First we need to change our minds

I read a great blog post today from my friend Brenna McBroom entitled “Unschooling and Class”, wherein she discusses the probability of unschooling among poor communities.  There is a misconception that unschooling/homeschooling can only be done by middle or upper income families where one spouse can stay at home with the kids.   Obviously this is an ideal situation, but many people I know homeschool under less than ideal situations, as Brenna also points out.    That said, the obstacles among those living in extreme poverty seem to be almost insurmountable.   As Brenna says, how do you unschool your child if you yourself are illiterate and if you have no access to books or other resources?   Wouldn’t you then be grateful for the public schools, who not only provide a basic education but meals and a safe place for your child to spend the day?

After reading Brenna’s post, I spent much of the day thinking about this problem.

My conclusion?  It seems to me that we need to come at this issue from another angle.  Instead of asking whether or not it is possible for those living in extreme poverty, or even just lower income situations, to unschool, we should instead be looking for ways to MAKE it possible.   We need to get creative, get out there and “be the change”.  The unschooling community tends to be very insular.  I started this blog in part to try and reach out beyond our community and to raise awareness of the possibility of unschooling to the general public.   I don’t feel I’ve been very successful, but if even one family looks into unschooling as a result of something I’ve written, it will be a good thing.

However, basic awareness outreach doesn’t begin to address the major issue which is the deep divide between the opportunities for those with money and those without.

Currently in NYC there is an investigation into some elite public high schools – Stuyvesant being one of them – as to whether or not their admissions process is discriminatory.

Here’s the short answer.   It is.

Of course, anyone is free to take the test for specialized high schools in NYC.  Anyone can take the admissions test for Stuyvesant.   But since they only accept something like the top 1% of all those who apply, many families spend thousands of dollars on private tutors to prep their kids for that entrance exam.   Except what if you can’t afford those tutors?  Lower income families don’t have access to those resources, and we all just kind of shrug it aside.   Martin Luther King Jr. High School which is situated directly across the street from our building is one of the worst schools in the city;  just ask any of my neighbors with kids in school.  None of them will be going there, you can be sure.   Not one white student attends MLK Jr.  that I can tell.   Most of the kids who go there are from lower income families.

Why do we rail against the public school system, but at the same time tell the poor families that it’s the best they’re going to get?  Better than nothing, right?   Maybe, but certainly not the best we can offer.

As far increasing the numbers of people who are able and might choose to unschool, first we need to change our minds about poverty.   We need to stop blaming the poor for being poor.  Not everyone does this, of course, and it’s usually not admitted to, but it is what prompts people like Mitt Romney to talk about the hopeless 47% and Bill O’Reilly to say that President Obama was elected by minorities who “want stuff.”  People love to talk about their own humble beginnings and how they worked their way up, but then hold it against others who haven’t been able to do the same, for whatever reason.

We need to reach out and find ways to inform families about their options when it comes to learning outside of school.  I’ve talked before about the possibility of open learning centers, which would be like expanded libraries where kids could spend time learning about whatever they want.     If those people who work in lower income communities (community organizers?) had the resources to provide a “whole life” approach, wherein the parents are trained for better jobs while still supporting their families, and kids were encouraged to follow their passions and given the support to do so, we’d be on something closer to the right track.

I want to thank Brenna for writing about this issue, and for posing the questions we all need to consider.   It’s not an easy thing to change people’s minds about poverty or schooling, but it needs to be done.  It can be done.

The how and the when is up to all of us.


3 comments on “First we need to change our minds

  1. Beverley says:

    It’s not just enough to live our unschooling lives if we’re passionate about why schools aren’t working, we need to be actively finding ways to help make what we are able to do available to other families.

    I do this by providing online support groups and information to help families make the transition from school to homeschool, encouraging them to be DIY curriculum planners instead of reaching for more of the same resources and ideas that help schools fail their children. I’ve only met a few homeschools that don’t unschool naturally as part of their daily life… Most families end up describing themselves as ‘eclectic’.

    I’m worried that this could change as online companies like K12 start to compete with regular schools. So, now more than ever, if we’re inclined and have time, I feel we need to do what Amy says, and get out there and promote a different way of living and learning.
    Take your pick – grassroots support to people just starting out, creating learning centres (for all ages as Amy suggests in her article) or inspiring politicians and policy makers about the true nature of education.

  2. Diane says:

    I am a mother of three currently two are just being homeschooled. I want to do unschooling but have not the money of those I hear about who unschool. I want to do unschooling no matter our income is. I would love to work with whom ever as we all make this possibility come true. What do you suggest for unschooling on low income? Thank you Diane

    • Amy says:

      Hi Diane,

      If you are talking resources to use, the library is best. I have a friend who goes to their local library once every two weeks and checks out 50 books (you can get an educator library card if you are homeschooling, which allows you to check out more books and keep them longer) of all sorts. Then she takes them home and puts them in a designated space – a shelf or something – and her son browses through them at his leisure. She says sometimes he’ll only read one, and sometimes he finds 10 he loves. Then at the end of the two weeks she returns them and gets a bunch more.

      Sandra Dodd has tons of great ideas for “strewing” (of which the library book thing is one form). Her website at is a great resource. I would also recommend Life Learning Magazine edited by Wendy Priesnitz. I’m not sure how much a subscription is but it is very reasonable.

      Depending on your childrens ages and interests, you can explore your own neighborhood, meet local business people or even find local artists or craftsmen who might be willing to let your child hang out or shadow them to learn what they do.

      Sometimes unschooling is the most fun when it’s not just about going out and buying something or spending a lot of money on expensive books/toys/trips. Sometimes when we’re forced to get creative we can discover the most wonderful things. I have friends who find resources for their kids’ sculpture obsession through Craigslist. There is a section for things that people are giving away! Freecycling is great, local thrift shops, etc.

      I hope this helps. Maybe others reading this will have some ideas for you as well.

      Best regards,

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