Unschooling is for adults, too!

Mindset and attitude are at the heart of any kind of educational pursuit. This includes school, university, and the types of projects we take up as adults– for this blog, that’s namely learning languages. Unfortunately, traditional schooling hurts how people think about themselves and their projects, and they don’t accomplish what they want. The solution? Unschooling!

What is unschooling??

Unschooling is a subcategory of homeschooling. While many homeschooling philosophies use boxed curricula containing your standard school subjects (math, science, language, etc. etc.) unschooling thinks about the education of children entirely differently. Homeschooling tries to fix the paradigm of education by shoring up subjects the parents believe they can teach better than the school system, by forgoing a crowded classroom environment, by emphasizing a certain belief system to their children. Unschooling, on the other hand, questions the paradigm of school altogether.

What does this look like? First of all, I recommend Joyfully Rejoycing as an excellent resource to learn more about unschooling and how it plays out in people’s lives. But as a quick introduction, many unschooling families accept that “school subjects” as presented in traditional K-12 education do not really exist. Biology bleeds into chemistry which bleeds into physics which bleeds into mathematics. Everything is interconnected! Unschooling families allow kids the power of choice– children are permitted to learn however they want to, by whatever means. Cartoons and video games are held in just as high esteem as literature and math, because everything is considered a learning opportunity. The emphasis in unschooling families is on the freedom and joy of pursuing one’s interests, not on ticking off boxes to achieve some defined measure of success.

Some families go further and include unschooling in areas of discipline and everyday activities. For example, if a kid wants to stay up until 3am, the parents will permit it. The kid will learn from real world consequences that they might be tired the next day. If a kid wants 10 doughnuts, then she’ll learn herself that she’ll have one hell of stomachache.

Obviously, this educational philosophy can be controversial. However, unschooling has been around for decades, so we can now ask grown unschoolers about their lives and about how unschooling as affected them. While many would think unschooling might put kids at a distinct disadvantage, data proves otherwise. This survey finds that grown unschoolers are gainfully employed as adults. And interestingly, they tend toward fields that allow them to maintain the freedom they had as children– they are disproportionately involved in STEM fields, the arts, and entrepreneurial pursuits. Sandra Dodd, a huge advocate for unschooling, has an anecdotal page on the success of teen and grown unschoolers. Some unschoolers choose to go on to university, some don’t, but unschoolers tend to ask themselves what exactly will university give them that they can’t get on their own.

What does this have to do with language learning?

I don’t have children, so I don’t technically unschool anybody. The reason I want to talk about unschooling is that I think the unschooling mindset is incredibly  beneficial to adults. I’m not talking about unschooling as its meant for children– I’m talking about the kind of mindset grown unschooled people tend to have.

I grew up in a traditional school, where the emphasis was on grades, and I never really expected to be too interested or engaged in any particular class. I did well and got straight As through university, so I suppose I was technically successful.

However, I now see some similarities between my childhood and those of unschoolers. I never lost curiosity in things that interested me, that had absolutely nothing to do with school. I was in a rural area, so we weren’t pressured to study all day and all night to overcome any competition. So, I used my freetime to learn Japanese, to draw comics, to play video games, to reseach the most random topics online (including handedness, religion and atheism, language construction, etc.). I continued to keep this creativity as much as I could while in university and law school, although my time was more than a little constrained.

I don’t think all adults are as lucky as I was growing up, and I think a lot of people have a hard time letting go of a schooling mindset when we take on new projects. Think about it– when adults want to learn something new– be it carpentry, painting, calculus, or a language– they’re actually unschooling. They’re learning something purely out of interest with no authority looking over them, monitoring what they do. And yet, so many adults try to learn these things the way they might be taught in schools, even though schools cater to classrooms of 20 to 30 children who have to meet certain government standards.

It doesn’t make sense, and I want to encourage people to let go of that mindset and adopt one akin to unschooling. The focus should be on interest, curiosity, and joy, and if traditional methods don’t work (or you don’t like them), then you need to toss it out and try something new. Forget how everyone usually thinks of academic pursuits and blaze your own trail. And honestly, if you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll get better at it so much faster than someone who plods through what they’re doing.

When it comes to languages, loosen up and try everything. Don’t limit yourself. Behave as if classes never really existed. And if you’re in a class, or have been schooled your whole life, there really is something to be gained about a philosophy that advocates learning for the sake of learning and knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It’s very refreshing in this world in which the utility of a thing determines its value.

In conclusion, unschool yourself! Forget about school and see what happens!

What do you think? Do you think this mindset can affect how you learn languages or other skills? Do you know any unschoolers? Do you unschool or homeschool your children? Comment, and let’s talk!


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