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What Does Deschooling Mean?


I guess I don’t really understand what “deschooling” is. I thought if we took a week of relaxing, we’d be ready to jump into unschooling. I feel like we’re not doing anything educational! 


Deschooling may be one of the most misunderstood terms! Not because the definition is tricky – it isn’t.
Deschooling is simply removing the schoolish ways we attach to the learning process.
But as new unschoolers/homeschoolers we tend to attach time constraints and expectations to the idea of deschooling. And then we don’t understand why “nothing is working out.”

We have to remember that for most of us, we went to school for a really long time. We have ideas about learning that we don’t even realize, until something triggers it in our homes. It’s hard to prepare for those kinds of scenarios, so that’s why we can’t really set a particular time limit on the deschooling process. Some people say that you should anticipate deschooling one month for every year you went to school. The problem I have with that is that as our children go through different developmental stages, various stories and expectations can pop into our heads that set us back. We may understand deschooling well while our kids are all playing and learning at 6, 7, and 8 years old. But then when adolescence rolls around, we start worrying again…gaps in learning, getting into college, missing out on high school events… and we’re back to Square 1 on Deschooling again. If this happens to you, don’t worry, undoing that kind of thinking can be done! 🙂

So let’s start with a good description of Deschooling.

Deschooling is about separating learning from schooling. It is removing all the props associated with school. We often think that the only way to learn is the way school presented it to us.

Academically, we think about grades, testing, “keeping up,” avoiding “gaps.”

Socially, we think about making friends, learning from the adults in charge, cooperating in groups, and even little things like “homeroom parties,” etc.

These are the tips of the icebergs that can exist in a parent’s head. Children, depending on how influential school has been on them, can suffer from these misconceptions as well. Even children that haven’t gone to school, or only attended a few years, can get ideas from extended family, TV programs, community events – implying that going to school is the norm and the only ticket to success.

Deschooling is the term we use when people are trying to get past these schoolish versions of learning. When we deschool, we open to the idea that learning is actually much bigger than that. We begin to recognize that we have created stories around these thoughts and hurdles that we now have to overcome.

If you had a less than stellar school experience it might be easier to walk away from all the schooly ways of learning, socializing and connecting. Still, since unschoolers and homeschoolers are such a small segment of the general population, things like back-to-school sales, football games, and prom season are everywhere. They may trigger some wistfulness that you or your child harbors.

Your child may think they have to do worksheets to demonstrate learning, or that authoritarian top-down teaching methods are required to learn.  Children that had a rough time at school may need time to relax into this new approach. On the outside, it may look like a lot of “vegging out” or TV/video time. Enjoy that time with them. Show them that you mean it when you say that learning is not going to be similar to school. It may take a while for your child to trust that you really mean that.

On the flipside, children that were People Pleasers at school, may think you’ve lost your mind! They may have gotten really good at figuring out how the system worked, and now you’ve turned it all upside down. These children may need you to help them identify ways that they learned outside of a school setting. You may need to talk to them about ways the adults in their lives learn new things. And, it may take a while to undo some of the conditioning that has happened in years of school attendance.
Here’s more reading  about how we have all been influenced to think that curricula/teachers/experts are needed.

How quickly a family moves through the deschooling process will be unique to your child, yourself, and your family. As the person in the original question found, you may even revisit ideas that were buried but surface later when you child enters a new developmental phase. That’s ok, you’re human! And schools have been big parts of the average American life. Give yourself some time to get acquainted  with this new way of approaching learning and shucking the shackles of the school’s version of education!

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