It's fall, and everyone's thoughts turn to school.
Or do they? More and more families are discovering that learning doesn't have to mean boredom and misery;
it can instead mean joyful discovery, just as it does for any child under so-called "school age".
Watch a two-year-old eagerly greeting the day - he can't wait to explore more of the world around him.
Exploration and discovery are his agenda! Then watch an older child slowly and reluctantly (or even miserably)
getting dressed for another day filled with someone else's agenda, which only very occasionally, if ever,
matches what he himself would have chosen to explore that day.
But isn't school necessary, or have we been indoctrinated to support the massive educational system? Home
educated children typically score significantly higher than public school students on standardized academic
achievement tests.1 And home learning is by far the fastest
growing form of education. According to the Homeschool Population Report by the National Homeschooling
Research Institute (NHERI), there were over two million homeschoolers in the US in 2010.2
If compulsory schooling isn't necessary for academic learning, what about socialization? Yes, children do
want and need to spend time with other children, but school limits their interactions to those of the same age
and social background. And most schools then further limit their interaction to lunchtime and recess (by far
the two most common answers to "What do you like best about school?" yet no one seems to be paying
attention to those polls.) Children learn the most by spending time with people of all ages and backgrounds.
Unschoolers are free to learn from people of all ages, from babies to the elderly. And they can spend time
with schoolchildren during weekends and summers, and with the many other unschoolers who are available every
day. Local homeschooling and unschooling support groups are flourishing in the US and Canada, and in many
If parents are beginning to recognize that literacy and socialization aren't valid arguments for school,
why are so many children still there? Unfortunately, the most common reason for sending children to school is
economic necessity. Now that families are struggling financially and two-income homes are common, school has
become the de facto babysitter - available, safe and free.
But are schools always available? When school teachers strike, or a school closes, working parents have to
scramble to find an alternative. Fortunately, more and more parents are discovering that they are able to work
Are schools really safe? They used to be, but one glance at the news headlines tells us that is no longer
the case. And it's getting worse: incidents of theft, assault, bullying, and other forms of violence are on
the rise.3 Many schools now have armed security staff present in the school
building. Yet strategies such as the use of security guards and metal detectors have been found to be
consistently ineffective in protecting students, and to be associated with more incidents of school crime and
Are schools really free? They seem to be, but a parent with outside work and a child in school rarely takes
into account the many hidden costs of that arrangement, such as a second car or other transportation,
professional clothing, work lunches and convenience foods. And because schools have catchment areas, the cost
of nearby housing is driven up - another hidden cost.
Are schools really necessary? Even parents with no outside job have been convinced that they can't be their
children's educator. Yet their children have already learned easily and joyfully, as toddlers, the vast
majority of the skills they will need later, simply by observing and copying the adults around them. With no
formal instruction, they have learned through their own efforts to walk and to talk, and a myriad of
complicated social skills. And according to a NHERI survey, homeschoolers demonstrate "healthy social,
psychological, and emotional development, and success into adulthood" and are more socially engaged than
their schooled peers.1 Parents considering homeschooling and
unschooling often worry that this choice may make it harder to qualify for university programs, but the
opposite is the case; colleges have been quick to recognize home learners' achievements, and now actively
If schools are not available, safe, free or necessary, why are we still using them? In fact, we are slowly
moving away from compulsory schooling. Homeschooling, unschooling and free schools are growing exponentially.
According to the NHERI report, we can expect "a notable surge in the number of children being
homeschooled in the next 5 to 10 years. The rise would be in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage of
the K to 12 student population. This increase would be in part because  a large number of those individuals
who were being home educated in the 1990s may begin to homeschool their own school-age children and  the
continued successes of home-educated students."2
Can we learn from our happy, curious, insatiable toddlers what true education looks like?
- "Research Facts on Homeschooling", National Home Education Research Institute, January 15, 2015.
- Brian D. Ray, "2.04 Million Homeschool Students in the United States in 2010", National Home
Education Research Institute, January 3, 2011.
- Schreck, C. J., & Miller, J. M., & Gibson, C. L. (2003). Trouble in the school yard: A study of the
risk factors of victimization at school. Crime & Delinquency, 49, 460-484.
- Nickerson, A. B., & Martens, M. R. (2008). School violence: Associations with control,
security/enforcement, educational/therapeutic approaches, and demographic factors. School Psychology Review,
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers counseling by email worldwide, with a focus on parenting and
unschooling. She is the Director of The Natural Child Project and
author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby.
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