Unschooling and Trust

Unschooling is about trust.” This is what I often hear unschoolers say. Sometimes I put it this way: “Unschooling is about having confidence in freedom, or free people’s ability to guide their own lives.

The most basic meaning of unschooling is to homeschool without using a pre-packaged curriculum and instead the students follows their own interests. (Read more about the basic meaning of and difference between homeschooling and unschooling here.) But behind unschooling is this concept of trust in the individual.

On the other hand, school is really about trusting schools and the government in the case of public schools, the church in the case of parochial schools, and a strange guy from Germany who lived a hundred years ago in the case of Waldorf/Steiner schools, to guide the lives and education of hundreds, thousands, or millions of children.

Many of these organizations and people have some valuable wisdom to offer but most people would agree these entities are not necessarily trustworthy when it comes to directing the individual lives and education of children. People’s insistence on school may stem more from their fear of the alternative: trusting children, families, and communities (which is exactly what’s done in homeschooling and unschooling).

Peter Kowalke is a grown unschooler/homeschooler who made the Grown Without Schooling documentary about grown unschoolers and has spoken at many homeschooling conferences. I’ve been to a couple of his speeches and he often starts by asking the audience:

“Everyone raise your hand if you here think your child is evil? I don’t mean sometimes naughty or bad, I mean really, just evil? Please, don’t be shy, you can go ahead and raise your hand if you think so.”

And of course no one raises their hand, because most people don’t really think their children are fundamentally bad. But behind our need to control so many aspects of children and people’s lives in general is an often subconscious belief that there’s something wrong with people and especially children and a fear that they can’t really be trusted with freedom.

Of course, there are so many examples to support this viewpoint: children and people in general are constantly doing things that we don’t like and don’t think they should be doing. Unschooling has a lot of wisdom regarding this.

First of all, much of what we think is a problem is not actually a problem at all. (I have to say: Thank goodness for sitting around, playing around, and getting into trouble: so much of the good things in life directly or indirectly come from them!) And a lot of people’s behavior that we might find problematic in a given situation is a natural reaction to oppression: a lot of times we do things simply because we’ve been told not to!

But maybe the main thing is when you’ve never been trusted by others to manage your own life, you yourself can lose trust and confidence in yourself. It’s also possible you simply haven’t developed certain skills because you’ve never had the opportunity to do so. It’s atrophy: you’re not going to have the strength to lift heavy objects if someone is always lifting them for you; and you’re not going to know how to plan your future if someone is always planning your future for you.

People will see these inabilities and weaknesses and argue that they or others can’t handle certain freedoms. Of course, just because someone doesn’t have the strength or skills to do something now doesn’t mean they can’t over time: do some lifting, tear some muscles tissue, get sore, and soon you’ll be able to handle the heavy stuff; start managing your life and education, make some mistakes, freak out every once in a while, and soon you’ll have the ability and confidence to direct your own life.

It is a challenge: in some ways it’s easier to have someone else manage things, but what a wonderful joy it is too: to direct your own life and education.

More in my next post about my personal experience with deciding to leave high school at the age of 15. I went through a journey through unschooling and learning how to trust myself more.

(You can read that next post, entitled My Unschooling and Trust Journey, here.)


23 Responses to “Unschooling and Trust”

  1. Carman says:

    Easy and fun read… and you even included a Steiner reference! As a non-Unschooler (great double negative, right?), I’ve been thinking about trust in my own life. Trust makes the world go round. I believe that trust (in oneself and in others) is a major source for human creativity: art and science. Trust is where it’s at!

  2. Idzie says:

    Love it! And I agree completely.

  3. Carman says:

    Eli, you’re really hitting on some great topics. Excellent quality!

  4. cris says:

    really nice piece of writing, eli. and, serendipitously, at this moment, just what I need to enlighten some really special people I know who need to know this stuff but I can’t seem to formulate it well for them. thanks!

  5. Cheryl says:

    Eli, you really get to the heart of the matter. I remember wondering when I was growing up what was so “bad” about children that we needed to be basically locked up nearly every day of our lives. What was “wrong” with us that made adults so afraid? Of course, there was no one around that I felt I could discuss these questions with. It’s one of my strongest memories that impels me to unschool.

  6. […] difficult times when I left school to unschool and how I’ve really learned to trust myself. Unschooling and Trust – This is an explanation of the real philosophy behind unschooling: trusting people with […]

  7. Excellent. I’m going to read all your other posts, now.

  8. […] This post was Twitted by EliGerzon […]

  9. Jesusa Ricoy says:

    Very interesting, I have come to this conclusion too. I am unschooling our kids or home educating them, or learning with them, or however you want to call it.
    And as a childbirth educator, I see that trust is missing in many aspects of our lives, due partially to the paternalistic approach of the capitalist system, we do not trust our bodies to give birth, we do not trust that we can breastfeed our children and we do not trust that we can raise our kids…I find it absolutely fascinating as well as scary…we have reach a point that we trust external sources before we trust ourselves in matters that we have done, for thousands of years.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      @Jesusa Thanks for sharing your own experiences! I think you really have a point about people in general not trusting our ability to do what we’ve been able to do for thousands of years: from birthing, to breastfeeding, to education.

      I visited your blog and like what you said about producing the “love hormone” when women give birth naturally. All the best with helping mothers give birth in a natural, loving, and healthy way.

  10. Chris says:

    Well written, another fantastic post, Eli. I always look forward to what you have to say.

    As a parent with young children and an unschooling lifestyle, I find that adults questioning the philosophy are usually completely hung up on the concept of trust. Once you surpass that snag, everything else come clear.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      @Chris Thanks again for the support Chris! Yeah, trust really does seem to be the key. Once that “snag”, as you put it, is taken care of you can concentrate on the real joys and challenges in life. Life can be truly wonderful and meaningful then I’ve found.

  11. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights~!

  12. Wonderful! I’ going to take a few things you wrote here and use them as inspirational quotes to my own unschooler. I like to leave little notes for her, and some of the things you said here are just perfect to keep her thinking. *smile*

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