In Home Education circles Deschooling has two meanings – both important – yet very different in scope and process.
Deschooling is often referred to as the initial period of transitioning from school to home education: allowing kids (and parents) to decompress after leaving the “rat race.” Taking a break from everything academic and relieving any pressure that school put on the family. Many consider it a finite period and once a family is “done” then they can really get busy with their chosen style of home education and never look back.
But Deschooling is much, much more if you’d like to Unschool successfully.
In this context Deschooling is the process of letting go of our schoolish “programing” and the beliefs that our upbringing and culture have instilled in us.
The first Deschooling link below includes the popular formula: “1 month of Deschooling for every year the child [or parent] was in school,” but I’ve found that for many people it takes MUCH longer. And it can vary depending on the kind of experiences or trauma that a person had in school (or even later in life surrounding education.)
Parents are usually the ones who need to deschool the most. We are the ones who have lived in this “culture of school” the longest. Most of us spent our entire childhoods and young-adulthoods in school, so deschooling can take us WAY longer than the formula above.
Deschooling can be challenging for parents . . .
- even if we have spent MUCH time and effort learning about and understanding Unschooling
- even if we have consciously let go of the “schooling” we received in our youth
- even if we have been Unschooling successfully without “incident” for years
For our whole lives we have been steeped in a culture that values “academic” activities over other activities that children enjoy. We are overtly bombarded AND subtly influenced by beliefs and judgements that support the dominant culture full of “shoulds” and deadlines (i.e. age 6 for reading, age 18 for adulthood) that are totally antithetical to the natural unfolding of the process of Unschooling.
It’s very common for long time unschoolers to think we are “done” letting go of our school-ish beliefs and then ***BAM*** our kids hit a certain age/milestone or our mother-in-law makes a comment that shows us we’re not quite done after all. The resulting negative feelings we have show us that we still have some doubts, fears or anxiety about Unschooling and about allowing our kids to TRULY follow their interests without judgment, coercion or otherwise inserting ourselves in their process. Sometimes these doubts can be released by reading, conscious reflection and further “letting go.” Sometimes schooly beliefs are held deep in our subconscious and it takes more effort to change them.
(If you’re having trouble with a certain belief you can’t seem to shake here is a list of techniques that myself and others have found useful for changing stubborn subconscious beliefs.)
Parents’ willingness or resistance to the process of Deschooling CAN have an effect on how easily our kids’ transition from School to Home Education, or from School-at-Home to Unschooling. It will DEFINITELY have an effect on the Unschooling lifestyle once the transition period is over (or even if there never was a transition period because they’ve been Unschooling since birth.)
Our doubts, fears and anxieties about the things our kids are doing or NOT doing are REALLY caused by our residual “schooly” beliefs. The more willing we are to explore that connection, the easier it is to work with those beliefs and continue the process of letting go.
My advice: Go easy on yourself. You are undoing decades of habit and societal programing. Just continue to read and reflect. Observe your children as objectively as possible and practice REALLY listening to them. They are showing us the way.
My favorite deschooling practice and one I recommend often to new and experienced Unschoolers alike, is this:
Anytime I notice doubts, fears or anxieties about my kids’ education or development I take that as a reminder to focus inward and work on another layer of deschooling myself. When those negative emotions above tempt me to “meddle” in their process of Unschooling, I instead take action to further MY process of Deschooling.
Here are some great descriptions of Deschooling from the Unschooling Mom 2 Mom group on Facebook. The first is from Linda Wyatt:
“Deschooling has less to do with what kids DO, than it does with how the family is THINKING and FEELING about learning. That’s what changes during deschooling. It isn’t some sort of temporary break from educational things, like a vacation, it’s a complete restructuring of perceptions of what learning IS, what it looks and feels like.
This processing takes time. Sometimes LOTS of time. Even those of us who have been unschooling for a very long time occasionally find little “blips” of school-based thinking we had been hanging onto without realizing it, and need to clear those out.”
And this from Brie Jontry:
‘[I] have been doing this long enough to also experience when something innocuous prompts me to step back and go, ‘wow! How did that fear/nervousness/clenchy feeling slip in there?’
A few years ago another long (long) time unschooling mom and I realized we stumbled over our kids being X age and not knowing how to ride a bike! Silly, right? Like there’s some window of learning for bike-riding. Or tying shoe laces!
Recently, my child and I have been talking about deschooling as a model for de-gendering – noticing how ideas of binaries: either/or as the only possibilities (educational/entertainment) crop up in the ways we view the world, experiences, and the choices people make.
Just like with ideas about gender, I think it’s a good idea to remain open to the possibility that your experiences – which for most of us include school – can (and probably will) crop up at various times in the background of our thinking and need some deeper exploration, in terms of bias, both conscious and unconscious.
Something many of us have talked about at various times is the idea that we never finish deschooling, [which] could be helpful to keep in the background.”
Here is an eloquent post from my friend and co-moderator on Unschooling Special Needs, Delia Tetelman:
“Deschooling is a very mild description. For me it’s been like deprogramming. There are so many norms that I feel are branded into me like with a hot iron. I’ve had to peel the layers back slowly.
My acupunturist said today that in Eastern Medicine and Native cultures, body parts are not named after some male scientist, like Fallopian Tube, or Broca’s Area. In Western medicine, it’s all about the ego and recognition and not about the spirit and the purpose of nature.
The patriarchal and academic status quo exists throughout our culture. Challenging authority, especially patriarchal authority is difficult, and realizing that authority is not “science” or “nature” is even harder. My conclusion: it’s my children who are teaching me. I’m the one who is unlearning.”
Delia also compared Deschooling to Cult Deprogramming (!) in this post:
“Deprogramming someone out of a real cult is a process where the deprogrammer chips away at the false assumptions that the person has about the cult and exposes the cult’s lies and contradictions. It’s a process whereby the person goes from a ‘sacred regard’ for the cult, to a realization of the coercion and manipulation being used to control members.
It’s useful to study the similarities of all cults which boils down to what is known as ideological totalism. After exiting a cult, a person has to rebuild his/her entire belief system and can often feel like they are “floating”. They feel lost, ungrounded, and still have emotional trauma.
Although public school is not a cult, there are parallels. There is a whole unsubstantiated belief system behind it and participants are prohibited from going against it. Deschooling is allowing new thoughts about the assumptions that you’ve had drilled into you, and chipping away at them until you are free from the ideological constraint that your children must go to school and they must follow a curriculum or else they won’t be educated, i.e. ‘saved,’ or ‘enlightened.’ Freedom of thought should be a civil right, but if it were, we could sue public schools for violating it.”
More perspectives on Deschooling: