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70:20:10 Lessons Learned from Unschooling

A Very Brief Overview

John Holt, teacher and writer, is credited with coining the phrase “unschooling” to refer quite simply to “learning without going to school.” Holt’s many works detail his belief that children should learn according to their own curiosity and interests, that they spend more time out of school, and that they learn from a larger circle of teachers, including from their own peers. Holt had six years’ experience teaching in the fifth grade before he “dropped out” in the late 60s to focus on writing, lecturing, and consulting with school systems across the country.

The work of Peter Gray also lends insight into the unschooling movement, particularly the study he did in 2011, “A Survey of Grown Unschoolers,” of 75 grown unschoolers.  In his summary of the survey, Gray notes:

“Almost all of the respondents, in various ways, wrote about the freedom and independence that unschooling gave them and the time it gave them to discover and pursue their own interests.  Seventy percent of them also said, in one way or another, that the experience enabled them to develop as highly self-motivated, self-directed individuals. Many also wrote about the learning opportunities that would not have been available if they had been in school, about their relatively seamless transition to adult life, and about the healthier (age-mixed) social life they experienced out of school contrasted with what they would have experienced in school.”

What Lessons Can We Derive?

Today everyone is encouraged to be an innovator, and more and more, we look throughout the entire chain of command to ensure the success of the organization. The sense of individual responsibility that is required for such success within large corporations and self-owned businesses is something that has to be nurtured early on. When we look at the hallmarks of the unschooling movement, we can see some of the qualities that help to foster such self-directed and innovative practices.

This begs that question as to whether unschooling is the only means by which to nurture independent thinking, to increase the sense of individual responsibility and to make better use of peer engagement and outside experts in the learning process. Perhaps not, but it does encourage us to examine the current blend of learning, the role of test-driven curricula, and the potential to a move toward an increased ratio of project-based learning, DIY or maker-driven blended learning and even “e-learning days,” those days off from the brick and mortar complex to individualized projects completed at home and which still contribute to students’ completion of their graduation requirements.

The introduction of blended learning programs in the schools addresses at least the issue of more support for individualized learning, and there is growing evidence of more successful collaborations between the public and private sectors through which an increased number of outside experts are engaging with our students in the schools. Two groups that I’ve enjoyed following are iMentor and Tools at Schools.

Unschooling has provided a reasonable alternative for many families for whom traditional education was not an option. By looking at the benefits extolled by its own practitioners and the evidence of their successes beyond the K-12 arena, we may derive some additional best practices for preparing our next generation for adulthood and a 70:20:10 workplace.


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

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