The Cult of Unhappy

Penelope Trunk has a great blog post this week titled “There are no lazy people”.     My favorite part is where she writes:

When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like. Here’s what I think: “How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”


I love that, because people are always saying the same thing to me.  Kids learn to deal with people they don’t like at school, and if they don’t learn it there, when will they?  Or school is necessary to teach kids that in life, you don’t always – or maybe never –  get to do what you want to do.

And so we pound it into kids from a young age.  Learn to accept the misery now, because this is your life.  Sure school sucks, but hey, that’s the way life is.  Get used to it!  Wear it like a twisted badge of honor.  (Our Puritan ancestors must be so proud. Of course they would never say so, pride being a sin and all.  They were more the “suffer in silence and burn naysayers at the stake” kind of people.  But you get the point.)   We are a culture of people who spend our entire lives doing things we don’t like and bragging about it.

If you are at a dinner party and people start talking about stuff from when they were in school, what are the stories that get told?  The social faux pas horror stories, the bullying, the hated classes and how many you skipped, the the weird teachers etc. etc.   A friend of mine who is a psychologist told me once that the number one anxiety or stress related dream that adults have is about school.  You know, you show up without most of your clothes, you can’t find your locker, you haven’t been to class all semester and have a final exam coming up…

It’s miserable.  Join the club.

Then, the drudgery of school gives way to the drudgery of work. Have you ever listened to a bunch of people talk about their work?  More often than not, it is to complain about their boss, or their hours, or their workload, or the work itself, or the lousy pay.   A person who loves what they do and says so is stared at, wide-eyed, as though they had just apparated from the land of make believe.

Even relationships are not immune.  Teenagers are expected to be a pain in the ass and to hate their parents.   Mothers in law are unbearable, not to mention those lazy husbands or high maintenance wives!  Children are a burden, and on and on.

I believe one of the biggest reasons that people dismiss unschooling as unworkable on a large scale is that it is a threat to the Cult of Unhappy in which most of our population is firmly entrenched.  If you  are happy there must be something wrong with you.  (If you don’t believe me, walk down the street singing or laughing.  People throw you odd glances and move out of your way.)  Imagine raising happy kids who don’t hate you and who eventually make their living doing something they love and look forward to!  Imagine kids who find partners whose company they enjoy and with whom they make a lifetime of happy.

Most people can’t.

So it’s up to us.  It’s up to us to encourage our kids to keep doing what they’re doing – learning what they love and building bonfires, as Penelope says.

If we don’t do it, no one else will.


44 comments on “The Cult of Unhappy

  1. Beth says:

    I agree 100% and this was beautifully written!

  2. Juliet says:

    The hangup for me when unschooling my then-seven-year-old was that 1) all she wanted to do at home was lay in bed and read or sit and watch TV, and 2) getting her to do anything she didn’t want to do, like accompanying me to the grocery store, taking a shower, brushing teeth, and many other things was (and still frequently is) a huge struggle.

    I *want* her to do things she loves. I encourage it. But I don’t feel it’s healthy for kids to watch TV for 10 hours per day. Do you? My kids are six years apart, so now that the younger is three they do play together, but she didn’t really have other children to play with then, and even now yearns for kids closer to her age.

    Unschooling seemed great to me: my child would pursue her interests, I would encourage her and be there to provide transportation to the library and whatnot. But ultimately it wasn’t workable for *me.*

    Now we’re about to start schooling at home, attempting it again. This time it will be much more structured, which is bound to be a struggle, but might also allow my daughter to achieve things she feels she can and wants to.

    Anyway, I can’t read a defense of unschooling without stating, for the record, my deeply conflicted sense that as great as it sounds in theory, it really can’t work for everyone, even those who really want it to.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Juliet,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Pat Farenga has said that unschooling is “giving the child as much freedom as the parent(s) can bear”, which I think is very apt. I don’t know all the circumstances of your life, so making any suggestions would be presumptuous, but I will ask a couple of questions. Before the age of 7 was your daughter in school? And are you in a very rural area, since you mention her not having other children to play with?

      I appreciate your comment and wish you all the best in your journey, learning outside of school.


    • Marjorie says:

      I agree with you because you are a thinking person and not a swallowing person who believes every idea someone decides should be shared with the rest of the world. Stay true to what works for you and don’t feel guilty that you can’t adopt this woman’s ideas. Saying something doesn’t necessarily make it true. And no, it doesn’t sound good in theory. If parents would do what works for them and not attempt to get others to follow the pied pipers on their theories, your chances are better, Do what you think is right for you and don’t worry about what people( who blog stuff that doesn’t work) think about it.

      I remember being pregnant with my first daughter and how I worried about becoming a parent. My ob-gyn said to me, “Ease up some. There will be those who wag their finger and declare that some baby was actually born NAKED.” Made an excellent point for me.

      Let the bloggers blog…it is a big ego builder in addition to being a good outlet for their “creative” instincts. Each one can come up with some semi-useful stuff mixed up in there somewhere. And sometimes the most useful thing is to click the close mark at the top of the page and build the best relationship you can with YOUR children….not the hypothetical children in the writer’s mind.

      • Amy says:

        Hi Marjorie,

        I read your comment several times and then read Juliet’s comment again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I never tell people to ignore their instincts with their children and simply do as I say. That would not only be irresponsible, but wildly arrogant. I do have strong opinions about how learning works and my posts are of course not without my own personal bias based on what I see succeeding with my own kids and with others I know. As for Juliet specifically, I hope my comments to her were encouraging (and I know that Shauna’s to her was). I am not here to trash people for not being the “right” kind of unschoolers. In fact I appreciate what she had to say because people should be able to express when something isn’t working for them; maybe they can find answers or maybe they just need to get it out. Certainly no one on my site would tell her to go against what works best for her family.

        I am here to promote and explain unschooling to those who might be curious, as well as to provide a place for people who are unschooling to come and find supportive words and stories. I do not expect everyone to agree or do what I do.

        Your comment, more than just disagreeing with me, sounds angry – calling me “this woman”, mentioning people who “blog stuff that doesn’t work”, using the term “pied pipers” and the phrase “the hypothetical children in the writer’s mind”. I wonder where that anger is coming from. I don’t know you at all, so it can’t be personal. Maybe you disagree with unschooling in particular, or with bloggers in general?


  3. Dawn says:

    LOVE THIS!!! Very well written and a great reminder why I am on this adventure in the first place.

  4. wonderful post Amy, again.. I wonder why it is such human nature to worship unhappy? or is a cultural phenomenon? perhaps it is that more cultural than human nature.
    And Juliet- I have noticed that for families with really young children unlimited “screen time” causes more strife than for families with older children. I have a hard time too thinking that 10 hours of TV per day is best for my young children. I notice more curiosity and creativity with some limits on TV.So that works for us too.In my opinion you still have the right to call yourself an unschooler if you want :)

    • Mary says:

      My daughter (13 years old) is very interested in psychology, and we have been talking about this very issue this summer. Scientists have found that the brain does have a negativity bias, and hypothesize that this was probably adaptive when dangers and challenges lurked around every corner. Happiness, on the other hand, tends to “slide off” the brain–my daughter likes to think of it as our brains having negativity Velcro and happiness Teflon.

      But we also have been talking about ways to “un-stick” things from the Velcro, and treasure the happiness before it slips away: mindfulness,gratitude lists, creative problem-solving,etc…and unschooling!

      • Amy says:

        Hi Mary,

        Thanks for the comment. Tell your daughter that the image of “Negativity velcro and happiness Teflon” is great. I’m going to think about that every time I encounter negative situations. What a great thread of study! Thanks for sharing it – it makes a lot of sense.


      • Momkraft says:


      • Aerissa says:

        Hi Mary (and Amy),

        I just want to say how much I love that image from your daughter! “negativity Velcro and happiness Teflon.” I’ll remember this for years to come, as Amy mentioned below, any time I encounter negative situations (and positive come to think of it! Got to make it stick! :P).
        Also, thank you for this post Amy. I’m not a parent, or a parent to be, but I have struggeled with how I feel about schooling, and returning to college/uni as it’s something my parents stress limitlessly, but I feel that my time and money is being wasted.
        I’m halfway through my degree, and am more and more reluctant to go back and finish because I don’t feel that it’s an “education” anymore but rather zombie training. Listen, follow, keep quiet, do not disturb, and do not question.
        Although I fully support broad and general knowledge and finding/exploring what you want, a point comes where you KNOW what you want and don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to accumulate the hours required to get a degree. I’m being forced to take classes I do not want to because they’re “required” even though they have NOTHING to do with my future plans.

        Now I am NOT saying that all colleges and classes are useless, I just wish that the requirements for degrees were actually relavant to the degree, and that it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. $400 for a textbook from which only one chapter will be used for the course? I don’t think so.
        This is just my overly long opinion, and I most definitely do NOT believe that all colleges and classes are useless and zombie-fied, but in general that’s how I feel.
        I think that when I face this question with my future kids, I’ll have to keep in mind that times and things change. I didn’t feel this way about schools 6 years ago, but my experiences/research have led me down this path.
        Best is for everyone to keep doing what works for them, no matter what someone’s opinion is, no one should ever be forced to accept an opinion they do not agree with.

        Experiment, research and give things a shot! You never know until you try. That goes for (almost) anything in life. :)
        Best wishes for everyone!
        (and sorry for the slight rant in there!)

        • Aerissa says:

          I know this isn’t *exactly* relavant (or is it? I’m still not clear what “unschooling” covers exactly), what with the schooling I’m talking about being post-secondary, but your blog really got me thinking further about people, futures and in general being happy. =)

        • Shigeru says:

          I think the TJed philosophy is a good start for new heshmcoool families. I know it’s not unschooling but it really helps planners like me start somewhere besides school at home. Trying his method has shown me that it’s still fun to color, dance and sing around a room, and play with dolls and cars:). It’s taught me how inquisitive and imaginative my children are and how that helps them create their learning. I think this method also helps to build in some quality time with the kids that’s hard to get when you’re cleaning, working, and just doing the things one needs to do to keep up the home. Also, for me when we head downstairs I try and not have any plans. I just try and be in the momement with them:).To really answer the question:1. I learn what my children have on their minds2. I learn their strengths3. I learn their favorite characters on their shows

  5. Megan M. says:

    My husband and I have 3 boys (6, 4, and 2) with our first little girl on the way in 8 weeks. We unschool, and love it! It’s always amazing to me how different my kids are, however. My oldest loves science! He will do science experiments until the cows come home, and is always building inventions and robots out of other toys or building things outside out of odds and ends! He’s so creative that way! My 4 year old boy, on the other hand has autism and a muscle disease (which causes him pain) and he much prefers to sit down and draw and color! However, with these loves of theirs, it’s hard to fit in other things that I think they need, such as handwriting, reading (my 6 year old hates to do this), and math. I think it’s fair to remember, however, that they are just children. Their learning shouldn’t be forced, and we should let them do what they love (within reason) for as long as possible.

  6. Violet says:

    I love this because it’s so true, through and through!

  7. Penelope says:

    Thank you for writing this. I had these thoughts as to what I wanted to accomplish by homeschooling my daughter, and they revolved around her happiness and safe keeping. I didn’t want her to be exposed to all the negative influences that I had in public school, but I also wanted her to think outside the box, to question everything to find her own true happiness. She is immersed in doing what she loves now, and I know this will continue with her into adulthood.

  8. Valerie says:

    We don’t have to imagine what it would be like to have teenagers who don’t hate us, because they don’t. Our girls are 16 & 18 and some of their friends think they’re strange because they like to be with us! I struggled over the years, wondering if we were doing the right thing with unschooling. But for as much tv as our girls watched over the years, they have turned out every bit as “normal” as kids who go to school. They are very outgoing, have interests that they pursue, know what they want & don’t want, and they are not lazy – especially when they are working on something they are passionate about. Do they complain at times – oh yeah, but I’m pretty sure they learned that from me :) We used very little curriculum, and our oldest daughter just got promoted to manager at her job.

  9. Valerie says:

    By the way, I loved your article. I do think people take great pleasure, at times, in telling kids & teenagers that they have to do things they don’t like to do – with that knowing look on their face.

  10. Camille says:

    Great essay. I can’t say I unschool, but I try to allow most of what my children do be child-led. I have a dyslexic child, and if I weren’t more structured he would likely never learn to read well enough to function as an adult. My kids were miserable in school, and homeschooling has been a blessing in our lives like no other. My oldest is a teenager, and is often cranky, but he never has a problem being with us. He is rarely embarrassed by us and confides quite a bit in myself. I don’t see that kind of closeness with his schooled peers, and it makes me sad.

    I also love the idea of unschooling as much as you are comfortable with! Thank you for that. I have always connected with the whole theory of uncshooling, but it doesn’t work so well in our situation, so this is a liberating idea.

    And I love Mary’s daughter’s analogy of Velcro and Teflon! So true! Sometimes the comments really are the best part of a blog.

  11. Jacquelyn says:


  12. Shaunalynn says:

    I love unschooling my two girls (ages 7 and 8). My oldest son, however, would never have survived an unschooling environment. He needed far too much structure for the unplanning that goes along with our unschooling.

    I’m always amazed at how much my kids have learned on their own – from watching TV, reading, and other sources – without ever having been forced to study.

    I for one believe whole heartedly that unschooling does work – and it works very well!!!

  13. crystal says:

    I love this. I want to encourage others to always do what works for their family. Don’t think there is any right or wrong way to unschool.
    Great blog post.

  14. Jesi says:

    Love, love, LOVE this. I am happy but almost afraid to talk about it because people get upset. They pound their fists and resist the temptation to believe that someone could be content, love their spouse, have enjoyable children and love their life. How could this be?

  15. Katie says:

    Amy, I LOVE this! Thank you! @Juliet – I wondered when this amazing journey of self-led learning was going to start too. When were they going to pursue everything under the sun about dinosaurs (or whatever) without my guiding it? However, now that my older child is 10, I am seeing it slowly developing in him. I get wigged out when I hear about 6 year olds pursuing all these interests very independently, but that has not been our typical. I see my role as an unschooling mom to offer lots of interesting choices. My 10yo is very technically minded and loves physics, but not really the language and math of it, just the physical experience of physics at work. Now he has a lot of theories and is beginning to think beyond himself: will others be interested in his ideas? So, I suggested that he’ll have more credibility if he understands the language and the math of physics. He has now decided he wants to learn calculus and is reading a “funny/comic” book about it and realizing how little he understands and is willingly now going to take a math class to learn the math basics he has heretofore shunned as “just doing worksheets for no good reason.” After 4 years of this, I am just getting into my stride and I’m seeing “results”. The faith and patience it has required have been tremendous.

    Also, my exposure to unschoolers reveals what I call the big 3, the things that so many of us struggle to let go of: what they eat, when they sleep and how much screen time they get! I’ve done pretty well with food and sleep, but I battle myself daily over the screen time. My ambiguity about it is probably the most damaging thing. If I would just pick a limit I am happy with and be consistent, I’d feel better, wouldn’t yell and they’d get used to it.

    @Mary, I love your daughter’s analogy and will be incorporating it into my lexicon of ways I talk about positive, proactive living!

    Thanks all! Katie

  16. Momkraft says:

    Unschooling is so emotionally difficult to accept. It takes so much discipline to question previous assumptions and to not be overwhelmed with the guilt and regret of previous mistakes. It also feels like mourning the loss of the support I was hoping to rely on from culture, society and even government (public school). The feeling of being alone is intense. Then I realize that happiness and curiosity makes the best unschooling environment. I don’t know how to live like that. It’s a creepy crawl up the happiness mountain, one recipe, one science experiment, one bike ride, one sleepover, one day at a time. All the while, doubting, running out of steam and hoping for some minor breakthroughs. I’m far enough into it that I’m never going back to the devils that I knew as I muster up the courage to face new ones I’ve never met before. My kids are prospering while I’m still trying to deschool. I’m grateful to find your thoughtful article. I find myself deprogramming from the cult of unhappy, going deeper still to rise back out. My acupuncturist calls it Ancestral Chi.

    • Amy says:

      Great comment, Delia (I hope I got your name right)! Yes, sometimes the unschooling path can seem a lonely one, and even now I have days where my “school brain” kicks in and I question what we are doing. The remedy for that, for me, is to take a step back and look at my healthy, happy and curious kids. I’m so happy you enjoyed the post.


  17. Amir says:

    It is well written article and Amy makes a good point about being unhappy but keep doing what is making people unhappy. The root of the pervasive unhappiness is debatable but is unlikely to be traditional schooling. The extreme thinking in any one system of schooling including unschooling can be problematic. Children, particularly young one, need structure but structure does not need to be suffocating. In addition, children’s dislike of a particular subject or topic has more to do with the difficulty grasping the concept rather than inherent dislike of it. So if parent-teacher does not try to help child understand the topic, they are not “unschooling” and rather taking the path of least resistance and depriving child of a potentially rewarding experience. Also, dealing with difficult emotions is very important skill for success as an adult. Avoiding hard work and difficult feeling is not the path of success in my humble opinion and unlikely to grow children that are successful, happy people.

    • Amy says:


      I would agree that schooling is not the ONLY factor in pervasive unhappiness, but it is definitely where kids learn that doing as their told and following orders is of utmost importance whether they like it or not. It sets them up for a lifetime of such situations, without the ability to walk away. Walking away from school, they are taught, means failure.

      And as for unschooling, it is not a life without challenges or difficulties or hard work. It’s just that the chosen goals come from the learner and are not imposed upon them by someone else. Unschoolers set their own goals and then do what it takes to get there; sometimes the intermediate steps are difficult or not particularly pleasant. They do them anyway in pursuit of their goal. That is what makes happy, successful people, in my opinion.

      Thanks for your comment!

  18. Hi, Amy. Thanks so much for linking to my blog. Really, I just want to thank you for even reading it! I still feel new to homeschooling, like I have no idea what I’m doing, and really, as an unschooler I feel that I am mostly NOT doing and consequently I often feel I’m not sure I should get credit. So it’s huge validation to me that someone with as much self-assurance as you would be reading my blog. And linking! Hooray. And thanks.


    • Amy says:

      Hi Penelope,

      You should get credit :-) And I love your blog because you aren’t afraid to challenge people out of their comfort zones. I would never know that you feel like a “newbie”, but I think we all feel that way at times. I know I still do!

      The next time you are in NY, let’s get together. We’ll drag Lisa Nielsen with us and go for dinner!


  19. Amy Hunt says:

    YES!!! We are new to homeschooling and this totally resonates with me! It can be hard to live in this world and be different, but this is our worship — to be who we are. Great word of encouragement.

    • Guilherme says:

      It helps me to slow down and see the learning that is tainkg place and often times I can see where they can go with it and how they are truly building their foundation. This is SO true for me, too! When I’m busy and only half paying attention, it just looks like playing or goofing off or wasting time. But when I actually sit and observe and pay attention, I’m amazed at the stuff they’re doing and coming up with and thinking. And, yes, it totally gives me the hints and ideas on what I can bring to them or offer them to expand what they are interested in. I think they are limited if we’re not part of the equation. Example: My theater son had become interested in drawing, but he was limited in his ability, but his desire was huge. I brought in tracing paper and showed him how you can trace things, and it opened up all sorts of doors for him. And I brought in more books on his favorite topic: Indians and knights. And those gave him more ideas.Good stuff!

  20. Angie Drake says:

    It has taken me a long time to embrace unschooling. The truth is that my youngest (almost 15) has really always been unschooled because he was never one to learn from somebody but always one to seek out knew learning opportunities on his own. Some people might even say he learns the hard way because he doesn’t want to learn how it’s done… he wants to discover his own way of doing things. As a parent, that can be hard because if we listen to society, we’re supposed to teach our kids what they need to know. Well, I’ve figured out the best way I can teach is by doing. I live my life in the way I want my kids to live their lives. So far, so good! And your piece makes me realize that the reason we can do it this way is because we’re not tied up in the Cult of Unhappiness… just the opposite, I think.

    Glad a friend shared this piece with me. I’ll be back to read more!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Angie! I’m glad you liked it – and I agree that the best thing a parent can do is be the model for their kids of a life well lived.


  21. Kate McDermott says:

    I unschooled my son, now 26, until he made the decision at 15 to enter the public high school. It was a rough transition as I watched him switch from one being excited about learning and feeling free to question and ask questions, to being turned off by teachers who had no time to answer questions or engage in debate since it didn’t fit in with time allotted for the lesson plan. Teachers seemed to only teach for the test—atleast most of them. There were several who he connected with and had time for his questioning mind. Part of growing and learning is questioning. Yes? He graduated with a 4-year scholarship to University. He has returned to being a life-learner. At home easily with people of all ages and background, interested in many things, learning new skills, honing old ones, and making his way in the world. And, the bottom line is that he IS HAPPY!

  22. Lola says:

    BUSH BACK THE DESK is A book that I had to read when in college and I completely agree with Amy. One day, my ex., said that his pastor (not mine, I don’t believe in religion)that all this abbreviation the kids use when texting will make them stop learning how to spell. I said, in the future they won’t have to spell because they will be telepathic…no need for words. He got mad at me. I guess that is why he is my EX. The future is here, we need to learn the NEW.

  23. David says:

    Selfish parents to selfish to let their children experience the world

    • Liz says:

      David, who are these “selfish” parents? The Unschooling parents or the traditional schooling parents? If you are referring to the traditional schooling parents, I agree!

      We are an Unschooling family and I guarantee you my unschooled kids have much more experience in this world via travel, communicating with people of all ages on a regular basis, learning how to run a household, etc than their public schooled counterparts!

      Recently, my niece and nephew missed out on a family reunion because it was the first week of school. My kids sang and danced and talked and played and did crafts with these family members from all over the country that they had never met before. There is no way I would ever say they didn’t have a much more meaningful, memorable, and important time than their cousins who were stuck in a class room with thirty other kids their same ages.

  24. Cathy Tighe says:

    Oh I can so relate. I sudden don’t feel so alone in our journey. For the most part we are natural learners (my children resist anything with the word school in it), we still have a program for maths but skip bits that they are unlikely to every use. Everything else we do is life skills and things that interest them.

    Since they were babies I’ve always read to them and although my younger two were late readers they never lost that desire to want to read, knowing an adventure lay in every book.

    It took me 30 years to find my passion and now I love my work, my life and my beautiful family. I want this for our children too but always, not just decades down the track and you are right, there are many people that will never find happiness and joy in their lives.

    When people ask us what we hope our children will do with their lives we say, ‘be happy’. If they can be happy then they will do amazing things with their lives. I just know it.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog.

    Love and blessings, Cathy

  25. J H says:

    I notice that there are a lot of comments regarding unschoolers and TV. I don’t have kids big enough for any schooling – but I do limit TV time for my 3 and 2 year olds. Would unschooling extending to letting your kids watch unlimited TV – as in content? or just in time? Just curious. I was homeschooled more than 20 years ago.

    We knew an unschooling family – but they didn’t have TV, and the parents were almost like pioneers by the simplicity with which they lived. I know that several of the kids went into the logging industry. I did think that their prospects were limited since none of them would have had the foundation to pursue professional degrees and become doctors or lawyers without a lot of remedial classes first.

  26. Alex says:

    I’m homeschooled (junior this year), but not unschooled. Though I’ve never been unschooled (i.e., my mom gives us the subjects we need to get through each year (math, history, language arts, foreign language, science and we *need* to get through the textbook), I don’t think that unschooling in the sense that you get to do whatever you want is the best idea. I’ve found that I love math and foreign languages, but if my mom had never made me work through math up to higher levels (in high school I’ve done Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Counting/Probability, Number Theory, and I’m finishing pre-calculus) then I wouldn’t have realized that I really enjoy it and do extra on my own time, and work through it during the summer as well. The same thing is true for foreign languages – I hated it at first, but she made me keep doing it and now I love it (again, I do a lot of extra on my own (1-2 hours extra per day of Skype-ing with native speakers, reading books written in Spanish, etc), but if she had just let me stop when I didn’t like it at the beginning then I wouldn’t love it now.
    Also, the

    In response to this:
    “When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum … [they] ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like.”
    In the real world, people have to do things they don’t want to. Even in your ideal job, there are going to be things that you would prefer not to do. However, I think it’s kind of silly to ask how they’ll “learn to do stuff they don’t like.” Obviously, we’ll deal with it. The “old dog can’t learn new tricks” is an excuse for laziness.

    “Here’s what I think: “How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?””
    I’m not sure if this is sarcastic or a legitimate question, but, similar to learning to do things you don’t like, they’ll decide, “Hey, I don’t like this. Let’s stop doing it,” if it’s possible for them to stop doing that in their job.

    “Even relationships are not immune. Teenagers are expected to be a pain in the ass and to hate their parents. Mothers in law are unbearable, not to mention those lazy husbands or high maintenance wives! Children are a burden, and on and on.”
    This is true in our homeschooling, and from my observations, also happens with unschoolers.

    I disagree with this:
    “Imagine raising happy kids who don’t hate you and who eventually make their living doing something they love and look forward to! Imagine kids who find partners whose company they enjoy and with whom they make a lifetime of happy.”
    Let’s take it one point at a time:
    “Imagine raising happy kids who don’t hate you”
    Hating your parents for the remainder of your life if the exception to the norm. Even if you disagree with your parents or fight with them during your highschool years, once your maturity level starts to increase you stop “hating” them.

    “[kids] who eventually make their living doing something they love and look forward to!”
    This is one of the weakest points in the whole article.
    Nowadays nearly every job requires at least a Bachelor’s degree. In order to get into college you need to have a high school transcript that shows that you have completed high school level curriculum. If you just let your child do the things they want to do, then they won’t get into college, and therefore won’t be able to do the job that they really want to do in the future. Even if they have a high school transcript that lets them get into college, if they are not used to a large workload of educational work (homework, schoolwork, etc. Call it what you will.) then they are going to have a huge problem adjusting to the rigorous level of college, meaning that the might need to drop out and then, you guessed it, not be able to pursue what they want in the future.
    Unless their dream job is working at a fast food restaurant… (although I’ve talked to hiring managers and they say that having a college degree is what causes them to choose Person X over me. A college degree makes getting any job hundreds of times easier.)
    I’m not saying it’s not possible to do what you love – just look at Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or many others – just that it’s probably easier if you go to college first.

    “Imagine kids who find partners whose company they enjoy and with whom they make a lifetime of happy.”
    Okay, what? How is this even relevant to your educational background? Marriage isn’t perfect. There are going to be arguments. In fact, it’s been shown that the divorce rate is significantly higher in marriages that are “perfect” – the spouses/partners never argue or disagree with each other, because then suddenly one tiny thing comes up and like a tiny spark it can start a large problem. The marriages with spouses that argue and disagree with each other, but communicate about it, are shown to be the longest lasting.
    Additionally, most partners are found either during your years at college or your life in the work-force after you graduate college.
    Let me ask you this, if it’s not too personal – I don’t want to be intrude on your personal life… in which case, ask yourself this, how’d you meet your partner? Are you happy? How many people did you date and break up with before you met your partner?

    “It’s up to us to encourage our kids to keep doing what they’re doing – learning what they love and building bonfires, as Penelope says.”
    Yes! It is your job as a parent to encourage your kids to do what they love, but that doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want. My brother (2nd grade) loves to play on my mom’s iPad all day long, and “hate[s] math, and explode the code (language arts), and history.” He claims to like geography, so my mom bought him a grade-appropriate geography/mapping book, and he doesn’t like it because he thinks it’s hard to use a compass rose. But he likes geography. You know what is important to geography? History and math. So if he wants to study geography in college or be a geographer as a profession then he’s going to need to learn how to map things, use a compass, do geographic mathematical calculations, and probably study history. (I know he’s only in 2nd grade, but I’ve wanted to study math since I was 6, my sister’s wanted to be a nurse since she was ~10 [she’s currently studying nursing at a 4 year university], I know someone who is a brain surgeon because he “was that kid in kindergarten who always said I wanted to be a brain surgeon”, etc.)

    So I agree with some parts of the article, but I don’t think that unschooling works if all you do is let your kids do what they feel like but skip the things that they don’t love.

    • Amy says:

      Wow, Alex! Thanks for the comment – it could be a blog post unto itself :-)

      First I’m going to address the point you said you thought was the weakest – that unschooling supports a future in which kids are doing what they love. You said that nearly every job needs a Bachelors Degree and without a high school transcript showing you’ve completed a curriculum, you can’t get into college. In fact there are more than a few colleges (and more every year, it seems) who know that many homeschooled/unschooled kids will not have traditional transcripts and who provide alternative application methods for them. Two kids (now young adults) I know who were completely unschooled got into college by presenting a portfolio of the things they’d done, books read, etc. One is pre-Law and the other is studying Marine Biology. And I disagree that every job required a Bachelors Degree. More important than that piece of paper is a network of people – most jobs are obtained not through the traditional ‘submit your resume and wait’ format, but through connections; through who you know. And that gives you more of an edge than any mention of a degree. Entrepreneurs also do not need a degree to be successful. I am not saying you shouldn’t go to college, just that it is not the only route to success.

      I also want to touch on the relationship issue. The reason it was in the article is that the entire culture of school is about following orders and looking to some undetermined future at which point success and happiness will be obtained. This permeates all areas of life, including relationships. When you are not programmed to accept only one path as a “success” path; when you are more in touch with your own likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, you are more likely to choose a partner with whom you are compatible. And for the record, I was introduced to my husband by a friend. Not someone I knew from college, but someone I met at my job after dropping out of Grad School. My husband, also for the record, never finished high school and has always done very well in businesses he built himself.

      You say that if a person doesn’t like doing something they will just stop. But this isn’t true in the majority of cases. You know why? Because from a very young age people are taught – usually in school – that being miserable is part of life and they must accept it. Of course everyone has tasks in life that are not enjoyable, but I’m talking about working for years in a job that one hates or staying in a bad relationship because you think it’s the best you can get. You, Alex, have the great gift of being homeschooled, and no matter how structured your learning may be as opposed to unschoolers, your learning is still freer, more open to individualization and tailored to your specific learning style than anything available in schools. Which translates to you having the ability to say “Hey I don’t like this. Let’s stop doing it.” Trust me, that is an ability that very many people lack. (And as to doing things you don’t like, unschoolers will also do things they don’t enjoy if it is part of the pursuit of a larger goal which they have chosen and toward which they are working.)

      I’ll end here, but just want to thank you again for the long thoughtful comment. I always welcome different voices and opinions. Thanks for contributing yours.


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