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Free learning

Unschooling is a form of education that is based entirely on self-directed self-paced self-learning. In unschooling, there is no pressure from adults or from the curriculum. Unschooling can be collective (e.g. in democratic schools), or individual (e.g. in homeschooling). Danny Greenberg, founder of the Sudbury Valley School, does not consider unschooling at home as a proper form of unschooling due to the inevitable psychological impact of a parent who acts as an unintentional constraint.

Cultural resistance

In countries with no culture of unschooling, the concept is perceived with incredulity. A century in the Prussian model of schooling is enough for the culture to erase the understanding of the fact that the brain is a perfect adaptation machine, and unschooling is the best way to achieve excellent education and an excellent fit to society. Acc. to Peter Gray, 83% of unschoolers pursue university education, 80% work in creative fields (half of that in STEM), 50% are entrepreneurs, etc.

History of unschooling

Before the advent of passive schooling, unschooling was the default form of education. Despite the scarcity of books and enlightened adults, education based on sheer curiosity could produce icons of art and science such as Leonardo da Vinci.


A term with a positive vibe, "free learning" can be used instead of unschooling. The latter is often associated with militancy against the practice of schooling.


Free learning is the ultimate form of learning that leads to maximum creativity and intelligence. If so, it would seem obvious that all countries would want to adopt forms of unschooling as superior. I say that the number of myths surrounding the school system is so rich and so deeply ingrained that a slow evolution in the direction of converting whole societies to free learning would take half-a-century at the present pace. This is too cruel to the young generation who intuitively know that YouTube is superior to the curriculum. This is why I claim that youth rebellion might be the ultimate tipping point in the evolution away from compulsory schooling.

A very smart young man tried to convince me that we just need good evidence that unschooling is superior to schooling. He wrote: "We need to show that the US unschoolers are performing better than average on the relevant metrics (life expectancy, employment rate, professional success, social wellbeing, mental health, etc)".

I say, there is no good metric of optimum adaptation (see the picture at the bottom). Here are some professions of unschoolers that would cause trouble:

  • life expectancy of race drivers is unfairly lowered
  • many unschoolers choose to take care of their family rather than get employed
  • the best mathematician in the world might be somewhere in a mountain hut doing his calculations while being perceived by the rest of the world as a professional failure
  • how do we measure social wellbeing of a globetrotter who feeds on other people's hospitality
  • my own mental health has been questioned on numerous occasions, and I enjoy the label of a weirdo

Can we bank on a well-schooled society to rationally enact law that will replace orderly Prussian schooling with unpredictable law of great wild creative education?

Further reading

This glossary entry is used to explain "I would never send my kids to school" (2017-2024) by Piotr Wozniak

Figure: Unschoolers justifiably resist scrutiny. It is inherently hard to answer questions such as "What did you learn?". If learning is passionately blind, it is hard to verbalize goals and effects. The unschooler instinctively knows she is on the right path. However, the rest of the world may remain unconvinced. The benchmarks do not exists, and well-schooled populations fail to appreciate the power of free learning. The picture helps to illustrate the problem. In an illustrative two dimensional knowledge space, a schooled pupil pushed by the pressures of the school drive is dragged along a linear pathway from its present status of knowledge A to a predetermined goal at B (blue pathway). The process is slow and ineffective. The student gradually develops a dislike of school and a dislike of learning. In contrast, a passionate unschooler follows unpredictable pathways in red (see: Mountain climb metaphor of schooling). The learning is highly effective and pleasurable (see: Pleasure of learning). The total mass of knowledge illustrated by the length of the entangled red pathway is huge (in comparison to schooling). The love of learning keeps growing in proportion to the size of the knowledge tree. A pupil will pass the school benchmark test adjusted to the goal B. An unschooler may fail. He would destroy all competition if someone cared to design an "interest benchmark" (in green). While most of the world worships achieving predefined goals (B) for a predefined society, we keep failing to explore the natural learning instinct (the learn drive). In the process, we build unhappy societies