Understanding Unschooling

Unschooling is commonly listed as one of the forms of homeschooling, sometimes connected with secular homeschooling. But people who support unschooling may prefer the term home education to homeschooling, because the latter – by incorporating the word school – still bespeaks the entire system that they are seeking to avoid. Learn more about understanding unschooling in this article.

John Holt

John Holt, who was for a time a public school teacher, was very influential in fostering and molding what is now generally called “unschooling.” In his book How Children Fail, he said:

“Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world then anyone else could make for them.”

He restated this in other words in What Do I Do Monday?

“I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all when we feel the wholeness and opennesss of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it.”

Other Unschooling Thinkers

There are other strong voices in the homeschooling movement: Sandra Dodd, John Taylor Gatto, Jan and Jason Hunt, and Grace Llewellyn. Sandra Dodd is a former puplic school teacher who became an unschooler. She advocates following the child’s lead, even if the child wants to go to school, and maintains that unschooling is an all or nothing affair: that is, it doesn’t allow for putting a box around certain subjects and making them mandatory – it has to be completely open.

John Taylor Gatto, also a retired school teacher, believes that compulsory educationis fatally flawed. He claims that public schooling is founded on “mass dumbness,” and that it is completely unjustified and is ruinous to family life. Jan and Jason Hunt, authors of The Unschooling Manual, are mother and unschooled son. Jan Hunt is also director of the Natural Child Project. Jan Hunt believes that it should be the children asking the questions, rather than – as is common in school classrooms – being continually subjected to questions. Grace Llewellyn is another unschooling advocate who was first a school teacher. She co-directs the “Not Back to School Camp,” a week-long unschooling camp for unschooled teenagers.

Unschooling Characteristics

While unschooling takes different shapes in different families, these are some things that are usually true in an unschooling environment:

  • There is no specified homeschool curriculum and no required subjects. The child learns about what the child is interested in, either because the child happened across it or because the parent shared it or showed interest in it and the child also became interested.
  • There are not set textbooks the contents of which must be completed by a certain date, and a textbook may never be used.
  • There is not a specified school schedule. In fact, there is an attempt to integrate learning so closely with all of life that the two are not distinguishable.
  • There are no assessments and tests.
  • Going to college is neither a goal nor eschewed: it’s up to the child.


Sandra Dodd – sandradodd.com

John Holt – holtgws.com

John Taylor Gatto – johntaylorgatto.com

Jan Hunt – naturalchild.org

Grace Llewellyn – gracellewellyn.com/bio