Alternative Education: An interview with two “unschoolers”.

Education is prevalent within the media currently, for many reasons so I thought I would do an interview with two unconventional schoolers to offer a different view to education and learning.  

Alternative education is something I’ve never really thought about. In the UK, going to school till the age of 18, or going to college at 16 then university is the “norm”. Homeschooling is an option but it isn’t really talked about.

I had the opportunity to speak to Miro and Lainie, who are world schooling and un-schooling activists from the United States.  They left the US in 2009, for a year and have never returned back to their “old lives”.

Photo: Miro and Lainie in La Paz, Bolivia in front of a “Miro” mural. Consent from both.

Photo: Miro and Lainie in La Paz, Bolivia in front of a “Miro” mural. Consent from both.

They describe themselves as “unschoolers; learning naturally from the world, following our interests, sparked by the world around us”.

His mother told me that Miro is “also a writer, [and] is deeply passionate about literature and “is now writing beautiful poetry”.

He has not been to school since the age of 10, but his education has been volunteering, humanity, travel, writing, presenting (conferences) and running businesses.

Here’s the interview:

Were Miro’s school alright with you taking him out of school for a year?

Lainie: Yes, of course. He was in his second year of a charter school in downtown LA and with him gone, it made space for another kid in the crowded system. Homeschooling (which is what unschooling falls under) is legal in California and most of the US.

What was your life like before unschooling?

Lainie: We lived in downtown LA. Miro went to a chartered school. We lived in an old industrial brewery converted into a loft, so it was really a unique experience for Miro. He was only there from grades 3-4 though, before that he was in a Montessori.

Why did you decide to unschool?

Lainie: We actually didn’t make that conscious choice. I knew 1 yr of travel, Miro would learn more than he would in 5th grade. When we decided to extend our travels, I started researching educational styles and learned about unschooling. And learned we were already doing it. And learned it was a partner activity and I committed to becoming a life learner too. So, at that point, Miro and I became partners in our education allowing the world to inspire us and supported one another in our interests. His moved from pirates, geology, mythology, culture, history to literature and psychology. Mine took me deeper into anthropology and archeology finally leading me down a path to learn more about alternative education.

Lainie: When Miro turned 14 he wanted more interaction with self-directed learners, so we were learning so much from the world we decided to host other teens and form “temporary learning communities”. Social learning was powerful. Immersive experiences created deep learning experiences. We combined the two and started facilitating world-schooling events for teens. And we both love it so much!

What do you like about unschooling?

Miro: “the freedom to follow my passions”.

Lainie: Me, the same.. I would shorten it though, and say “freedom” and the ability to tap back into something I thought was an intuitional privilege, “learning”. Once I realized I was naturally wired to learn, did so without being prompted to, the world opened up to me. Seriously, at 42 (my age when we first started this lifestyle), I felt excited about learning everything I could about the world around me and felt freedom through learning.

What have been some of the challenges of unschooling, if any?

Lainie: Since we don’t really separate life from learning, there are no challenges that are specific to unschooling. However, sometimes we come across life challenges, and they will always exist. In terms of learning, with the internet, all information is virtually available, so traveling doesn’t create isolation from information as long as internet is available.

If you could say anything to anyone about unschooling, what would you say?

Lainie: What would we say about it? It’s an empowering way to learn. Unschooling is a very involved style of learning and requires full participation from the parent’s perspective. There is nothing lazy about unschooling, in fact it’s highly involved learning and a beautiful opportunity to partner with your child.

Lainie: We employ mentors, tutors, project based learning, natural curiosity, immersive exploration, travel and play.

But the difference is it’s all learner driven, meaning I have no say in any of it, my role is to support and facilitate.

Would you recommend unschooling?

Lainie: We highly recommend learning without school, self-directed learning, natural learning… unschooling.

How do you see unschooling to be creative?

Lainie: Unschooling is absolutely creative. I recently heard an unschooled teen say, “boredom is the gateway drug to creativity”. With full freedom to direct your own learning experience, one doesn’t grow up with a sense of “I can never do that.” If an unschooler wants to design a clothing line, or write a play or become a caretaker for horses or learn about psychology, they just need to be creative and assertive enough and contact the nearest clinic, horse kennel, local writer or fashion designer and ask if they can intern, volunteer or help out. One is not limited by thought and with freedom, imagination and resourcefulness thrive. Also, one is not limited by time they may otherwise be spending sitting in a classroom if they were in a traditional education setting. We believe that freedom breeds creativity. Unschooling is certainly freedom and creativity based.

Would you say unschooling is like a gap year? If so what advice would you give to students?

Lainie: Unschooling is only like a gap year if one believes that living can only be done with a gap year. In essence, there is no separation between learning and living. Therefore, we would not limit unschooling to a single gap year, we would transform all of life to a permanent “gap year” as we have done.

Describe a typical day for you both.

Lainie: A typical day. There is none. Because travel is a part of our lives, our daily experiences vary as much as the scenery does. For example, today, we are in La Paz, Bolivia and although today is a quiet writing day for both Miro and I, we just met with a couple of local guides who will be taking us on a 5 day trip with them exploring the villages in and around Lake Titicaca, including some of the floating islands, their family’s village home and other cultural sites of interest. We will do some research before heading to the lake and with great anticipation, Miro and I both will be getting ready for this adventure from a cultural, physical and intellectual perspective. But I have to stress, every day is unique and will unfold as it will. Life is an adventure and we feel honored to be learning unexpected things each and every day.

You can follow their journey here and can see Miro’s creative works here. 

A big thank you to Miro and Lainie for the opportunity to talk to them!

What are your thoughts on unschooling? Have you considered it or do you disagree with it? Let me know your thoughts below!


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