Why I Unschool

February 14, 2015

I was listening to someone talk about the importance of pursuing our passions in life and I realised that this was at the root of my desire to unschool our kids. I’ve thought (and talked) about unschooling a lot but had never really been able to put it into words so clearly.

It’s best summed up by this quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – (variously attributed)

Parent often want their children to achieve an unfulfilled ambition, with typically negative consequences, but in this case I just want to save my kids the two decades I spent trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I want them to be who they really are and to do whatever it is that makes them come alive. To live their own dreams.

The job of compulsory schooling is to teach us how to kill our dreams and to learn how to endure a working life of tedium performing meaningless tasks. That’s the job of the system – most teachers really care about their students and I’m sure my teachers thought I was the perfect student, maybe even a model for the sort of person they were trying to produce. I studied diligently, never caused trouble and always knew what was expected of me without having to be told. I also managed to do it without ever appearing to suck-up to them.

The result for them was a model student. For me it was entering into adulthood not having a clue what sort of person I was. Not only that but by becoming someone who was skilled at “doing school” I was quite unprepared for the real world – my brain needed rewiring.

I had been so dedicated to becoming the person they wanted me to be that it took two decades to unravel the work they had done. Perhaps the only saving grace was that I had willfully become a model student and hadn’t needed it reinforced with traumatic punishment and the deconstruction of ego that is saved for the liveliest of children.

It wasn’t until I was about to get married at 28 that I even began to think about what I wanted for my life. I had a sudden vision of waking up in my late 40s to discover I was a grumpy unhappy father with all my dreams and energies stolen from having done a job I hated for 25 years.

Terrified, I set about getting out of my architecture career. It was a career I had always dreamed about but which turned out to be about spending lots of time in an intimate relationship with a computer or else attempting to pass stress from my boss down the chain of command to the contractors on site. I didn’t understand how I had become a middle manager but I definitely wanted out.

I set about doing up old houses and on-selling them in an attempt to pay off our mortgage ,and reduce the stranglehold it had over our lives. I thought I would enjoy being in charge of my day and also that I would like doing a mix of physical and drawing work. While I did enjoy those things I also spent 5 years proving that I needed to be working with people. Not with a pencil, not with a computer, not with a hammer, but with people.

Anyway, after five years we had paid off the mortgage on our house and at last, I had arrived! Without a mortgage holding me back I was free do anything I wanted with my life. Anything at all!

It was at that point that I discovered that I really and truly didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.

It must have taken a few more years of faffing around, by which point I was in my late 30s, before I finally figured it out. In a sign that I hadn’t quite asked the right question, what I really wanted to do with my life was to be deeply involved in my community.

I knew I needed to work with people but in some ways it didn’t matter what the actual job was. In the end I converted volunteer work I was doing at the local community radio into a paid job. It doesn’t pay much and I still spend too much time in a relationship with a computer (as the station manager) but I’m located in the main street of town and get to interview people from within (and outside) the community every day. I’m as well versed in what is happening in our awesome little town as anybody could be. I also help run the kids soccer club, where both my girls play. It doesn’t pay anything at all but it’s something I feel very dedicated to. I’m not entirely sure where this puts me on society’s status ladder but as you’d imagine I’m not letting that affect my decision.


My dream for my children is that they work most of this stuff out in their teens – which is when we’re supposed to work these things out – and not in their 30s like I did, or in their 50s like a lot of people do, and especially, not on their deathbed.

As soon as our wish for our children is that they be able to get a good job or earn a good living or grow into an adult with a certain amount of status we start making decisions for their life that are based in fear, Decisions that will lead them to cut themselves off from their dreams and from their passions, decisions that will lead them to live a life of fear and regret – or alternatively; numbness.

To that end, as well as unschooling our children, they are welcome to live in our house for as long as it might take them to establish a career/income source of their choice. We can’t afford to let money (or lack of it (or fear of lack of it)) determine their future.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed and in the worst case, a life of grinding tedium might await them anyway – but I don’t want to be the reason it happens.


One comment

  1. Wow you blog really is incredible, just stumbled upon it by accident looking for Alphie Kohn’s DVD. It is so refreshing to read your ideas and hear you observations, so eloquently put and clearly well thought about. I wish I knew more about you, where you are in the world and where you are coming from. Aside from that, it is great to see you writing again after a long break, I look forward to reading more :)

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