Unschooling soundbites

These are the questions  I have answered more times than I can count.

Your kids have really never been to school?

How do they learn math?

How do you know that they’re learning what they need to know?

Will they attend high school?

How do you make sure they aren’t falling behind?

What does your typical day look like?

These questions are then followed up with statements such as:

You must have a lot of patience.

I could never spend that much time with my kids.


If you’ve ever seen the movie “Bull Durham”, there is a great scene where catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) tells up and coming pitcher “Nuke” Laloosh (Tim Robbins) that they are going to work on interviews.   He makes him write down things like, “I’m just happy to be here, hope I can help the team,”  and “I’ll just take it one day at a time and God willing it will all work out.”    In other words, rote answers that we’ve all heard every player say at one time or another.

That’s kind of what I feel like some days.  I repeat myself endlessly, often with bland statements that are the only way to answer without spending more time than anyone has or is interested in.   In other words, I’ve become adept at the sports interview soundbite, adjusted for unschooling.    I say them to people in elevators who wonder why my kids aren’t in school, the people in diners or on the subway or acquaintances from our building seen occasionally in the lobby.

For instance, here is a typical 2 minute or less conversation:

Person in elevator to one of my kids:   No school today?

My kid:   No, we homeschool.

Person, now addressing me:  Really?   How long do you plan to do that?

Me:  As long as it keeps working for everyone.

Person:  Don’t you have to follow some sort of program?

Me:  No, our learning is all experiential.

Person (looking puzzled):  But how do you know if they’re learning what they need to know?  Aren’t there tests you have to take or something?

Me:  We turn in quarterly reports to the Dept. of Ed every year, and there are a few tests once they get older.

Person:  Wow.  Well you must have more patience than I do!

(I smile and my kids attempt to not snort and roll their eyes.)


Yes, there were a few extra questions thrown in there, but the conversation will almost always end with one from the list I gave, followed by a statement about patience or time with kids.

It’s kind of baffling.  Or amusing?  Or maybe even discouraging if you think about it too much.   Every now and then I’ve attempted to be more specific and enlighten the questioner, but after a few seconds their face goes blank.    So unless someone expresses an true interest – like maybe they are considering taking their kids out of school or not sending them to school – I stick to the soundbite.

It’s easier for everyone that way.

2 comments on “Unschooling soundbites

  1. Hi Amy. So great to discover your blog.I could have written this exact post! Although I’m a big fan of unschooling, we haven’t quite made that leap. Still, I continue to run into the interrogation. Most people give me more credit once they learn that I’m a certified teacher.My daughter, 15, and I have a list of the top 10 questions people as about homeschooling. It gets quite tiresome. Our favorite is: do you get snow days? Answer. No! Even though the questions get tiresome, I consider myself a homeschooling ambassador, so I try to keep up the good PR. I’m working on a YA novel now that has an unschooled teen as one of the main characters. So I’ve been connecting more to the unschooling community.How lucky you are to have NYC as your “classroom”. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Marc says:

      Seriously, I wouldn’t worry. I was a first grade tehcaer and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the kids who had been to kindergarten and those who hadn’t. It’s more of a way to warm up to school than to learn anything — the kids learn all that stuff just as fast in first grade. And, if you’ll believe what I’ve been reading (Better Late Than Early, and the writings of Peter Gray), they learn it even faster and better at seven or eight than they do at six.Meanwhile, there are so many important things to learn at five: how to love learning, how to follow your passions, how to play. And your daughter will learn these fine without any curriculum!Since the nationwide age for compulsory education is eight, and I believe that’s what it is in our state (in some it is six), I plan to unschool till then. If even the government doesn’t think my kid needs any particular thing before that age, I see no need to push anything!

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