The word “Unschooling”

I wish their were a better word for the lifestyle we live. Unschooling is the most widely known and used term, but the word has some PROBLEMS. For one thing, it already had a meaning before John Holt used it to describe the educational philosophy we follow and it was NOT GOOD. Check out this painful entry in the Merriam Webster online thesaurus:

DAAAANG Merriam Webster! Ouch! Hahaha

Another reason I don’t LOVE the word Unschool is because it has the word SCHOOL right in it! Excuse me, but the way we live does not have anything to do with school. In fact we strive to live and think as if school did not even exist. I wish we had a word which affirmed that what we do, we don’t do in reference to school. We don’t live our lives trying to prove something to the School-ish world.

The last reason I wish we had a better word is that to a person who’s never heard the term, unschooling sounds like an attempt to withhold education from our children. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but the assumption of many people hearing the word for the first time is that we are refusing to educate the kids.

In fact, I have a confession to make. When people ask me what we do, I usually just say we homeschool. That term has its own set of negative connotations in some people’s minds (weirdness, seclusion, over-protectiveness, religious zealotry), but at least people won’t think I’m trying to put my kids on a path to homelessness.

If people ask further questions into how we “homeschool”, I will usually explain that we don’t use any specific curriculum, rather relying on the kids’ own curious tendencies, reading books, meeting friends, doing life. Very rarely will I ever bring up the word “unschooling”.

This is all just a little rant to say that I wish there were a better word for what we do, and I wish that the world wasn’t so steeped in the mythos of School that anything a child does is seen as necessarily “educational” or “not”, and that any philosophy of living with kids must refer somehow to the institution I reject.

2 thoughts on “The word “Unschooling”

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  1. This (school) year we tried homeschooling for my (high school age) daughter. Sadly it wasn’t REALLY a homeschool education due to it being run through the system, it was more like at home, online classes. It started out okay for my daughter but after a couple months, she started missing classes. How did she miss classes you ask, well she started sleeping in late and when she was up, she just wouldn’t login. So sadly, we enrolled her in (regular) school. ***sigh


    1. A lot of parents find that when they first take their child out of school, the child requires a period of “deschooling” where they just rest and reset. School is pretty stressful for them, and they often need a few weeks or months to just do nothing and remember themselves before they’re ready to get back into anything. If you Google the term deschooling you’ll see lots of articles explaining the idea more thoroughly. 🙂
      Stepping outside the system is pretty alarming and different at first. It requires a big deschooling shift for the parents as well. I’m still in the process to be honest. For those of us who went through 12 or 20 years of school, the school culture is deeply ingrained.


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