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March 29, 2008


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Having 9 children and the oldest 20 I also see the wreckage of lives from nieces and nephews being unschooled. Parents and children at odds because of children feeling ripped off by their parents' choices which greatly affected the childrens' lives. We have found structure when it comes to the core subjects, and then unschooling all they like in the afternoon!


This is such a terrific post!
I think my kids are the same age as yours (we have 10-almost 21 to 1yo) and I couldn't agree more.
I think this should be required reading for all young mothers and new homeschooling families! :)


Thanks for this post. I have been wondering about these things lately, and it is good to hear your thoughts on the subject.


This is what I keep coming back to as I think about unschooling. I may *say* I'm unschooling now, but it seems to be so different than the traditional unschooling or even "delight directed" learning, that I need to name it something else. I'm a true believer in the value of pushing through some difficult times.

So much to think about! Thank you for sharing it with us.


I've been thinking on this for some time. You pinned down exactly why I'm hesitant to embrace unschooling.
"virtuous to learn to face distasteful tasks with good cheer, thus developing their own blissful nature in any circumstance in which they may find themselves."
That's exactly it for me. I'm not dismissing unschooling entirely with that statement. I'm sure unschooled children have to make their beds and clean the dishes etc. But I do have some hesitance in theory. Practically speaking, I'm just far too anxious to unschool. I think there can be a balance between parent led and child led education.
I could write more, but these things are all still floating around in my mind. Interesting post Kim!


Hi, Kim! I appreciated hearing your perspective here though we are definitely coming at this from different viewpoints. I see unschooling as a way of life which very much facilitates the setting and reaching of goals by children and parents alike.

We have rejected the notion that our children will thrive without some outside motivation. In fact we, as well as many of our peers, have grown children who now say, "I wish you wouldn't have let me quit ____. I wish you would have insisted I ____." They realize now they did not have the inner fortitude to push on by themselves and would have liked to have relied upon the backbone of others when their own failed them. They have come to realize that there is only one sure route to satisfaction and that is the road traversed with no small amount of effort.

I don't think I'm understanding how you mean 'thrive' in this context. Thrive in a general sense, as in 'turn out well?' Or in a specific sense, as in 'thrive at some particular activity.' It seems like there are examples of many people thriving in both senses: in the general sense, there are many unschoolers now grown and thriving in college, grad school, at interesting jobs (Sandra Dodd and Pam Sarooshian's kids come to mind, and others); or in the specific sense, thriving at some particular undertaking despite lack of outside motivation. I think of my husband learning to play drums as a kid though his parents never once made him practice; his motivation was entirely internal. Or many of the comic-book artists who work for him, honing their talents independently and voluntarily and sometimes in the face of much external discouragement! Or the way many of us have daughters who take up crocheting or knitting, etc, and gain much skill because they are internally motivated to persevere at the activity.

I was trying to think of examples for the fill in the blanks that would be things the grown child couldn't learn *now* if he had the desire to do so. "I wish you wouldn't have let me quit...piano lessons/karate/calligraphy class/algebra/Spanish/etc." I guess what follows is a "because" phrase. "I wish you wouldn't have let me quit piano...because I would like to be able to play better right now." The person who wishes to play better can learn to do so now, when the (internal) motivation is present. I can perhaps see "I wish you had insisted I study Spanish because then I might have gotten that job that went to the bilingual applicant instead." But even there, that situation could arise if the child was not unschooled, but had been made to learn French or German instead of Spanish.

In many ways it seems that perseverance is a quality more dependent on internal motivation than external. Sticking with a difficult task because your parents are making you requires obedience more than perseverance.

History is full of examples of people who have persevered at a difficult endeavor through many challenges in order to accomplish a personal goal, not because someone was making them, wouldn't you say?

I was also thinking about how there may be differences in the way perseverance develops in kids who are unschooled their whole lives, as opposed to families who have shifted to unschooling after doing something more schoolish/structured (like mine, for instance, with the way we've had unschooly times and CM times). It seems to me having a history of *any* requirements attached to learning has to alter the outcome. Once a child becomes accustomed to doing his math because mom says so, it's possible he will be less likely to push through challenging times on his own if later the family switches to unschooling. The habit of relying on someone else to push him through might take a very long time to break.


Lissa and any who are following this thread - I hope to have a moment to chat more about this this afternoon. It is my policy not to blog/chat during school hours. Lots to do and have to get a husband out the door.

Until then, I will be frank, I find this argument to have not held water over time, appealing as it initially seems. I will explain why later. God bless.


I have looked back over the essays and I believe I have addressed the questions to the best of my ability. Our personal experience and that of more homeschoolers than I can name bears out what I have described.

Each family must define success - spiritual, emotional, vocational, and so on - in their own terms and then proceed down the path they believe will lead them to that success I can share with you what our experience has been. I can present my philosophy and why I feel it is most consistent with our family's worldview. If your goals match ours then you may want to give it your consideration.

If your family has a very different definition of success then I would read no further. There is plentiful support for alternatives available online and in print. This blog is not equipped to provide resources for them all.

Nor do I as a rule encourage moms to engage in debate. Consider your course, then embark upon it without undue hesitation and second-guessing. Know that whichever path you choose it will require nearly all of your time and energy to walk it responsibly.

God bless!


Thanks, Kim. I certainly understand your position and respect your wishes. Please know that I wasn't wanting to stir up debate; I was sincerely trying to clarify my understanding of your arguments. Your post has led to some stimulating discussions here at home and I thank you for that! :)


I am very moved and touched by the depth and balance of this post. I have been teaching and thinking about these issues as a college professor (of education), a writer, and a parent of four children for decades. Most especially I am called into these words by their balance. I mostly write about the ways in which traditional schooling alienates many students from a profound love of learning, and makes students doubt their abilities to achieve hard things. On the other hand, however, I also do feel that students (and my very own children) benefit, often, from some external structures, goals, oversight (not all, but most). That is the deep problem at the heart of this here: what is true for one child is not always true for another, but our educational system cannot structurally respond to individual differences.

Thank you for the heartfelt subtlety here. I would like to know more about what you are up to.


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