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Deschooling For Parents

In order for homeschooling/unschooling to work for us, I had to go through my own deschooling process, which was more deep rooted and tangled up than my kids deschooling was for them. Because I went to school longer than they had, and knowing the public school system from both as a student and as a parent, it was harder for me to look at education and school a different way than I had before.

For those who’ve never heard of deschooling, it’s the process one goes through after leaving an institutionalized schooling environment. Your child has probably their natural desire to learn squashed and will need time to recover from that. With a parent’s help, they can gain back most, if not all of what they lost and begin to see the world as a place where learning is enjoyable and all around us.

So, what can the parent do to help? We have to work on changing our own preconceived notions about education, learning and school. I hear about many parents taking their kids out of school, recreating the same forced learning environment at home, only to have it come to a crashing halt with the mom feeling like a failure and the kids being miserable. Maybe, if they would have given themselves, and their children, some time to deschool, it would have turned out different for all of them.

My husband Billy & I started reading John Taylor Gatto even before removing our children from school. That was the start of my deschooling. I started to become aware of my thoughts on public school, real learning and education. And I started to question those thoughts. Thoughts that I had always accepted, without question because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

I had been a “good” student (except in high school when all hell broke loose), meaning I did what I was told and made good grades. I wasn’t picked on, I had friends and got along with the teachers. But it was the thoughts about real life and real learning that I got from school that did the most damage.

I remember having to take a cooking class in junior high school. I hated it and got a very low grade on my report card. There it was, in black & white…I failed at cooking. Surprise, surprise…today, I hate cooking and have no confidence in my ability to cook something edible. (Although this serves me well because Billy does 99% of the cooking-lol). Someone, who never met me, decided it was time for me to learn to cook, and because I wasn’t interested at that time and found it boring, I was labeled “poor” in cooking. I never gave it any thought until I started deschooling. It wasn’t like it crushed me when I got my report card. Rather it confirmed that the reason I must have found the class boring was because I wasn’t good at it.

I began questioning why we, as parents, allow the school system to continue having control over our children when the school day ends. I’ve had teachers give me weekly lists of things for my children to do at home. I’ve heard many parents tell their kids “You can’t go out (or play) until you do your homework”. Suppose I want to do something with my family and homework is interfering with that? Why are they telling my children what to do when they’re in their own home?

I questioned why we’re expected to live by school policy at home. There had been many times when my children come home, the day before the standardized tests, and let me know that the teacher told the class to tell their parents that they need to eat a good breakfast the next morning. And then hand me a list of what exactly the school’s version of a good breakfast consists of. Why does the school system think they can dictate what parents and children do at home? Because we let them do it. Yes, WE LET THEM.

Once these thoughts started swirling around in my mind, there was no going back to my old way of thinking. I also started to become aware of other people’s thoughts about learning and education. Soon after I removed my kids from school, we ran into a friend and her son. It was close to the end of the school year and the mother asked if we “take a break for the summer”. I explained that we learn all the time and that learning is all around us. I went on to say that it would be like taking a break from breathing. As they walked away I heard her say to her son , “See, they have to do school work every single day, even in summer!”.


I recall a parent, of a schooled child, asking me how my kids do P.E. being they’re not in school. Who in their right mind would depend on the public school system for physical activity? It’s as if physical activity is only a subject, to be taken just at times that the school dictates. Ridiculous!

I also did a lot of reading during that first year of deschooling. My two main sources were the message board at which are now closed and Sandra Dodd‘s site. I read almost everything on both sites and I could feel my thoughts and perspective changing as I read more and more.

Although that was back in 2004, I feel like my deschooling is a work in progress. I’ve learned so much about myself that it became more of a spiritual awakening than anything related to school. School-speak seems like a foreign language to me now. I see what REAL learning is everyday with my children.

It looks nothing like school.

*originally written in 2004: updated in 2008*

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15 Responses to “Deschooling For Parents”

  1. bekaroo says:

    i’ve unschooled practically my whole life…sometimes i find it hard, comparing myself to others who have done the whole “school institute” thing; being good enough; measuring up. but…it’s my choice of giving them permission to make me feel inferior. and i’ve learned SO much and life lessons are hardcore sometimes.

    encouraging post! thanks so much for writing–i’ve loved finding unschooling sites that affirm. Smile

  2. Kimberly says:

    I find myself deshcooling every day and I have been a full time mom for almost 18 years. Old, bad habits are hard to shed.

    Patience is a virtue.
    Kimberly´s last post: Wonderful Unschooling QuotesMy Profile

  3. Bonnie says:

    I have been homescooling for 5 yrs and my kids never attended public school but I did and the deschooling process is hard to learn even for me. It has become harder when my friends kids started public school I feel that I have to defend my choice because thier kids “know” how to do more school stuff then mine. Thank you for the inspiration to keep at it! My kids are learning and they are learning for life not for tests.

  4. I applaud every parent who homeschools or unschools. You are educating your children and spending quality time with them. I taught public school as an elementary teacher and gave 150 percent, but I couldn’t meet the needs of every child and went home frustrated most days. I continued to teach after my first child was born and then full-time for one year.
    I now have three children in public school. I love my children, but if I spent every waking minute with them we’d all be crazy. Volunteering at school and giving them my all when they’re home is my solution to sanity.
    My children play, follow rules, deal with a little boredom, show what they know, and learn a few things in school. Most of their learning happens outside of school through our experiences and conversations.
    Good for all of you. I guess I’m an unschooler too, but my children go to school/daycare.
    Some parents don’t have what it takes to teach their own kids, so thank goodness for schools and teachers who give it their all or the best they can. It’s a tough job.
    .-= Michelle Breum´s last blog ..Magnetic Letter Work =-.

  5. Vidyut says:

    I described deschooling to a friend as ‘rehab’ from schooling because that is bad for you, and you have to watch out for relapses of “shoulds”. She laughed out loud.

    I look back, and think its one of the most concise descriptions I’ve heard.

  6. Arp says:

    Great post – deschooling myself was a very big part of our family’s unschooling journey. It was the difference between liking the idea of unschooling vs living it every day. I wish it had happened overnight, but it took months, with a big kick in the pants from reading ‘Parenting a Free Child.’ It’s hard to realize how ingrained lessons become when you are exposed them for 12 years.
    .-= Arp´s last blog ..When an unschooled kid tries school =-.

  7. Sandra Dodd says:

    Kids used to ask my daughter Holly, “But what about recess!?” They couldn’t imagine a life without recess. Holly had no need for “recess” from school, as she had no school. It was beyond their faintest comprehension.

  8. Joanne says:

    Thank you for stopping by. I don’t think you’ll find anyone here that reads this bloghere who “blesses” the public school system for anything. Unschooling means our kids don’t go to school. Smile What’s wrong with playing all day?

  9. Jody & Ruth Been says:

    The indoctrination process in American public schools leaves much to be desired, for sure. I was homeschooled for 2 years (the rest in public schools) and I look back on those 2 years as critical to my personal educational growth. However, having taught English for 2 1/2 years in South Korea, I have come to bless the American school system over and over again. At least we try to teach our kids while they’re IN school! In Korea the children spend hours in school playing and then spend the rest of their lives in after-school academies actually learning so they can get ahead.

    It is the most twisted approach to education I have ever seen, and it makes me love and appreciate every creative teacher I had in America. Our system, however faulty it may be, is vastly better than most educational systems in the world.

  10. Joanne says:

    Hi Colleen. Smile

    Knowing that deschooling is a process, makes it easier to be kind to ourselves when we take a step backwards.

  11. Colleen says:

    What a great post Joanne. I’m so glad to know that deschooling is a long process for other people too! Smile It makes me feel much better about the progress I’ve made these past few months. I feel like I’m getting a deeper understanding of what unschooling is, too. In the beginning I guess I thought the learning would still look a certain way but I’ve finally realized I need to give up the notion of learning all together and just focus on living!

  12. Joanne says:

    Hi Tara…yes, I totally feel the same way. I think back to when we first adopted our kids and they were still in school. I still shake my head at some of the things I went along with, just because “that’s how it was”. *shudder*

    Thanks for stopping by. I just took a look at your blog and added your feed to my reader. Smile

  13. Tara says:

    This is a great post. It exemplifies the riciulouness of our thoughts on institutionalization prior to deschooling and our astonishment after deschooling. When I look back I’m bewildered I ever fell for it for so long. (And I even unschooled for high school!) It’s indoctrinization and it’s insane what we allow.

  14. Joanne says:

    Yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s totally a matter of perspective. It’s all in how you look at it.

  15. kimzyn says:

    I like how you mentioned the mother who told her son, “See, they have to do school every day!” That just brings home for me how it all is a matter of perspective. I find it very funny that the mom in question presented it to her son as if you were forcing your children to do lessons. But that is the only perspective she had of learning.


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