Survey of Grown Unschoolers Shows All is Well

Dr. Peter Gray has published the fourth and final installment of his Survey of Grown Unschoolers at Psychology Today’s website. The series should be read by any parent or adult who wants to know how unschooling can help their children succeed as adults, and experienced unschoolers will be nodding their heads in assent frequently as things we’ve said and noted over the years are borne out by the research. For instance, it certainly isn’t news to us that the most frequently cited disadvantage to unschooling is “dealing with other people’s opinions.”

Dr. Gray teases some interesting insights out of the data that are worth noting. One that impressed me is the frequently mentioned benefit that unschooling can bring families closer together. 57% of parents reported, “that unschooling allowed family members to spend more time with one another and live more harmoniously with one another (because of lack of arguments and tension about following a school schedule or a homeschool curriculum).” However, only 24% of the unschooled children (now adults in the survey) claim family closeness as an advantage. Dr. Gray notes this is not surprising: “children—no matter how much they need and love their parents—are in many ways more oriented toward moving on, toward adulthood, beyond their family of origin.”

Another interesting research point, also mentioned anecdotally by many unschoolers, is not just how well unschoolers do academically in college, but how disappointed many of them are with the college social experience.

The participants reported remarkably little difficulty academically in college. Students who had never previously been in a classroom or read a textbook found themselves getting straight A’s and earning honors, both in community college courses and in bachelor’s programs. Apparently, the lack of an imposed curriculum had not deprived them of information or skills needed for college success. Most reported themselves to be at an academic advantage compared with their classmates, because they were not burned out by previous schooling, had learned as unschoolers to be self-directed and self-responsible, perceived it as their own choice to go to college, and were intent on making the most of what the college had to offer. A number of them reported disappointment with the college social scene. They had gone to college hoping to be immersed in an intellectually stimulating environment and, instead, found their fellow students to be more interested in frat parties and drinking.

The survey section about college notes something that should make people think twice before concluding the unschooling will result in children with an anti-school streak:

Those in the always-unschooled group were the most likely to go on to a bachelor’s program, and those in the group that had some schooling past 6th grade were least likely to.

I wonder why the experience of schooling made those children less likely to go to college?

As to the ultimate question—how do unschoolers do as employees and entrepreneurs?—Dr. Gray writes:

In brief, we found that most of them have gone on to careers that are extensions of interests and passions they developed in childhood play; most have chosen careers that are meaningful, exciting, and joyful to them over careers that are potentially more lucrative; a high percentage have pursued careers in the creative arts; and quite a few (including 50% of the men) have pursued STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] careers. The great majority of them have pursued careers in which they are their own bosses.

That last sentence has also appeared in studies I’ve read about adults who were homeschooled as children, so I don’t think it is an unusual finding, and it seems there is something about homeschooling and unschooling that nurtures entrepreneurship that some researcher might eventually tackle. I’m very glad to see a hard number put to STEM-related careers among unschoolers because I’ve often seen how unschooling can unleash a love for science or math in young people, yet people doubt me despite examples (Dr. Grant Colfax leaps to mind, and there are others).