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Unschooling—a Fringe Future of Education

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Earlier this month I blogged about the future of education—a theme CFM will be exploring for some time. As part of this exploration, I will share scanning hits—news, hints, pictures and premonitions that point to where in educational landscape of the Cone of Plausibility we might end up in twenty or fifty years.

In an earlier post in the Futures Studies 101 series I talked about the importance of including “fringe” sources in scanning (for example, blogs by new voices and emerging experts, social media, YouTube). Fringe sources help challenge our beliefs and help us to question our assumptions.

This week’s post shares some of the fringe sources I have been monitoring in my education scanning—“new voices” from the frontier of unschooling.

That’s right, not home-schooling, un-schooling. Also known as passion-based learning. While it can be categorized as a kind of homeschooling, home-schooled kids typically have parents standing in for traditional teachers. Unschooling is based on the philosophy that children can direct their own learning, facilitated by adults, and in fact learn better when their natural curiosity is not crushed by standardized curricula, grading, etc. Given the movement’s emphasis on hands-on, real world experiences, it seems like museums should be a natural learning resource for unschoolers. So I’ve been following blogs by unschooled students (and young adults who were unschooled) to see what community and cultural resources they access in their self-directed studies, and where museums feature in the mix.

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Some do write about memorable visits to museums though not as often as I hoped. I have, however, found some compelling stories I’d like to share.

For example, meet Armond, a passion-driven learner who made the New York City Transit Museum a keystone in his Personal Learning Network.

And get to know Cheyenne La Vallee, a Skwxwú7mesh-Kwakwaka’wakw youth from British Columbia and author of the blog From Camas Dreams: An Example of Alternative to Schooling. Cheyenne presented one of the most articulate challenges I have read to the traditional school system. “One of the problems I find with [the] theory of bringing change within First Nations communities is the assumption that the success we need, or even seek, is economic progress. If the goal of a group is not economic progress but resurgence of traditional cultural values and principles, where does high school completion fit in?” She advances “the idea that high school is essential is a damaging idea that is pushing people who haven’t finished high school away from their dreams and goals. Separating education from completing high school and allowing more space for other options is what we need.”

As for the role museums have played in her life, Cheyenne writes “What inspires me these days is the realist, landscape painter Robert Bateman. Inspiration is magical. It comes in many different ways and these days my inspiration is for painting and art. When I was in grade 3 I went on a school field trip to the Artist For Kids gallery where he had an exhibition. He was one of the art patrons, supporting art programs for kids.” Inspiration—a pretty good role to play. Once someone’s passion is ignited (so the theory of unschooling goes) self-directed learning will follow.

If you would like to follow these and other voices from the fringe of education, here are some resources compiled by the Innovative Educator:

If you know of additional sources on unschooling or alt education I should add to my scanning list, please add them to the comments section of this blog!

And, if you are an unschooler, I would love to hear from you. What can museums do to support your self-directed learning? Would you be interested in helping museums test new learning resources?


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  1. My 3 daughters are unschoolers. We love museums! Our Pacific Science Center and Burke Museum in Seattle are favorites.

    My ideal education system would be all about community learning centers like libraries and museums rather than schools.

    Museum programs are so much cooler than anything in schools.

  2. Lovely, well-written article! You did a nice job of presenting unschooling in a very appealing light. Thank you!

  3. There's another way to look at the impact of unschooling on museum use… by professionals. My interest in unschooling is the single strongest reason I work in museums. If you believe in free-choice learning and want to support alternatives to compulsory education, what better venue to do it in than a museum?

    I wrote a post about unschooling's influence on my career path here. There are lots of great comments on the post from other professionals for whom John Holt in particular is influential in their thinking and work!

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