Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What If They Choose School?

Another question I expect to answer a lot as my kids get older:
Will you let your kids go to school if they want to?
The short answer: yes.

The long answer: I have a lot of problems with the way schools are right now, but that is not why my husband and I are choosing not to send our kids. We just don't think it's necessary for us right now, and that is the only reason we need. We have been happy and learning together for more than four years, and it has been wonderful. We don't see any reason to stop living that way. And the kids don't either for now.

However, if one of them wanted to try school right now, we would make it happen. We do not want them to grow up thinking school was some great thing they missed out on because we wouldn't let them go. They will be able to form their own opinions about school. If that requires them to attend for a while to figure it out, then so be it. If they do choose to try school, they will not be forced to commit to it or reach a certain point. They will be able to opt out again anytime.

There are plenty of people who actually liked school, including my husband for one. One of our children might be someone who enjoys school for some amount of time. That would be all right. It would not mean that we failed as parents. There are more reasons why an unschooling child might want to go to school than just "home isn't fun enough." He might just be curious about it. He might want to see for himself, so he can make his own decision about it.

Also, although  I will be honest about the issues I have with school, I don't plan on telling my kids that it's bad or dangerous. The way I see it, if a child has heard from his parents how horrible school is, but then meets some kids who enjoy school, that child might think his parents are exaggerating the "dangers" of school. He might think his parents are trying to hide something really great from him.

An example of this idea is the way we talk about drugs to kids. I grew up hearing about how terrible marijuana was. Education about drugs lumped marijuana in with all the other illegal drugs, so I thought it was just as bad as cocaine or heroin. Then as I got older I found out that lots of people I knew were smoking pot, and they seemed fine. They were not junkies or addicts or criminals. That made me wonder why everyone had made such a big deal about it.

Inflating the risks of something to scare a child out of doing it only works until he can see for himself that it is not as bad as we say. This might only make my child trust me less, and wonder what else I have been exaggerating about.

For now, we are happily unschooling as a family. But unschooling is not a family policy or a doctrine, something I live by or preach. It only describes something we are not doing right now: sending our kids to school. This does not mean school is forbidden. I don't need to be anti-school because I plan to continue living without it. What I am is anti-force. I wouldn't want to force my kids to stay out of school as much as I wouldn't want to force them to attend. 

This post was originally published in April.


  1. Fair and wise as usual. I am with Nick. I liked even loved school at times. Was never a big fan of english but still I had a great time. I never cared about being popular or best in the class so I didn't really feel any pressure. Classes were easy and I almost never had to bring home any homework. Not that it wasn't assigned but I was usually able to finish most of it during classes or a study hall. Sports were probably another reason I loved school.

  2. I hated school , except college. When I was in grade school I played sport that was "not cool", translation people in my school did not understand it. I got called "flipper" in a derogatory way on a daily basis. One boy even went so far as to write FLIPPER really large across like 5 pages of my year book. Not happy memories for me. The one thing I am proud is that I never let it stop me from doing what I loved, which was swimming...

  3. Going to cross-quote some of this, Vickie - well said!

  4. @Melissa and Marie, Imagine if kids had a choice of whether to go to school or not. School would have to get a whole lot better if they wanted anyone to come!

    @Jeff, Thanks so much! That means a whole lot coming from you. I am a big fan of your writing :)

  5. As Co-Founder and Executive Director of North Star, I have spent the last fifteen years coaching teens to leave school. Ironically, both of my children choose to attend school happily. If I were to deny them this option, I would have a very unhappy family. I prioritize their sense of empowerment over my sense of "I know what is best for them." My son is 14, 9th grade, doing well academically, playing sports, President of his class, and basically is at school until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. every evening. My daughter is 12, and loves having good teachers give her interesting assignments. She loves being part of a regular social group. They may not be developing the same sort of independence that I see in some North Star teens, but every day they go to school knowing that it is their choice to attend. I want everyone to find the environment in which they can thrive. My children want their current schools! Meanwhile, today I spoke to at least five new inquiring families who are miserable in school. "Today can be your last day of school", I say to them. We have interesting dinner table conversations at home.

  6. @Kenneth, That's exactly what I'm talking about. I bet your children appreciate the opportunity to choose. I think I would have felt different about school if I knew I had the choice of whether to be there or not. I checked out North Star, it looks really cool!

  7. my youngest, 11, has a visit day this week at a local school - his choice. i personally want him to stay home but it is not just about me so off he'll go to check things out and i will support his decision to go next fall if he chooses that ...

    tho i will deeply miss our time together during the day!