This questionnaire was conducted for a research study of adults who have unschooled, conducted by Dr. Gina Riley of Hunter College and Dr. Peter Gray of Boston College. Reproduced with permission.
1. Please tell us about your history of schooling/homeschooling/unschooling. Did you ever attend a school, as a regular student, when you were between the ages of 5 and 16? During the years when you were not in school, did you ever do homeschooling - that is, school at home, following a curriculum determined by your parents or another adult?
I've unschooled from the beginning, and have never attended any school, nor did we ever practice homeschooling with a school-like curriculum.
2. Please describe briefly how your family defined unschooling. What, if any responsibility, did your parents assume for your education?
If I were to come up with an impressive-sounding term to throw around, "learner-directed education" might do. That doesn't mean I made a curriculum for myself, gave myself tests to do, and graded myself. That would be ridiculous. It really just means continuing to do what all parents do as their toddlers learn to walk, talk, and understand the world - let them explore, provide them with things to discover and experiment with (also known as playing), help when it's desired, and trust the natural process of human learning.
3. In your opinion, why were you unschooled instead of going to school or doing school at home? Is this something that both you and your parents wanted to do?
My parents' experiences in school, and their discovery of the works of John Holt led to their decision to unschool, before the term even existed. Everything I heard about school from adults who had gone, and other children who were going, made it pretty clear to me that unschooling was the right choice. Plus I completely loved unschooling, so there's that.
4. Are you currently employed? If so, what do you do? Does your current employment match any interests/activities you had as an unschooled child/teen? If so, please explain.
I am the co-director, webmaster and graphic designer of our family website and business, The Natural Child Project (naturalchild.org), I've edited several books we've published, including The Unschooling Unmanual, and have contributed to other products of ours such as our Unschooling Cards. I also have my own business as a computer technician in our local community.
I've always been fascinated by technology, and unschooling gave me the opportunity to put whatever time I needed into exploring it. My mom brought home a Commodore 64 when I was three, and I immediately began showing her how to use it. I consider myself lucky to have been born at the right time in history to essentially grow up with the personal computer.
5. Please describe briefly any formal higher education you have experienced, such as community college/college/and graduate school. Please list any degrees you have obtained or degrees you are currently working toward.
I have not attended any type of college - I've continued to unschool into adulthood and will continue throughout my life. I think internships and apprenticeships would be the natural extension of unschooling into the traditional workplace. If I become interested in a field that seems like college would be a good resource for, I would look into it - but I would still consider it part of the unschooling journey, which for me simply means following curiosity wherever it leads.
I don't care about degrees; formality is merely symbolic, and symbols just represent things - I'm interested in the things themselves. If I were to seek employment in a company, I would prefer to work with those who would judge me by my accomplishments and abilities directly rather than by a few letters after my name. Of course, so far I'm just doing the entrepreneur thing.
6. What was your social life like growing up? How did you meet other kids your age? How was your "social" experience as an unschooler similar/different to the types of social experiences you have now?
Most of my friends growing up were also unschooled or homeschooled. We found other families through support groups and friends of friends. I had a few school-going friends too, but I couldn't relate to their problems. I've always been happy with a small number of close friends.
As far as "then and now", I don't really see it that way, or see anything that way for that matter. There haven't really been any jarring transitions in the kind of life I've led - just a sort of organic, gradual development. I've always been comfortable relating to people of any age, and have become more so as time goes on.
7. What, for you, were the main advantages of unschooling? Please answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing up and how you feel now, looking back at your experiences. In your view, how did unschooling help you in your transition toward adulthood?
Unschooling has been the single best thing in my life - heck, it is my life, so this should be easy to answer... but oddly enough, this is the toughest question in the survey! How do you describe something that isn't really anything specific - it's anything and everything. Living as an unschooler, I don't really think about "unschooling", or even learning - I just think of it as living.
"Unschooling" is just a word. It simply means learning and living in a natural way. Learning by doing, the way humans have evolved to learn for millions of years. And yes, it still works in today's complex, high-tech world, because it's a universal principle. It means learning things in ways that are meaningful to you. It means owning your time, and being able to explore and learn what you want to, when you want to. It means freedom.
In terms of the transition to adulthood, it allowed me to simply continue to pursue my interests and develop them in my own way. I feel the same about it now as I did as a child, just... more so.
8. What, for you, were the main disadvantages of unschooling? Again, please answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing up and how you feel now. In your view, did unschooling hinder you at all in your transition toward adulthood?
I wouldn't say there are any disadvantages. Of course there are challenges, as there always are with any path through life. The main ones in unschooling are finding like-minded families, learning how to explain unschooling to those unfamiliar with it, and depending on where you live, legal issues. These things are all possible to figure out, and so worth it. And note that the solution to the current state of affairs is, of course, more unschooling.
It's basically the same old stuff every social reformist has had to deal with throughout history - those who have said "I want religious freedom," "I want to vote," "I want to sit at the front of the bus," "I want to marry the person I love." Unschoolers are saying "I want to choose how I learn." Fortunately, our society is becoming more open to new ideas in general, but it has a ways to go.
Again, I feel the same way about it now as I did as a child, I just have a better understanding of the intricacies of the whole situation. And did unschooling hinder my transition to adulthood? No - on the contrary, I'd say school has hindered a lot of people's.
9. If you choose to have a family/children, do you think you will choose to unschool them? Why or why not?
For me, it's all about choice - my children would be able to able to try out whatever path they were
curious about, be it whatever kind of school, unschooling, or as yet undreamt of opportunities. Hopefully
there will be more progressive, child-led-learning schools or open learning centers in the future that could
augment the unschooling philosophy and "bridge the gap" between unschoolers and those who have yet
to discover unschooling or be able to unschool.
Jason Hunt is the designer and webmaster of naturalchild.org, co-editor of The Unschooling Unmanual, and co-writer of the Learning Cards. He has unschooled all his life.