I look forward to the day when the transition from passive learning to active living has ended and we all see the word ‘school’ and its various forms as a strange little artifact of the past. That will be the day when there is no longer a need to label how we live (and inevitably learn) in our families, to devise parameters for those labels, or to judge those who disagree about their definitions.

Don’t make your children feel like they owe you something. Don’t begin sentences or requests with phrases like “I put a roof over your head…” or “I’m keeping you fed…” because whether it’s your intent or not, this can be easily heard as a threat to pull the rug out from under your child as punishment for non-compliance. This can lead to your child distrusting you, as well as others on whom they should feel they are able to depend.

This is emotionally abusive behavior, and you should purge it from your parenting routine.

If you took a group of babies and said to their parents, “Today I’m going to teach them to walk,” their parents would think you were a crazy person and take their children away. If you took a group of toddlers and said to their parents, “Today I’m going to teach them to use the potty,” their parents would think you were a crazy person and take their children away. But if you take a group of 9 year olds and say to their parents, “Today I’m going to teach them fractions,” they think that’s normal.


Children learn different skills at different times because they’re individuals and they’re interested in different things. If they’re keen on baking or making change or working in the wood shop or something like that they may be ready to learn about fractions otherwise they’re learning about it in abstraction. It’s not going to stick. It’s going to jiggle right out of their heads. They’re going to retain it for the test, regurgitate it, and forget it. That’s if they’re lucky.

If they’re unlucky they’re going to do some of these things: struggle with it terribly, turn something they didn’t know about into something they hate, do poorly on the test, feel bad about their inability to do the work, meet with the disappointment of their parents and teacher, get laughed at by their peers or siblings, and develop a full-on mistrust of their own capacities, a desire to run away from challenges, a hardened heart, and the desire to explore, learn, and investigate will be deviated into the desire to just get a good grade and be done.

You don’t want this. Wait. Wait until the child has a legitimate reason to learn a thing. It will stick. The learning will come along faster and it won’t foster in the child the desire to appear to know what he doesn’t know just to escape the horror of not learning it when everyone else did.

The way I saw the educational system from an early age was that it taught you what to think, not how to think. There was no liberty, really, for free thinking. You were being trained to fit into a society where free thinking was a nuisance. I liked some of my teachers very much, but I had no interest in their subjects.
—  Joni Mitchell
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A common criticism of unschooling is that “those kids” will never learn to respect authority. My reaction tends to be well, if so, is that really a bad thing?

Automatic respect for authority shouldn’t be the goal

Why on earth should respecting authority, just because it’s authority, be a good thing? That type of attitude leads people to stand passively by while great wrongs are committed, because they’re being committed by people and institutions in positions of power. It’s an attitude that leads to the continuation of existing oppression and marginalization, a continuation of the current status quo, simply because it’s maintained by those with the greatest authority. It leads to individuals not speaking up when they feel they’re personally being treated unfairly, or when they have ideas of how to do things better. It leads to people sticking with the path they’re told is the best or only way to do things, instead of standing up to authority and building alternatives.

Basic respect for each other as human being is important. But beyond that, respect needs to be earned, needs to be built through solid relationships and trust. No one deserves widespread respect just because of the position they hold.

Change—positive, real change—only happens when people are forming their own opinions and making their own choices, and working with others to make their ideals a reality, instead of just following authority.