A different tune: Unschooling families pursue their own educational path

Amber Walker:

Marie thought the “one-size-fits-all” model of public schools would not work for their kids.

“I wanted them to be able to explore their individuality and find out what they really love to do,” she said. “Schools tend to tell you what you are not good at and then make you work harder at that. I wanted to find out what they were good at first. Then, once you have that confidence, you can try to do the things that you need to work on.”

Michael Apple is a professor of educational policy and curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and wrote the book “Educating the Right Way,” which, in part, discusses religious home schooling. From his research, Apple estimates about 50 to 80 percent of students who receive a home-based education learn under a conservative, religious course of study.

“Home schooling is one of the fastest growing movements in education in the United States. There are many, many more children being home-schooled than being unschooled,” Apple said.

Although unschooling falls under the umbrella of home-based private education, its history and foundation differ from traditional home schooling.

“Unschooling, by and large, has its roots in progressive schooling, with student interests guiding what the learning should be,” Apple said. “A good deal of home schooling, for the majority, is much more cautious about that. It is a much more conservative sense about parental authority and the authority of churchly wisdom.

“Both of these groups are widely varied, but certainly, the home-schooling movement tends to be much more conservative in its pedagogy.”

Johnny and Marie Justice are entrepreneurs and own a film company, Justice Media. Their most recent documentary, “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes,” profiled Dane County residents as they navigated issues like rejoining society after incarceration and living with a spouse who is undocumented. Marie said that a part of the reason they decided to unschool their children was to show them an alternative path to success.

“We are modeling our lives as entrepreneurs,” she said. “We wanted our kids to be able to see that and know that there is more than one track. You can make your own way in this world.”


Apple said given the current state of public education — including the challenges of recruiting teachers, lack of funding, demands on teachers to focus on standardized tests and increasing class sizes — it is difficult for schools to meet the needs of parents who want a different experience for their children.

“Many teachers are under immense pressure to teach to the test,” Apple said. “But one of the things unschooling parents are saying is, ‘The tests don’t measure what my kid is interested in. We want to teach values, skills and knowledge that kids can learn by doing a lot of things that are not measurable.’”

“lack of funding?”. Madison spends more than most, now around $18k per student, annually.

Plenty of resources“, despite this, we continue to tolerate long term, disastrous resding results.