School & District Management

The Lessons of ‘Unschooling’

By Liana Loewus — June 07, 2011 1 min read

In a segment on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Sam Fuller, a 16-year-old in Albany, Calif., described his life as an “unschooled” student.

Unschooling is “like homeschooling, except entirely self-directed,” Fuller explained. Fuller learns what he wants to learn, when he’s ready to learn it—which is almost always for a practical purpose. For example, he said:

I didn't have a reason to read until I was 10, so I didn't. Eventually, when I did learn, it wasn't because of a book, test, a teacher—or even because I was embarrassed I didn't know how. I learned to read because of a card game I wanted to play called Magic the Gathering.

And although Fuller couldn’t spell until a year ago, his mom, a former teacher, did not intervene. She told NPR:

When you force someone to do something, especially when they're a child and there's an imbalance and a power relationship anyway, they lose part of their will and their confidence that they know what's right for them. And I think that's a pretty high cost for being a good speller.

Teachers: How does this strike you? Do you think classroom learning should be more self-directed? Or do you think students need strict academic guidance? What will the outcome be for unschooled students?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.