I came across this writing at the wayback machine, from a defunt discussion group. I already had a collection of Lyle Perry's writings, so I'm happy to add this. Lyle's boys are grown men, and I've long lost contact with him. His writing was unique and lively, and I'm happy to have found this.
—Sandra Dodd, February 2024

Definition of Unschooling

Lyle Perry

I know that many people want a definition of unschooling, but for me it's about the same as asking, "Is there a definition for living?" I'm not trying to make light of the question, but it really is about as difficult to answer in tangible descriptions.

Unschooling can be discussed on the surface, broken down into mechanics and schematics, just as living can be, but it's the subtle nuances, the stuff that makes the mechanics work, that makes a definition so difficult to put into words.

But I'll try anyway. 🙂

It's like the tiny sparks of imagination that arc through a person's mind when they really watch a bird fly for the first time, and the huge lightning bolts of clarity when they realize how that miracle can actually happen, that make unschooling work.

I think one of the most difficult things for people to grasp about unschooling is the time factor that can be involved between connecting those tiny sparks to the huge lightning bolts. It may be days, months, or years between the time a person watches something happen and the time they understand why or how it happened. But the time factor doesn't make the event any less important, and in many cases it's the time factor that makes all the difference. A person understands when they are ready to understand. No time schedule can ever change that.

Knowing facts and understanding facts are two very different things. School (for the most part) requires knowing facts and the ability to state those facts on demand, but doesn't necessarily require understanding the facts. I think most people make it through school memorizing enough facts to keep the teachers happy, but have very little understanding of those facts until much later in life, if ever. There's not enough time for understanding in school. The schedule doesn't allow for it.

Unschooling gives a person the time to understand, without the pressure of memorization and schedules. It's learning in an un-pressurized atmosphere.

Facts are all around us, all the time. The difference between school and unschooling is that the facts are not always stated as facts, they are simply a part of life. The facts are not simply "known", they are felt and lived in. I think most unschoolers know as many, or more, facts as schooled kids, they just don't know them AS facts. They know them as part of life. In many cases they don't even know they know them, they're just part of their lives and have never been separated into subjects and facts.

A person can know many things about a map, but not know they know many things about geography. Putting a name to facts doesn't make them any more important. A name doesn't change the knowing. My kids learned to use a map while on vacations, but I can't remember the last time I used the word geography. My kids still know the term and what it means, it's just not known as something that is SUPPOSED to be known, if that makes any sense. A map is a tool that helps you get from one place to another, and that is what my kids use a map for. The "school geography" aspect of a map is irrelevant.

Well, that was totally confusing. Like I said, a definition for unschooling is as intangible as a definition for living.

I think, more importantly than anything else, unschooling gives a person the opportunity to really THINK, and not just "know".


Lyle Perry, Mar 15 2006, on the unschooling.info forum
archived copy of that page

More by Lyle Perry

More Definitions of Unschooling

with a fun video near the bottom