A History of the Modern Canadian Homeschooling/Unschooling Movement

by Wendy Priesnitz

Although many children were home educated in Canada’s early centuries, the modern homeschooling movement began in the 1970s. It was informed by an alternative education movement that developed out of the various sorts of countercultural activism in the 1960s in North America. At that time, some parents and activist teachers, who believed that the public school system was authoritarian, competitive, and unlikely to change, established “free schools.” These were small, child-centered, and run democratically. However, by the 1970s, many of these schools had evolved into what were called “alternative schools” and were under the jurisdiction of public boards of education. 

For some families, like mine, this was a step in the wrong direction. We continued to question the politics of, and wanted to be independent from, what we saw as a monolithic, unimaginative, backwards-looking, factory-style mode of education. So, like a growing number of our counterparts in the U.S., we didn’t enroll our children in any sort of school and, instead, helped them to learn at home. We knew nobody else who was homeschooling and there were no support groups or sources of information available. Homeschooling then was like what is called “unschooling” today: child-led and unstructured.

My husband Rolf and I launched the magazine Natural Life in 1976, partly in order to share information with Canadians about homeschooling and other self-reliant alternatives, and partly so we could stay at home with our two daughters, who had already been homeschooled for a few years. American author John Holt admired Natural Life and asked us for advice about publishing a newsletter, which he launched as Growing Without Schooling (GWS) in 1977. We published letters from John and an announcement about his newsletter in Natural Life and he began to hear from our readers (who, at that time, were mostly Canadian) with questions about legalities that he couldn’t easily answer. Knowing that we were homeschooling, he began to regularly bundle up the Canadian queries and send them off to me for a response. Soon after, in an attempt to meet other Canadian homeschooling families – and to find a peer group for our daughters – I shared our family’s homeschooling status on my editorial page in Natural Life.

next page