Research and Support for Growing Without Schooling

Unschooling/homeschooling is a great way to help children learn, but not everyone can, should, or wants to homeschool. However, it is pretty obvious that universal compulsory schooling inhibits different approaches to learning, limits teaching methods, and increases costs through ever-increasing demands for credentials and higher grades. For educationists, it appears the ultimate goal is to put us all in school and test us from womb to tomb, placing us in asociety where test scores decide our roles.  Here are research and alternatives from around the world to this scenario, with special attention to unschooling. —PF

Research Specifically About Unschooled Children

Hello, World!

Pattison, Harriet. Rethinking Learning to Read (Education Heretics Press, 2016) is the latest book to explore how homeschoolers learn to read using different schedules and techniques (leaving children alone to read is one!) than school permits.

The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning published by the Schulich School of Education, Graduate Studies, Nipissing University, Ontario, Canada.

• Thomas, Alan and Harriet Pattison. How Children Learn at Home. (Continuum Books, 2007) . Covers informal education, autonomous, natural learning, and unschooling. In particular, How Children Learn at Home studies how being a child who learns to read at an older age than in school is not a problem, and confirms other research and observations about children who learn on different schedules than in school(see for instance, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Better Late Than Early ).

• Another book by Dr. Alan Thomas, Educating Children at Home (Continuum, 2005) , explores research on older readers and homeschooling and finds no special learning issues among children who learn to read at older ages than they learn to read in school.

Unschooling Media: Participatory Practices among Progressive Homeschoolers by Vanessa Bertozzi.

• Though not specifically about unschooling, Sugata Mitra's "Hole in the Wall" experiments (the second and third video links that follow) have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other anything if they have access to each other and a computer connected to the Internet. Mitra recently won the first TED prize—a million dollars—for his work (Feb. 2013), and he is encouraging people to join in his new project, Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), which he will fund with the prize money. You can learn about his prize and join his new project here:

TED Prize and SOLE 

How Kids Teach Themselves

Child-Driven Education 

General Research About Homeschooling

Joseph Murphy. Homeschooling In America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement. (Corwin, 2012). Cites current studies about the growth, practices, challenges and successes of homeschooling. A thoughtful presentation about how and why homeschooling works and continues to grow in the United States.

The International Center for Home Education Research
ICHER exists to provide expert information and analysis regarding homeschooling research and to facilitate networking among researchers studying home-based learning.

Mitchell Stevens. Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton Univ. Press, 2003).  Interviews and analysis of homeschooling families and politics.

National Home Education Research Institute
Dr. Brian Ray founded the institute in 1990 and he continues to publish original research and promote homeschooling internationally.

Robert Kunzman. Write These Laws Upon Your Children: Inside the World of Christian Conservative Homeschooling. The author spent two years with six Christian homeschooling families and presents a nuanced portrait of their lives and motivations.

Milton Gaither. Homeschool: An American History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). Describes the origins of homeschooling with particular attention to its religious contexts. 

Government Studies About Homeschooling

Most researchers, as of 2013, put the number of homeschooled children in the United States to be at least 2 million.

1.77 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2011–2012 

1.5 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2007 

1.1 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2003

Homeschooling in the United States, 1999

Self-Directed Learning Outcomes

Whether unschooled or learning independently, you will eventually be asked why you aren't in school learning from a teacher. Here are studies, historical evidence, and books about schools that strongly support self-directed learning, providing further evidence to doubtful parents that their children can learn on their own.

Superintendent Louis Benezet’s math experiment. He abolished math studies from the seventh grade down and had the children read, recite, and reason instead. When they learned math, they did very well.

The 8-Year Study by Wilford Aiken. A high-quality,  long-term study of the effects that attending an alternative high school had upon college success. Shows there are many paths for college success.

• Studies of adults who were homeschooled have been done by J. Gary Knowles, Brian Ray, and Julie Webb, (1989), The Outcomes of Home-Based Education: Employment and Other Issues, Educational Review, 41 (2).

Free to Learn, Peter Gray
Dr. Gray presents much evidence and research to support self-directed learning for all ages.

Summerhill School (UK)
Sudbury Valley School (US)

Jefferson County Open School (US)

Authors to Cite (in addition to John Holt)

Thomas Armstrong
Armstrong details the importance of allowing children time and space to play and figure things out in their own ways. He also describes how to use multiple intelligences in everyday practice, both at home and in school, and why we need to be extremely careful about labeling learning difficulties in exuberant children with the slippery concept of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Some of my favorite books of Armstrong's are:

John Taylor Gatto
Gatto, an award-winning New York City public school teacher, is highly skeptical of academia's claim that only education can level the playing field for the poor and others to participate in the fruits of our democratic republic. Gatto, citing lots of history and personal experience, has decided our schools are intentionally dumbing us down to accept whatever the captains of capitalism want to get from conventional schools. Gatto's writing will, at the least, make you rethink why school is, for so many people, an empty ritual. You can watch and listen to John's speech, Weapons of Mass Instruction, in its entirety to learn more about him and his work. Other books by John Taylor Gatto:

Peter Gray
Gray is a retired research professor of psychology at Boston College who now writes for Psychology Today. He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology; published articles on innovative teaching methods and alternative approaches to education. His current research and writing focuses primarily on children's natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His latest book is Free to Learn: : Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic Books, 2013).

Alfie Kohn
One of the best researchers and writers about how schools and parents can change their practices when they help children learn. Here are some of my favorite books by Alfie Kohn:

Chris Mercogliano
A founding teacher of the Albany Free School in upstate NY, Chris has started a blog dedicated to remodeling, not reforming, modern education. Chris' books include:

In addition to those already mentioned, here are some books about teachers and schools that learn without curriculum.

•   John Holt Bibliography
•    Free At Last, Dan Greenberg
•    The Way it Spozed To Be, Jim Herndon
•    The Open Classroom, Herb Kohl
•    The Lives of Children, George Dennison
•    Totto Chan: The Little Girl in the Window, Tetsuko Kutoyanagi
•    We Have To Call It School. A documentary film about Danish schools.
•    Organic Education: Teaching without Failure, Marietta Johnson

Educational Organizations that Support Unschooling

Please suggest groups and sites to add. Email suggestions to pat farenga at john holt 

United Kingdom

Personalized Education Now
A publication and website by Roland and Janet Meighan, founders of Education Heretics Press.

Education Heretics
A great source of publications and research that challenges the stale conventional wisdom that we are getting dumber and the world is getting more complicated, so we all need to be in school for as long as we can pay for it.

Informal Education
Devoted to the study of informal learning for adults and recent school graduates. One article specifically addresses homeschooling.


Creating learning societies, rebuilding communities, deschooling/unschooling in India. Some fascinating educational activism. Inspiring work.

The United States of America

The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 to advance learner-centered approaches to education.

Institute for Democratic Education in America wants to ensure that all young people can engage meaningfully with their education and gain the tools to build a just, democratic, and sustainable world.

The Innovative Educator
Lisa Nielsen, co-author of Teaching Generation Text, works in the NY State school system but promotes and explores all learning, whether it happens in school or out.

North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens
A learning center for teenagers who want an alternative to conventional high school that holds seminars in how to create a similar center in your neighborhood.

Student Liberation
This site is about school and the harm it inflicts. But it's also about life. A life of joy and excitement. A life of endless possiblities. A life that schools try to take away.