teaching to the test. Even those of us who use formal curriculum are aware that our kids have differing abilities and interests and work to accommodate them. I think that we have all rejected the one-size-fits-all model of education. That is the important thing – everything else is just details.

  10. Wendy Priesnitz says:

    Here's my take on it, as someone who began living, advocating for and writing about "homeschooling" in the 1970s when it resembled what "unschooling" looks like today:

      • Pamela says:

        Interesting, Wendy. I launched and ran a career center at a major research institution in the '90s. Because we worked primarily with visual and performing artists, we strove to teach them how they'd need to manage their careers throughout their lifespans in ways very, very different than the traditional biz-school employment models. We talked often about "life-long learning" as being essential to their professional success.

        It's interesting how the concepts that we introduced to our "creative" students in '95 have become so "mainstream."

        Reading your article, I think that I may wind up allied with you, Wendy. I can see myself jettisoning the reference to "schooling" altogether. And as more and more people explore afterschooling–another awkward term–and other creative solutions to their kids education (ex. distance learning), I think a more inclusive term may help us see what we've got in common: a desire to nurture whole persons eager to learn and adapt in a changing world. For some that will mean traditional homeschooling, others will create other paths.

        It's actually rather exciting to me to see people parse through these issues and the language in a meaningful way.

  11. s.e. says:

    Interesting discussion:) This is my 20th year of having at least 1 child who according to the laws of the province where I live has to be a full time student. In Nova Scotia kids from the age of 5 to 16 have to attend school fulltime or be receiving an equivalent education at home. Back when we decided not to send our kids to school we called it homeschooling. We are what has been described as unschoolers. I used to care also about the terminology, I don't really so much anymore. I want the government to approve my request to keep my kids at home for one more year and then we will be free. I agree with Wendy about disliking the word "school" being the focus of the terminology and I don't like the idea that certain subjects are "school" ones and others aren't, it is all the same to me, no division between parenting and "schooling". If people are asking questions I usually say that we don't do a lot of sit down structured type of schooling.
    I also have a thick skin by the time I am dealing with these issues for the fifth time around. I will admit too that having a child with severe learning challenges and general developmental disabilities has given me a different perspective on learning in general.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I am very upset with this blog right now. It has forced to learn about "unschooling," which I had never heard of before. And now, I have a pile of library books about child development which only reinforces for me the wisdom of unschooling principles. I don't want to homeschool or unschool my kids (whatever term you prefer)–I really want the joys and traditions of public school for them…and for me. And yet, now that all this information is in my head, it is stuck there for good with no easy answers.

    • Pamela says:

      Jennifer –

      Have you looked into afterschooling online? Some parents that are "on the fence" about homeschooling gravitate to it, either as a temporary "fix" or as a gateway to the dark side, er, home education. It can also be an interesting segue to assuming more day-to-day responsibility for nurturing your kids' education.

      Meanwhile, beware the library and engaging bloggers… that's a large part of what got me into all this. (Well, that and a peanut-allergic kid.)

  13. Jennifer says:

    Thanks, Pamela. My problem is this: my daughter is at a school she loves and she is excelling there. I like her teacher, I like the school, I like the neighborhood, etc. I have no absolutely complaints…except…my daughter has started her first testing, which
    happens to be in spelling. She has had five of these tests and has never missed a single word. She has to practice to get them all
    right, so I am proud of her that she does it. She is proud too and wants us to hang the tests on the wall, which we do. But everytime I hang a test on the wall and say "great job, honey," what I really want to tell her that I don't really care that she gets a perfect score on her test. Instead of spelling, I wish she was spending her time making up the elaborate stories in her head that she is so great at. I wish I could hang her imagination on the wall so we could all congratulate that too. But she keeps that private, and I respect that. I just want to make sure we don't push that part of her mind too far to the side to make room for all the stuff to hang on the wall. And now I am off to her Halloween parade at school, which she is so excited about. I know it sounds small, but could we as a family really give up all those small parts of school that make it so fun and memorable? I honestly don't know.

    • Pamela says:

      Have you heard about NaNoWriMo's young writers' program?

      It starts tomorrow. And it might be a way for you to celebrate her spelling and creativity for a few weeks.

      Some kids excel in school. And home education isn't right for everyone. You'll make the right choices. (Now off to clean up my own kitchen following Halloween party with homeschool kids!)

    • Jo says:

      Jennifer, this year all my four children are at school for the first time, after 12 years of home schooling. The youngest two are at an excellent public school, the oldest two at an excellent (expensive) private highschool. For us, it has been a positive change, and the children are thriving with stimulating programmes, and wonderful teachers. I know there are bad teachers and bad schools, but thankfully we haven't experienced them. I also think that maybe some homeschooling literature is rather evangelical in nature, and overly dualistic – school bad, home good. I loved some aspects of homeschooling, and hated others. I am loving the vibrant buzz of a great school community with teachers who seem a lot less tired than I was… I think that ultimately there is no 'right way', just a willingness to think creatively about family life, and to really listen to what is going on in the life of our kids.

  14. Jen says:

    Im a corporate type and have been enjoying this blog. I never even thought about homeschool and now I can't stop researching unschooling. My son is very bright but he is also very visual/spacial. Tests like DIEBELs, being forced to do workbooks, spell, write neatly while not doing anything to engage his dominant right brain is killing me! He's only in 1st grade but I fear the system will continue to force him into trying to be more like his left brained classmates. It's sad that public schools can't recognize different learning styles and strengths.

    • Lak says:

      This is why I am glad you decided to oops, i just started to write unschool, homeschool.

      Your online presence is bringing the awareness to a larger audience. Think about all the kids lives that are changing because of your choice.

  15. Sarah says:

    I agree with Idzie. I guess it took me longer to transition from homeschooler to unschooler but for us the two are completely different. For years my son and I did what I thought he needed to do, yet we weren't teaching to any tests. I used no curriculums and had no idea what the standards he should be learning each year. What I did was think about what he should know and then find ways to teach him. What we do now looks and feels nothing like what we did then. My kids are totally different too. I think all schooling at home is homeschooling. Then you can break it down into categories, one of them being unschooling. However I do agree that unschooling may someday be the term and philosophy most used.

  16. Jess says:

    Great blog and discussion. We are "homeschooling" and/or "unschooling" as a family and I love that I know about both philosophies. But I do hate the word "school"!
    And we really, really try NOT to do school at home. Getting our kids and ourselves to really THINK is so important and I'm just seeing that come out of public or private schools. That doesn't necessarily mean all kids won't LOVE being in a school. But I feel it can hinder the ability to think for ourselves…just my 2 cents. Great discussion!

    • Jess says:

      I meant to say- I'm just NOT seeing the ability to really THINK for ourselves from those coming out of schooling institutions. Sorry

  17. Marilia says:

    I always wondered why this section wasn´t called Unschooling. It makes sense why you made it homeschooling and I agree that the terminology can easily get mixed.

  18. deft says:

    "If you replicate school at home then you are not doing anything. You are depriving your kids of being in a system that has mastered the art of teaching to the test. If you teach to the test at home, you are not homeschooling."

    I disagree.

    "If you replicate school at home then you are not doing anything. You are depriving your kids of being in a system that has mastered the art of teaching to the test. If you teach to the test at home, you are not homeschooling."

    I disagree. Even the most die-hard, school-at-home family cannot replicate the experience of mass coerced schooling at home. It cannot be done.

    Many of these families have helped change compulsory attendance laws in almost all 50 states. They are indeed making change happen. And they are homeschooling.

  19. David says:

    Homeschooling and unschooling are very much not the same. U recognizes the children's right to run their own life, monitor their own time, learn what/when they wish. H recognizes none of the above and simply replaces one dictator (at public school) with a more sympathetic dictator — who tells the children what/when to learn and then presumes to demand to know what they have learned, as if it were the parents' business.
    To boil it down: U recognizes the supremacy of free will; H does not.

  20. Brit in NZ says:

    The main home education website in the UK is called "Education Otherwise" …

    "We take our name from the Education Act, which states that parents are responsible for their children's education, "either by regular attendance at school or otherwise".

    I've met a lot of Brits that don't send their kids to school who range from what you'd term homeschoolers to unschoolers. They would most likely call themselves "home educators" regardless.

    I think the word school would be better left out if the mix, given that 95per cent of people Ive met think the ONLY way to get an education is to go to school.

  21. abigail gray says:

    i love the idea of unschooling. i have a 7 year old girl that always asks questions and wants to know everything. on the other hand, i have a 13 year old boy that hates learning anything. he gets almost upset when you try to throw in facts or educational stories on what he is interested in. he is very good with video games, electronics, and sports. can i trust that he could really get the education he needs by letting him learn what he wants to? i hope so. people tell me how smart he is all the time. he helps all my friends with their computers, kindles, and cell phones. for some reason he hates reading books. do you have any advice for me on how to approach a child like him? he loves what he love…which is not much, and hates what he hates lol….which is a lot. he never refuses to do anything i ask. he just isn't learning very much when it is forced. FYI he is adhd and although he was never diagnosed when he was is public school, he might be dyslexic. he still mixes up his letter and always mixes up numbers like 59 and 95 or 34 and 43 and has always read numbers wrong off of a page. so he does a lot of memorizing in place of reading a lot. thanks for any advice you might have for us.

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