One of the big questions parents want the answer to when they are considering pulling their kids out of school or settling on a homeschooling style is if unschooled kids are successful.

We need to consider three questions first:

What do we mean by successful?
For me, I don’t need to raise kids who have well paid jobs, are globally adored, are the top dogs in their field. That’s not what I am aiming for. I want my kids to feel fulfilled and empowered to achieve their goals and desires. It’s pretty simple. I have come to the understanding that the more opportunities for developing self-trust and self-worth, the more fulfilment and empowerment my kids are going to experience. I guess that is the main reason I am unschooling. Every day of unschooling my children are expressing autonomy and figuring out – with my help- the path to their goals. I am setting them up for exactly the kind of success I believe in!

Does the status quo (school) lead to success?
A study that asked professors what percentage of the students coming to university were ready for university, the number was 14%, asked the same, but for work, it was 29%. The majority of school leavers are deemed ready neither for work or university! 

Even worse than that, a survey of young people published early 2019,  pre-covid by Barnados, identified school as being their most cited cause of stress: “for 65% of 12 year olds stress at school .By the age of 16, stress at school was a worry for 83% of children.”

Not only is school not readying kids for success, it is stressing them out. 

What will “success” need to look like in the future?

Now You See It, Professor Cathy Davidson and founding director of “Future Initiatives” think tank says that 65 percent of children now entering elementary school will work at jobs in the future that have not yet been invented. 

She writes: “In this time of massive change, we’re giving our kids the tests and lesson plans designed for their great-great-grandparents.”

We are also living in incredibly, incredibly turbulent times.

Let’s just take a look at the last couple of years.

A global pandemic halted  our system, bought economies to it’s knees, halted trade and the capitalism we understood.

We are in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis, where we rest on a hairtrigger, feedback loops meaning everything we are used to could be flipped on it’s head within months. 

Over the last year or two indigenous rights and trans rights have moved to the fore front of rights discourse. Our young people’s understanding of acceptance, inclusion, justice is moving so fast other generations are finding it hard to keep up!

I’m not here to incite panic. But to help us take a good hard look at reality and what we want for our children.

The skills they are teaching in school are not up to this task, no matter what way you look at it. 

Jill Hodges, CEO and Founder of Fire Tech technology, suggests we should be teaching kids future proof skills. 

Asking questions

The schooling system was created to provide workers for the industrial age. Unschooling has the potential to generate the kind of create people we need to solve the big problems we are going to be facing. 

C’mon, Lucy, just tell me: are unschoolers successful?
Right. There isn’t a huge amount of research out there about unschoolers but there is this wonderful study done on grown unschoolers and where they are now.

Question 7 of the survey read, “What, for you, were the main advantages of unschooling? Please answer both in terms of how you felt as a child growing up and how you feel now, looking back at your experiences. In your view, how did unschooling help you in your transition toward adulthood?”

Almost all of the respondents, in various ways, wrote about the freedom and independence that unschooling gave them and the time it gave them to discover and pursue their own interests.  Seventy percent of them also said, in one way or another, that the experience enabled them to develop as highly self-motivated, self-directed individuals. Many also wrote about the learning opportunities that would not have been available if they had been in school, about their relatively seamless transition to adult life, and about how the healthier (age-mixed) social life they experienced out of school contrasted with what they would have experienced in school.

The great majority of respondents were gainfully employed at the time of the survey.  Exceptions were some of the full-time students and some mothers with young children.

Can unschoolers go to college?
Amazingly – I refer you to the study above- unschoolers are statistically more likely than average to go on to college. 58% of one hundred percent unschooled adults have or are working on a degree, compared to 36% of the general population.

Here’s an excerpt ““The participants reported remarkably little difficulty academically in college.  Students who had never previously been in a classroom or read a textbook found themselves getting straight A’s and earning honors, both in community college courses and in bachelor’s programs.  Apparently, the lack of an imposed curriculum had not deprived them of information or skills needed for college success.  Most perceived themselves to be at an academic advantage compared with their classmates because they were not burned out by previous schooling, had learned as unschoolers to be self-directed and self-responsible, perceived it as their own choice to go to college, and were intent on making the most of what the college had to offer.  A number of them reported disappointment with the college social scene.  They had gone to college hoping to be immersed in an intellectually stimulating environment and, instead, found their fellow students to be more interested in frat parties and drinking. “

Whilst some unschoolers decide to sit exams when they are 16, either through their local school or correspondence school, other unschoolers are able to get into college on the strength of their interview and portfolio of passions and projects. Others still wait until they are 21 where in some countries, such as UK and NZ, you are able to get a college degree whether or not you finishes school.

In this interview with grown unschoolers we talk about the different pathways they took to higher education.

So in conclusion, there is a huge potential that unschooling generates the creativity, adaptability and problem solving we are going to need in the future. But even if we take the most basic of idea of success – ie attending college/ getting a job – the chances are comparably in unschooling’s favour!

I hope this is helpful!