Unschooling May 2017 • 3 minutes

I was unschooled. Unschooling is the antithesis of schooling. Homeschooling implicates structure and curriculum but delivered at home. Unschooling implicates self directed learning with little to no structure or curriculum. That is how I learned until I went to school. I went to school to socialize, not to learn, so in that sense I never really learned conventionally or through school.

I found unschooling to be enjoyable and rewarding relative to my experience in private and public school. The main reason stems from how I learn, which is usually a function of my interests and intrinsic motivation. At school there has to be a developmentally appropriate overlap between your interests and the subject you are learning or you will disengage. Hence most people are.

Unschooling is surprisingly uncommon for how effective it is. The concept that investing less in formal education could yield a better outcome in life and personal development is a foreign concept when you consider the zero sum tournament most school implicates. It takes an appreciation for learning and values that is fundamentally incompatible with school.

Unschooling was a better option for me because I am capable of (and prefer) autodidactic learning to formal education. This was clear before I would have even qualified to attend school. I did not learn to read until I was eleven, which was horrifying to pretty much everyone until it turned out that when I decided to learn to read at eleven I read at a University level. If I went to school, I would have been forced to learn much sooner and be a worse reader as a result.

I am not sure if the way society is structured would be able to support unschooling on a large scale. While it involves arguably less parent labour than homeschooling does, it still implicates significant flexibility and support on the part of parents. I think that for people like me, who are motivated to learn without extrinsic reward and follow our interests, it is the best for learning. If you prefer structure, extrinsic reward, convention or need daily childcare, it is surely worse.

One option that is implicated by this is whether school itself is too structured. I believe that it is. There is a great deal of literature about how in undeveloped areas of the world, natural literacy is often achieved once members of the population are exposed to reading, writing and math on a self selecting timescale. When this happens, most people learn to read, write and do basic math in about a hundred hours of deliberate practice. Sometimes this happens as late as your teens, but almost everyone is capable of it and in only takes about a hundred hours of work. So it is possible without so much structure and cultural baggage preventing people from novel learning.

In the future, the ability to synthesize complex problems and navigate ambiguity will be much more value than knowledge. Understanding reading, writing and basic math remains important, but with access to the internet almost anyone is capable of learning the basics on their own. This frees up more time to explore creative pursuits that could actually lead to valuable, unique work. If we teach everyone the same thing in the same environment, we encourage zero sum competition in fields that lack synthesis and creativity and do not solve the bottleneck problem in society. It is a lot of stress and effort wasted because it goes to beating other people instead of doing useful things. Perhaps if school reduced structure, the benefit of unschooling would be realized by all.