Unschooling: Why Parents Remove Their Kids From School

A growing number of parents believe in unschooling — the process of learning through life, outside classrooms. Similar to homeschooling it usually happens at home or in other places. But while homeschooling usually follows a formal curriculum, unschooling doesn’t. So how does it work, and why do parents advocate for it?

the full story
Intro to unschooling

Imagine you get sent, day in and day out, to a random company to work without pay. Each workday starts with an hour-long meeting followed by another meeting, and another meeting and so on and so forth.

All meetings are on different, seemingly random corporate objectives: focus on x, improve y, remember z. Your primary job: sit down, shut up, listen to your supervisor and take note. And when you think that the day is finally over, you are told to take some of the work home.

Sounds like a horrific corporation doesn’t it?  This, however, is the perceived reality of many young people in what’s called a twenty-first century school. So how did we happen to end up here?

History of school
History of school

Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, came up with the idea of modern factory schools. The emperor was inspired by Plato who argued that the ideal city requires ideal individuals, and ideal individuals require an ideal education.

And so the King introduced compulsory education in 1763 with the mission to unify Germany, increase literacy, and boost the education of all its citizens – including the very poor.

The early Prussian school system provided eight-years of instruction in reading, writing, music and religious studies. It imposed a strict ethos of duty, discipline and obedience. And that worked.

The model turned into a big cultural, economical and military success that inspired rulers from Tokyo to Washington. Not long after, state officials all around the world started writing curriculums, and public education became both: a child’s right and duty.

Compulsory school movement
Compulsory school movement

In 1938 the Germans then went one step further and made school attendance compulsory. Ever since it’s not parents, but the state that makes sure kids go to school.

Today 85% out of all adults worldwide are literate and access to information is abundant. Should government officials still have a monopoly on how we learn? A growing number of parents don’t think so and want to take control over their own child’s education. They advocate for what’s called unschooling.


Unschooling is the process of learning through life, outside institutionalized classrooms. Similar to homeschooling it usually happens at home or in other places. But while homeschooling usually follows a formal curriculum, unschooling doesn’t. 

Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, chores, travel, books, elective classes, board-games, internships, mentors, and living in a community.  Parents or tutors play a big role. They provide resources, facilitate the learning experiences, and help the child to reflect on their progress.

Key reasons for unschooling

So how come parents choose to unschool their children when it’s much more convenient to send them to school? There are 6 key reasons. 

1st reason

Schools can negatively affect the parent-child relationship, often replacing it with an atmosphere of fear.

2nd reason

Institutionalizing kids in a one-size-fits all classroom is an inefficient use of their time and potential, because it requires each one to learn a subject in a particular way, and at a pace that doesn’t take into account a child’s interests or any pre-existing knowledge they might have.

3rd reason

In school, children are primarily taught how to follow instructions, which means they don’t practice doing things independently. Unschoolers have to solve problems by themselves all the time. They learn to work autonomously.

4th reason

School children are told all their lives what to do. As a result they later often have no idea what they want and hence simply conform. Unschoolers practice making their own decisions every day. They learn to know what they want and are more likely to question social ills.

5th reason

School focuses almost exclusively on what to learn all day. Unschoolers learn to ask the much more important question: why learn it?

6th reason

Schools cover only a few subjects someone thought of a few hundred years ago. Unschoolers can explore way more interests, and look into topics at far greater depth.

john holt’s opinion
John Holt opinion

John Holt, a pioneer of unschooling, said it as follows: “The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.

what do you think?
WDYT unschooling

What do you think? What are the good and bad sides of unschooling? And more broadly, should the state or parents decide what to teach a child and what to leave out. Who should have the ultimate say? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!


Dig deeper!

Classroom activity

In this exercise students are going to learn about Unschooling and what it can be useful for.

  • Separate the class into groups of 2 or 3 and share these two facts with them:
    • In India there are many different languages, castes, and religions coexisting. Schools helped achieve a feeling of national integration, unity, and peace.
    • The inventor Thomas Edison was often distracted in school and had a hyperactive mind, his mother pulled him out of school after 3 months and taught him everything. Today, Thomas Edison would likely have been diagnosed with ADHD, and his mother’s decision perhaps was what allowed him to have an education adapted to his mind.
  • Given these two facts, ask the class what they think about the school system and about unschooling. Further ask them to come up with 5 advantages and 5 disadvantages for each system. 
  • Show the class Sprouts’ video on unschooling.
  • Knowing the benefits of unschooling, ask the students about what they think the practical challenges of unschooling are for the parents and the children and how to solve them. 
  • Ask the class how they would integrate some positive aspects of unschooling into the classroom (like projects, independent learning) 

2 Replies to “Unschooling: Why Parents Remove Their Kids From School”

  1. Danke für diese bildhafte Darstellung.
    Unsere Tochter praktiziert das Unschooling, Freilernen, selbstbestimmte Bildung seit knapp drei Jahren und es geht ihr gut dabei.

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