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The Argument Against Unschooling is Usually Rooted in Elitism


I recently came across two YouTube clips that attacked unschooling. One was from The Young Turks from last year and the other was from the Dr. Phil show from 2006. While I have become used to the teacher’s union and the ignorant critiquing unschooling, it still bothers me when people with their own TV shows (who have the resources to actually do some research and report the truth) push these false refrains on their lemming audiences.

The Young Turks spent most of their time ridiculing the idea that children would allow their curiosity about the world around them serve as their motivation to learn. They leaned heavily on the idea that children are lazy, are not informed enough to identify what learning is important to their futures, and that they are not capable of self-education.

Cenk Uyger, the founder of the show said: “If you think the kids are magically going to learn algebra out of the thin air, I mean I don’t know what to call you. Let’s be kind and say you deluding yourself. How’s she going to learn chemistry? Well you know ‘golly gee willikers, I was just playing Wii all day and decided why not learn chemistry?’ What kids going to say that? Ok come on, please, please, this is absurd. It’s easy to unschool them but it’s not easy to unclown them, later when they’re 18 years old.” Of course this is nothing but an unsubstantiated stereotype of children. There is no research behind his statement, just a personal opinion. If he took the time to talk to unschoolers he would likely find plenty of examples of unschoolers teaching themselves algebra and chemistry. And they do it not because they are coerced by their parents, but because their interests have taken them down that path.

Ana Kasparian, said: “[Unschooling] is not providing any direction for your children whatsoever thinking that they will out of their own natural curiosity seek knowledge. It doesn’t work that way. When I was ten years old did you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to watch the Power Rangers all day. That’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to go and read about history. I wasn’t going brush up on my grammar. It doesn’t work that way.” While Ana makes a good case against herself, she hardly makes a case against unschoolers. She might want to ask herself why she would have wanted to watch Power Rangers all day when she was ten years old. Could it be that her actual “schooling” was so unfulfilling and did so much damage to her love of learning that she felt that her time out of a school was the time to just zone out?

As bad as The Young Turks clip was, Dr. Phil’s was even worse. The Young Turks were clearly pushing their personal opinion, or agenda. Dr. Phil on the other hand, despite his checkered past as a psychologist, pushes his personal opinion or agenda under the guise of professionalism, as if he is approaching the issue from a scientific, rational angle. He’s not.

Dr Phil implies that because he hated school, that if he were given control over his own education that he would have become a vegetable. He conflates schooling with education, and like The Young Turks never considers that perhaps the reason that they didn’t love learning so much is because schooling was such a coercive, unnatural, painful way to learn.

Dr. Phil, like so many others who have nothing of substance to talk about regarding the actual academic performance of self-directed learners typically resort to the socialization argument. After an unschooling mother told Dr. Phil that the concept of her children not being socialized is laughable he said: “Well actually it’s not laughable. There’s a lot of research that suggests that what I said is in fact a problem after they hit puberty and they get into those middle school years so it isn’t laughable at all, in fact it is substantiated by experience.” I have yet to see all that research, and like everything else that came out of his mouth during the show, it seemed to have been driven by bias and a personal agenda. For a Doctor of Psychology, he didn’t present a single compelling fact during the entire segment, all he did was bully the parents in an attempt to portray them as being selfish and not doing what was best for their children (as if public schooling would be).

While both The Young Turks and Dr. Phil share common misconceptions about unschooling, what they share even more is the elitist attitude that they know what is best for other people’s children. Although neither of them centered their careers on education or child development, they seem to take an expert’s stance on the inappropriateness of unschooling. They seemingly rely on the distorted perception of what they were like as children, where their inborn desire to learn was likely replaced with the coercive institution of schooling. They believe that a child would naturally watch TV all day if they could, instead of accepting that many parents are going to allow their children to pursue interests which will take them away from the TV, and often out of the house. They anchor themselves in the belief that parents can’t possibly enable their children to maximize their learning opportunities, so they should instead force their children to sit in chairs in front of professional educators who will do the miserable but essential task of filling children’s heads with knowledge. These entertainers (and that is all they are) are ignorant, they don’t get unschooling because it does not fit neatly into their elitist view of what society should look like. Unschooling assumes that people have worth as individuals and that individuals can grow without being directed by government officials or other manufactured experts. Elitists cannot comprehend a world in which people are free, because they assume that the people cannot be trusted to be left to their own devices.


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5 Responses to " The Argument Against Unschooling is Usually Rooted in Elitism "

  1. eh says:

    Good note. We are not strict unschoolers, but if you had to put a label to what we do, that is what it would be. It works so poorly that my six year old reads inches thick classic novels and my five year old adds fractions better than many adults I know. It is because they do have a very natural desire to learn and we do everything we can to keep challenging, enriching and engaging material in front of them all the time. “Socialization” basically means training to conform with the status quo and adopt the opinions of the crowd without critical thinking. Socialization means destroying the individual. My kids have lots of friends and enjoy all the normal things other kids do. However, I will do everything in my power to prevent them from being socialized into thinking they must dress, speak, act, and most importantly think just like everyone else.

    • Antonio Buehler says:

      It is parents like you that give me hope for the future. I know this is a silly thing to say, but thanks for loving your kids.

  2. A.D. says:

    I’m a new unschooling mom. My firstborn went through 3 years of preschool, 1 year of kindergarten, half a year of 1st grade homeschool, and is finishing up his 1st grade year as an unschooler but, the kid HATES to learn. Period. He would, honestly, sit in front of the tv all day if I allowed it. He races motorcross and would do that 24/7 if he could. I’ve run out of ideas to teach him. He can barely read (was doing good in the school setting but, as soon as he was home he gave it up and won’t even attempt to try) and he won’t write something he doesn’t know how to spell. I’m at a loss…any ideas??

    My 5 year old is finishing her 3rd year of preschool and she LOVES to learn. Asks questions all the time! Adds with her fingers constantly. Spells and asks for spelling of words. She’s simply got a love of learning.

    My 2 year old is finishing up his first year of preschool and won’t be going back as I want them home and us going to learn together.

    I’m looking for anything for my eldest, any ideas you may have to help me out!!

    Love the article, by the way!!

    • Antonio Buehler says:

      Very few kids hate to learn. Some simply don’t want to learn as we believe they should be learning. If he loves motorcross consider helping him find ways to learn through that. Articles to read, going over statistics, writing about his experiences, etc. If he’s only a 2nd grader then he has plenty of time to learn as society deems necessary. Of course, if he has little self control then unschooling may be a bridge too far, and you may need to provide some structure for him- just be sure not to make learning unpleasant. Good luck, I’m glad it is going well with the younger siblings.

  3. mary says:

    Quite frankly, the question should not be, “How are unschoolers going to learn algebra, chemistry, etc?”, but, “Who the heck decided that someone even SHOULD learn these things?”, and, “Does a school actually teach these things?”. I’ll be gosh-darned if I remember ANYTHING from 16 years of schooling except a few French words.

    “Unschooling” is just “living” and shouldn’t even have the label “unschooling”. It’s the word “schooling” that should have a negative connotation.

    Living in peace is the natural human condition for learning. Not this force fed stressful atmosphere created by the literally insane culture that we live in today.

    Just my 2 cents.

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