Deschooling Yourself – How to Recover from Traditional Schooling

Written by on March 14, 2007 in Basics Of Self Education - 23 Comments

Shred your textbooks! Burn your report cards! Before you embark on an independent learning journey, you’re going to need to take some time to un-learn the negative lessons you picked up in traditional schools. Chances are you’ve spent a good thirteen years of your life sitting behind a desk. Maybe more if you attended college.

Perhaps your school years taught you how to read, how to solve mathematical equations, and how to come up with good excuses when you forget an assignment. You probably don’t remember many of the facts you learned – I know I don’t. In one upper-division course, I spent three tortured weeks memorizing twenty minutes of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in Old English. Today, I remember three words of it. Don’t get me started on logarithms and quadratic equations.

School can be a valuable experience and expose you to a lot of new people. Unfortunately, in their quest to teach students what to learn, schools often fail to teach students how to learn. Worse, by making learning mandatory, schools extinguish the natural human curiosity that people are born with.

What is “Deschooling”?

Some of us never recover from school. Graduation is followed by a good forty years of a dull job and tv sitcoms. Discovery and excitement have been long left in the realm of childhood. It’s not a happy life.

But, others are able to overcome the negative lessons taught in school. They take time to relax and enjoy life – they recover their natural passion for learning.

Deschooling is taking the time to un-learn the poor lessons you’ve picked up over the years. It’s all about re-thinking what education means and embracing what’s important to you.

Dispelling Misconceptions

Many former students have a hard time separating learning from the act of sitting at a school desk or doing busywork. If you’re having problems learning on your own, try to clear your mind of these common myths:

Don’t Think: “Students can only learn with a qualified teacher”
Think: “I am the most qualified person to be in charge of my learning.”

Don’t Think: “Education happens in schools.”
Think: “Learning can happen anywhere.”

Don’t Think: “A curriculum is required to learn.”
Think: “I can learn any way I want. Informally or formally.”

Don’t Think: “Math sucks” or “I hate ____”
Think: “A lot of subjects seem lame when studied in isolation of anything meaningful. I may end up hating it after all, but I’ll keep an open mind about these subjects.”

Relax, Explore

Even after you’ve changed your thought habits, it can be difficult to get started. Don’t set up a rigorous 5-hour-a-day study plan. Relax. Spend a few weeks or months exploring your passions, and figuring out what you’re really interested in. Don’t feel that you have to learn anything. Former teacher Grace Llewellyn put it this way:

“Another enemy is the guilt that blocks your natural curiosity. People who have never gone to school have never developed negative attitudes toward exploring their world. Unfortunately, you probably have. It’s not your fault if you don’t immediately want to run out and watch ladybugs with a magnifying glass. It might take time before your desire to learn surfaces from beneath the layers of guilt – the voices insisting I should learn this, I have to learn that. Give yourself time. Don’t push. You’ll recover.”

What to Do Now?

Explore the world. If something interests you, look into it. If you start getting bored, put it aside. Here are a few suggestions for reawakening your love of learning. If you find them interesting, do a few. If not, forge your own path. There are no wrong answers here.

    • Rent a bunch of DVDs on a topic or gene that’s interested you. Make popcorn.
    • See a play.
    • Browse through this site’s directory of free online classes. Try something that interests you. Don’t worry – no grades.
    • Go to a museum. Or an art gallery.
    • Take a day off work and spend it in the library. Read anything you feel like reading. Spend the day in the children’s section or with a stack of science books.
    • Take a road trip.
    • Go on a long walk with no particular destination in mind.
    • Attend a concert.
    • Get some friends together and try a new sport. Spelunking, perhaps?
    • Take time for yourself. Just sit and think.
    • Visit a zoo.
    • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
    • Ask people working at interesting jobs if you can “shadow” them for a day.
    • Buy or borrow a new gadget…a digital SLR camera…a ham radio…a metal detector…video recording equipment.
    • Cook new foods. Eat them if edible.
    • Start a journal.
    • Make a blog or a website.
    • Have a shopping spree at your local hobby shop. Load up on chemistry kits, beads, toy trains…whatever sparks your interest.
    • Start a zine or ezine.
    • Volunteer. Do projects on your own or work with an organization.
    • Subscribe to a new magazine or newspaper. Maybe MentalFloss?
    • Throw a dinner party. Invite interesting people.
    • Buy canvas and art supplies (or fingerpaints). Go crazy.
    • Explore iTunes for new music. Try classical. Try jazz. Or don’t.
    • Browse through 43things.com. Does anything spark your interest?
    • Go people watching.
    Make something.
    • Start a garden.
    • Hang out at your local farmer’s market.
    • Collect something.
    • Try all 31 flavors. Then, work your way through the secret Jamba Juice menu.
    • Spend some time really looking a map. Choose a place you’d like to go. Make travel plans.
    Practice a foreign language with a stranger over the phone.
    • Be a one-time visitor to local organizations – the Elk’s Club, the Masons, Toastmasters. Visit with nearby liberal and conservative clubs.
    • Invest a few bucks in stocks.
    • Go to a poetry slam.
    • Haunt Craigslist for electronics that are being discarded. Take them home and take them apart. See if you can put them together again.
    • Test an instrument at a music store.
    Adopt a pet.
    • Read poetry books from thrift stores. Put your favorite poems on the wall. Burn the boring ones.
    • Listen to podcasts you enjoy. NPR has some great ones.
    • Read 55 fiction. Write 55 fiction.

23 Comments on "Deschooling Yourself – How to Recover from Traditional Schooling"

  1. Road Trip February 26, 2009 at 8:39 am · Reply

    I have to agree somewhat, school can discourage learning on your own. You really don’t need an education to learn many things, it’s just about the piece of paper. I’ve learned far more on my own than I did in school, however, it’s just the way the world works — you need to have learned through a curriculum to prove it.

  2. Dave March 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm · Reply

    I agree. I have an MBA with a specialization and I have learned more with self-study (as in searching for the truth beyond the propagandized versions of misinformation ‘schooling’ produces) than I can possibly state on here, or in an entire book. All “schooling’s” courses should have quotes around them with caveats surrounding them along with a surgeon general’s warning that listening to anything beyond the basics may cause a decline in individualism, thought, reason, intelligence, etc.

    I am sorry to say, that I found out too late–after I ‘borrowed’ ~$90k.

    The info is out there and it won’t be found in school, or on TV.

  3. honeymistauburn March 5, 2009 at 10:48 am · Reply

    This is just fantastic. I’m so glad you have done this for people. I’m telling everyone I know. School takes the desire to learn because of the way human nature is. The educational system lacks the conductivity for abstract thought.

  4. Susan March 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm · Reply

    Love it!!! This article expresses beautifully one of the most important reasons I choose to homeschool my kids.

  5. RandomPerson March 12, 2009 at 3:53 pm · Reply

    great ideas! thanks for the craigslist idea i just got a free couch!

  6. Nick March 30, 2009 at 7:40 pm · Reply

    AWESOME WEBSITE!
    Please keep it up.
    I love it.

  7. Amanda May 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm · Reply

    You rock! Your website is amazing. It is just what is needed to balance all the other websites about homeschooling,unschooling,schooling in general. I can tell you have learned how to write and express well. Lucky you. Cheers from one if your newest fans!

  8. Arp May 15, 2009 at 6:14 pm · Reply

    Love it! Self-education got me out of being an employee to being a business owner who gets to spend lots of time with family. It’s all about being open & letting that natural curiosity flow.

  9. Anon June 1, 2009 at 9:50 pm · Reply

    Deschooling is like deprogramming a brainwashed person. It can be intense.

    • John October 29, 2010 at 6:18 am · Reply

      This. I’ve been trying for months to little avail (that or I’ve been belittling what I’m supposesly learning).

  10. David July 4, 2009 at 1:05 pm · Reply

    Hello, just discovered your website. I’ve found the content VERY encouraging, please keep up the great work. Yet to make my way through all the interesting articles, links, comments etc etc

  11. zakka barnabas July 15, 2009 at 4:11 am · Reply

    i need more materials on deschooling. most especially, how it works.

  12. anon July 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm · Reply

    Haunt Craigslist for electronics that are being discarded. Take them home and take them apart. See if you can put them together again.

    A lot of electronics these days are solid state and soldered onto boards or built into chips. However, no age has been better for electronics hobbyists. And it has never been cheaper.

    A good place to start is the with stamp/pic microcontrollers, some servomotors, which you can use build and program simple robots. Everyone has a few things around the house that would be useful to mechanize/automate.

    http://www.parallax.com/tabid/361/Default.aspx (some descriptions of student projects)

  13. Aaron Malys August 5, 2009 at 3:57 pm · Reply

    This is a fantastic resource. I read alot of this inofrmation geared toward unschooling and free schooling children, but it is just as pertinent for adults. In fact if adults do not unschool themselves from the myths that they have been taught, then they surely cannot free their children from repeating the mistakes.

    Bravo.

    Aaron

  14. Heather December 29, 2009 at 5:10 pm · Reply

    Fun resource! I look forward to learning and discovery in many subject areas!

  15. Dave Johnson October 28, 2010 at 10:39 am · Reply

    Public eduction in the US is horrendous. For kids, supervised self-learning makes sense. Most of the stuff we learned in school isn’t applicable now anyhow and the rest of it we won’t ever use. Technology has changed everything in the world except our educational system. We are educating kids in an antiquated way for jobs that haven’t even been created yet. Instead, we should be training them to find their bliss and follow their passion. Instead, we are wasting their time teaching them irrelevant information.

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