I’ve recently discovered the amazing Zen Habits blog by Leo Babauta, where he writes about simplicity and mindfulness. Link surfing through the archives, I landed on a fascinating post on “Unschooling”, which is how Babauta has chosen to educate his children:


in unschooling, life itself is learning. There is no “doing school” … you are learning all the time.

Unschoolers learn just like you or I learn as adults: based on what interests them, figuring out how to learn it on their own, changing as they change, using whatever resources and learning materials they find, driven by curiosity and practical application rather than because someone says it’s important.


Basically, Babauta has chosen to educate (some) of his children at home, and is doing it in a very unstructured way. There is no curriculum or textbooks, and, most importantly, there is no “school time”. Instead, Babauta’s children are being taught that your whole life should be about learning. That it is not something you do a for a few years, while you are young, because the mean adults force you to. Instead, that it’s a joyous, fulfilling and empowering activity that should be pursued for its own sake.


As someone whose passion for learning was crushed by our industrial, assembly-line method of schooling, I absolutely love this idea. Instead of unecessary box-ticking, these kids are learning what and how they want. Their passion is being awoken, which is the only way to really learn something. And rather than passively listening to a teacher, who may themselves have a tenuous grasp of their subject, Babauta’s kids are encouraged to go find their own sources.


If we can’t predict what our kids’ future will be like, how can we decide today what they should be learning to prepare for that future? We’re preparing them for today’s jobs, not tomorrow’s jobs. School teaches kids a set of facts and skills that they might not need in the future.

Unschooling takes a different approach: kids learn how to learn, how to teach themselves. If you know how to learn and how to teach yourself, then you are prepared for any future. If in the future the things we know are obsolete, then the person who knows how to learn anything will be ready to learn whatever is in use in the future. The person who only knows how to learn from a teacher will need a teacher to teach him.


This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of Babauta’s idea of unschooling – that it is about questions, not answers. One of the biggest holes in our current teaching model is the emphasis on rote learning answers, rather than understanding problems and gaining skills in searching for answers. As if computers and the internet – vast repositories of wisdom available at our fingertips if only you know what question to ask and where – don’t exist. In my own education, for example, I have had to memorise countless formulas. All of which were forgotten the moment I walked out of the examination room. Imagine what I could have learned if I was taught with a question-centric model, rather than a memorisation and test-centered one.


If you need another example of why the old model fails, just consider that a lot of teachers are not experts. Especially in fields that were created or changed significantly since they themselves left school. I recently spoke to a teacher friend of mine who is gearing up to teach coding to primary school children. She is being given just one day of instruction to aid her in this task. Let’s repeat that: young children will be taught coding, a methodological field where gaps in the foundation learning will wreak havoc later, by someone with zero passion for the subject and about eight hours of experience. I think I’d much rather let my child loose on the internet.


As always, I really recommend you read Babauta’s entire article on unschooling.