Deschooling: What It’s All About


After spending 14 years in formal schooling, I’ve found in homeschooling my children that I have been a bit of a stickler for doing things a certain way. “Giant you must sit at the table. ” “You must write out all of your work.” You must, you must, you must… but who said learning must be done this way? It took a while for me to process but I finally feel like I understand. The only reason my teachers wanted me to show my work is because they didn’t have the time to talk with me in order to see if I truly understood the material. If they had, I would bet 8 times out of 10 that I didn’t understand, even though I did show my “work”. If you are like me, having spent all of your formative years within the formal schools’ walls, then you know and understand that, as the primary teachers to our children, we are the ones most desperately in need of Deschooling.


The term, Deschooling, comes from a book by Ivan Illich titled Deschooling Society in which Illich argues against centralized schooling due to its effects not just on the poor, but on society as a whole. A great quote from the first chapter of his book summarizes his point:

All over the world the school has an anti-educational effect on society: school is recognized as the institution which specializes in education. The failures of school are taken by most people as a proof that education is a very costly, very complex, always arcane, and frequently almost impossible task.

School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education.

Deschooling (1)


In other words, schooling takes the power away from those who could use it most effectively. For me, I learn best by seeing and doing. Especially when attempting to learn things that I have no context for. It would have been better for me to learn general and organic chemistry through playing with molecular models and seeing the process first hand instead of trying to memorize vast amounts of chemical equations. I can see kits like MolyMod providing a big help in understanding what I was attempting to learn without modeling. If when in school I was permitted to learn from those who were actually practicing in the field of organic chemistry who could help me see how it works practically. Forms of deschooling in the previous examples would be play and real life in the field experience.


So what does this mean for our homeschool and us homeschool teachers? We have already taken the first step in helping our children to learn outside the “box” by teaching them at home. The next step, which I wish I would have known about when we started homeschooling Giant, is to deschool our children and ourselves. The funny thing is, Deschooling our children is much easier than deschooling ourselves. For our children, we help them explore different ways to learn without textbooks and busywork. We expose them to the arts and allow them to read upside down on the couch. Some of us limit access to tv and internet to promote creativity, and some of us allow free reign to promote exposure to different ideas and ways of life. We take tons of field trips, enjoy our local librarians full attention during school hours, and conduct math lessons in the grocery store. Our children are exposed to many great books and even have plenty of time to pursue their current interests.

They just don’t know how good they have it.


When it comes to ourselves we have to constantly fight the school mindset which has over the years been systematically and purposely ingrained within us. The many comments from well-meaning family and friends that are seemingly timed to be spoken just when you are starting to feel more confident in your decision to homeschool. The random negative comments from neighbors who work in the schools, parents of children within the schools, and from store personnel. All well-meaning yet all subversively dictated by the centralized school mindset. “It is the schools job to educate our children. They are the only ones who can get it right. Never mind that our children are failing, we’ll just give more money and that will solve the problem.” If they only knew that they are speaking the script they were taught to believe, maybe they would sing a different tune. But we are actively fighting this very script in our minds.  Somedays we win and other days we lose.  So the question remains, How do I win against this mindset and effectively deschool myself? Stay tuned for the next post to find out.

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