Alternatives to Coercive Schooling

By trying to make children learn by placing them in highly controlled school environments for longer and longer periods of their lives, modern schooling became an industrial process that is totally different from the way children naturally learn and grow. Many parents recognize this and eventually also discover that learning is natural, but schooling is a choice.

At this stage, there are three main alternatives to schooling: home-based learning, democratic schools, or community resource centers.

Some parents who deeply enjoy watching and helping their children learn and grow, and who can accommodate their schedules, are tempted to try home-based self-directed learning. (It’s not necessary for one parent to stay home full-time. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Anonymous, often attributed to Mark TwainMany two-career couples have found creative ways to adjust their schedules, trade off duties with other families and/or childcare providers (perhaps in a co-op arrangement), and take advantage of times when the children are attending classes or other drop-off activities. Some find ways to perform their work alongside their children. And once the children are mature enough, they can also be more independent.)

It’s important to remember that home is just the base, and that much of the learning can take place in the wider community, either informally or more formally mixing with other children and adults. This site offers a sampling of the many resources available to support home-based learning. Local homeschooling groups also have support meetings where you can learn about classes, opportunities, family co-operatives for child-care and learning, and online resources for use at home or at your public library.

Some parents may feel, for one reason or another, that home-based learning is not the best option for them. Perhaps they or their children prefer a somewhat more structured and defined community. Often, these parents seek “schools” that are in alignment with their educational, political and spiritual beliefs and are willing to work with the school to make their children’s time there successful. They may also look for places that invite the participation of the student to make decisions about their own lives and how the school operates. If this interests you, please explore the democratic schools section.

A third alternative to standard schooling—beyond democratic schools and home-based learning—are places usually referred to as resource centers. They are staffed with adults and thus allow parents to drop off their children. They vary considerably in how they operate and the populations they serve (e.g., ages two to 18, teens only, etc.). They usually offer freedom of activity similar to that of democratic schools, as well as more organized classes with adults.

There are many places and people for children to learn with once we break out of the conventional school model of how children learn. And if you don’t find exactly what you need in your community, you can plug into a network to find out what’s being planned, and/or to consider starting your own democratic school or resource center, as described here.

Whichever option you choose, be prepared for a transition period. If your child has previously been in conventional school for any length of time, you may find that he or she is resistant to anything that might resemble traditional schooling, such as having an assigned curriculum or using textbooks or other prepackaged materials. This “deschooling process” is described in more detail in this essay. A rule of thumb is that for every year spent in school, children will need at least a month of unstructured time and personal support to become comfortable with choosing their own studies, developing their own interests, and learning to manage their own time. Many children need to rediscover their intrinsic motivations for learning. It’s important in this situation to be patient and remember that learning is dependent on the learner’s emotional state.

Laura Smothers about self directed learning as the natural way to learn 
Finding conformity to be exhausting but still passionate for education, Laura Smothers went natural. She believes that self-directed learning is the secret to teaching children to explore and develop their unique interests and curiosities.