Unschooling FAQ – Societal Concerns


Giving kids control of their education is giving them too much power.

Learners already have the power. The assumption that we “allow” control of their education is a myth. A child has power and control. We adults hate to acknowledge it! Eating, sleeping, toileting, and learning are all things parents have no control over. Sure, we can put the buffet foods on the child’s plate, but we respectfully can’t force him to eat it.

At some point in time, every child must take control and ownership of their education. The problem now is that kids are coddled too much by parents making children’s education, the parent’s responsibility. The kids know this. When someone else is responsible for your homework, grades and assignments, you don’t have to be. When puberty hits, the schools expect kids to start taking more responsibility. We hope it happens by junior high in that we have to stop nagging about grades and homework. We hope it happens by high school so we can let go and kids own their education. I know parents of university kids that still bribe them to get good marks. Who is owning that education? If the motivation is not internal by then, the child is not in the field they want or should be. They are the ones who will change careers in five years and have to re-study again anyways. Isn’t it better to find your path earlier? Unschooled kids own their education since birth and continue to take responsibility for it. Their parents empower them to steer their education, rather than “allow” them.

Working towards something challenging and tough is an accomplishment that builds self-esteem and confidence. How will they learn a healthy work ethic?

To devise a project and fail at it or succeed at it, brings its own accomplishments and self-esteem. Internally motivated projects are the best kind. Unschooled teens have the drive and grit to finish a project, a video game, a book or a job term. They don’t need school or external bribes and punishments to learn a healthy work ethic. Self-discipline or what we now call, executive function, is received through brain maturation.

Aren’t there some things kids just have to do?

Yes, but do they have to do them at the tender age of 6? As my friend, Bailey said, “Is this a lesson they truly need to learn today?” Can many things wait until later when they have the brain development and executive function (discipline and self-control) to fully appreciate and understand the need for them? Chores, volunteering, helping others, cleaning up the environment, voting, etc. are all things children should do. Education should not be one of those. Learning should truly be pleasurable, not a chore.

Unschooling sounds too easy. Kids shouldn’t be allowed shortcuts.

Are we speaking about true learning or doing time in an institution? Of course, kids that catch on quickly shouldn’t pay the penalty of having to do busywork. Kids that catch on longer should be allowed to take their time without penalty or ridicule.

As for parents, unschooling is sometimes more time-consuming and harder than for school and homeschooling. Interests erupt at inconvenient times and learning is a 24 hour per day, 7 day per week process. School is done in 6 hours a day (plus homework). Homeschooling is done in 1 hour a day. Unschooling takes 24 hours a day.

How do children know what they want to study? They are too young to know.

They don’t. They only play. What catches their interest in play is educational and very absorbing for them. We may see their play as being frivolous time fillers rather than educational, but play is the way children learn.

Kids must have a prescribed set of outcomes that they need to learn.

Again the assumption is that they will not dive into math, Language arts, science, music, art, and social studies just through the course of their play or if they are not required or forced to learn it. Most people think those subjects are separate from real life and experience when in fact, they are inextricably melded together. Try to cook or build a table without math skills. Try to read a newspaper without language arts. Try to understand weather patterns without science and try to understand the government process without understanding social studies. Life and course subjects are not separate. Most of what is in the curriculum, children can learn through their play and living their life.

Kids do better with structures and routines.

Structure and routine are also life skills and can be weaved with the family setting, jobs, volunteering and community environment. School is not the only training ground for learning self-discipline.

Why did your children write exams if you are against standardized testing?

We treasure what we can measure. I asked politely and they agreed. I needed some “measurement” to ensure objectivity in their educational attainment. They had the choice to say no.

Shouldn’t our society expect our children to know and be aware of certain basic things like for example, “the Louis Reil rebellion” or “the Holocaust”. What lessons are not getting passed on if we don’t ensure that our children have this basic knowledge.

Again, the underlying assumption is that school is the only way children learn about these issues.

Yes, we can feed children prescribed curriculum, but does it stick? I studied Brazil extensively in grade 8 , but as an adult, all I know about Brazil now is basic trivia – it’s a country in South America. As soon as I passed the grade 8 social studies test, Brazil was out of my brain and mind. As an adult, I can visit Brazil and truly understand more about the country, because now I choose to. We took our children to visit Dachau and it was much more absorbing and understanding visiting the memorial than it was reading about it in a book.

Public education is the foundation of our democracy and the cornerstone of an egalitarian society.

There will always be a need for public education. Public education is needed for employment support. But it shouldn’t be the only choice for children. My goal in writing this book is to ensure every parent and child knows that school and homeschooling are not the only choices available. Unschooling is also a valid choice in education.

As parents, is the welfare of the “system” our first consideration when we make choices for our child? Never. Every parent acts in best interests of their child, and their family. We can’t deny our children a better education because some other parents don’t want us to have it. It’s like assuming that every worker needs to work in a big company, and no one can be an entrepreneur, because it would undermine the middle class. Choice in education is democracy. Choice in education is also funded choices.

Public education serves two purposes: one is for the child, but one is also for the public good. Do unschooled children miss the values in public education?

There is an assumption that parents of unschooled children don’t want or care about providing the best for their child. No parent wants to raise their child to encounter hardships later in life. That is why most parents do their best in raising the next generation. Unschooling parents’ value responsible, caring and empathetic citizenship just as much as any other parent of a child in school. I have met many parents of unschooled children who lie awake at night wondering if they are doing “enough” and comparing their children to school-based kids. I have not met an unschooling parent who doesn’t worry that they are giving their children their best. And they do an amazing job unschooling.

Public education is still there for people who want it. It serves a valuable need of providing childcare and employment support. Keeping my child away from it, in no way hurts the system. Which brings us to the next question…

Keeping kids out of the public system doesn’t support it financially and hurts it. Right?

No. All citizens pay taxes regardless of the type of education they get or even if they have children at all. When parents choose alternative education, they pay double. They pay taxes that support public education for everyone, and they pay tuition fees for private school and they also pay in lost income, and out of their own pocket for homeschooling and unschooling costs. In addition to supporting the system by paying taxes, they also support the system by not drawing the resources they pay for. The system can allocate the funds saved from homeschooling students to other priorities. For example, our family of five children pays $2,500 a year in education taxes. We receive $4,500 a year for resource funding to educate five children. We don’t draw out the $50,000 a year that our children would cost the system if we used it. Thus, we save the government $45,500 per year we unschool. Add in our tax money and it becomes $48,000 that goes to other children whose parents choose public education. In no way does our choice financially undermine public education. It supports it. Over 12 years of education, we have saved taxpayers a half a million dollars.

Some critics of unschooling tell us to keep our kids in the system and work hard to change it. Perhaps we did for a time and got tired of banging our heads against the wall of a big unchangeable bureaucracy with little incentive for change. Too many invested interests do not wish to see change – and the wellbeing of our children is often the last consideration ahead of jobs and funding. Change in a big entity happens usually when outside forces start pinching it.

We discovered that the way to change the school system is not to subject our kids to it, but rather create alternatives that could become popular enough, and viable enough, that they force the traditional school system to incorporate their key values. Look how self-publishing disrupted the book industry? Change happens with very small movements of committed, disgruntled people with huge amounts of energy and thick skins try something different. As one parent said, “I cast my biggest vote of all by showing ‘no confidence’ in the school system by not sending my kids to school.”

Any school alternative is creating niche enclaves and elitism and serves to segregate students. This is not good for the moral fabric of society.

Any educational choice is a niche community into itself. Individual schools are stand alone communities with their own mascots, uniforms, logo, governance, routines and culture. Homeschooling has various communities as well depending on the type of homeschooling such as classical, eclectic, worldschooling, and unschooling. As kids leave one community and enter another, they learn a new set of rules, norms and practices. Getting along with people is a life skill, not a school skill.

But perhaps the most compelling argument against unschooling (and independent education, generally) is that, if adopted on a large scale, it’s bad for society. Where are common social values learned?

At home and in the community. Diversity is a good thing, and it’s even better in education. Schools tend to be the homogenous institution. Unschooling celebrates diversity.

When a child can choose to do whatever suits his whim, aren’t we giving him the message that he is the centre of the universe and that is plain wrong?

Are we talking about education or parenting? There are still many times that a child has to be told “No” and their rights do not supersede others, and they learn how to cope with that disappointment and frustration. We don’t force any adult to choose a job. Why do we force a child to do curriculum? Is it because of the age difference? When a child grows older, they can understand that certain standards are required as a prerequisite for what they want to do and they may choose to undertake those. We may think we know what is best for a child, but ultimately, they do and eventually make those choices.

It all boils down to choice. At what age does education becomes a choice for children? What about food? Sleep? Religion choice? Marriage partner? When do children “own” their education? Birth? Age 6? Age 18? Age 65?

Do you take the summer off from unschooling?

No. Learning never takes a holiday. It begins at birth and ends with death, and no time off for weekends, holidays, birthdays or even sick days. It’s constant, and omnipresent.

Will unschoolers be able to meet deadlines in the workforce?

Yes, as much as the rest of the population.

All children need and have the right to an education.

Hard cases make bad laws. Why does the entire population of families who drop out of the school system need to be heavily regulated in order to catch a small percentage (0.0001%) of the population who might be abusive and neglectful? The percentage of abusive families is proportionally greater in the public system, than homeschooling, yet, we don’t demand stricter controls of public school when a child is found to be abused and attends school. The media loves to broadcast that families are homeschooled when abuse cases are exposed. It adds to the fear and distrust. That is not fair or good practice.

Many schools in the 70’s and 80’s turned a blind eye to abuse. But they are one element in a child’s life, and not the only one. Neighbors, churches and the community stores get to know children too. Every adult has the responsibility to report abuse – not just schools.

Government regulation is also so last year. Homeschooling parents are only in charge of their own children – not others. Thus, there is no more public interest in education than there is in good parenting. Do we trust parents to have their own children’s best interests at heart? Either we do as a society or we don’t. Most parents are motivated to pull their children out of school in order for them to flourish and do better. They want and will go to great lengths for their children’s education as they have the most vested interest in how their child turns out. Parents make every decision based on love. Schools and governments don’t. Parents who undertake their child’s education should be given more flexibility and trust, not less. They know their children best.

Homeschooling at the high school level is hard. Most parents are not up for the task. Parents do not always know all the ways in which they should help children develop. This might result in stunted learning or incorrect skills and habits that are difficult to correct later.


Homeschooling at the high school level has never been easier. Unschooled children can access the internet’s many free videos and courses. Parents do not have to know the material in order to teach. Curious kids will learn what they need through the various ways they can seek out information. Incorrect skills and habits can always be relearned. The brain’s capacity for learning new things never ceases.


“But don’t you need a break? Homeschooling is very hard on the mom.”

“I could never do that! You are such a better woman than me!” “You work and you homeschool five kids? Wow, you must be superwoman!”

Homeschooling and unschooling are the easy choice. School is stressful. In unschooling, there is no homework, tests, PD days, lunches, inclement weather, extra-curricular activities, uniforms, overdue library books, field day permission slips, over-tired kids, science-fair projects, fundraising, classroom volunteering, and parent-teacher interviews. A typical day of unschooling is like a Saturday afternoon in July. Fun. Relaxing. Close relationships.

Children who are not used to having their days filled by adults, learn to fill their own days with healthy activities. Most homeschooling parents have children around; but in the next room or working side by side with them. Having presence with another person in the room, (which is nice for a lot of people) is different from having to entertain another person. One is comforting and connecting, and the other is hard work. Many unschooling parents run businesses, or work in paid work outside the home. Having children around enhances the experience and doesn’t compete.

Some kids have no nurturing, encouragement or positive role models at home. If they didn’t get it at school, where would they get it?

Teachers can be a very nurturing, encouraging influence in a child’s life, and studies show that having one interested adult in their life can help them survive a dysfunctional family life. However, teachers rarely have the time to establish relationships because of all the outcomes they must teach in the ever-expanding curriculum. School is in the business of teaching academics, not parenting. Yet, the relationships that children get in school, especially the teacher-student relationship, is the best, and most crucial outcome of school life.

Unschooling may work with a caring adult and rich resource environment, but what about children who come from homes without an adult, books, or even a computer? Isn’t school a haven for those children?

The worst we can do to those children is put them in online courses which is where our education system is heading now. Online courses are someone else’s’ agenda (usually the government) of what they think learners need to know. Learners must obey instructions because the learning is not their own. Online education needs structured parenting overseeing it or an extremely self-motivated student. More than anyone, these children need adults in their lives and resources are secondary. At the minimum, a library card and internet connection can help them, but a caring, attentive adult, who can give smaller ratio attention will be most beneficial in developing competencies.

About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
This entry was posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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