I know when I first discovered ‘unschooling’ I was immediately attracted to its simplicity – I instinctively knew that it was the right way forward for me and my son. Many of its principles – like respecting your children and focusing on building strong relationships, I was already embracing in our home. It was a natural progression. It was even a relief that here were some people who felt the same way about parenting and education as I did.
So, of course, I was eager to learn more. I devoured many many books and websites on the subject. Some helpful, some not so much. I thought I’d share ten books, which, in my opinion, are particularly helpful.
1. Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Home Schooling by John Holt and Pat Ferenga ~ Often thought of as the father of unschooling, John Holt was an educator, author and pioneer for youth rights.
“I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were.”
2. How Children Learn by John Holt ~ One of Holt’s first books together with How Children Fail in which he studies the natural learning process and describes why he thinks school disrupts and inhibits that process.
“The human is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.”
3. Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich Philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich foresaw the inherent flaws in universal education.
Written in 1971, this is more of a critical discourse than a ‘how-to’, but the points Illich makes underpin the basic tenets of unschooling. They would be interesting to those who wish to learn about the reasons behind the principles in more depth. He describes the practice by which we institutionalise ourselves through schooling in particular, and posits self-directed education and meaningful social interaction as the necessary way forward. Long before the existence of the internet he called for the use of technology to create ‘learning webs’.
“The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”
. The Unschooling Unmanual
~ Snippets of wisdom from various parents in the unschooling world in co-operation with The Natural Child Project
. This is a brief but informative introduction for those who are new to the concept. The book asks questions and offers answers including – Why choose unschooling? How do we know they’re learning? What is unschooling? What about college?
“We believe that children (humans) seek out knowledge in the same way they seek out fun or food, and we believe that adults can do a lot to interfere with that desire to learn. We don’t believe that repetition is necessary or that there is a list of things that every person needs to know. We believe that turning the relationship of parent and child into a relationship between teacher and student is detrimental. We want our children to own their learning and to learn for their own reasons, not to please a teacher.”
5. Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto ~ This book is a collection of speeches given by the New York award winning teacher and author. Vehement in his criticism of the American school system and equally relevant to the situation in the UK and elsewhere, he elucidates in no uncertain terms exactly why schooling is an unhealthy substitute for real learning and community.
“Networks like schools are not communities, just as school training is not education. By preempting fifty percent of the total time of the young, by locking young people up with other young people exactly their own age, by ringing bells to start and stop work, by asking people to think about the same thing at the same time in the same way, by grading people the way we grade vegetables — and in a dozen other vile and stupid ways — network schools steal the vitality of communities and replace it with an ugly mechanism. No one survives these places with their humanity intact, not kids, not teachers, not administrators, and not parents.”
6. Free to Learn by Pam Laricchia ~ I bought this book for the kindle and think it is a good introduction for those who are curious about unschooling and its potential. Pam Laricchia has seen first-hand the changes that unschooling has had on her three children. She describes the advantages that having a more relaxed view and focusing on bringing more joy into the home can bring. This book abounds with respect for children and childhood.
“No one skill or personality is necessary or even advantageous for living and learning in the world, even reading. Every child’s unique combination of personality and skills means that how they learn will also be unique to them”
. Sandra Dodd’s Big Book of Unschooling
~ Though not a book I own myself, this book is described as a compilation of all the best insight and ideas from Sandra’s website sandradodd.com
. A website from which I have gained a wealth of useful inspiration. With years of experience from many unschoolers, their ideas and anecdotes, it is the first place to go for the answers to particular questions you might have. Having that information in a more accessible book form would be an advantage to any unschooling family.
“The way adults tend to learn things is the way people best learn–by asking questions, looking things up, trying things out, and getting help when it’s needed. That’s the way pre-school kids learn too (maybe minus the looking things up), and it is the way ‘school-age’ kids can/should learn as well. Learning is internal. Teachers are lovely assistants at best, and detrimental at worst. ‘Teaching is just presentation of material. It doesn’t create learning. Artificial divisions of what is ‘educational’ from what is considered NOT educational, and things which are ‘for kids’ from things which are NOT for kids don’t benefit kids or adults. Finding learning in play is like the sun coming out on a dank, dark day.”
8. The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith ~ covers some of the many questions new unschoolers might have, and includes quotes and anecdotes from parents of unschooling families aplenty. I find this most useful for the lists of resources at the end of many of the chapters.
“People who are allowed to make their own decisions about how they behave perform more competently and more effectively than those whose behavior is strictly controlled and judged by others.”
9. The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn ~ Obviously more relevant to older children and teenagers; this book should be required reading to all adults, in my opinion. Especially those people, and I have witnessed a few, who think quitting school is something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. This book is about taking control and responsibility for your own life – which all teenagers and no few adults should be encouraged to do. A mine of ideas.
“The only alternative to making mistakes is for someone to make all your decisions for you, in which case you will make their mistakes instead of your own. Obviously, that’s not a life of integrity. So why not start living, rather than merely obeying, before the age of 18?
10. Guerrilla Learning – How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With Or Without School by Grace Llewellyn ~ Lots of ideas, resources and support for you and your children whether or not they attend school.
“True education occurs whenever a free human being responds to the magnificent world with wonder, with fascination, and with the full and mysterious power of the human heart and mind to understand. This can happen in solitude or in company. It can last for a minute or for a lifetime. It can be spontaneous or inspired, but it can never by coerced. It is every child’s right.”