December 2016

Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know about Schools and Rediscover Education 

by Clark Aldrich
A light and quick read.  I enjoy reading these things to remind myself that I’m on the right track.  As a fairly experienced unschooler there is nothing much new in this, though it doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful. I can’t remember everything and it is great to get the reminders.
The chapters were short and the titles of most of the chapters really explain themselves most of the time.
The highlights from reading via Kindle:

Part One – Curricula

  • There are three types of Learining: Learn to be; Learn to do; Learn to Know. Learning to be focuses on helping someone understand who they are and who they want to be. Learning to do almost always involves significant practice. Learning to know focuses on knowledge that can be captured in books and lectures.
  • Focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic: What it says on the tin.  Empower kids by giving them the basics that they need to do their own research.
  • Learn Something Because You Need It or Because You Love It: Nevertheless, needed content must be approached differently from loved content.
  • Twenty-Five Critical Skills are Seldom Taught, Tested, or Graded in High School: So many important learning to do skills simply fall through the cracks of traditional schools. Here are some skills, both simple and complex, that should be essential for any accredited high school curricula: Adapting Analyzing and Managing Risks Applying Economic, Value, and Governing Models Behaving Ethically Being a Leader Building and Nurturing Relationships Communicating Creating or Process Reengineering New Actions, Processes, and Tools Developing Security Efficiently Meeting Complex Needs Gathering Evidence Identifying and Using Boards of Mentors and Advisers Maintaining and Practicing Stewardship of Important Systems and Capabilities Making Prudent Decisions Managing Conflict Managing Projects Negotiating Planning Long Term Prioritizing Tasks and Goals Probing Procurement Scheduling Solving Problems Innovatively Sourcing/ Buying/ Procuring Goods and Services Using Containment Strategies These we should strive to teach our children and young adults. In contrast …
  • Don’t Worry About Preparing Students for Jobs from an Agatha Christie Novel.
  • Avoid the Academic False Dichotomy of “The Cultural Literacy Track” or “The Vocational Track.”: This two-tier approach is an immoral sorting system with crippling consequences. Maybe worse, it also presents a false dichotomy. Instead, true wisdom comes from a synthesis of those two perspectives and more.

Part Two – Content

  • Throughout Life, Everyone Unschools Most of the Time: When a doctor finds a rarely seen condition in a patient, she does not sign up for a class that covers the material, but will run for 6 weeks and start the following semester. When faced with evidence of a toxic sedimentation crisis, the politician does not apply to a prestigious university’s environmental policy master’s degree program. When the director of a nonprofit organization sees an opportunity to expand into a foreign country, his first instinct is not to review old MBA course notes. All people unschool to learn most of their knowledge during most of their lives. The only variables are how well do they do it, and when do they start.
  • What a Person Learns in a Classroom is How to be a Person in a Classroom: Sitting Through a Classroom Lecture is not Just Unnatural for Most People, It is Painful.
  • Animals are Better Than Books About Animals.
  • Use Microcosms as Much as Possible in Learning Programs: Microcosms are self-contained models of larger and more complex systems. Lessons learned, including what are good things to do and good results to get, can be transferred to the bigger productive world. Examples of microcosms that can be used in education include, among others: Fish tanks Lemonade stands and bake sales Gardens One-person businesses Team sports
  • Internships, Apprenticeships, and Interesting Jobs Beat Term Papers, Textbooks, and Tests.
  • Include Meaningful Work.
  • Create and Use Periods of Reflection.
  • If You Care About Learning, Start with Food: The author highlights the importance of food as a means to learn. If we are not feeding ourselves well, then are we in a good position to learn well?
  • Embrace all Technologies.
  • One Computer + One Spreadsheet Software Program = Math Curricula: I love this idea!
  • Have a Well-Stocked Library.
  • Read What Normal People Read: Words are everywhere!
  • Is it better to be a ‘great reader’ than addicted to ‘computer games’? – Everything in moderation!
  • Formally Learn Only What is Reinforced During the Next 14 Days (You will Forget Everything Else Anyway): “It is frustrating when students come back from vacation, because they have forgotten everything.” What they intend as a shared complaint is a sweeping and devastating critique of the entire school system.
  • Now, a great result of the philosophy to teach only what will be used immediately in the real world is that it should not simply impact what is formally learned, it should also encourage more activities, be they meaningful work or microcosms.
  • Build More, Consume Less.

Part Three – Coaching

  • Teaching is Leadership. Most Teaching is Bad Leadership.: You get a positive blip in test scores, but without any long-term impact.
  • Expose More, Teach Less: Travel. While this can seem to imply a big trip, it shouldn’t.
  • Talk intimately to authentic experts.
  • Be flexible according to a child’s interest.
  • From a productivity and management perspective, exposure is wasteful in the short run; it is essential, however, in the very long run.
  • Biologically, the Necessary Order of Learning is: Explore, Then Play, Then Add Rigor: The greatest challenge for all instructors and coaches is to create situations and learning environments that allow for not one or two but for all three phases to happen.
  • The Ideal Class Size isn’t Thirty, or Even Fifteen, But More Like Five.
  • One Traditional School Day Includes Less Than 3 Hours of Formal Instruction and Practice, Which You can Cover in 2.
  • Homework Helps School Systems, Not Students.
  • Every Day, Adults are Role Models of Learning (Whether or Not They Want to be).
  • Avoid the Stockholm Syndrome: occurs when victims, who are under the total control of a few all-powerful people, develop sympathy toward their captors.
  • Schools are Designed to Create Both Winners and Losers.

Part Four – Customization

  • In Education, Customization is Important Like Air is Important.
  • There is no One Answer to How to Educate a Child. There may not be Any Answers.
  • Education is a young science, not yet out of its own adolescence.
  • Be What Schools Pretend to be, Not What Schools are.
  • Fifteen Models That are Better for Childhood Learning Than Schools are. > Location 591
  • Feed Passions and Embrace Excellence.
  • No matter what his or her age, when a child has a serious and productive interest in something, do anything possible to feed it. Be the perfect enabler.
  • Children Learn Unevenly, Even Backwards.
  • Five Subjects a Day? Really?
  • Maturing Solves a Lot of Problems.

Part Five – Community

  • Socialize Your Children. Just don’t Use Schools to Do It.
  • Grouping Students by the Same Age is Just a Bad Idea.
  • Minimize “The Drop-Off.”: Every drop-off should be questioned. Over time, drop-offs should be minimized.
  • Increase Exposure to Non–Authority Figure Adults.

Part Six – Credit

  • Tests don’t Work. Get Over It. Move On: Tests only test the test taker’s ability to prepare for and take tests.
  • The Future is Portfolios, Not Transcripts.
  • Keep a Focused Journal.
  • Bookmark
  • Use Technology as Assessment.
  • College: The Hardest No-Win Decision Your Family May Ever Make. – Goes on to criticise the the model making money and trapping students into it all sorts of financial commitments.

Part Seven – [Day] Care

  • Outdoors Beats Indoors.
  • Walk a Lot.
  • Under-Schedule to Take Advantage of the Richness of Life.
  • Life is educational. But only if you let it be.
  • Parents Care More Than Any Institution About Their Children.
  • Children should be Raised by People Who Love Them: Thankfully, increasing the hours spent per week or per day with a loving adult can happen incrementally. Replace a babysitter with a grandparent. Bring a child along on an errand.


  • The Only Sustainable Answer to the Global Education Challenge is a Diversity of Approaches.
  • And no monopoly has ever reformed itself. It is only through competition among entirely different entities that new ideas are nurtured and given the opportunity to evolve.
  • Significantly different approaches are possible in education. And these new approaches will be necessary to enable the evolution of the education system to a new post-industrial future model.


  • Children are not raw materials to be made into productive citizens by “the system.” Children are beautiful living souls, as much angel as devil, each deserving of a hero’s journey through life, where they can strive and fail and grow up to change the world.
  • That means the future belongs to—and depends on—people like you and me. People who are willing to dive into the messy, chaotic, joyful, ever-changing world of unschooling to create the ideas and innovations that will topple the old regime.
  • A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille, The Underground History of American Education by John Gatto, and NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are three powerful resources and are some of my favorites.
  • Also check out some of the newest offerings in game-based software for basic skills, like DreamBox for math ( or Rosetta Stone for language ( Take time to investigate project-based and student-centered learning at schools like the Acton Academy (
  • Read Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class and Clark Aldrich’s Learning by Doing to see why the world of education is changing faster than you think.