Research applicable to unschooling

and commentary on problems related to research, and those who want to see research...

New Articles and Research might be listed here but will VERY likely be announced at

M.I.T. Media Studies article and thesis

Never Let School Get in the Way of your Education Mediashift, PBS. Guest editorial by Henry Jenkins, professor of Comparative Media Studies. at M.I.T. His own commentary on that is here: “Never Let Schooling Get in the Way of Your Education” and Other Stories

Vanessa Bertozzi, one of his grad students, did a thesis on unschoolers and media. Unschooling Media: Participatory Practices among Progressive Homeschoolers. She reported on our family (the Dodds) (—Case Study #4 Unschooling the Researcher: Legitimizing IM & TV).

Melissa (melissalallen) sent this to UnschoolingDiscussion:

A guy called Alan Thomas, who is an education researcher in Australia, has done some REALLY interesting research into what he calls "informal learning," using homeschoolers (he doesn't use the word unschoolers) as his research group. He examines (in detail) the informal interactions of parents and children (i.e. just talking, hanging out, living life—unschooling) and reports on their educational value. He is extremely impressed with how much children learn in this way and compares it favorably with how they learn in school.

Research does NOT say that iPads and smart phones may damage toddlers' brains (The Guardian, 2015)

Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, by Patrick Basham, Cato Institute. Copyright © 2001

Here's a sample (from

"In school, the curriculum determines the process of teaching and learning. It is structured logically in easily digestible steps in order to facilitate learning. Essentially, the job of the student is to follow a learning sequence that is predetermined. But when children learn informally, they seem to do the opposite and impose their own sequence on what they learn. Curriculum logic and child logic do not equate. Child logic is individual and determined by the complex and dynamic interplay between the child's existing level of knowledge and incoming information, mediated by interest, motivation, curiosity or desire to take on a challenge. It's as if each child has his or her own theory of learning. It is quite efficient because new knowledge and understanding are only assimilated when they extend existing knowledge. The converse equally contributes to

Same things we've been saying on message boards and lists for ten years, only he's "a researcher" and will think he discovered it.

Pam Sorooshian wrote on August 22, 2006:

Been gone to the HSC conference in Sacramento. It was a pretty good one - I ran the speaker's bookstore - didn't see a lot of sessions, but did see Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting" talk. Rosie and I watched it together and 3/4 of the way through she leaned over to me and said, "He doesn't take his own ideas far enough - he could learn something from you."

When I was introduced to him, I asked him how old his own two kids were and he reacted as if that was a bizarre question. Struck me that he didn't realize that his experience as a parent, himself, trying to live by his own ideas, was more interesting to most of us than all the studies and experiments he might cite as an academic.

Looking forward to the Live and Learn Conference!!!


But when children learn informally, they seem to do the opposite and impose their own sequence on what they learn. Curriculum logic and child logic do not equate. Child logic is individual and determined by the complex and dynamic interplay between the child's existing level of knowledge and incoming information, mediated by interest, motivation, curiosity or desire to take on a challenge. It's as if each child has his or her own theory of learning. It is quite efficient because new knowledge and understanding are only assimilated when they extend existing knowledge.
Researchers have known this since before I was in college in the 70's. Cognition studies have said since the 60's or early that you can't learn anything that doesn't connect to something you already know.

And that whole individual learning is the ONLY way anyone can learn.

Each child builds his own model of the universe.
School tries to insert one but it can't. It just can't be done. Either the child takes the school parts and builds his (I did) or he rejects those parts because he can't find a place to fit them, or because he just hates them and resents their delivery, and that's called "forgetting."

. . . often acquiring no more than a superficial level of understanding, what has been called surface learning (Biggs, 1987).
Or short-term memory.
Or cramming for the test.

Rob Saxon, on the Unschooling Basics list, May 2007, responding to another poster (italics):
I have two daughters, ages 5 and 4, and my SAHM wife unschools them. And we're both quite happy so far.

Sorry to come in so late on this, but I have a bit to throw in.

So he doesnt want information from unschooling advocates nor does he want information from those who are totally opposed to it. He wants information from a neutral party.

Is there such a thing?

Short answer #1: Finding out that kind of info is a huge undertaking. By trying to delegate such a huge task onto you, he may be hoping that you'll just drop it. And unschooling altogether. If he was like me, then he may be scared of it, and is reacting out of his own fear rather than as a deliberate plot to sabotage you. Instead of a true debate tactic, it becomes a defense mechanism.

Short answer #2: No, not in the way he wants. Logistical nightmare. What he's asking for is a research study. For details, see below. (There might be an acceptable alternative, which I'll mention at the end.)

Long answer: What he wants he can't have, and it's unfair of him to demand this of you. The only way he's going to get that information is for someone to have done a long-term research study. This study would have to identify a large enough sampling of adults who were "unschooled," and/or to identify children of various ages who are currently being unschooled (or some subset thereof) and follow them through to adulthood, whether or not they choose to go through college. This study must also be able to identify all the ratios and demographics he's wanting to know from the above population samples, a task that is difficult by itself. And there are myriad other considerations.

IF you can find someone who has done this research, THEN you must find out WHO FINANCED the study. As unschooling is gaining steam, there are many who react violently against it. The NEA, your local public school who (at least here in Texas) gets money for each kid in a seat at the school, and many homeschoolers who practice full-fledged school at home. When someone has performed a "study," it does not mean that it is unbiased. Research takes money. Follow the money.

"Research" merely means that (a) information was gathered according to an agreed-upon set of rules, and (b) the biases are more subtle and in a particular form that may be difficult to identify. Studies can be flawed. Perhaps the study's questions may be biased, or the population sample wasn't random enough, and many other things. Unfortunately, when the word "study" pops up next to an opinion, then that's good enough for many. They feel they can stop thinking and let it go, since someone else has done more thinking on it than they themselves were willing to put into it, AND it puts the onerous on me to challenge the study ("Well, back in '04, this group did this study where they found that blahblah-counter to your opinion and they're smarter than you blahblahblah,...").

Blogs. There is one father I met at an unschooling conference who has his own blog. His blog is about lots of stuff, but unschooling his kids is one of them. He was initially skeptical, until he LIVED it, and his kids LIVED it. Since Dads like to pretend to be the analytical ones (I know, I are one -- :-) ), he might be softened a bit if he reads another dad's account of being skeptical, his analyses, and finally becoming OK. (If it's OK to post the blog link here, I'll see if I can find it.)

AND, if you're feeling ESPECIALLY generous with him, and IF you feel like doing research, then do this (and I won't blame you if you say, "Heck-fire, Uncle Jed, YOU'RE NUTS!"): Find all the anti-unschooling information you can find, and all the pro-unschooling info you can find. Line them up in dialog form. Maybe even do it up like Galileo's *Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. *Back and forth so he can see all the arguments, pro and con. BETTER YET, MAKE HIM GO AND FIND THIS OUT. I'm all for the "Why should I spoon feed you?" attitude.*

Bottom Line: I believe no impartiality is to be found. If he'll come off of that point, then you can assist HIM with HIS research.

—Rob Saxon
Husband to Seana for 10 years
Daddy to Genevieve (5) and Elissa (4)

Kelly Lovejoy's charming rant of June 2007:
My thought is that too many people accept the mainstream ideas withOUT thinking at all. Then they come to us wondering why we think differently about these things. And they assume it's all "black and white" or completely exclusive. They don't understand that they have options.

The biggest eye-opener for me was when my sisters-in-inlaw ambushed me and Ben several years ago about unschooling. It happens every day on these lists, but coming from family all at once was something else.

They had all this "research" to throw at us. NONE of it valid in an unschooling/mindful home.


Limits and more limits.

"Would you allow them to have cake and ice cream for breakfast?"
"Do you allow them to play video games ALL DAY?"
"Don't they have to read 30 minutes each day?"
"You allow them to watch anything they want on tv? Aren't you worried they will watch horror and porn?"
"What about math? No Algebra???"
"But if you don't make them do chores, they'll treat you like a maid and NEVER do ANYTHING!"
"They NEED their rest! If they can stay up as late as they want, when will they sleep?"
"No parental controls on the TV or computer? What about child molesters?"

They just couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that my children simply have CHOICES.

Yes, they may have cake and ice cream for breakfast, but they CHOOSE to make eggs and chicken and a bagel.

Yes, they can play games all day, but they CHOOSE to jump on the trampoline and swim and read and cook and nap.

Yes, they can watch whatever they want on TV, but they CHOOSE to watch SpongeBob and That 70s show and Good Eats!

Yes, they have no chores, but they CHOOSE to clean and help with *many* things around the house—out of love and thoughtfulness and kindness.

Yes, they have no bedtimes, so they sleep when they are tired and get up when they are rested—remember they don't *have* to be up at 6:00am for the bus!

Now, I have been where they are. I was a traditional, conventional parent (as were our own parents). But I changed. I tried something new. I believe that I made the best choice. Because, I believed, there WAS a choice to be made. The biggest thing that pisses me off is that they are coming at this from ONE point of view. They know no other. They've done NO research. They've never even questioned *why* they are doing what they're doing. They simply *DO*. No questions. No explanations. That's just the way it is.

*I*, on the other hand, have *been* where they are. I was raised in a very similar manner (and Ben was raised WITH them in the SAME manner). I have been to school. I have sent my child to school. I have substitute taught in school. I have taken my child out of school. And I have decided to unschool. I have BEEN on all sides of the fence, as well as ON it; and I have made the best possible choice that *I* can see to make.

THEY, on the other hand, are still on the same side of the fence (but are quickly making a brick wall out of that rail fence so that their kids can't see us on the FUN side!), with no knowledge of the other possibiilities. They are uninformed and misinformed. HOW can they have an intelligent conversation on any of these issues? Well, they *can't*!

No one chooses to unschool without questioning. That's the nature of the beast. Parents who aren't going to question things—every thing—are not going to unschool. It just won't happen. The radical unschoolers I know are passionate about questioning and learning more. They don't let things rest. They keep looking and asking and thinking about things. They're voracious learners themselves, so they are excellent models for their children.

Those who choose to "go with the flow" and who accept whatever they are told and who refrain from thinking too much will be modeling for their children too.


Kelly Lovejoy
Conference Coordinator
Live and Learn Unschooling Conference

Help for new unschoolers Publication of articles and research is linked here: