What About Calculus? Why We’re Unschooling

Now, before I begin, I’d like it noted that the following opinions are not an indictment of public, private, or otherwise more traditional schools. Both my parents are educators – my dad was even the superintendent of schools where I grew up. My husband and I met during teacher training. I taught third grade in Kansas City before moving to New Orleans to work in education reform for half a decade. All that is to say, I love teachers. I loved teaching. Education is a subject near and dear to my heart.

But my daughter won’t be going to public school. Or private. Or Montessori or Waldorf.  In fact, she won’t be going to school at all: we intend for her to be unschooled.

If you’ve never heard the term “unschool” before, you might be wondering what the heck I’m even talking about. But rest assured, it’s a real thing.

Like homeschooling, unschooling is an education model that takes place outside the walls of a traditional school setting – usually at home and the mean streets of museums and nature trails.  Unlike homeschooling, however, unschooling follows no formal curricula.

I could go on and on about the philosophical underpinnings of unschooling as well as what it looks like day to day, but instead, I offer this oversimplified definition: unschooling is child-directed learning that occurs as a side effect of living life with passion and exploring their interests. And here are three reasons unschooling is right for our family:

My husband wants our daughter to go to Mars.
No, really. He does. But prior to that happening, we want to foster a limitless sense of curiosity in her. As one might need should they become an intergalactic explorer, or art historian, entrepreneur, writer, or artificial intelligence engineer. Basically, we want her to stay curious. Boundlessly curious. Regardless of who she becomes (intergalactic explorer included) or what interests her. We see unschooling as a great avenue for fostering that curiosity.

I want her to know herself well.
I want her to follow meandering interests, and in doing so, I want her to learn about herself. I want her to know herself deeply. To be in tune with what she likes, what she doesn’t, what she wants to pursue in depth, and what brings her to life. And I want her childhood education experiences to be an exploration of those things. 

The future is unknown.
Traditional education systems are predicated on a model that was invented nearly two centuries ago. We don’t know what the future will look like, but it probably involves some version of a radically automated workforce and a host of global problems of which we can’t even conceive yet. Instead of preparing her for a workforce and/or future we can’t predict, we want her to practice identifying novel problems, innovating, and thinking more expansively than “one right answer.” Of course, many schooling models facilitate such learning, but unschooling seems like the best fit for our kid. 

What about calculus? You might be wondering. Or the periodic table? Or any number of other subjects?

The truth is, I’m not worried. If she learns calculus, she learns calculus. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t. I trust in her ability to pursue the knowledge and skills she’ll need to live a life of great meaning. I took calculus. Got an A. Couldn’t tell you for the life of me the last time I used it. The life I live and the passions I love don’t require me to know calculus. I’m extremely glad other peoples’ lives require them to know calculus (shout out to mechanic engineers) – I just hope those lives also light them up. And if my kid wants to learn calculus, we’ll get her a tutor. 

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