Growing Without School: Pat Farenga on Unschool, Learning and Letting our Kids Live
We are entering a new age of education while exploring unschooling
One where our kids have freedom and autonomy in their learning journey.
For so long the school system has put kids into boxes and killed their creativity with prescriptive curriculums. But things are changing, helped along by the pandemic, and a new way of educating our kids is coming to the fore.
The idea of self-directed education is not new, but there seems to be renewed energy and passion in the movement to offer families alternative education options.
You only have to attend a Galileo inspirEd event to feel hopeful about the future of education. Speakers like Pat Farenga have a passion for unschool learning that is infectious. Add to this his honesty in exploring unschooling, and it is a potent mix of inspiration and excitement.
With unique voices from the alternative education community such as Pat, Dr. Gina Riley, and Robyn Robertson sharing their thoughts and wisdom, the future of education is filled with possibilities
“Let early education be a sort of amusement. You will then be better able to find out the natural bent of the child.”
Daniel Prince shared this great quote by Plato showing that the idea of learning being self-directed and fun has been around since 428BC.
Yet, the current education model doesn’t reflect this at all. There is very little about traditional school that inspires joy or encourages creativity. And we wonder... why not?
Pat Farenga and unschool learning as the way forward
Over the last 18 months, many families have become curious about unschool options. Pat says they have realized that remote learning and reproducing school at home is exhausting and unsustainable.
Parents have seen that their kids don’t need to learn on a school’s schedule. That there is room for joy and exploration and a real connection with their interests. Daniel, in particular, understands the concern parents have when leaping unschooling as he has done it with his family.
Even Pat had doubts about how kids would get into college when he first found out about John Holt and unschooling.
“There are many other ways to configure education and schooling, and they don’t involve everybody being at home, taught by their parents.”
- Pat Farenga
And that is the brilliance of alternative education! There are so many options available to suit the needs of each family and each child.
Vlad Stan and Kelly Davis created Galileo with this idea in mind. This type of education allows kids to learn skills needed for this century, like robotics and coding, in an online environment.
Parents can watch their kids flourish and thrive as they craft their own education with access to peers and expert facilitators. Many parents, particularly those that work, don’t feel empowered to pull their kids out of school.
Yet there are amazing options like homeschool pods, hybrid homeschooling, and micro-schools that will allow educational freedom and support for families wanting something different.
Pat himself attended an alternative school called Fordham prep and told us “it was completely different, and then they had these things called X days, which were fascinating for me. Once a month they let the entire, every department just had the day free to do whatever they wanted.”
But Pat learned some hard truths about alternative schooling saying, “as I learned as an adult, it was also a very common experience for these things to be shut down”.
But the most important takeaway from that time was the reality that change is hard.
He told us that “there are many different ways of approaching this, but we’re just stuck in the factory model here, you know, sit down, shut up and do as you say education”
As he dived into the working world, he became more aware of the importance of having skills rather than a formal qualification. When he met John Holt and became immersed in the world of how children learn, it was even more obvious that school might actually impede learning.
Unschool learning offers more freedom than a classroom
“Why is it that I teach, but they don’t learn?” - John Holt
And isn’t this the crux of the matter?
Governments, legislators, and those in power seem to be oblivious to how children actually learn. Not the rote kind of learning that has dominated schooling, but learning that sparks curiosity, joy, and complete immersion in a topic.
Leslie is a progressive school teacher but still sees the restrictions of schooling saying, “I just really wish that somehow we could change the minds of all them, because they’re the ones that control what happens in and out of school and with teachers”
John Holt had it right when he wrote ‘How Children Fail’ and ‘How Children Learn.’ Kids need time, they need freedom, and they need access to different people. People who can offer them unique experiences, challenge their preconceived ideas, and open their eyes to all the possibilities available to them.
Let’s be real... this isn’t happening in a classroom with one teacher and 30 kids of the same age.
Daniel Prince passionately talked to us about the fact that the unschooling movement is for teachers as well:
“Hundreds of thousands of teachers that do not want to be in this system, that can’t teach the way they want, to the timeline they want, to the subject they want and they can’t connect with kids”.
What a waste of resources... talented people being unable to connect with their students or help their students to connect with their learning.
There are also teachers in the system who want something different—educators who are passionate about fostering creativity and individualism but feel stifled by the confines of the classroom.
Dr. Gina Riley says, “I’m on the other side for most of my life right, but I’m teaching New York City public school teachers and I see them interested in mixed-models, I see them interested in intrinsic motivation”.
Kelly Davis and the facilitators at Galileo will tell you that there are other options for educators passionate about facilitating learning.
Have you thought about unschool education?
“The difference between a good student and a bad student is the good student is careful not to forget what they studied for the test until after the test is over”
- John Holt
When kids don’t feel a sense of responsibility, independence, accountability, and autonomy, the learning isn’t happening on their terms.
And, to be honest, it is probably not happening at all.
Can you remember half of what you studied at school? The information you tried to cram into your brain minutes before a test? I certainly can’t, but I do remember the overwhelming feeling of stress and pressure.
Definitely less than ideal circumstances for meaningful learning.
When asked how parents can support learning outside of school, Pat had a simple and honest answer, “work with their interests and put them in touch with people and things and experiences that feed on those interests. And don’t worry when they change, that will happen a lot”.
What a gift to allow kids to try new things, fail forward and figure out what they like.
Learning should be fluid, it should change and grow as our kids develop and learn more about themselves.
Technology is allowing us to reimagine education and build on the unschool learning from years past
...But change is hard, and thinking about education differently requires a mindset shift.
Luckily, like Pat, there are knowledgeable experts willing to share their knowledge and help families explore unschooling.
Dr. Gina Riley wrote the book, “Unschooling: Exploring Learning Beyond The Classroom” and is internationally recognized for her work around self-directed learning and unschooling. But she created resources like this because there were limited options in the ‘90s and 2000s.
She credits Pat saying, “I think it’s really important to note how influential Pat has been to this whole community. These are really the people who started it”.
Robyn Robertson was also on stage and her podcast “Honey! I’m Homeschooling the Kids” is a treasure trove of unschooling examples, expert knowledge, and encouragement. She is passionate about helping families find educational freedom and felt inspirEd by the panel at this event.
“This is actually a stage full of wonderful people and connections and information and knowledge, so I just wanted to say thank you, really, and for all the work that everyone here is doing with promoting independent freedom in learning and education”.
A Galileo parent summed it perfectly, saying “if you can put joy and learning together it is an adventure.”
Schools are not adequately preparing our kids for the future. They need to learn skills, be adaptable to change and have a love of learning that makes them versatile and creative thinkers.
Joy is unearthed when learning is self-directed
And this really is the future of education.
Thomas Armstrong wrote that joy is missing from schools, and yet unschooling and homeschooling families make joy a priority.
It is an exciting time to be in this space.
Yes, there are those that still can’t see that self-directed and alternative education is the way forward but as Daniel said, “We are more than they think. And we will be able to decentralize education and give kids the choice that they want and the platforms that they need to go forth and excel”.
There are so many people passionate about revolutionizing and reimagining the realm of education that it’s hard not to be excited.
The same “stupid, pointless issues” as Daniel puts it such as socialization are still there, but as Pat mentions, the outdated ideas about alternative education held by those in power haven’t changed in decades...
“The National Education Association and the Principals Association haven’t changed their tune about homeschooling since 1981. And here they are 40 years later, and even with the pandemic, they haven’t updated any of their stuff”.
That doesn’t mean that change hasn’t happened
It absolutely has!
There are more families globally looking at alternative education options than ever before. The pandemic has shed light on a failing system and many families are opting out.
And why not?
The unschooling community is welcoming and diverse, offering families a hybridized education option.
Online unschooling communities like Galileo can provide support and a personalized learning experience for kids around the world.
Whether you are an unschooling convert or an alternative education newbie, there is something for everyone.
Growing without school is not just a real option for our kids, it is the self-directed answer the current education crisis needs. Are you ready to help your children find the joy and freedom a school-free life can offer?
In the wise words of Pat Farenga, “children enjoy learning most when it’s about things that the children want to study, instead of what the teacher wants to lecture about.”