Soundbite: Guerrilla Unschooling


Author Grace Llewellyn is an influential advocate of "unschooling"—learning from the world rather than in a classroom. After negative experiences in both public and private schools, the former English teacher published The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education (1991), a popular guide for adolescents who want to take learning into their own hands.

Now, with co-author Amy Silver, Llewellyn has written a book for parents who can't take their kids out of school but still want to play a larger role in their education. Llewellyn says that Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School (John Wiley & Sons) suggests "seeing the school system not as something that owns your kids' education, but rather seeing yourself, or your family, or your kids, as directing their education."

Reason intern Rhys Southan spoke with Llewellyn via phone in mid-July.

Q: How does school damage kids?

A: People learn passivity. People are controlled and become accustomed to control.

So it constricts people into not thinking for themselves, not making choices for themselves, and not imagining very large possibilities for themselves and for the world.

Q: How effectively can you work within the school system?

A: I think the system is harmful. It's a bad system. For a lot of people, the ideal situation is just to get out. But my views have shifted in the last 10 years. I see people as more powerful than I did then.

Q: So you don't see schools as quite as powerful?

A: I still see them as powerful and as causing a lot of harm. But I think the more aware [students] are of how the system operates, the more power they have to be the people they want to be. And if parents support their kids, that offsets a lot of the damage. For too many kids, school is telling them how they should behave and telling them that if they don't do well in school, then they're nothing.

Q: Are parents often indifferent to their children's education? Or do they trust that school will take care of everything?

A: In my experience, there really aren't many indifferent parents. There are a lot of parents who are tired or have really busy lives. In general, they are intimidated by the system and the only thing they know to do is to say, "Johnny, do your homework!" Or, "Danny, make sure you're getting good grades!" They feel that is the best parenting they know how to do. I often get letters from parents who say, "I know [the handbook] was written for teenagers, but after reading it I realized that I'd been living my whole adult life as if I was still terrified of my math teacher."

Q: Are there public policy changes that need to happen before unschooling can really take off?

A: We could do with a lot less emphasis on testing, and on a larger scale, I would stop making schools compulsory.