Unschooling Dads


Unschooling Dads: Twenty-Two Testimonials on Their Unconventional Approach to Education, Edited by Skyler J. Collins

This collection of first-person accounts by new and experienced dads who unschool their children is a welcome addition to the discussion about living and learning with your children instead of sending them to school: Why would any father not force their kids to go to school? What sorts of dads are attracted to unschooling? What do dads do all day if they’re home with the kids?

Thank goodness the men in this book faced that first question head on rather than just go with the crowd; their general response is that good fathers care more about what is happening to their children than about what other fathers think of them. These dads are skeptical—some due to their own experiences of school—of the standard claim that the sooner children get the grit to get through school with high grades the better off they’ll be as adults.

Just like parents everywhere, unschooling families want what is best for their children, but they don’t see school as the best and only place for their children to get a quality education. These dads see the value of play, real work, and patience as the basis for living and learning with children, not lectures, homework, and competition for grades and honors.

In 1986, when our first daughter was born, I was often the only male in the room when I spoke about unschooling. Indeed, most of the men who came to my talks in the 1980s and 1990s were skeptics, often in attendance with their partner who was hoping the dad might leave convinced just enough to try unschooling. Over time, I met more unschooling dads, but they were not nearly as numerous then as they are now—though I think the number of men who support unschooling is still quite small compared to women. Reading this book heartened me to realize how some dads are not just supporting unschooling, but are the prime movers to get their families to try unschooling.

Some who write in this book aren’t dads yet, and others are just a few years into living and learning with their children, so some essays read as more aspirational pieces than personal unschooling accounts. However, some of the junior and senior unschooling dads (to use the book’s labels) reveal how their daily lives, jobs, fears, and joys inform their unschooling. David Friedman, a law school professor, describes the journey he and his wife took towards unschooling:

We concluded that the proper approach for our children was unschooling, which I like to describe as throwing books at them and seeing which ones stick. Leave them free to learn what they want, while providing suggestions—which they are free to ignore—and support. Put them in an environment—web access, people to talk with, visits to the library—that offers many alternatives. If, at some future point, they discover that they need something that was left out of their education, they can learn it then—a more efficient strategy than trying to learn everything they might ever find useful, most of which they won’t.

What sort of dad unschools their children? All sorts of dads offer their reasons for choosing unschooling in this book—from entrepreneurs and educators to military, legal, and other professionals. Some dads stay home to be with the kids and others work while their partners stay with the kids. But one thing they all share is trust in their children to learn without all the wheedling, needling, and bribing that are standard tools in the education—and often parenting—toolbox. Ron Patterson, a retired U.S. Air Force major, writes:

I don’t know a lot about unschooling. But I had faith in my wife and faith in my kids. We have many things to learn in life but you don’t necessarily have to learn any of it in school. People think that’s the only way, but it’s not. Frankly, I learn a lot better when someone isn’t telling me what to do. I see something that crosses my path and suddenly I want find out more about it. Then one thing leads to another... and another... and another ... and another. Why wouldn’t kids be the same way?

Some of the dads who write in this book also work from home, a trend that technology and the gig economy enable now more than ever. By reclaiming the home as a center of productivity for the family, unschooling and homeschooling leverage this social shift and indicates how families and communities can be positioned in the twenty-first century to accept children back into the mainstream of life.

There are only two small quibbles I have with the book. I would have liked even more details about how these families manage their finances, what trade-offs they made and why, in order to unschool their children in our current, somewhat dire economic times. One of the first responses people give me when I ask if they would homeschool or unschool today is, “We can’t afford to have one parent at home.” Many mothers have written about how they manage their households on tight budgets in homeschooling magazines and books, but I can only think of a few dads who have done so in any depth.

In some articles I felt I was reading an anti-school essay rather than a pro-unschooling essay. For instance, some essays stress libertarian positions on education that use unschooling as a means to an end, such as not supporting government schools, rather than present unschooling as an educational practice and communal endeavor worthy in and of itself. However, the majority of essays in this collection convey the deep thoughts, personal encounters, and changes that men make as they develop into unschooling dads, and I recommend reading this book.

Best of all, it won’t cost you a cent to read this book electronically. The publisher and editor (as well as a contributor), Skyler J. Collins, is making the book available for free in digital formats via his website: http://www.everything-voluntary.com/p/book-project-iv.html. You can also order the print version there for $14.

Related review:

Read my review of Choosing Home: 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World.