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Unschooling Stereotype

Our homeschool chat group is usually an eclectic mix of homeschoolers: many long-time homeschoolers (those tend to be the weekly members) and a sprinkling of visitors, often at the very beginning of their homeschooling journey. Often those new to homeschooling have questions about schedules and curriculum and how to cover it all. We “old-timers” try to reassure them that all will be well, that there is no way you can cover it all, especially not the very first year, and to just take things slowly. Everything will fall into place, given a bit of time and experience. Of course, that is not always easy to hear when you are just starting out, but they really are words of wisdom garnered over years of experience.

Many methods of homeschooling are represented at chat. Some of the regular members began their homeschooling journey very laid back and have continued to be so. Others began highly structured and gradually (or not so gradually) turned to a more relaxed homeschooling situation. At least one member has become more structured and spends more time planning her children’s learning day as she discovered this suited her children needs. Another member has used Sonlight as the underpinning of their learning for years, discovering that her daughter thrives with such a structure. Most of the regular chat members would consider themselves relaxed homeschoolers, although certainly not all. A few, myself being one of those, would quickly identify themselves as unschoolers.

I do not always use the term unschool when describing our homeschooling situation; it depends upon the group that I am with. If I am with non-homeschoolers, then I always say we homeschool, not we unschool. Homeschooling is a broad term that they will understand; unschooling is a specific method of homeschooling that they likely will not understand. At chat, though, I always identify myself as an unschooler. I figure there, at a homeschooling chat, it will help others understand where my advice or suggestions are coming from, give them a point of reference.

This past Friday we had one new member who seemed to object to my usage of the term “unschooler.” He (and yes, we have homeschool dads at chat, along with grown sons and daughters and those who do not yet have children but plan to homeschool them when/if they do have children), anyway, he kept bringing up the idea that the word unschooling denoted political inferences. In his words, “my observation is that folks that choose to USE the term unschool are generally from the left.” That led to an interesting discussion. We do not usually delve into politics at chat, or religion, for that matter. And actually this was not really a political discussion, but rather a discussion about stereotypes and people’s observation of them.

Perhaps it is because I have known so many unschoolers over the past twelve years that I did not necessarily agree with this particular visitor’s observations. I know from personal experience that unschoolers run the gamut from the left wing liberal to the right wing Conservative Christian (and where did those “left” and “right” terms come from anyway?). What I have observed is that unschoolers tend to be open to new ideas and willing to examine and test their own preconceived notions about a subject. But I had definitely not thought that those who call themselves unschoolers could automatically be identified as on the left end of the political spectrum.

I would love to hear what you think about this. Does the fact that I consider myself an “unschooler” automatically mean that I should vote for Hillary or Obama? Do you consider that to be the “norm” for unschoolers? And are we really a large enough population to have a stereotype? If we are, cool beans!

14 comments to Unschooling Stereotype

  • amy

    Interesting question! I don’t think unschoolers are automatically on the “left.” I fall squarely into Libertarianism, which doesn’t surprise me. I want the government to stay out of my business. I don’t want them telling me how to educate my kids. As for politics, I’m a registered Independent, which means, in Rhode Island’s open primary system, I can vote in either party’s primary, and I have (obviously, not both in the same year!). I vote based on the person, not the party.

    What it comes down to, like anything else, is that it’s dangerous to make assumptions about large groups of people who choose to use the same descriptive label. I am not like every other unschooler, or person of Italian-Portuguese heritage, or New Englander, or females aged 18-35. It’s disturbing that this man is making assumptions on people’s politics based on how they define their homeschooling approach.

  • Well, you know what happens when you assume! In reading your article, I realized that I had been – subconsciously at least – thinking that all unschoolers are liberals. In my mind, I just equate being open-minded with being politically liberal. How close-minded of me! Thanks for opening my mind, Sandra

  • As libertarian born-again Christians who unschool I would say that though I don’t know where others are I know where we are and what we are not. 🙂 I have however found that many of the fellow unschoolers I have run into tend to be very “green” or “crunchy” in their thinking and had some very “left” views. On the other hand I have found several other unschooling families who are similar to ourselves. Having homeschooled since my 10 year old was born and only recently realized that we were in fact unschooling, even though I didn’t call it that, I am not sure. I do know that there are some pretty big stereotypes in homeschooling circles which some fall into but many of us don’t.

  • Karen

    I am here to declare myself a conservative Christian who “mostly” unschools! We unschooled from 2nd grade to 5th grade and I had a small period of panic (which comes and goes) so I am now immersing myself in all things unschooling again. Reading Grace LLewellyn, John Holt, etc. I hang out with all kinds of homeschoolers. My friends run the gamut of school at home to fellow unschoolers.

  • Some(most probably) of my political leanings are liberal but there are some Libertarian ideals that sit well with me too, mainly things the gov’t shouldn’t be in, like our ability to choose unschooling. Like Sandra, I equate open-mindedness with liberal leanings. I also think that people are multi-faceted when it comes to things like this. I happen to be a Christian(unchurched for now, but raised Southern Baptist), unschooling, liberal. Most of the unschoolers I know are through lists/groups and I’ve noticed a wide range of religious preferences but I know very little about their politics(and I’ve been on one of the groups for 10 years with the same folks) so even being an unschooler I can’t stereotype *us* as one political group or another. I only know 3 other unschoolers locally and they are all Wiccan and VERY enigmatic as far as their politics go. Mr. Chat Guy would have a fit if he ever met one of them!!LOL


  • Gina

    I enjoyed this topic. I recently came across something for “Christian Unschoolers” which did surprise me a bit, but I think like you said, it was because I too held this stereotype of unschoolers. I think it is good to challenge any stereotype because even if it fits a large number of people, it never fits everyone!
    Thanks for bringing up this topic and for helping me think again.
    I personally get frustrated when I meet new homeschoolers and they “assume” I am homeschooling for “Christian reasons”. I think this stereotype may be more typical in the bible belt but it frustrated me that this is assumed by the genral public as well as by Christian based homeschoolers.

    I don’t like labels. I like to say we “learn through living” but have preferred to call myself an “unschooler” to separate myself from the school at home method homeschoolers who are prevalent where I live. Ye, I too don’t always say unschooler, it depends on who I am talking to.
    Never good to assume.

  • Tammy S

    Gosh, aren’t “unschooling” and “stereotyping” almost mutually exclusive terms? lol If unschooling is becoming a stereotype, I may have to rethink that label for our family! Seriously, I’m a Libertarian, very interested in no government involvement in our lives, probably more conservative than liberal if I have to put myself into a two-party box. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Karen!

  • Dawn

    I think we could be classified as eclectic unschoolers (if there is such a thing). We are without a doubt right wing conservative Christians. That being said I think it’s important that I mention that I don’t go around telling everyone that we unschool. I made that bad decision just weeks into our first year of homeschooling. You should have seen the look on that moms face. You would have thought I told her the sky is green and the grass is purple. I quickly learned that the term “unschool” was not (typically) socially accepted. I’m not sure what kind of preconceived ideas people end up having about unschoolers…but I do know that most people do make assumptions and that they are usually wrong.

  • Brad

    I am a new chatter there, I’m known as bhmjones, I’ve been there the last two fridays now and enjoy the place a lot and although I may not be able to make it the next few fridays due to a family illness I plan to attend as much as possible in the future.

    I think that guy, and yes I too am male, simply had an agenda when he was there, he gave us his website address and when I loaded his site an audio of (presumably) him came on and started with the age proselytizing of xianity. I came back to the chat and asked him if he was a holy-roller and immediately he answered lol or something like that, but then after about 5 minutes he seem to get offended and abruptly said his goodbye’s and left.

    I don’t usually pay to much attention to those types of people once they betray their true intentions like that, but since you want to discuss it here I’m cool with that.

    To answer your questions:
    1. obviously no we are not all left wing liberals, I personally consider myself too radical to be either left or right since I believe that humans do not need to be governed at all…
    2. if being a lib means you automatically have to vote for a democrat, then you cross the line to mindless sheep arena and that don’t sound much like lib or unschooler-ish to me…
    3. yes we are definitely large enough to have a stereotype applied to us since the ones applying the stereotype to us are xenophobic and illogical anyway..

  • Brad

    sorry, that should have read …..”age old proselytizing” instead of “age proselytizing”…..

  • Leslie in KY

    My first thought is that we need to move beyond the liberal-conservative categories that have been polarizing this nation and controlling our national discussions. People do not fit neatly into these categories anywhere, although there are obviously people who take great pride in proclaiming allegiance to some ideologically pure form that they perceive, and seem to have a vested interest in continuing to define discussion and debate in these terms.

    And some of you may recognize that what I have just said probably comes pretty much straight from the message in Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama.

    I say turn the page. please.

  • Leslie in KY

    “It’s because people don’t want to go back to those old categories of what’s liberal and what’s conservative. They want to see who is making sense, who’s fighting for them, who’s going to go after the special interests, who is going to champion the issues of health care and making college affordable, and making sure that we have a foreign policy that makes sense?”–democratic debate Tuesday Feb 26 BO

    Unschoolers don’t want to go back to those old categories either and they don’t need to let someone define discussions in these terms. We want to talk about how children grow and learn, what our parenting journey is teaching us, and how unschooling benefits our families and our society. We don’t mind being categorized as unschoolers because we have a reasonably good, shared idea of what that category means.

  • Stacie

    I don’t usually identify our family as unschoolers to other people. The reason is because, probably 9 times out of 10, I get a blank stare, or if they are familiar with homeschooling, the person will nod and say something to the effect of, “Oh, you’re one of THOSE…” I’m not sure what one of THOSE is, but I guess I am one 🙂

    Years ago, before I considered the idea of homeschooling, I was guilty of stereotyping homeschoolers. The only family I knew that homeschooled didn’t believe in birth control, the mom never cut her or her daughters’ hair, and the females always wore denim jumpers or dresses. That certainly wasn’t me or my family. Then I met another woman who was similar to me and my beliefs who homeschooled, and my eyes were opened.

    I think it is easy to stereotype, even without realizing it. I think that may be human nature. I consider myself very open minded, but catch myself revealing my stereotyping thoughts sometimes in conversation with my inquisitive boys.

    Karen, thanks for bringing up an interesting topic!

  • I think of unschooling more of an educational choice, not a political stance. We are just starting to fully “unschool” after starting out semi-formal and gradually relaxing over the past 4 years. My husband serves in the military, and we are both conservative Christians. If you had to generalize us, it would be very difficult. I think many who tend to stereotype unschooling specifically, and homeschoolers in general, are irritated by the fact that most of us seemingly refuse to fit any standard mold fashioned by the very institutions we humbly avoid.

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