The Life Learning Journey: Grown-Up Unschoolers
By Wendy Priesnitz
We never become totally
educated any more than we ever completely grow up.
Many of the articles that we publish in Life Learning
Magazine are by and about unschooled teens and our writers sometimes use
the term “grown unschoolers” to describe people who have learned without
school as children and teens and who are now adults. In the same way that
I object to the term “unschooler,” I think the label “grown unschoolers”
demonstrates a link to the school way of thinking, which says that learning
stops and starts based on one’s proximity to school or on one’s age. Please
let us not forget that we are always, by definition, life learners (or grown
unschoolers, if you will).
That leads me to consider the term “grown up.” When
has a person reached “up”? When they hit six feet tall? When they turn 20?
Or 30? Or 50? When they can support themselves financially? Of course, those
are all arbitrary criteria, set in relation to our cultural and family experiences.
They are mere signposts along the road to a destination that we are not
able to locate on anyone’s life map. Maybe, like Peter Pan, we never really
grow up! Now there’s a thought that will probably upset some people, since
growing up seems to be the paramount goal in our society.
Another important goal, it seems, is to become educated.
But neither is an education a destination; it, too, is a journey. We commonly
speak of the importance of “getting an education” and of “finishing” our
education and we think of people as being educated or not, as if there were
some finite place one reached when learning could stop. But we don’t become
educated any more than we ever completely grow up. There is always something
to learn. And, in fact, many important lessons are not learned until mid-life
or older. An education is not a destination, but a journey – one that begins
at birth and continues until we die (or even after, depending upon your
Of course, we all inevitably reflect our personal
histories. Most of us who went to school for any length of time are victims
of that sort of education; despite the unprecedented ease and importance
of continuing to educate ourselves as adults (and the impossibility of not
learning!), we still often to forget that learning never ends.
Fortunately, once we’ve truly deschooled ourselves,
we take it for granted that an education is a naturally occurring, continuous
process of taking in and processing information and ideas from our lives
– and that we never grow out of learning. Even when someone who previously
learned without school chooses to attend school, they retain the autodidactic
That’s why I think it is so important that we are
building up a body of public knowledge – via articles like the ones we publish
in Life Learning Magazine and other places, and the research done by those
few academics who understand life learning – that demonstrates the ongoing
benefits of living and learning without school or other artificial
constructs that capitalism might create.
One of the important benefits is the fact that those
who grow up having independence of thought and action have no need to rebel
against their parents when they become adolescents. For the most part, and
to some degree or other, life learners have been trusted with other life
decisions beyond academic ones. Whatever terminology you use, as a parent,
to identify your family as living school-free, once you have learned to
respect and trust children and young people with their own educations, it
just seems natural to expand that thinking to some other aspects of parenting.
And because trust and respect have a hard time coexisting with the artificial
separation of ages and stages that is so common in our society, these young
this article by a teenaged self-described “radical unschooler” puts
it, are “not driven to radical behaviors for the sake of tasting freedom.”
Or, as my
daughter and now one of those “grown unschoolers” remarked when she
was seventeen and listening to her conventionally parented peers complain,
“There’s nothing to rebel against in my family!”
I look forward to the day when respect for both children
and self-education are the norm. Perhaps then there will no longer be a
reason to label people as “grown unschoolers” any more than there is now
to call someone a “grown public schooler.” As self-described grown unschooler
Peter Kowalke has pointed out,
labels can render us two-dimensional.
And, please, if your school-free child isn’t learning
in lock-step with their schooled peers, just remember that they have a whole
lifetime ahead of them to walk the life learning path…and that the life
learning journey involves much more than they would ever be taught in school
or than they can learn before they grow up (if they ever do!).
Wendy Priesnitz is the founder and editor of Life Learning Magazine. She is the
mother of two adult daughters who learned without school in the 1970s
and '80s, has been an advocate
of home- and community-based self-directed education for over 45 years, and is the author of 13 books.
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