Episode-752- Courtney Clay on Unschooling

Courtney and Her Son Cedar

Courtney Clay was “unschooled” for her entire childhood, and received great benefit from this method of self-directed learning.  Now 29 years old she is raising a  2-year-old son of her own.

She is also enthusiastic about sustainability, nature-based community, self-sufficiency, enjoying wild food and all of nature’s healthy, free gifts, and growing and preparing my own nourishing food.

When asked about herself Courtney puts it this way,

“I am a mother, adventurer, and lover of life. I am passionate about my family, community, infinite sustainability, optimal nourishment, and finding truth, empowerment and joy in all my life experiences”.

She also runs an awesome blog called Ecstatic Mothering that can be found at http://chocotrixie.blogspot.com where she discusses alternatives for bring u children in a cookie cutter world where despite what we are told, one size certainly does not fit all.

Join Us Today As We Discuss…

  • Do we need to force children to learn or will they just do it if we let them?
  • How do unschoolers learn fundamentals with out traditional structure?
  • Do unschoolers ever go to college?
  • How do unschoolers/homeschoolers develop a social life?
  • Is school really a way to learn about socializing in the “real world”?
  • Do children institutionalize parents in old age because that is what they were taught?
  • What is the difference in an education and graduation?
  • Are we kidding ourselves with the “everyone needs college” mantra?
  • Have we lost the “community teaching” of our ancestors?
  • What can we learn about learning from “primitive” peoples?

Additional Resources for Today’s Show

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45 Responses to Episode-752- Courtney Clay on Unschooling

  1. When my son was six, he was a huge fan of the Science Channel show “Build it Bigger”. As you know, Discovery and Science both tend to have a lot of written text on the screen, advertising what shows are coming up next, etc. Well, he’d been resistant to really reading, even though I was quite certain he had the ability at that point.

    He quickly figured out that I was reading the text to help him figure out the show schedule. All of a sudden, he was motivated.

    Within 2 weeks, no joke, he had clearly cracked the code and was reading. Within 2 months, he was doing so completely fluently.

  2. Most public and private schools have done away with shop and home-ec. so that kids don’t learn to “create” and dream anymore. I would love to open an after school program for kids when I retire in a few years but this society is so litigious I would probably get sued if Johnny scraped himself.

    Texas schools at one time had pistol and rifle safety classes….the PC police killed that.

    I’m in the middle of reading the “Deliberate Dumbing Down of America”. Great book so far…you can download in here. http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/

  3. I am in th process of unschooling as I am 26 years old and have had 7 years of college with not much to show for it. For my generation, I see unschooling as a big challenge as it requires a paradigm shift that is not easy in our “convenient driven” or “fast paced” lifestyles. While our local Texas schools spend rediculous amounts of money on mac book pros for jr high students, theres no amount of technology that can replace the creative human intellegence that once aspired to build, innovate, and think outside the box.

    My diploma is not indicative of my education but rather my willingess to seek knowlege for knowlege sake.

  4. Great show and guest, Jack. She was able to put names to many concepts that, like yourself, I did in school that caused me to be called ‘stubborn’ or ‘trouble’. I am also totally with her on the interconnection of life.

  5. Another point from the show I wanted to comment on. I grew up on a working farm and ranch. Till I was about 14, if we didn’t grow it, raise it or hunt it, we really didn’t eat it. The other kids in the community were basically in the same boat. Guess what? There was not such thing as ADHD or any of that crap. Know why? Because we had chores. If I happened to be stupid enough to be hanging around the house being a pest, my family sure as hell found something for me to do! Consequently, when I was done with chores, school work, and any other additional things I needed to do, I booked for the woods and spent my spare time exploring, hunting, and just watching and learning. And I sure as hell slept like a baby at night. One of the reasons why I am working so hard to get myself back to that lifestyle. I was the happiest when I was raising food and animals.

  6. Mitch Roberson

    So I love this. and our family is homeschooling our kids and looking at how we can accomplish this in what ever way we can. However My only comment is really about ADHD. My daughter has been home schooled since the beginning and she is ADHD there is no question I used to believe that it was a farse. Many of our friends that Homeschool have kids that have ADHD. But What I have found is that it is better managed. and less of an issue when they are home schooled.
    I do tend to think that many kids that are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD are missed diagnosed. We have 3 children that we work with as well and 2 were told by the schools that they had ADD and or ADHD. However we found they were actually dyslexic and helping them through that process and how to compensate for Dyslexia they have been able to get off the meds and are much more productive.

    • Modern Survival

      @Mitch Roberson, in my opinion ADD ADHD etc are labels they are not actual conditions. Just because a kid doesn’t care about something or likes to do 10 things at once or refuses to accept a structure doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with them, it is just who they are.

    • I completely agree that ADHD is thrown around way too much these days (ADD is a term that is no longer used. It’s all ADHD, according to the system) and way too many kids are being medicated for simply being children.

      My wife has a cousin that had one of her kids “diagnosed” with ADHD by the school. What led up to this was she was having a really hard time in school while her twin sister was doing very well. She was convinced that it was NOT ADHD but some other learning disorder. My wife, being an elementary school teacher, watched her at a family gathering and agreed. She told her to fight it tooth and nail because once a school labels a kid as something, that’s it. It’s really hard to change it. This district in particular is very quick to label kids as ADHD.

      In the end, she was able to get an outside professional to come in and diagnosed her with a sensory condition more along the lines of autism (think really really mild autism) They changed some of the methods to help her learn and she is doing MUCH better in school.

      My point is if your kids are in a public school, fight for them at every turn. If they want to put a label on your kids, get a second, unbiased opinion.

      On an unrelated note, my wife works in a different district than the one above. They are not allowed to suggest that a child have any particular condition that could be taken as a diagnosis. That opens the district/school up to be responsible for “treatment.” Instead, they can only tell the parents that it appears there may be an issue and that they should take their child to see a specialist.

  7. sounds nice. does she have a real job? how much does she make? what jobs has she actually had? what is she qualified to do?

    • Modern Survival

      @dan v, I will leave that to her but my response is she is probably qualified to do anything she wants and what she does is not anywhere near as important is how happy she is with her life. I can show you a lot of highly educated unemployed people who are fricken miserable right now so what exactly is your point? I was a A/D student, As in things I liked and Ds in subjects I needed to pass but didn’t give a shit about and I have my own business and in my career had three jobs that “required degrees” I didn’t have and one that required a masters degree as mandatory and guess what I kicked ass over the other three guys that had the same position.

      Perhaps Courtney is a home maker, perhaps she has a job, who gives a crap really though?

      Because let me tell you what most college grads are “qualified to do”, the answer is they are qualified to apply for a job where if the right person hires them they will actually learn their profession. Most college grads are not qualified for anything the day they push a tassel from one side to the next, not to mention how unqualified most conventional high school grads are.

    • @dan

      Dan,
      I am an “unschooler” by its definition. I got into a lot of trouble in “normal” school, and found myself uninvited to come go back, from several schools. In my life I spent the age of 14 -> 21 learning playing and doing whatever at home and where i felt like i wanted to go. My parents where not on bored with the idea, as they are traditionalist like yourself.

      I always had a knack for computers, so i expanded on that greatly. When i was 17 i worked at a data center. I worked there for quite a few years, i got bored, and got fired. So i got a job with a “major” telecom corporation. I have been working there for nearly 7 years now.

      I do NOT have a high school diploma, i took some college classes and dropped out, as it was boring and i knew the material. That is the extent of my schooling. Yet i am able to write, albeit poorly to you. I support my family of 4 and my wife is able to be a stay at home mother/teacher.

      What are YOU qualified to do? What jobs have YOU had? How much do YOU make? Do YOU have a real job?

    • Dan, I have a BA in Music from a good, private university. The best I’ve been able to do with that is a part time job directing a church choir. I’ve done much better money wise working for a Project Team at Best Buy building stuff and making stuff work. As you can see, I’m qualified to do much more but am stuck in retail.

      • As a side note, what is “success?” Courtney sounds like she might not be making boatloads of money, but she’s being very successful as a mother.

  8. Great show and a great guest.

  9. cranberryrose55

    As a homeschool parent, my kids are adults; I’ve seen great unschooled teens and horrible unschooling examples, like a jr. higher not being able to write his name.
    My youngest was dyslexic. A dyslexic specialist said get a wooden Capital letter alphabet, starting with letters different as A and Z, get your child to ID them, then add more, until you get to similar ones O and Q. Master all that, then do the lower case wooden alphabet puzzle. The point? What’s your point, lady? UnSchooling is still about helping your kid succeed in life.
    Yes, the can’t-write-his-name unschooler will work when he gets older, probably with his dad, doing stage set-up for theater, but he at one time dreamed of being a vet. I remember a time when he tried to get textbooks and understand what he was reading. but the unschooling parent refused to help him or give him the tools for success. Unschooling does not mean you won’t teach and help when you see your child desperately wants it.

    • Modern Survival

      @cranberryrose55 I think you are confusing “unschooling” with being uninvolved. By the very definition of unschooling when a child wants to learn the parent it supposed to help them do it. So the system didn’t fail in your example the parents did. It actually proves the concept that “children naturally want to learn and all they need is support is valid”. I mean doctors do stupid crap and kill people every day it doesn’t mean that medical procedures don’t work though does it?

  10. I am still skeptical on this one, I agree that High school and college is mostly a waste of time as it take too long to finish, but I am not sold on the idea of self-directed learning.

    Mentoring and private tutoring still seems like a better option to me.

    Also dan v does have a great point : How successful is she ?

    You were trying to sell us the ”unschooled” stuff on the basis that it helped kids reach their potential and discover who they are … is she have discovered her potential and realized it ?

    • Modern Survival

      @sams, so how deep does the addiction go? You stated, “I agree that High school and college is mostly a waste of time”. I mean jeeze!

  11. So I am seeing doughts about the unschooling so here is my 2 cents.
    I had 3 kids at my church that did this they are now in their 30′s the oldest went to college and is a family practics doctor, second no college and owns own bussiness, third is a architect that tested out of all college classes and got a degree 1 month after “starting college”. So unschooling does wouk but there are people who need school the way it is set up now, at least of a while.

  12. Awesome show! We are considering unschooling our young children and this interview helped a lot.

  13. Love the concept. Wish I had done this with my kids. The interview was very entertaining too. I just can’t wrap my head around the running around naked though. But to each his own! Thanks, Jack.

  14. @Modern Survival:

    I don’t believe in universal solutions and I am very skeptical about the whole ”discover what you want ”stuff.

    I would prefer my kids to follow a curriculum and have adult supervision, especially if the model have been proven to work with other kids, than to engage in an open ended experiment.

    As a marketer you must know that some customers like consistency … I am that kind of person and I would prefer my kids to have an education proven to have worked for other kids.

    • Modern Survival

      @sams and my question is what makes you think the two systems are incompatible? What makes you think fundamentals and self directed learning can not coexist?

      I find such a belief highly frustrating as I feel the majority of society has been brain washed into believing that yes the current system sucks but it still works and is the best we can do.

  15. @Modern Survival:

    Just to be clear, by fundamentals you mean writing/reading and Math ?

    My beef isn’t that they are incompatible, but that besides the basics there is a core curriculum a young man should learn to get used to think critically.

    My biggest fear with self-learning is that it could lend a ton of misguided young people, just like we have now, just in more stubborn.

    Self-learning within a core curriculum would be the best solution and is I reckon a mixture of the two.

    No need of getting frustrated, nothing like step skepticism to produce good answers and … It could actually be worse ;)

    Anyway, as school owner I found it very interesting, hence I will maybe try to educate myself and see how I can incorporate this in my business model. :)

    • Modern Survival

      @sams

      One fear is your enemy, stop basing your life on it.

      Two, what system on God’s earth could produce more “misguided young people” then our current system?

  16. @Modern Survival:

    one : I’m working on it.

    two: Giving them the illusion that they are reinventing the wheel.
    Believe it or not, but the majority of wingnut ideologues, anarchists, Commies and Co, I know read tones of books under self-direction and then they acquire a self-deluded sense of intelligence nothing can challenge.

    • I am wrong, you are right, no other system on earth produce more misguided people than the current one, both quantitatively, but also qualitatively.

      In comparison, either unschooling or homeschooling looks better, even though I would personally choose the latter.

    • I love how you are trying to argue that critical thinking, passionate self-directed learning, and developing opinions while diversifying you knowledge of a subject are bad things

      • The day you meet a self-educated Marxist/anarchist/ideologue who read 250000+ pages of pure nonsense you will understand ….

      • Modern Survival

        @Sams you said,

        “The day you meet a self-educated Marxist/anarchist/ideologue who read 250000+ pages of pure nonsense you will understand”

        I won’t, not for a moment. Most eccentric people self learn some learn to be Marxists and some develop the theory of relativity. To label the system flawed due to some weirdos coming out of it is flawed thinking. How many weirdos come out of the Public System?

        How many Catholic Priests are child molesters? Quite a few but do we judge the other 99.9% on the .1%?

        Don’t many cops abuse people? Sure but I would still go to a cop in the US anyway for help and know 99% of the time I am dealing with a good guy that wants to help me.

        The line of thinking your are using is self limiting by nature. The reality is you probably have met many home and unschoolers in your life and thought they were perfectly nice people and never knew their educational background. I mean really how many people do you know where you really have no idea what their educational background it?

        Personally I stopped even looking at the educational background of my employees years ago. I want to know what you have done and what you an do, not what tests you took and what useless info that your memorized.

  17. @Modern Survival:
    This is what I said:
    I am wrong, you are right, no other system on earth produce more misguided people than the current one, both QUANTITATIVELY , but also QUALITATIVELY.

    I don’t think we have a disagreement.

    What grant said ”critical thinking, passionate self-directed learning, and developing opinions while diversifying you knowledge of a subject are bad things”, misses the point that a lot of weirdos are generated by that.

    My only beef is that I don’t which to play Russian roulette with my kids future and I would better put him through a curriculum than risking him fall into the weirdo category.

  18. @Modern Survival:

    I learned English by age 19, hence I generally fail to hint my pace in writing form.

    No your fault :)

  19. Nadja*isk*en*isk*ie

    The problem I have with unschooling is the name. Or the perception some people have of the meaning.

    Schooled is often defined as “Educated or trained in a specified activity or in a particular way” or “having received specific instruction”.

    “Unschooled” sounds, to some, like someone that has not received any education or training (whether self-directed or not).

    Why is this a problem? ’cause I often have conversations about the topic where I nearly always have to explain that “unschooled” does not necessarily mean uneducated.

    • Modern Survival

      @Nadja*isk*en*isk*ie I really don’t understand having a problem with something’s name.

    • George Orwell, the dude who wrote 1984, once said that ”The plague of our time is that people don’t think anymore, the words they write think for them”.

      Seriously, it is a non-issue to dismiss something because of how the name sounds, maybe it is a question of marketing, but not much.

  20. “Mitch Roberson, in my opinion ADD ADHD etc are labels they are not actual conditions”

    I wouldn’t call it a disorder, but it certainly is a label that does refer to a specific way that certain minds function. I had one friend who was definitely ADD; he told me more than once that one of the reasons he enjoyed drinking alcohol (NOT an alcoholic, just enjoyed a drink) was because it slowed down his brain to a single train of thought, as opposed to three. I would never call him disabled, he was brilliant and had no problem functioning in society, but there was no doubt that his brain functioned in a way that was different from the norm.

  21. I am one of those “traditional people” you mentioned; I literally have an MS in engineering and went through the traditional structure the whole way. I am also one of those people who “used it to my benefit” though; I have a good job that I enjoy and that pays very well, less than $10k of debt to pay off (will do it within the year), and used my education to teach me how to learn and think. Indeed, the most important thing about my math/science/engineering education IMHO was that it *did* teach me how to learn and think, albeit indirectly.

    Here’s the thing. I completely agree with you that much of high school and college is a waste of time if you are not actively using it to your benefit (I have long advocated that most liberal arts degrees are useless or worse unless you earn them to a specific purpose, well before I ran into you or any of the others who are pointing it out themselves). However, I disagree that you can let 5 year olds direct themselves. I think kids need to learn certain basics before you can turn them loose like that, even with structured support. To do otherwise would be like turning a kid loose in a library without teaching them to read, or telling them to find their way through a forest without a map or compass. It’s not impossible that they’ll figure it out, but it’s certainly going to result in a lot of bumbling around and reinventing the wheel (at best; at worst they’ll give up in frustration).

    I also disagree with letting small children direct each other. Teaching and explaining things effectively is a skill, it requires effort and practice to learn. I have found that the most important thing in explaining a concept to others is that you must first know it very well yourself, and the other is finding the conscious words to describe the subject effectively to others. At the very least, a child that age will not be able to teach something to others that they have not yet studied extensively themselves, and at the most, they might not even know enough about how to put concepts together yet to be effective teachers at all, on any subject.

  22. I really enjoyed your interview with Courtney. I just read several of her blog entries and while not all of her methods match my personal choices, I fully respect hers and find myself open to re-thinking some of my own ideas. Thanks for bringing us another great resource to help broaden our minds and opinions.

  23. Here’s an interesting video discussing the problems of our current education system. It’s 11:40 minutes long and pretty entertaining.


    In this talk from RSA Animate, Sir Ken Robinson lays out the link between 3 troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. An important, timely talk for parents and teachers.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html

  24. Hi Jack,
    Great interview with Courtney. Funny, I was just talking about Waldorf schooling and that school in Russia she was mentioned a few hours before I listened to your podcast.

    I am interested in how to unschool myself because I want to read the writings of Rudolf Steiner, especially his bee book as I am a beekeeper. I find his books difficult to read; it is quite esoteric. I once asked someone who was school in the Waldorf system about reading Steiner and she told me that it is hard for someone schooled in regular schools to read his books. Someone else I admire said he had to deprogram himself in order to read Steiner. All this to say, how can a person unschool themself? Any suggestions?

    I just found your podcast through Jason Akers’ website. I very much appreciate all the information and teachings you provide on this site.

    Best wishes,
    Mil

  25. Like a couple other people commented, loved the podcast minus the ADD comments. I totally agree that the majority of peole who are diagnosed are being KIDS. But as an adult with ADHD I can garuntee you that it is indeed real and it is extremely challenging to live with.

    However…I stay home and homeschool my three kids (a combo of formal education for the “3 Rs” and lots and lots of unschooling) and find that my life now, unstructured and active and free and pursuing things that interest me, rather than sitting behind a desk all day (at work or school) has been the best treatment for my ADHD.

    It seems to me that it is more likely that a small group of people do indeed have ADD or ADHD but that a large part of the condition (for those correctly diagnosed, not the ones with behavioral problems) can be treated by stepping away from that lifestyle of being chaned behind a desk.

  26. What are natural human systems? I’ve never seen one. All social systems are constructed by humans for humans. So if you think you are in a more natural system by not being in school you are just fooling yourself.

    • Modern Survival

      @gregory, you are inferring that humans are not a natural part of the planet. Such an inference basically makes any argument you make based on it, pointless.