How I Would Unschool My Kids

My dad hit me when I got bad grades. Particularly when I was young and got a bad grade in "Conduct". Happiness was an "A". Even better: an "A+". Sadness was an "F". It was almost like a joke. Like the only way to get an "F" is if you tried to screw up almost as much as you tried to get an "A".

But  in twelve years of basic schooling I can't' remember anyone asking where the "E" was. It goes A, B, C, D (which was really horrible to get a D. It means you were trying somewhat (so as to avoid the "F") but you were just plain stupid and got a D. Not even a C.) and then, the magic "F". Which was more than just a letter but a one-letter acronym. None of the other letters stood for anything. They were just letters. They could've been replaced by numbers (Claudia tells me in Argentina they were graded by numbers from one to ten. No letters). It's not like "A" stood for Amazing. Or "B" Boring. "C" Crazy. "D" Dumb. You could've just replaced them by 1, 2, 3, 4. Or a "1+". But F was irreplaceable.

(the mirror image of the tattoo says "Never a Failure, Always a Lesson")

"F" stood for "Failure".  [Note: except when I was really little. There was "O" for outstanding. "S" for Satisfactory. And "N" for needs improvement. I got an N for conduct and it's the first time I remember my dad hitting me after the teacher told him I was always calling her old, which she was and there is no shame of that but I only realize that now that I am as old as she was.]

So why no "E". I think teachers got together 5000 years ago. Maybe 10,000 years ago and came up with the horrifying conclusion: Some students might think "E" stood for Effort. As in, "at least I didn't get an 'F'. I got an 'E' which means I put in an effort." And doesn't that go along all too easily with the lie teachers say, "I'm not going to judge you on your grade, I'm going to judge you on the effort you put into this class."

Did they ever really judge you on that? And if they did, do you really think they would want you to get an "E" on a test and then have to put up with your arguing at the end of a semester when you would say, "See! I put in the effort! I got an "E" on everything and you said that would be how you would judge me."

"This is awful", said a teacher at that first convention of the union of the national teachers club. "We have to take the 'E' out of the alphabet."

"But," said Mr. Maroon. "We spend years teaching them that song: A, B, C, D, E, F, G... to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star. And now we have to tell them there is no E?"

"There is an E! Just not in grades. Why is this such a difficult thing to understand? If we put an 'E' in there then our schools will NEVER get funding. All our schools depend on our students, smart or stupid, doing well on those standardized tests where they fill in the multiple choice circles and cyborgs read them and grade them and the better they do, the more funding we get. If we put an 'E' into the system the students might clog up the pipes with Effort instead of Amazing. They might even think "E" is for Exceed because at least it beats Failure! WE CANNOT HAVE AN 'E'!"

I doubt that conversation really happened. They really backed themselves into a corner. They thought by using letters instead of numbers that would fool kids into some state of confusion where they really didn't know how they did. Like, "is a B good or bad?" But everyone knows where they stand when it comes to 1 through 10.

But now they were stuck with the "E". Until they decided to strike it from the alphabet. But only some of the time. Except for that one time an entire novel was written without using the letter "e". That guy knew what he was doing. The insidious removal of the most common letter in the English language.

Because that's what English is about. It's not "Anglo". It's not quite "Saxon". It's not "Latin". But its a weird mixture of all three, concocted like a test tube baby in some scientist's laboratory when the aliens landed and impregnated our ancient Mothers with the sperm from their dying planets (since they came from a Federation of planets surrounding a supernova, or perhaps supernovae (there's that "E" again) ).  So we can keep on experimenting and investing and twisting and testing. Now "google" is a verb, a noun, a business, the beginnings of an artificially intelligent singularity, a map, an email, a social network, and a photo album with the flowers as bookmarks. We don't need those anymore thanks to Google. No memories are special enough to mark them with a flower, thanks to the newest word in the dictionary.

Ugh, trying to unravel the Rubik's Cube-like scam of lower education is a full-time job. Once you get a side with all one color you realize you've hopelessly prevented yourself from getting the other side to be one color.

I have not read much about home schooling or unschooling so I am no expert. But I've thought about it. And this is how I would do it if my kids were to let me unschool them.

A) First, (and again, this is without reading about it at all so I, at best, uneducated on the topic). I prefer the word "unschooling" to "home schooling". I assume home schooling means I replace the teacher, buy them science textbooks, math, Canterbury Tales, etc. I don't want to do that. That sounds boring to me and I assume to them as well. Unschooling sounds more like it - i.e. just completely no education at all.

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B) Only one requirement: read one book a week. It doesn't matter what book. I will pay them 10 cents a page. WHAT!? How can you pay your kids to learn? Well, I want my kids to get used to being paid for doing things they enjoy. Later in life (just a few years really) they will have to do it anyway. Why not get used to being paid for something they enjoy right now? This way they will know easily to avoid getting paid for things they don't enjoy. (this is hopefully a way to avoid them going into a life of prostitution).

Then we talk about it. Then we visit the bookstore and they get to browse other books and see what they like. I get a synesthesia of experience when I go into a bookstore, some sections have bright colors and draw me to them (fiction, current affairs, philosophy, art, comics, history) and some I can just feel the drab greyness (interior decorating, crafts, children). They would browse until something pulls at them. Then they would buy it and read it.

C) Every day: I'd set out drawing and painting materials. They'd also be encouraged to keep a diary. I want the creative neurons going. I can't force them to do this. But maybe they would want to.

D) At least an hour of sports a day.

E) I'd set up playdates for after school so they can get socialization. Or playdates with other kids that are being unschooled or home schooled (there are more than you think out there). My kids think that all home-schooled kids are "weird" because they aren't social. But I ask them, "when do you talk to your friends anyway?" And they say, "after school". So that argument is out the window.

F) The rest of the time they can do whatever they want: eat, read, watch TV, sleep, blow stuff up, do nothing but stare at the wall, walk around the block, go to the movies. Whatever. In fact, I hope they do a lot of nothing. People get addicted to doing "something". What's so great about "something". I like to do nothing. Even when people do nothing they try to label it: like "meditation". Ugh, what a boring thing: meditation. Try, "I just did nothing. I even thought about nothing in particular."

When you are capable of actually doing nothing (not so easy after decades of "something addiction"), there's a deep well that springs up, and fills every corner of you, crowding at the anxieties, the fears, the pressures put on you from government jobs colleagues bosses friends family. The nothing replaces all the vomit they try to kiss into your mouth.

By doing all the above they have more opportunity to discover their passions, more play time, more creative time, just as much social time.

The standard criticism: kids should learn how to deal with kids they don't like and doing things they don't like. People say this to me all the time, ranging from Harvard graduates to my own kids. "Kids should do things they don't like!" Really?

My answer: Why? It doesn't seem like adults are any good at that so how did experiencing it as a kid help them?

What makes me an expert on unschooling? Absolutely nothing. And that's the point. I just don't want them to do any of the 100 bad memories I (and just about everyone else) has about standardized schooling. Why should they have to go through with it?

And I'm going to grade them every week. I'll give them a big piece of paper with the letter "E" on it. And we can talk about what it means. Maybe every week it will mean something different. That sounds like fun.


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  • I like the term “lower-education.” Here are some things I learned in grades K-12

    1. How to annoy any and every authority figure at school.

    2. Often, doing the bare minimum is more than enough to get by (which needless to say, isn’t a great lesson for kids to learn)

    3. A lot of teachers aren’t as wise as they’d like you to believe.

    Most of the things that led to me being a productive human being had more to do with my own curiosity.

    That being said, I wouldn’t have met a lot of people who I’m still honored to call friends to this day if not for school. I do think the education system in most countries needs to be overhauled. When standardized testing is intrinsically linked to funding it’s easy to see how things have gotten so warped.

    Nice post, James.

    • I agree with you. I don’t think sending kids to school is the bad part. The way we educate them is the bad part. I recently read The Element and Out of our Minds, both written by Sir Ken Robinson. He has a great view on education and what’s wrong with it today (and how we might want to improve it as well). Worth reading

    • Otaddy

      And since “socialization” is brought up anytime someone suggests alternatives to our educational system, here’s what I learned from this socialization:

      I learned that “being cool” and fitting in are #1.

      I had myself esteem beat down from not being “cool” or “fitting in”.

      I tried alcohol and drugs and drove while doing them, all to “fit in”.

      And I was distracted by all of the idiots in class who didnt want to be there. (I didnt either, but I did want to learn as some of the topics were interesting and I did have a few teachers that motivated me.)

      So I say: “Socialization is overrated”. I have a few close friends that I enjoy and some family, but other than that, socializing is a chore!

  • I’m a soon to be ex-teacher and I plan on unschooling myself once this school year ends (Dec in Australia).

    Reading one book a week (at least) and doing nothing much is so inviting and it’s my goal for my spare time for the remainder of the year, continuing on into next year.

    My current anxiety is high on what to do next, and it doesn’t help that everyone wants to know what I’ll be doing, so curious they are about why a 32yo young woman is leaving her career and not because she’s starting a family, but just because she feels like it. It scares other people to even have this as an option and they’re desperate to pigeon me into a box – “Oh she’s got a promotion”, “She’s off to pursue further studies”, “She’s having a baby” etc.

    If I can go the whole year without pushing myself to find something “useful” to do and instead unschool or “unwork” or “unlive” for the entire year I might have a fighting chance of achieving what you have in mind for your girls.
    Loved the post :) I’ll be needing more of them through the next 18 months to remind me!

    • I like that. Even adults can unschool themselves. Hmmm. Topic for a post maybe!

      • Yes, please do write about this, I’d love to hear your pov.

      • mikeyhell

        James, I like to think that a dominant theme of your blog is about how to unschool ourselves. Think about it.

      • I unschooled myself from 16-18 and then unschooled my children :)

      • Caroline

        When you decide to take full responsibility for your children, you automatically begin a process of unschooling yourself. It is a common topic of conversation among my homeschool buddies. I have heard it often in terms of unplugging, unschooling, deprogramming etc.

      • Mary

        The interesting thing, James, is that unschooling ourselves is perhaps the hardest part of unschooling our children. It is us that are wrapped up in all the societal ideas of what should and shouldn’t be. We pass that on to the kids so the hard part is letting go of all that and starting to view the world the way you think would be best for our kids to view it!

        The best gift my children have ever given me is to force me to rethink everything, see through their eyes, and unschool myself! I have grown leaps and bounds because of it. I now do what I want to do an have finally let go of all the worry of what others expectations are. What a gift right?

    • Smack

      Love this Mirella – inspirational – Would love to hear how your year goes…I expect splendidly…

    • InnerCynic

      The “system”, and the robots that operate within it, respond in some interesting ways when faced with anyone who doesn’t “fit” into their pigeon-hole programming. That’s why I don’t ask, and hate being asked, “What do you DO?”. Sheesh! As if that’s what defines me. I’ve used replies such as “Gainfully unemployed” and that gets the blinkity blinking eyes where you can see the wheels and cogs hard at work trying to assimilate this square-peg answer to their round-hole expectations.

      • liberranter

        Absolutely! It’s amazing how quickly the masses of droids conditioned by the system shrink away in discomfort or outright terror from anybody who clearly isn’t “part of the program.”

        I too take an instant dislike to anybody i meet for the first time whose first question to me is “so, what do YOU do for a living?” My default answer has become “I’m a professional disruptor of corporate culture. I spend my days spreading levity, exposing the raw and unbelievable stupidity of those at the top of the pecking order, and planting seeds of critical thought inside the heads of my colleagues. While the actual ‘work’ that I do consists mostly of mindless and pointless white-collar drudgery, the joy of seeing the fruits of my real work makes it all more than worthwhile.”

        It works like a charm every time. At this point, the other person usually either quickly changes the subject or walks away to chat with someone else who is “normal.”

        • InnerCynic

          I can always count on you, liberanter, to put give me a good laugh and put a smile on my face. Thumbs up!

  • Nice one, James. I pulled my oldest son out of public school when he shifted from elementary grades to middle school–apparently, when your kid reaches 6th grade, they automatically don’t require time outdoors every day, finger painting, music, and anything that resembles learning things they are actually interested in. He went from a kid that loved books, art, and self-directed reading/learning to a kid that HATED school and anything to do with learning. So, I pulled him out. And after my second son observed all the fun stuff my oldest was doing at home–designing weird chemistry experiments, running around in the rain, hiking in the hills, math puzzles, watching meteor showers, reading books about all of the above–he decided HE wanted to be out of public school as well. I have a daughter going into 3rd grade, and she is excited about leaving public school when she is in 6th grade. And I have one child, 16, who is finishing up her education in public school because, like your kids, she is a child of my first marriage, and her father isn’t going to subscribe to homeschool, or unschool, or ANYTHING but the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-my-school-is-better-than-your-school experience he thinks his daughter requires to be successful. So, we’ve experienced both paradigms in our household. I’m telling you now, public school is a joke. We are constantly playing with our model of “school” here at home, always trying new things, and we are never afraid to throw something out if it isn’t working for us. My kids have lots of friends, ride their bikes EVERYWHERE in our small town, play drums, saxophone, piano–because they WANT to, and they read voraciously. They have free time in the evenings because they aren’t saddled with 2 hours of homework after school every day. Our family is closer, and we can do more together. It is the only way, in my opinion.

    Keep on, my friend.

  • LC3

    Money quote: “The nothing replaces all the vomit they try to kiss into your mouth.”

    Extremely well written James. Interestingly, it immediately reminded my of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes:

    “I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. “

    • Tuzo

      Yeah, I loved the vomit kiss as well. Well, not an actual vomit kiss…the sentence. Very evocative!

  • I’m currently reading a book on school that you’d like from a former teacher who taught for 30 years in New York. One of the better quotes:

    “Put kids in a class and
    they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important; force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.”

  • I unschool my son. The hugest thing is really making sure that there really is “nothing” to do at times. Cable television and easy access to video games can really screw things up.

  • Also stumbled on this study which confirms everything you’ve ever written about college.

    • Sophie

      That study is as bad as NCLB’s standardized tests…it’s results are based on factual recall (a skill no longer needed, we have google), rather than critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, problem solving and other skills kids need now.

      • Factual recall and memorization is what’s mostly taught in school. It doesn’t negate the point that most of college is wasted time and money. The only skill most people use after school is compliance. You learn how to be comfortable doing repetitive, boring work, while constantly waiting for someone to tell you what to do.

        • liberranter

          Exactly. College is just an extension of grades K-12 that prepares the “white collar” worker bee for his/her lifetime of soulless drudgery and tedium.

  • When I was a kid, E stood for “Excellent”. We also had VG (very good), G (good), S (satisfactory), and U (unsatisfactory). My mother spent her days teaching other kids while we went to school. Didn’t make sense to me, either.

  • Is any of you fathers and mothers actually have a son or a daughter who is in his/her 20s and is working with a good job and have a bright future? I don’t really care if i had a happy or mediocre childhood, if i’ll end up with no proper certificate (BCs or whatever) that will give me a good chance to get hired, i’m screwed.

    You think that your circumstances or your good luck will be the same for your kids, and that they will mature the same way you did? so what happens if the plans you set for your kids didn’t workout? with no backup what will happen.

    I agree that the education system needs to be improved but taking your kids out of school is not the right choice.

    • How do you really know you would”ve been screwed without a “certificate”. There are many many counterexamples.

      • I don’t, i might not. Actually i just finished my degree (10 days ago), i already have a business i feel like its going somewhere but still too early to decide if i should make it my full time job. I got the chance to work on it because i had free time while studying.

        In my case it was true i felt university was a waste time, and after i started my business a switch in my head just flipped that changed my way of thinking, i guess i matured a little bit.

        But will that be the case for everyone?

  • vishy

    Give children schooling whether they want or not. This sets up a basic foundation. Dont deny them this opportunity. The so called -ves of school is exaggerated in this post.
    For college they can make a decision themselves if they want college or not.
    After that there is a lifetime left to pursue own endeavours.
    Note: A college degree certificate is a ticket to jobs and more success. Life is a game. Knowing and playing by the rules allows you to succeed.

    • A college degree certificate is not necessarily a ticket to jobs and more success. These studies have been greatly disputed (by me in prior posts). A college degree certificate IS, however, a ticket to more debt, and a loss of 5 years of time.

      • vishy

        Indians and Chinese come to US, get a degree (eg MS in CompSc/Electronics etc). By Indian currency terms this is very very expensive for them (1 USD ~ 50 INR). But still they manage to get a good job with that degree and pay off the loan. 5 years is a small period. There is a lifetime ahead to do on ones own once foundation is laid.
        The vast majority of people are not self driven and hence need a degree, a ticket which opens doors.

  • Rob Hunsicker

    Having books around is key. I used to read whatever books my parents had on the shelves, especially if I thought I wasn’t supposed to. Be wary of paying your kids to learn though. My dad used to pay me for every A and it was fine as long as I didn’t have to put in any effort to get good grades. But when I really started to despise school, flushing that money became a method of defiance.

    A girl at my school told me that her parents didn’t pay her for good grades because learning is its own reward. I told her that was stupid and that her parents just didn’t want to pay up. But then she became valedictorian. And I think her brother did as well. So maybe there’s something to it.

  • Jose Goldberg

    u can always tell the home schooly kids ..pasty, skinny always looking down…… wonder how many leaders where home schooly …gates, jobs, clinton……. i don’t tink so

    • Hey! I’m pasty, skinny, and always looking down.

    • Ignorant post Jose. Do your unschooling homework. Modern public school is based on the Prussian model. Read some John Holt and John Taylor Gatto.
      Besides, my unschooled son is buff and tan.

    • Caroline

      Jose, you have no clue what the reality is. I see pasty introverted kids in either setting. That perception that these kids are pasty skinny and always looking down is a stereotype & a myth. The home educated kids I consistently meet are black, brown, tan, skinny, pasty, fat, athletic, outgoing, shy, dorky, uncoordinated, anti-readers, bookworms, atheist, agnostic & religious, are good at math, suck at math, gay, hetero, whatever. I’ve met hundreds of these families. And by the way my youngest (7 years) can have a confident conversation with ANY age human being.

  • Erin Parker

    “I want my kids to get used to being paid for doing things they enjoy.” – what a beautiful thing (and important lesson) to teach your children!!! *Applause

  • Gary

    Yeah, you’ve pretty much got the home-schooling curriculum summed up. Flexibility is the key. The essentials are learning to read, comprehend, communicate, and calculate — at the lower levels. At the higher levels add thinking (analyze and synthesize in academic jargon). It’s the parent’s responsibility to educate their children. When you leave it to government you get prisons/sausage factories. So do it the way it works, but remember you have to do it, not ignore it. BTW, I educated my child in two parochial schools (one mediocre, one very good), home schooling (including a tutor for foreign language because I’m not competent enough there) for two years, and public high school for two years. We’ve seen the good and bad of all three styles. As for the socialization criticism that home-schoolers always get, I ask what is more social, interacting with people of all ages and types or being a member of a nearly homogeneous herd 8 hours a day?

    • that’s a great point, Gary, about the “homogeneous herd”. Very true.

      • David

        No. It’s a terrible point. I love this blog and agree with most of James’ well thought-out beliefs regarding education (in school and life), but this is the one thing I very much disagree with. The herd is diverse, and I believe it is extremely valuable. Home schooling is comparatively far more homogeneous. Small private schools of narrow socioeconomic levels are more homogeneous than large, stinky, public schools as well.
        I myself hated school (the classroom part) bitterly. I went and I got my A’s because I wanted to please my loving and well-intentioned parents. But I also told them, and anyone else who would listen, that school sucked donkey turds. After wasting 4 years and 100 grand at college, I started my own dopey blue-collar company and was a millionaire by 30. All the while, my resentment toward the classroom increased. What a colossal waste of my time and attention.
        However – and it’s a big however – the socialization school provided was of tremendous value. I got plenty of my parents’ opinions at home. They took me on travels, exposed me to adult friends, shared their life with me. But there is no way to replace the gauntlet of navigating the halls, playgrounds, and locker rooms of a crappy public school. I dealt with bullies, idiots (both kids and teachers), jocks, goths, nerds, hot chicks who wouldn’t give me the time of day, etc. I was exposed to hundreds of different lifestyles, manifestos, and opinions. I forged incredibly deep connections with some wonderful peers, as we fought off and made fun of the crap sandwich all around us. My school friends took me to their homes, their parents, exposed me to new worlds. And these kids were my age, so we connected in a way that the age gap can’t compensate for. We laughed at the same stupid stuff.
        I got plenty of time at home, my ears and eyes filled with the life of my wonderful parents. But their range was only so broad. They could not replicate my buddies and I conniving to put laxatives in the bully’s coke or working up the courage to ask a girl to the dance, or any of the other stuff that both sucked and made life magic. I am forever grateful to my amazing school friends.

        • tomdryan

          Homeschooling doesn’t mean that you lock kids in their room until they are 18. There are so many different activities available for social interaction, it boggles the mind. We have actually had to cut down some activities so the kids (and or family) are not over-scheduled — we have something going on just about every day.

          I would hate to have my kids wasting away in a broken institution for 12 years so that they could eventually share some sort of battlefield camaraderie with their fellow detainees — that’s twisted. Traditional public schooling is a relic of the industrial revolution.Homeschooling is more in tune with how people work and interact both today and in the future. There are so many options out there people — don’t be a drone — go check them out!!!

        • Gary

          No, it’s a good point, just a response to one criticism of home schools. Actually, I agree with most of your rebuttal, David, about dealing with different kinds of kids. That’s why my child spent *some* time in the public high school. However, the pressure to conform is not the kind of socialization I appreciate. You obviously have a non-conformist streak that served you well.

  • Nicely done James. We are mostly unschooling our lil’ girl. the state of florida has rules we must abide by in order to continue to have the privilege of raising our daughter but other than that she works on things she likes, gets a gentle prodding on the things she doesn’t and watch her assimilate new knowledge at a pace that frightens me.

    She’s 6 and just coming into her own reading. It’s becoming important to her. She already knows complex addition, the basics of algebra, multiplication and division. She asked for that knowledge I didn’t force it on her. She gravitated to what she was good at early.

    She loves dinosaurs and robots. I love having her teach me things.


  • We home school. We replace the teacher. Superior to the public schools because one-on-one tutoring beats other modes of learning.

    Most unschooling is bogus, if they truly unschool. Most unschoolers I run into begin schooling because it doesn’t work. Children do not know what is good for them; they need to be trained, coached, guided. They will not learn what they need to on their own, because they do not know what is important.

    • Unschooling is not as free as that (though I do understand there are people who think that’s nirvana). The key is interaction and creating a love of learning. After that just being there to work with them (not against them) is all you have to do. Having a formal session at a blackboard doing math problems is not schooling.

      Just be flexible and set the same rules for learning that you have for the rest of the household, ie. schedules and structure for certain parts of the day. After that, as James says, that time should be theirs to figure out how to fill.

  • Paul

    Not to invalidate anything you’ve said about school, as you bring up a lot of good points–but with regard to paying your kids to read, there is research suggesting this will actually impair their enjoyment of such a wonderful activity. I don’t have time or inclination to google a bunch of stuff, but if you google money and motivation you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    One study that comes to mind is researchers asked kids to draw. Some they did just for the fun of it. Others, they paid for the output. The unpaid kids doing it for the joy produced about the same number of pics as the kids who were paid. But then, when the researchers did a second round where they didn’t pay EITHER group, output for the originally unpaid kids remained high, but it slacked significantly for the paid kids.

    Their conclusion (or interpretation) was that payment made drawing seem more like a job to the kids, and when the incentive was removed, so was some of the enjoyment. I think that perhaps setting the expectation of payment for a task might make you cognitively connect said task, which you normally would’ve done and enjoyed anyway, with needing to be paid for it…which could indeed diminish ‘doing for the sake of doing’.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • This is what Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards – The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes” is all about.

    • Brian

      I read sort of second-handedly about some studies that tried to find ties between money and motivation, and following in your example of not taking a lot of time,… They found interesting results: if they paid people a lot, they did a lot worse, but if they paid people a small to middling amount, they did well.

      One possible interpreration offered was that if you pay people enough so that they don’t have to worry about money, they do well. But if you you make them think about, then they will do poorly.

      Not sure how this maps onto the concept of paying kids to do work.

  • This past Spring, we pulled our kids out of school five weeks prior to the end of the year. Friends, conditioned into what is socially acceptable, are shocked when they learn that we do this, every year.

    My daughter and son are spending an extended summer in a small town, in rural Brazil. They roam the city streets, free to come and go from our home there, as they please. They spend time in town, on farms, with family, friends, and strangers. It is wonderful.

    To keep this freedom, I have them spend some time on khanacademy and complete a small writing assignment, each week. Writing assignment is usually to tell me about something they have read. No summaries allowed. I want to know what they think.

    In two months, they’ll learn more skills, to help them survive the world, than in the next year of public school, back here in the States.

    We are not wealthy. We simply make our children our priority, and do what we must to provide them with opportunities to live and learn.

  • Jill

    Am on a doing nothing vacation at present and it reminds me of LC3’s Henry David Thoreau quote. How I Unschool My Kids is wisdom, thank you for putting into words something always known to me as a kid but never expressed. Enough time has passed by to prove to every soul on earth that the collective human ego’s attempt at controlling Nature (everyone’s lives) does not ensure happiness by it’s domination.

    Watch the water for a while at the sea shore or anywhere, it moves along and isn’t doing anything but moving along with Nature’s forces. As human race let’s go of the ego to realize the futility of resisting (Nature) and controlling others (Nature) it will lead to a great surrendering and result in universal cooperation and love.

    The story of an elephant, raised in a circus, it’s one foot tied to a post with a chain to keep him from going anywhere. When he is small, he several times attempts to break free from the chain but is not strong enough. After he grows into a mighty elephant who could easily break the chain by simply moving his foot, what does he do? He does not think he can so he remains under the control of that little chain.

  • if parents were spending the ~$16,500 per pupil that we blow on public schools in NH, the kids could visit a different country every year and learn the language, or build a really good robot, or have their own DNA lab…

    ..instead they live in prison and usually don’t even have Internet access.

  • TraderGang

    tell this to the massive retards that pay 5 figures for 3 classes every 9 weeks .
    I learned everything about HTML through GeoCities and Angelfire (remember those? before widgets) . I learned everything about Excel formulas through google searches. I learned everything about Stocks through Thats all i need. Software knowledge, technical savvy skills, and money making tactics.
    As an MBA grad, I laughed at my old company as they paid me to complete it… Pre-K though MBA is a global joke..filled with people who aren’t really there to help you but to hold you back from your true capability. filled with legally retarded students who blatantly ask about their pay post-grad as if there is a guarenteed correlation. School isnt for risk-takers. Risk-takers dont risk that much time…

  • My favorite time in elementary school was P.E. And it was only three times a week. Then none at all last two years of high school. How could they do this to us? And we just let them. D:

  • Agree with pretty much all your “unschooling” suggestions. I remembered the other day that I didn’t like when my math teacher “taught” and I was more interested in actually doing the problems and if I got stuck then asking her for help. My parents understood the power of reading-regardless of the material. My mom used to say she did’t care is it was a Playboy magazine but encouraged me to read.

  • Ivan(not Illich)

    Why only kids? We should deschool society. (and read Deschooling society by Ivan Illich;

    quote1: “Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby schooled to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is schooled to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.”

    quote2: “Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.”

    quote3: “Everyone learns how to live outside school. We learn to speak, to think, to love, to feel, to play, to curse, to politick, and to work without interference from a teacher. Even children who are under a teachers care day and night are no exception to the rule. Orphans, idiots, and schoolteachers sons learn most of what they learn outside the educational process planned for them. Teachers have made a poor showing in their attempts at increasing learning among the poor. Poor parents who want their children to go to school are less concerned about what they will learn than about the certificate and money they will earn. And middle-class parents commit their children to a teachers care to keep them from learning what the poor learn on the streets. Increasingly educational research demonstrates that children learn most of what teachers pretend to teach them from peer groups, from comics, from chance observations, and above all from mere participation in the ritual of school. Teachers, more often than not, obstruct such learning of subject matters as goes on in school.”

    If James reads this comment I would be very happy because I could than tell all my buddys than James is my friend from the internet. (Then they will ask me who is James and I will tell them; “only the coolest guy ever”.)

  • Sophie

    Oh, dear. Well, you did preface your comments, several times, with the disclaimer that you are uneducated on the topic. I only worry that people who revere what you write take it to heart, or worse, to their kids.
    There is a lot of good to be said about homeschooling (done well, it’s mostly not the parents who teach) and unschooling, but for most children it is definitely not the best train to take.
    And….most parents forget that they have a responsibility to teach their kids life skills – school or no school.

  • Christina

    I like the “nothingness” idea. Like all things, art, music, sports, there is a space between, a rest, time to process in between plays. Also, I believe that education that lets kids take part in the process an determination of material allows for full cognitive and creative development.

  • Aaron Garth Smith

    Today was a great example of two things:
    1) James consistently produces great material–I’m thankful for this.
    2) I enjoy reading the comment section just as much as I enjoy the articles–there’s usually (at least) two or three “nuggets” each day. Thank you all and keep posting! Perhaps James can find a way to leverage this even further on his site…

  • tomdryan

    We are currently homeschooling our three kids and wouldn’t do it any other way. Our oldest was in public school through third grade before we finally pulled him out. We no longer have to badger him for two hours each night to do homework when he is tired after being at school all day (I think the make work homework assignments are a way for the teachers to punish parents and make them think they are not competent to teach their own kids). We no longer need to guess what happens to him each day after we drop him off (some of it was very bad).

    Now we get the kids when they are fresh in the morning and eager to learn. The siblings are now best friends. Our family is very close and strong. Socialization? My wife and I laugh about that all the time. The kids have many activities each week with different groups of kids of different ages (just like they will socialize when they are adults). They are complete social butterflies.

    I can’t express enough how great homeschooling has been for us. We are using a curriculum called “Classical Conversations”, which gives kids the basic tools and allows them to get together in a classroom setting with other kids once a week. If anyone is considering homeschooling, I would recommend checking into this program or other programs you can find on the internet. I’m not a big fan of “unschooling” because I believe that kids do need a strong set of basic skills and they need some direction (my wife was in an early unstructured learning program in elementary school and it left her years behind her peers). That doesn’t mean that their homeschooling should be rigid, just that it should have some structure to enable them to learn.

    The biggest thing I’m finding out is just how bad my own public educational experience was. If anyone is considering alternatives to traditional public schools, I would highly recommend doing some research online and taking the leap. Your kids will thank you when they are adults.

    Good post James!

  • I like thinking back to school—the Behavior Notification Forms(BNFs) I got for “bad” behavior, the officer who taught law enforcement and was of the opintion all children should be deprived of the ability to reproduce until they complete college (seriously), and the ease with which I graduated merely by showing up.

    • InnerCynic

      Of course, to quote Woody Allen, and the percentages seem to fluctuate, “Eighty percent of success is simply showing up”

  • Jon May


    My children went to a wonderful school (k through 12) where they were expected to respect others and encouraged to excel. They couldn’t wait to go to school each morning. They learned how to be good people and great students (although I think Carol and I had a hand in that as well). The school had high expectations as to behavior and work ethic and most of the children going there lived up to those expectations. And they were given a great many opportunities for self expression and creativity. My only point is that there are a lot of wonderful schools, with terrific and inspiring teachers, and students who want to be there. It can be done.


    • mikeyhell

      It can’t be done for *everyone* which is precisely the point of unschooling.

    • Juan Matus

      You are delusional, you have been programmed to be unable to see what is in front of you — public schools ARE prisons. That many children “adjust” to being in prison, and actually enjoy some aspects of being incarcerated does not negate the destructive programming to obedience, subservientce which the schooling environment creates.
      There are NO wonderful public schools out there — some are just a little less destructive of a child’s spirit than others.
      Some kids can survive the destructive influence of the public schools with their shit-detectors and creativity intact. These kids are a rarity, and public school defenders like to point to them as emblems of the successfulness of this destructive system of thought control. Public schooling has Orwell written all over it.
      If you’d like to educate YOURSELF about the real agendas of public schooling, you should check out John Gatto’s ‘Underground History’ — he was a 30 year teacher in NYC, thrice NYC teacher of the year, and a couple time New York State teacher of the year — and then he quit, because he could no longer in good conscience earn his living by harming children. He’s an awesome scholar, great writer, and an amazing truth-teller.
      Blessings and Namaste, Jon.

    • Juan Matus

      oops — there’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no t in subservience…. (bad fingers, bad Juan fingers)…

  • srikrishna

    If I allow kids to do what they like, they will play games on PC and watch TV. They will waste their time. What to do?

    • Sophie

      If they are into video games, turn them on to Google SketchUp…if they are into TV, get them to make their own videos….all good skills…

    • taobeing

      Although I might agree that watching tv can be a waste of time, playing games on PC is a skill set. It teaches, among other things, focus and paying attention, hand and eye coordination and, if they are lucky, they might even meet kids from other countries playing the same games online. I remember how much fun my guys had with a rather gristly “game” that sounded like it was made for med students. I can’t remember the name but they loved operating on people with simulated disease processes.

      • Stori

        Gamers just solved a very complicated gene sequencing problem that MIT, NIH, etc. couldn’t break. Just sayin. On the flip side of that, we got rid of our TV for one year. The TV stand became the “magic wardrobe” and games and toys would appear occasionally. They loved it and didn’t miss the TV and didn’t complain of being bored. Weird, huh?

  • Caveman

    As much as I agree with you, about how our current education system is not designed to stimulate and encourage students, I don’t think that unschooling or home schooling is a feasible option for people who aren’t lucky enough to be born into a first world country.

    Most of the opposition you receive regarding this topic comes from people who are from Asia, which makes sense, since they are told their whole lives that school is the way to go, furthermore, their economic system is designed to keep it going that way.

    It’s not as easy to get hired in countries such as India, the UAE or China. I’m sure you can get a job, but not a job that would pay well enough for people to fullfill their consumption needs.

    Also, it’s almost impossible to immigrate into another country without having a college degree, unless, you were born in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the UK. Then it’s substantially easier to move around the world.

    My point being that, while unschooling sounds like a great option and it probably is, I believe that this option is only feasible to people who are (a) satisfied with where they live and don’t want to move to another country (b) born into first world countries. Of course if our social, economic and government systems were to show some sign of accommodating unschooling/homeschooling, then a lot of people would board this ship, but I don’t see teachers and the people who profit from schools letting that happen anytime soon.

  • ep3232

    Shouldn’t unschooling come after schoool? i would understand it as fixing the damage done by school, which seems less nerve wrecking than not sending them to school altogether, i actually do share the same concerns about sending my future kids to school (if i have any) if they are anything like me they will hate it up untill highschool.

  • Jesse Farrell

    It’s funny, as I was reading and considering this, I realized that while I don’t have kids, I have firsthand experience with homeschooling very much like this: it’s almost exactly what I did as a kid.

    I hated public school, where I was bullied and was far too autonomous to submit to the authority of the school faculty. I was homeschooled after the seventh grade. My dad wrote a hefty syllabus to get the homeschooling approved, but it pretty quickly fell by the wayside and I pursued my own interests, reading voraciously, writing, drawing, and playing.

    I felt- and still feel- that there were huge gaps in my education. My knowledge of history and science is cursory and my math skills are more or less nonexistent. I’ve never felt uneducated compared to my conventionally-educated friends, I just ask myself: wasn’t I supposed to learn more? Learn in a more comprehensive manner? But it seems like most people who did go the convention route are really no better informed or socially adept than I am.

    I got a GED (I didn’t study and passed easily, even the math!), went to the college of my choice (which, with all due respect to James, was the right thing at that time) and even teach college extension classes from time to time. For me, unschooling was simply the best option.

    • richard

      You have (self-assessed) non-existent math skills, yet easily passed the GED. What conclusions can you draw about the value of high school math education?

  • param.mishra

    James, Why are you not unschooling your kids ? I read here because they are not letting you to. But why leave it to their choice ? Are kids well knowledgeable to take any such life changing decisions (either way for or against formal schooling) ?
    My worry is people who admire you taking this to their heart and taking kids out of school.

  • BB

    I just placed a new post on my blog It is a 1 minute video of steve jobs explaining the key to his success and why so many fail. You will enjoy it. Keep up the great work

  • Jamie Maltman

    Lots of good stuff to read out there on unschooling, starting with John Holt, and then when you get really serious in looking at the principles, Sandra Dodd and all the contributors on her website.

    School is a closed loop of non-real life activities and behaviors and socialization. You don’t need that stuff for real life or learning. You need to participate more in the real world with people of all ages.

    Being out if school allows that, as well as going deep on your passions all your life, so you can start seeing from the beginning instead of going throughout his the blindness phase first. My kids are loving the start of this ride.

  • Jeffrey

    As much as I am on board with the outdated, anti-establishment themes, and especially parking your behind on a crappy, spinning office throne on wheels in cube-nation for 8 hours a day is at the opposite end of the galaxy from Nirvana, I fear the downside of a home schooling (or unschooling) movement will further the already growing culture and population of egotistical, self-entitled and lazy brats who grow up under the false pretense that the world is theirs for the taking with only a 4th grade level education. This would certainly flood (yet another) water-tight compartment on board the U.S.A. and further damage any remaining hope for sustaining its place in a very competitive world; if not sinking the ship entirely. Like it, or not, the world needs the gurus and dedicated sheep of complex mathematics, physics, and the sciences if we are to at least maintain our status as a technological leader and one day make the jump to inhabit Mars, for example. And unfortunately, unless you are a truly gifted and motivated person, these studies require laborious and repetitive exercises, a dangling carrot (the A+) from a professor who still lives with his mom, and perhaps most importantly, a bizarre level of passion and desire for the “nenth” degree as well as the wisdom of knowing that to master anything, you have to “pay your dues” (and eat your quadratic equations even when you loathe them). I have a contrasting opinion here, I suppose. Because as much as I loathe the concept of success via school-desk turned cubical prison, and the debt that often goes with it, I believe it is a necessary evil to keep the sheep … I mean masses … in check. Lest we forget there are Harvard educated buffoons representing and “serving” as our elected officials. Can one even begin to imagine the consequences of these same figureheads being brought up in a home-schooled education environment gone wrong?

    • taobeing

      The most important thing kids can learn from unschooling is how to learn. What they learn during their early years is not nearly as important until they decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. If they “get” how to ask good questions, reason about all kinds of things, no one is likely to sell them a “snow” job and they will get to follow their dreams because they might figure out what makes them happy.

    • Karen

      You are assuming unschooling parents are uncaring toward their child’s education. That could not be further from the truth. Certainly, there are parents who don’t take seriously the educating of their child, but there are those same parents in traditional, public school, and I might wager those kids are worse for the wear than their unschooled counterparts. Personally, my family home schools, but I can’t allow myself to unschool. It is too far from my public school ingrained childhood, where most of my family members were ps teachers. This year I am trying to force myself to only do the core subjects that I believe are necessary, such as grammar, composition, and math. Beyond that, we will do combined history, science, music, and art studies that allow us to ENJOY it and have it come to life, as opposed to rote memorization of silly, unnecessary facts to be regurgitated on a standardized test so that our county school district can pat themselves on the back. I guess we need to work on run-on sentences first.
      My whole point is this assertion that home schooling parents, whether unschooling or not, do not care. I cannot comprehend how one would come to that conclusion. If we wanted easy and no work, we would send them TO school!

    • Dave

      Jeffrey, I suggest you take a look at the education of a few folks:

      Alan Alda
      Abraham Lincoln
      Ansel Adams
      Virginia Woolf
      C.S. Lewis
      Beatrix Potter
      Frank Lloyd Wright
      John Adams
      Thomas Edison
      Sofia Pulgar
      Benjamin Franklin
      Wilson Bentley

      …the list could go on and on, but take a look those few to start. ;-)

  • Teach the basics for three hours a day. Remainder of the day teach a trade. One of the smartest men I ever met was a doctor who grew up in Germany, He could do anything but one of the skills that he excelled at was furniture making. He said the school he attended required every student learn a trade and he chose furniture making. Everything he made was close to perfection. Students leave school today and have to go to college to study mostly useless stuff. DId they waste the first eighteen years of their life? What is the purpose of schools and colleges????

  • jcm

    In an elementary school with two male grade four teachers, one of them was awarded teacher-of-the-year by the city school board. The other teacher was also a dedicated teacher and tried to teach well, and be liked. The little kids being little kids started revering the winning teacher and ostracised the other. The loser with twenty years experience quit teaching soon after.

  • Mike Rothfuss

    Good one James…

  • John Doh!

    Not that it matters, but my school district(elementary) in rural Michigan actually did give “E”s instead of “F”s.

    Like you, my Dad hit me too. I like to think of it a little differently though. I got hit, then I got “E”s. It wasn’t the other way around.

  • Caroline

    Why aren’t you unschooling them already?! By the way, F is for Fear because whenever I did get an F in school, and it did happen more than once, it was because I was afraid of what would happen if I tried. Also, I home educate my kids. They do reading writing & math most days but I let them choose whatever else they do and sometimes the RWM goes out the window in favor of inspiration. My twelve year old wants to be a cake decorator so I’m putting on some lbs, my kitchen is sticky and she is really inspired and happy (and already has a few commissions under her belt). It’s a beautiful thing to see a child’s inspiration grow roots. Another thing, I let my children ask for paid jobs around the house/yard. If they see something they think needs doing, they can negotiate with me or their dad for pay to do it. I’ve been openly criticized for paying my children for something they supposedly should do unpaid (for what good reason I have yet to hear).

  • When I went to the Wayne-Westland public schools (motto: absolutely mediocre) in Michigan, 1960-73, the grades were A-E. There was no F. I don’t know about now. And the ideal among us guys was an A in every class and a 5 (worst) for behavior. Of course, in those days “bad behavior” meant talking in class, wearing cleats, etc., not knifing other students.

  • Full disclosure–I left Corporate America to teach. I love school, I love my kids, I love seeing the discovery on their faces as I present things for their consideration and evaluation. They learn that they can read, question, compile, assess, and formulate their own opinion. And that it matters. That’s what it’s all about. No one wants someone who can spit back folly from text books that are useful only in the curing of insomnia. The best grades are awarded to those who spike me in intellectual volleyball–you don’t have to be right, you just have to evaluate, present, argue, cite, and be willing to go out on a limb to defend yourself. Look at half the theses, books, attorneys–what is “right” anyway? What can you do with that knowledge is a better question. And how does it fit into your vision of society–because someday, you’ll have to earn enough to eat. That’s education in a nutshell.

    FYI: The grading system we use today came first from Yale in the late 1700s where it was in Latin. Since no one could understand Latin, I suppose, it went to Hahvid, where it eventually took on some “divisions” and then the good old “Failed, passed, passed with distinction” emerged. The Ivy Leagues tossed about various scales–4.0, 9.0, Latin, English, Failed, Absent… The system we now use evolved at Mt. Holyoke, and did, at some point, contain an E, which mysteriously disappeared. I could look into this, I suppose.

    Thank God we all kept the C, because we now have a way to label politicians destined for greatness.

  • meginiowa

    Bravo! As a homeschooling mom of eight, we have come Unschooling by default. 10years at this I have learned some cold, hard facts: 1. if there is something you feel they need to learn specifically, like math or handwriting, you have about an hour to get it into their heads per day. Maybe two for an older child (but see below). That’s it, folks, so make every penstroke count. They won’t absorb beyond that and I would challenge that they will lose stuff beyond that (which is why we get out of 12 years of it not knowing what the hell we learned). And, 2. People learn what they want to learn or what they need to learn to get to what they want to learn. By learn I mean know something well enough to be able to use it, not just spit it out on a test. Our 14-year-old had to take two Algebra classes at our community college. Did he want to? No, but to get the the cool computer courses he DID want, he needed to slog through. So he did. Never use it again, but successfully used it as a stepping stone. Our children have to do something physical, something musical and pick from a huge reading list. The younger ones do math online (same format as our community college) and do some handwriting. That’s it. Beyond that we are helping them plan so they will get whatever training/higher ed they need to work at what they want….with NO debt.

  • sjm

    Great article. As a former homeschooler and future homeschooling parent, I enjoyed this. So many parents don’t homeschool / unschool / antischool because they are intimidated, but your curriculum of a book a week and sports would work just fine. Thanks for the article.

  • smiths

    Great article James. Practically speaking, we started unschooling after our children were able to read, write, and do basic arithmetic (homeschooled). At twelve they are starting their first college courses through coursera (free online, no credit). They’re learning Mandarin, play piano and violin, competitively swim, and have already started two businesses (one plants and the second eggs). They’ve also written a book about their business, “How to Start a Business for Kids” available on Amazon kindle. And yes, they do spend time making lego movies, playing minecraft online, and pretty much reading what they want. We can’t imagine why we would ever bother them with public school or even a college degree unless it’s something that helps them accomplish their personal goals.

  • Junnkyfreebunky

    James i really like ur article and how amazing ur discussion about the absence of the letter E in the grading system, i once had a detailed Discussion with my teacher about Giving a D instead of an F because F really Destroys your confidence its like a ache that gives u a rash as well and is itchy till is dealt with, But The Discussion ended with me almost in tears and My Teachers saying that Sometimes Something good Comes out of getting an F grade Life is not about Passing Stuff Failures teach us more then what success can offer, I have a little theory of my own i think failure is addictive its like a drug that once taken makes the person beg for more its really ridiculous to have this thought but one has to experience this. Because Failure gives u the opportunity to look back to what u actually did it teaches u that ur wrong like a slap on the face or a break falling on the head we really dont like it but its really what we need at the moment of the time. It gives us opportunity to reformulate our plan about something and motivates us to revisit everything the thing has to offer.
    I have a funny story i am obsessed with computers and use them 24/7 and amazingly enough i failed introduction to programming C++ course. When i got back to it i actually got to know who wrote the language and stuff that really didn’t matter about the course like in C++ u learn to use the Fibonacci series a lot and instead of cramming that i actually learned about the Golden Ratio and what Fibonacci Series really stands for if i hadn’t been failed i would never have had learned about this let alone being able to reiterate my story today on this Comments section.
    So james i think F ( failure is as important as any other grade) its the Opposite of A like anti and and its Existence is necessary for the Learning Experience

  • Kayvee

    man this is amazing…..Imagine if we all thought out of the box like this instead of just following the what we consider the norm

  • I have no idea where you kids get the impression that homeschooled kids aren’t “social”. I’m in my tenth year of homeschooling, and I hate it when homeschooling parents brag about all the “social” opportunities their children have while other kids are stuck in a classroom, and why homeschooling is so much better, so I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say that my children (girls ages 7, 11, and 14) are all social – and certainly at least as “socialized” (probably moreso) as their friends that go to school.

  • Great post, James. It’s not for every parent or child, but a great option to be aware of. If the shoe fits, you wear it. If not, you don’t. Personally, I am a fairly low energy person who enjoyed school and did not have too much energy to sit still in class, unlike many. Some of the healthiest most vigorus people have too much energy to sit still in traditional classrooms and so are considered “problems.”
    Folks may want to be aware that there are many non-traditional schools, that are another option. Just one of many examples: Waldorf schools. There is one where I live. A friend has his son in there. There’s a farm the kids work on. They have a great time with the plants and animals. The families can all come over and socialize if they like, at a pot luck feast once a week.
    Your blog posts are getting better and better. The recent one about your deathbed is my favorite one of all.
    You are very inspiring to me. I would like to write an ebook, as you make it sound not too difficult. I started a blog today. Here’s my blog: Good, Evil, and Boat Building.


  • Barbara Frank

    Enjoyed reading your take on home, er, unschooling :) Last year I finished homeschooling my fourth child; spent 25 years of my life teaching my kids from birth to age 18 and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. They’re all doing well now at ages 19, 21, 27 and 29. But they never tell people they were homeschooled; they want people to get to know them first because, like your kids, many people automatically decide someone’s weird because they didn’t go to school.

    BTW don’t worry about the socialization part. That’s a myth. All of my kids developed their own social circles. They hang out with people of various ages. And not only do three of them have significant others, but one of them is presenting us with our first grandchild soon.

    I hope you get the chance to unschool your kids. Whatever else you accomplish in your life will pale in comparison.

    • RJR Fan

      When I walked my 20 year old daughter to the altar, there was no consuming, regret-filled plaint ‘Where did the years go?” I KNEW where they’d gone — growing up with my kids. Days and weeks and years spent in the company of the people I love most on earth. Why hand our children over to strangers just as they become intellectually mature, ready to learn and discuss new ideas?

      Having and home-schooling our four children has been the most rewarding and worthwhile activity of our lives. In fact, this adventure became the foundation of my MS thesis (Social Maturity of Home School Children) :

  • Stori

    James, I pulled my little kids out of a charter elementary 7 years ago and for the first year all we did was play board games and read Dr. Seuss. My guys were all little and we had so much fun! Best decision ever. We’ve kept all our kids home for elementary since then. My eldest was 7 and he hated learning so much from all the stress he had acquired at his institution of forced arbitrary knowledge that I couldn’t teach him anything. So we played and played. I really got to know my kids that year. Come to think of it, we need another one just like it. It’s amazing what people can learn when they just play and hang out together. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    • Stori

      Update: that little 7 year old is now an amazing teenage math student who is trying his little entrepreneurial hand at his own businesses and considering his best options for careers. He loves to learn again and I’m confident he will be a happy, self-supporting adult in a few more years. Cheers!

  • Bob D.

    James, on the mark and off the mark. There are three actions I would take to return liberty and responsibility to this country. 1) All citizens should be subject only to common law (fulfill your contractual obligations, and don’t encroach upon your neighbor. No force or fraud, in other words. Statutory laws should apply only to corporate entities, 2) Eliminate money counterfeiters (especially the Federal Reserve System) and return to lawful money of the United States, which by the coinage acts since the late 1700’s defines the dollar as 371.25 grains of 0.999 fine silver (a tad less than 9/10th of an ounce), and 3) eliminate all institutions of coercive indoctrination (government schools). They exist to inculcate young minds into obedience to the State (i.e. government workers). They are very good at this.

    Off the mark behaviorally. Negative reinforcement is not punishment, which is what you meant, I think, in comparing schools to prisons. Negative reinforcement is removal of an aversive stimulus which increases the likelihood of that removal behavior occurring again. Punishment is an aversive consequence of a behavior which reduces the likelihood of the behavior recurring. Actually comparing schools to prisons is not an accurate comparison since, in theory anyway, prisons are a form of banishment from society which prisoners brought on themselves by violating other people’s rights. You should more correctly compare schools to plantations in the Old South with the students as slaves and the teachers as overseers. Slavery is initiating force against someone, making them go somewhere they don’t want to go and doing something they don’t want to do or they will be hurt. The school “draft” is akin to the military draft. In fact, they are the same, except for the age range.

    Finally, it is counter-productive to externally reward a behavior you wish to continue on its own. Operant Conditioning 101 demonstrates that externally rewarding someone to do anything, such as to read, reduces the probability of that behavior recurring once the external reward is removed. The book, “Punished by Rewards,” explains this phenomenon which at first glance seems counter intuitive. Children have insatiable curiosities. Provide rich and safe environments to satisfy these curiosities and the learning will take place automatically, internally rewarded.

  • Great article. Could not agree more, this is the best part that stays on my mind:

    Only one requirement: read one book a week. It doesn’t matter what book. I will pay them 10 cents a page. WHAT!? How can you pay your kids to learn? Well, I want my kids to get used to being paid for doing things they enjoy. Later in life (just a few years really) they will have to do it anyway. Why not get used to being paid for something they enjoy right now? This way they will know easily to avoid getting paid for things they don’t enjoy. (this is hopefully a way to avoid them going into a life of prostitution).

  • RJR Fan

    (Parenthetically — the most common vowel in the English language — the schwa — does not even have its own letter of the alphabet! Think of the sound between the b and l in able … Is this noble? Or abominable?)

  • MoonShadow

    One book pwe week is for the little kids. My wife & I have been homeschooling for many years now, and the only thing that holds true for everyone is that forcing kids to read just kills the joy of learning. Permit them to read at will, and perhaps offer suggestions to the older kids, and my oldest daughter reads a book a day. And James, you should read more about homeschooling. The only semantic difference between homeschooling & unschooling is that the first is primarily parent directed & the latter is primarily child directed; however, in practice, the real differences are simply a matter of degree.

  • chris

    My kids go to a Montessori school. They love it so much that I am able to discipline them at home with threats of NOT letting them go to school. ;)

    Stupid kids.

  • Back to basics

    The are clear issues with the education system and it is mostly lack of leadership on any level. Kids are being managed (teach to the test, avoid getting sued, etc.). They need to be led (find your strengths, respect others etc.).

    Until then, home school is a great option. The credential means less and less nowadays.

  • Anton

    If anybody is interested in the origins of compulsory schooling, here is a great essay:

  • JoshT

    Don’t forget now lot’s of schools are requiring community service before allowing you parol…er…to graduate.

  • MC1171611

    Great points, James. Both my wife and I were home schooled, with the traditional curriculum and somewhat rigid structure, and while I am incredibly grateful for the education I received, we’ve been discussing how we want to change our philosophy for when we begin educating our children. What we’ve come to is basically a juiced-up, high-tech version of unschooling: we’ll use iPads and computers to put together things for them to study (kids will read fiction constantly if they’re allowed to choose – I did), and then, instead of forcing some laborious, “standardized”-style test, I’ll want to see a report on each topic, book, individual, or whatnot.

    My goal is to teach my children to love learning. Learning is a life-long pursuit, and chaining a kid to a chair for twelve years only makes him think that his learning days are over when he receives his (often misspelled) roll of paper at the end of the twelfth year of State-sponsored isolation.

    You always make me think, and often I agree with you. Great post!

  • “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” –Mark Twain

  • jay

    James, we tried it all: private school, home school co-op, public school, plain homeschooling. Moving to one of the best public school districts n the state we thought it would be good. If you thought Lord of the Flies sounded fun then maybe it is a good school system, but we differ. Kid number three will only be homeschooled; we may be mediocre at it but are better than the alternative. You are right: get them to read, have fun, and find their passion and they will have successful lives.

  • larrytheunschoolguy

    Why write a blog post if you haven’t read books on the subject yet? For your information, almost every point that you make in this article has already been covered, and in more detail, by plenty of people that have actual experience in unschooling their kids. I think it’s great to come to the same conclusions, but just having a stream-of-consciousness thinking session that turns into a blog post isn’t the best way to go about publishing something. Usually this is the first stage, where you think, “How would I unschool my kids?” Then, you do research, buy books, and compare you’re notes. You’ll likely have several points that are the same, but you’ll likely learn a lot more in the process.

    For readers that want some more in depth information about unschooling and how to go about it, please check out some/all of the following books: Deep Intelligence by Andrew Seaton, Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn, and College Without High School: A Teenager’s Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College by Blake Boles.

  • Free

    Very interesting! I am unschooling my 5 childrenand I do not require them anything. I love that we all value different things. School for me was full of contraditions and it took me to my 30’s to relaise it wasn’t helping and wouldn’t help my family. Primarily we unschool for the betterment of our family and relationships. Learning will happen anyway.

  • RagTagRebel

    The “E” grade would stand for “Expelled”, which is the best grade any student in public school can get, and what they should strive for =D

  • Ross Mountney

    Great piece. We de-schooled ours in the UK and they never went back. Writing about it all now. I agree with everything you say! Why should they have to go through it? There’s no good reason!
    If you want to read a bit of it it’s here: If you don’t that’s fine – keep your unschooled attitude! x

  • Mary

    Great article, we unschool and do things pretty much like you stated. Our children travel the world, know how important diversity is, and are compassionate beyond most aults. They are free to make choices and because of that they see all the possibilities in teh world and know they can go after whatever they want, not just what someone or some organization thinks they should have as a dream! We love unschooling and would not do anything differently!

  • Guest

    I do unschool, and you have it down cold! You should convince your kids to take just one semester off school and give it a whirl with you, they will never want to go back!!

  • Aza Donnelly

    I do unschool my kids. You get it! You should convince your kids to take just one semester off and give it a whirl with you, they may never want to go back to school!!

  • Alexander

    This can also apply to any corporate job

  • That is pretty much what we do. And it’s awesome.

  • Matthew Perejda

    This is really cool. As a college student now, I really wish I could have done something like this when i was younger. It has been a lot of work unlearning a lot of things I was taught in school.

    Life is for living though, so I have been making up for lost time and leading the charge forward :)

  • Elizabeth

    Oh. My. Gosh. It’s like reading my own mind! I the feel the same way and i like that someone else gets it! Doing all i can to help my kids escape the drudgery! They are 5 and 1 and i really want them to have an childhood. And life.

  • Erin Shriver

    I’ve found that talking about this amongst friends and peers is pretty much the equivalent to announcing that you’re an atheist. It’s rarely received well by those around me and it causes a great deal of discomfort and angst which ultimately leads to arguments via disillusionment. I feel the exact same as you about this subject. My husband doesn’t. Makes for a tough discussion when navigating my 11 year old daughters school distress. I’d love to pull her out of school personally…