Alanis Morissette ‘unschools’ her children, and it’s just as dumb as it sounds

alanis health

Alanis Morissette covers the May issue of Health Magazine. She’s breastfeeding her youngest child, Winter, on the cover. Winter is only eight months old, and Alanis gave birth to Winter when she was 45. Alanis has talked a lot about mental health, postpartum depression and anxiety in recent years, and that’s what her Health Mag profile is mostly about too, although she does bring up something new-ish, which is the fact that she’s a proponent of “un-schooling.” Which is where the kids determine what they want to learn or something. These hippie parents… please stop! You can read the full Health profile here. Some highlights:

Her postpartum experience. “My first two children, it was mostly depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety. But the depression was so in my face that the anxiety was just background music. With this one, it’s mostly anxiety and almost no depression. I’ve come to understand that this is purely animal. With breastfeeding, your oxytocin goes sky-high. Then cortisol goes sky-high because you’re trying to protect the baby from, you know, a potential saber-toothed tiger. You’ve got these two competing hormones. Ideally, we’re supposed to be ensconced with, like, 51 women, broths, soups, and warmth as the body is reconstructing—as your identity is reconstructing. Cut to modern times, where the world is very masculine, very alpha, which is completely the opposite. On that animal level, you’re just supposed to be up all night feeding your baby and sleeping all day when they’re napping. Who the f— does that? I don’t know any mom that is like, “I totally sleep when they sleep.”

On being a highly sensitive person (HSP). “About 20 percent of humans have a highly sensitive temperament—it’s a trait. It’s like having brown hair. A nonsensitive temperament will walk into a room and pick up 50 pieces of information. A sensitive person will walk into a room and get 500 pieces of information. So is there any question as to why highly sensitive people get overstimulated really quickly? It doesn’t mean we can’t contain it, but we might go a little crazy. Then, of those people who have highly sensitive temperaments, an even smaller percent are empaths.

Practicing unschooling: “Unschooling, for me, is child-led education. So if there’s some agenda like, “Let’s play with these magnet tiles,” and my daughter is like, “F— those tiles. I want to put glitter on that thing and cut the tree and put the thing,” boom—we do that. I basically get inside their eyeballs. I’m constantly watching their eyes and what they’re pulled toward, and then we do the deep dive. My husband and I create pods all over the house—here’s where the spelling area is, and here’s where the fake animals are. There’s probably a better definition of unschooling, but there’s no rigidity to it.

Whether she can check out of unschooling: “No. If my son is going to bed late on tour and he asks me three really huge, existential questions, there’s no, “Ah, we’ll talk about it in the morning.” That is the moment. Unschooling is 24/7. When I share with people that I unschool, a lot of people I’m close with say they’d love to do it but just can’t. And I get it. I’m like, “Yes. I understand, and I think it’s a smart choice not to do it.” It’s a major commitment.

[From Health]

I’ve talked about this before, but I’m the daughter of a public school teacher and I find it flat-out offensive how many parents think that they can reinvent the education wheel and create these kinds of “unschooling” or “the children should teach US” systems. Unschooling sounds like Peak Privilege, and all you’re teaching your kids is how to be self-absorbed brats and put glitter on trees. One of the best things any parent can do for their child is teach them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, which seems like what unschooling is all about. To be clear, I’m not talking about homeschooling in general, although I do think too many parents choose the homeschooling option because they believe they can do it better (like it goes hand-in-hand with competitive mothering). Traditional home-schooling involves lesson plans and structure and educational goals. Unschooling is not THAT.

Jagged Little Pill Opening Night  - Arrivals.

Photos courtesy of WENN, cover courtesy of Health.

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77 Responses to “Alanis Morissette ‘unschools’ her children, and it’s just as dumb as it sounds”

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  1. Chica71 says:

    I work in K12.. She will in a few years try to mainstream these kids and get pissed at every at admin and teacher when they cannot keep up with their peers. Most schools in my district have moved toward even more differentiated learning, ungrading, and learn at your own pace, etc. Despite the medium or strategy, kids still need certain basic skills and knowledge to navigate this world. School is not a dirty word.

    • Noodle says:

      Done correctly, her kids should be able to keep up with peers in a general education setting. It’s the parents who use the “unschool” label to justify letting their kids eat Sour Patch Kids all day because that’s what they’re into, that will struggle.

      • jessamine says:

        I came here to say exactly this ^^ My mom homeschooled us in a somewhat-unschooling way in the late 80s and 90s and most of the families in our homeschooling pretty crunchy, granola unschoolers. I tried a couple elementary and middle grades in public school didn’t have any issues keeping up but it wasn’t for me. And no one was “demonizing” traditional school. Families make the best choices for them. Unschooling certainly isn’t for everybody and like any educational philosophy it only works as well as those practicing it.

    • Keessie says:

      Luckily for her and my family there are Sudbury schools and schools that practice the same strategies where kids are motivated to learn and people lead by example. Now I’m very aware that people feel the need to think it’s their way or the high way. But I for one am not a “hippy parent”. I work in IT as a manager. But the school system is not sitting my kids. And Sudbury education is. They are thriving now that they do work that suits their needs.

      My point? Stop judging. There is tongue in cheek gossipping and there is showing your true colors by judging others harshly because their perspective differs from yours. She is not hurting anyone, if anything she is using her own funds to prevent her kids going through a system that does hurt many, many children in the process.

  2. Abby says:

    Unschooling is a method of homeschooling that has been around for a couple of decades at least. It can be done well, and it can be done poorly. Often it morphs into unit studies. You like the tree outside your house? Cool! Let’s learn about the scientific name, origin, species, etc. Let’s learn how old it is based on scientific data. Let’s examine the leaves and trace them and learn about photosynthesis. Let’s make a rubbing of the bark and study it under a microscope. Let’s learn about how this tree came to be in our area, and what other trees are native to our area. Let’s practice writing by writing a report about this tree. Let’s read some literature / fiction with this kind of tree. Let’s create a play where trees are characters and act it out. Let’s compose a song about leaves. Etc forever.

    You can deep dive on a topic and cover every type of subject in education. The tree was just the jumping off point.

    As kids get older, learning gets a bit more structured but still interest-driven.

    There’s a lot of ways to do unschooling. It’s not all crap.

    I was homeschooled all 12 years. Not unschooling but I knew families that did unschooling and my mom had a business selling homeschooling supplies. I went on to college and got a degree and a career 🙂

    • Noodle says:

      @Abby, yes to all of this. The key within homeschooling and unschooling is that there is a competent parent/teacher who is designing these learning opportunities. Many times, homeschooling or unschooling are taken in by people who don’t know how to do it well, and don’t care to learn.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes to all of this. I *am* a public school teacher and child-led learning can be done very well and has tremendous educational value. The traditional public school model (and it’s expected outcomes) does not work well for many children – there is nothing wrong with exploring alternative schooling. I wouldn’t presume to know (or judge) her efforts based on one magazine article.

      • Some chick says:

        The worst part of public school was having to sit down and shut up, and being bullied.

        Alanis doesn’t seem to be explaining herself all that well, but I got no gripe with her letting her kids be kids – while still learning.

        It sounds like Montessori homeschooling. It also sounds like she is very involved as a parent. So much of parenting is educational anyway. Being able to do it nearly full time would be great.

    • Katinka says:

      Thank you for explaining, Abby! It reminds me of the comic „learning“ by the wonderful lunarbaboon, unfortunately I am not allowedto post the link.
      I was like that also, I remember- always asking my parents questions and curious about the world. The traditional school system with underpaid, unmotivated teachers and being bullied everytime I tried to speak in class sure managed to kill that curiosity and passion :/ it’s lovely if children are allowed to learn by being interested and I think it can be done well.

  3. Chica71 says:

    Abby.. sounds like PBL.

  4. Noodle says:

    Un-schooling is just the Montessori method dressed up in modern-parenting-speak. The idea is that you let the kids choose the context for what they learn, and let them do a deeper dive than what transitional school allows. For instance, my son loves numbers, like LOVES numbers. He’s attracted to logic and numbers and geometry and spatial reasoning. Now that I am responsible for his education (he is in transitional kindergarten and isn’t being given any real curriculum apart from coloring pages), we focus on numbers. We read books about numbers. We talk about geography and how far apart things are. We talk about time and years and how we measure time and space. I can stretch his passion for numbers into a lot of curricular areas, and develop his language, literacy, scientific and math skills through the context of numbers. That is unschooling. I don’t give him math worksheets or number coloring, because I can create the challenging content myself, capitalizing on his natural interests. Unschooling (at least in a responsible household) isn’t where the kid can do whatever they want whenever they want it; it’s about designing learning based on what kids are naturally interested in (weather, basketball, princesses) and then developing curriculum that prioritizes those interests.

    • Maria T. says:

      Was gonna say – sounds a lot like Montessori. I’ve been so impressed with the kiddos I’ve met who have gone through a Montessori program. They just seem so much more capable of completing projects and getting immersed in learning in a different way.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      I jumped in to say the same thing. That there is a term for it… Montessori. We did it for a short while and loved it. But we did it as a transition from being an at home toddler to public school first grade. We felt day cares and other places for tots severely lacked on several fronts. There’s some really shitty places to drop our babies off! Montessori was a way to bypass what essentially amounted to paid babysitters.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      I jumped in to say the same thing. That there is a term for it… Montessori. We did it for a short while and loved it. But we did it as a transition from being an at home toddler to public school first grade. We felt day cares and other places for tots severely lacked on several fronts. There’s some really shitty places to drop our babies off! Montessori was a way to bypass what essentially amounted to paid babysitters.

  5. Amy Too says:

    The different centers around the house and letting your child pick which thing they’re going to work on or do/play with sounds a bit like when my son went to a Montesorri school for K-5th grade elementary. I think this sort of educational approach works best with younger kids, elementary and preschool age, when a lot of the learning that we do is based in playing, learning to socialize with others, asking questions, and being generally curious about the world. As kids get older, I think it’s more important to have a schedule and more structure. But once your kids are older, school is more complicated than play time, story time, arts and crafts time, anyways. It involves more traditional lectures and studying many different subjects more in depth. You’re taking notes and learning more complicated facts, doing longer and more complicated mathematics and science experiments, and so a structure/schedule with specific class times for specific subjects is more necessary.

  6. ChillyWilly says:

    “One of the best things any parent can do for their child is teach them that the world doesn’t revolve around them”
    Completely agree, Kaiser. These kids will be in for a world of hurt once they realize the world is not going to cater to their every need or whim.
    I love Alannis and I’m all for nurturing creativity, but this is a recipe for disaster.
    Also, that baby is so darn chubby and cuddly…gimme! 😍

    • Aoife says:

      This reminds me of an encounter I had a few years ago I when I was on honeymoon in India, and we met an American family of two parents in their early thirties probably and their five-year-old kid. They were on a trip for an unspecified period of time during which they were “orbiting” around their child. They were literally following him around wherever the fancy took him, treating him as if he were the sun around which they revolved, It struck me as an incredibly extreme message to pass onto a small child about his place in the universe!

  7. Sam the Pink says:

    Unschooling, in theory, is about tailoring the education to the strengths of the child. Formal education has to be, on some level, one size fits all, which works for most, but not all. It works best for the small group of kids who really are too advanced or have needs too unique to be addressed by a structured system. But it’s a small minority of kids.

    But that’s not what she’s doing. She’s just letting the children call all the shots. Especially at a young age, that is stupid. If I let my kids call the shots, they’d be eating fruit loops for every meal and watching tv all day. And they are kids, so I don’t blame them. It’s my job to provide the structure. It sounds like she’s just letting the kids call the shots, and that won’t end up well.

    • Kelly says:

      Ugh, I know a girl who unschools her kids. Basically she just lets her kids do art all day because she was an artist before she had kids. And she tries to dress up things like playing with bubbles as science class. It’s gross and her kids are going to be morons when they grow up. There needs to be SOME structure otherwise kids will never learn outside of their comfort zone.

    • Ange says:

      I especially think if the kids largely pursue what they’re interested in they’ll never learn components of education that are still needed in the outside world. If I’d been allowed to only pursue my interests I’d never have learned how to do even the most basic maths because I hated it. At least by gritting my teeth through it in school I’ve got enough skills to apply it in useful ways in my adult life.

  8. Lucy2 says:

    I think it’s great to encourage a child’s interests and help them pursue that knowledge. But structure is good too, especially if that child is ever going to go to a regular school, or on to higher education.
    I also think that it’s important for kids to learn about stuff they are not as interested in, both in preparation for the real world someday and also for a well rounded education. Plus, they may discover they actually do like things they originally didn’t.

    • A.Key says:

      “I also think that it’s important for kids to learn about stuff they are not as interested in, both in preparation for the real world someday and also for a well rounded education. Plus, they may discover they actually do like things they originally didn’t.”


  9. Rosie says:

    I used to homeschool my kids. They are autistic and benefit from a flexible approach to learning. I met quite a few unschoolers and realize we all do a little “unschooling” with our kids sometimes! It’s really just about taking the child’s lead when they’re excited about a topic.

  10. lily says:

    Totally agree with you. Just few specials cases benefices from it.

  11. Eliza_ says:

    I dislike this style because it doesn’t prepare the child for life. Listen I’m all for tailoring a program to your child’s interests and strengths (no one plan fits all), but this never “no” where the child picks the plan… well what happens when they grow up and they have to do assignments they don’t like, or have timelines they don’t agree with, or have bosses who don’t want to implement their ideas. Part of having even some semblance of structure in learning is preparing the child to have the tools to cope when something isn’t exactly the way they want it. You don’t have to be as structured every moment but never is not for me personally

    • Sarah says:

      This is assuming a lot. Do not conflate an educational/teaching approach with permissive parenting.

  12. M Narang says:

    Highly sensitive people or HSP is code for me for being personality disordered. I’ve never met a highly sensitive person who is empathetic towards others. Never ever.

    • Noodle says:

      They are incredibly rare. My daughter is profoundly gifted and incredibly sensitive to the world around her. There’s probably some SPD thrown there. She is highly empathetic, and has severe anxiety as a result. She’s a minority, though.

    • yellow says:

      No, it isn’t. I don’t think you know what HSP means, respectfully. The two actually often go hand in hand. People you’ve met that you perceive as “sensitive” aren’t necessarily HSP’s.

    • Yup, Me says:

      A lot of people are using the term (and the new woowoo fave is “empaths”) to justify shitty behavior. I’m an HSP, married into a family where my MIL is an HSP as well. We are both extremely sensitive to nuance in spaces and interactions with other people. Neither of us has a personality disorder. Both of us have done a significant amount of personal development and healing work. I’m curious where you live where you’ve found several people who both know the term and also have toxic behaviors that you associate with it? Southern California? LA area?

    • Peanuts says:

      That’s because many disordered people who claim to be one self-diagnose and use the HSP label as an excuse and a shield for their disordered behavior. A TRUE HSP, and I know several in my life, are by definition empathetic almost to a fault and always put the needs of others before their own. Often due to their hyper-keen ability to see cues others don’t and use their sensitivities to imagine the feelings and perspectives of others.

  13. Veronica S. says:

    If she’s using the techniques for younger children that certain countries like Sweden have deployed on a more scaled level, it can work, but there’s definitely an unspoken structure in that you’re still driving education, just through a more personality-driven approach. I have mixed feelings about it because it can be detrimental if you aren’t vigilant about keeping them up to speed with their peers, but on the other hand, as somebody with a neurological disorder, I also see how public schooling did NOT benefit me. I struggled a lot, particularly socially, and my grades really collapsed in my high school years due to extreme bullying. The moment I got into college and it’s looser, less rigid format, I excelled. I can’t imagine how much better I’d have done in my primary school years if I’d attended in a very different environment.

  14. whatever says:

    I’ve been homeschooling my kids for four years, When we first started home schooling I tried to seek out home schooling social groups to give my kids opportunities to meet and play with other kids. The schedules these families kept up was absolutely incredible. One day they were at the park, the next day they were at the science center, the next day they were at the zoo. It’s like they were never home, and none of these excursions seemed to have much educational value. And I was drowning, trying to keep up with that schedule while still dedicating an appropriate amount of time to lessons with my kids. I beat myself up for ages, trying to figure out how I could find enough time to both educate my kids and give them these great social opportunities like the other families were. It took me years to figure out that the reason these “unschoolers” had so much time to socialize is that they never actually did lessons. They sure knew their way around a theme park, but some of them were 12 and reading at a third grade level. They didn’t know their multiplication tables, they didn’t understand basic scientific principles. They weren’t learning a darned thing.

    I’m sure it’s possible to unschool well, and to do it responsibly in a way that doesn’t shortchange your child’s future. But I’ve met a lot of unschool families, and honestly, I wouldn’t say I’ve yet met one whose child seemed well-educated.

  15. Chaine says:

    An former classmate did unschooling with her kids. I was dubious about it but the kids have turned out just fine and they are in their now young adult life more adventurous and intelligent about the world than the average 20-something. What I would say against it is that it seems that being with them 24-7 and supervising their whole education lead to a real lack of boundaries which, who knows, maybe the kids don’t care, but now she is that kind of desperate, slightly creepy “fun mom” who needs to get in on their plans at every opportunity and tries to make their friends into her friends as if they are contemporaries.

  16. MMC says:

    Homeschooling is illegal in my country. You have to have a masters in education to be able to teach 6-10 year olds and then a masters in a specific subject to be able to teach that subject to older kids. I don’t understand how one parent could do that.

    This method, even if it was more organised, seems more suitable for after school activities than for actual school.

    • Rose says:

      And this is how it should be. The problem in the US is that we have so many people who think that their ignorance or what they “believe is true” to be on par with the expertise of someone in the actual field.

  17. Aline says:

    You are missing the point of what the philosophy behind this system is and lashing out from your own conditioned mind that believes your way is the only way. It’s not. Educate yourself about the world outside of the one you exist in. Believing that everyone who doesn’t follow your and your parents’ brand of education is the very same ignorant self absorption you are accusing her of. The American education system got you Trump as President … you may not like to admit that but the US is notoriously heckled for the quality (or lack thereof) of its education system all over the world. Your parent may have been a teacher but here you are making a living off of gossiping about other people’s lives … a completely mindless pursuit, which doesn’t serve humanity in any capacity… where did all that ‘correct’ education land you?

    • S says:

      The U.S. education system is far from perfect, but it’s also not “heckled” around the world. In fact, the upper echelon of every country strives to send their children to be educated by the U.S. university system, which is considered the international gold standard.

      Our public elementary and secondary schools are underfunded and our teachers woefully underpaid, but that’s a direct result of a decades long fight by the Republicans in government to take money out of public education and funnel it into the pockets of private, religious education institutions. The dumbing down of Americans has been a goal of the GOP since Brown v Board of Education was decided in 1954, and it’s a battle we’re still fighting with Trump’s election a straight line from that moment. Racism trumps education every time.

      • Ange says:

        You’re making plenty of assumptions there. US universities are dropping dramatically and the list of best universities worldwide is a lot more diverse these days:

        Don’t get me wrong they’re still good but there’s been a noticeable decline in the last few years and it’s continuing.

      • Pants says:

        Public universities are under attack and in decline and they are for the same reasons S gave for decline in public schools – defunding. Also, people like Trump who devalue education and expertise. Wisconsin is experiencing this situation. We are recovering from a college drop out former governor who did not see the value strong universities can bring to the private sector with innovation and also support communities with informal learning opportunities.

        Plus, nations are smart to develop strong universities in order to keep talent in their country. They are trying to prevent brain drain.

    • Veronica says:

      If you have the time and resources to do something like this at home effectively, that likely means you are financially privileged and never were at risk of being dumped into into an impoverished school system. The problem isn’t American schools as a concept. The problem is the detrimental disparity in funding to public schools variable to region. Frankly, one of the first ways you fix the problems is by outlawing private schooling or home schooling (only allowable with certain exceptions) and forcing the economic elite classes to invest in public infrastructure for all kids rather than just their own. Then public schools have the ability to explore more options for educational style.

      • Eda says:


      • Elizabeth says:

        Veronica you can’t outlaw private schooling or homeschooling. It’s not possible to take you seriously when you talk like that.

        Alternative schooling can be great. I was homeschooled and now have a Ph.D.

        Many schools in our country have been underfunded and failing students for a long time now. I’m not against public education at all, but you have got to do it right or it’s going to become another tool of oppression. Our country has NOT done it right.

      • Veronica S. says:

        You can absolutely ban those forms of schooling. There are countries that have done it already, including Finland, a country with some of the best education rates in the world. Don’t take me, personally, seriously? Fine, but maybe you should be aware that this has been discussed significantly as a point of socioeconomic disparity in this country and read up on it:

        America’s public school system is the result of years of intentional segregation and unjust economic funding. Funding schools based off of the mill levy and other regional tax bases is a recipe for class warfare, and we’ve seen the damage of those programs for the last several decades. It should be evident that when I say “ban private schools,” I don’t mean dump that and then ignore the rest of the issues. It would mean an entire overhaul of the system, but a big part of getting started would be to stop giving wealthy classes the out after they’ve bled the system dry by continuously getting their taxes cut.

        Homeschooling can work under specific circumstances, particularly with children who may need different learning environments, but it needs to be better audited and more restrictive than the current system allows, otherwise it can easily be underutilized or outright a way of hiding indoctrination or abuse. See here:

        Even if you had a great home schooling experience, that likely meant you had a stay at home parent that was educated and capable enough of supplementing peer-level schooling, which is absolutely an economic privilege these days. And frankly also meant that you likely came from a socioeconomic background that was going to advantage you in the long run anyway, even if you weren’t crazy rich. Getting a PhD isn’t just your own skill set from school, it’s growing up with parents that valued education, parents that could afford to value that education, that had access to resources that could drive you there, that knew the ins and outs of the system and could help you work through it. These are things that a lot of people frankly just don’t have.

  18. S says:

    Kids learn a lot more in school than just math and reading. Not all of it is pleasant and, as a mom, watching your kids struggle, or be bullied, or even just generally sad in a social situation is damn hard to take. That instinct to want to make everything all right for them is all too real. But here’s the thing, Alanis Morissette’s kids probably don’t need to learn how to live in the real world, since their mom is a multi-millionaire many times over, but mine do. They don’t have trust funds. I can’t donate a library to get them into the college of their choice, or fund what they think are burgeoning art or music careers.

    I don’t disagree that some people can homeschool well, and I absolutely agree sometimes it’s the very best option, particularly for non-neurotypical kids poorly served by our educational system. But even an excellent education on its own doesn’t prepare you for how to get along in the world—I’d argue sometimes is the opposite. The whole, “they get just as much socialization from church, dance class, gymnastics or soccer” is just…nonsense. Getting along with a homogenous, self-selected group of close friends who share the same interest is NOT the same as learning how to deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of other people from all walks of life, learning to be guided by “bosses” (a.k.a. teachers, principals, etc.) who are both good and bad at their jobs—something anyone who is going to live and work in society needs to know how to deal with.

    Then there’s the truth that, all too often, “homeschooling” is just another word for parents foisting their narrow-minded belief system onto their children in a closed atmosphere. Ultra-religious, anti-science dogma is NOT an education, and leaves a certain subset of homeschooled children ripe for lives of abuse and/or failure. (Google “Christian homeschooling movement,” if you want to see some truly hair-raising stuff; and it’s not a few outliers either. It’s a very large movement.)

    • whatever says:

      Every single word of this times a million. I home school my kids largely because they have an auditory processing disorder, selective mutism, verbal learning disability, and a hearing impairment, among other various issues. They are not well served in the public schools in our area. They really need to be taught to in a specific way, and as far as their academics go, I’m happy to accommodate that.

      While we learn at home I can cater our approach to their specific needs, and that’s awesome because it’s important that they get an education. But they still need to be prepared to function in the rest of the outside world, where nothing will be catered to their specific needs. Home can and should be a safe, comforting space, but they can’t live in that bubble forever. Three days a week after we finish lessons for the day, they go to the Boys and Girls’ Club, where they have to learn to take directions from and make requests of someone that isn’t mom, and they have to learn how to befriend and move among kids that they like and are nice, and some kids that they don’t like and aren’t nice. They get introduced to ideas and and topics that are unfamiliar or that I wouldn’t think to introduce them to. I’m doing them a huge disservice if I don’t make sure that at some point they learn to advocate for themselves. And that will never happen at home where I can anticipate their every need. Most of the homeschoolers and unschoolers we meet are completely missing this last piece. They totally function in a bubble, and these kids are not going to be adequately prepared for adulthood.

      • S says:

        100% kudos to you. And I mean that sincerely. What you’re doing is so difficult and admirable.

        I elaborated with examples in my reply to AbigailSue below, but I think that’s the reason to homeschool—it has to benefit the child’s needs more than the parent’s.

      • whatever says:

        That’s so nice of you to say. Thank you so much. So much of what you wrote below resonated with me. Over the past few years we’ve met so many other home school families, and we’ve met both kinds you spoke about. Your comments may be “anecdotal,” but from what I’ve seen every word of it rings true.

  19. AbigailSue says:

    I can tell I’m old an over all this competitive parenting stuff. I’ve got four kids, one is a freshman in college (back at home), a junior, 8th grader and 5th grader. School is about a lot more than just academics. I think we all know that after this pandemic. Kids learn how to grow up from a lot of sources, parents, peers, teachers, coaches. I think home schooling is usually parents not wanting to give up control (there are exceptions of course, some kids do need home schooling). I get it. I didn’t want my kids to leave me behind either. But they do one way or another. Let your kids be normal, let them go to school and develop their own lives parents. It’s just the way it goes. Kids don’t want you to do everything for them and you aren’t their whole world. I think homeschooling in general is kind of selfish and unschooling to me is a whole new level. Sorry I’m being blunt. Think of parenting like being in a three row car- when they little, you’re in the front, driving; when they get in school, you’re still in the front, but in the passenger side; by highschool, you’re in the middle or back. Homeschooling parents just don’t want to give up that driver’s seat. I think its the wrong approach. Just enjoy the ride from whatever seat you’re given.

    • S says:


      I know quite a few homeschool parents and I think this is so true. Even for those with the skill set to do the job, and educate their children in admirable fashion when judged by test scores or reading prowess, it is often about control. It’s the inability to let go and let them find their own way, and I fear it will do irreparable harm in the long term.

      I will reiterate that this feeling doesn’t apply to special needs students. There are genuinely some for whom school, even in a specialized atmosphere, is absolutely not the right learning environment FOR THE CHILD. But most homeschoolers I know are doing it for the parents, not the kids. Be it to indoctrinate their children in their own worldview, protect them from “outside influence,” or simply an inability to let them grow up.

      This is, of course, anecdotal and not scientific, but let me contrast two different friends/acquaintances who homeschool. One, has done so since her oldest (she has 5 kids) was in first grade. She pulled her because she didn’t want to be away from her, and thought she, “wasn’t learning anything.” My friend has a masters, she speaks three languages. Her daily lesson plans are precise, organized and followed to the letter. She is absolutely qualified to teach her kids, and they are lovely, polite and an ultra-close family. She doesn’t allow them to watch TV. They all play instruments. The do chores in a way that would make the Von Trapp kids look like slackers. They’re also, unquestionably, odd. They’re “each other’s best friend!” Umm, good, but do you know a lot of other 14 year olds whose best friend is in kindergarten?

      The oldest daughter is 17 now and in no way, shape or form ready to go to college emotionally, even if her test scores are great. Which is fine, because my friend doesn’t want her to anyway. Of course not. She doesn’t want to let any of them go. Ever. “Look how happy they are! How much they love their siblings,” she’ll say if anyone questions it. But there is no getting around how unprepared these kids are to ever live on their own. While we used to be close (our husbands work together and she’s genuinely the kindest person), my kids don’t really enjoy being with hers anymore. “Mom, they’re weird,” they’ll say to me in private and…They’re not wrong.

      My other friend who homeschools came to it from the totally opposite side. Her daughter suffered from depression and anxiety. It was always an issue, even when she was very young, but by high school it became debilitating, and after an incident so awful it required hospitalization during 8th grade, they moved to homeschooling. Her daughter is 16 now and THRIVING. She was old enough to take the lead in her studies studies. (Intelligence and grades were never the issue, and they use a computer guided, non-religious, college-prep curriculum.) Mom keeps an eye on her, oversees things, but this was about the daughter’s needs, not the mom’s. Now, the daughter is getting ready to apply for colleges and is actually excited about it. They’re visiting places to see what the right fit is for her. Taking the break to homeschool made her stronger. I’d say unequivocally MORE ready for the world, not less. That’s a pretty huge difference.

      • yellow says:

        I’ve known families who homeschooled their kids due to increasing bullying, or living near schools with high gang activity and such, where they simply didn’t feel safe sending their kids, (they did private school for a time, but I imagine cost got expensive) so it seems there are other factors at times.

        I’ve also known someone who homeschooled (due to getting into too much trouble) at a friend’s house (along with another of their friends), and were taught by that friend’s mom. They did this in a neighborhood across town. So I guess there are ways to do this that aren’t just control.

      • Rose says:

        I have to agree with you. I’ve always wondered—about these parents who simply cannot fathom ever letting their children go to live autonomous adult lives—what do they think is going to happen after they, the parents, die?

    • Keessie says:

      You are lucky to have kids that thrive well in the current school system. While I agree there are people that want to be in charge, a lot of the time it’s also because there is no choice because kids get stuck. And even if a parent wants a greater influence, that is their choice. A large system is by it’s whole existence average of quality. That means that no one really fits and most sorta do. And some don’t fit in at all. If you have the time and money to make a better fit for your kid, why not? The best part of being a parent is that they are your responsibility. The school system is awesome if it works. And awful if it doesn’t.

  20. Whatnow says:

    Yes I am with you I’m old and over it. I have friends that work in government positions locally and on state-level. I have friends that are teachers in public schools. The ones that work at the government level are being trained on how to handle the new hired people. The new hires that you have to speak to in a different way because everybody has to like them or their feelings are hurt. Don’t get me started on my poor friends that teach public school and have to listen to how wonderful each parent feels their child is and couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong. I end with spring break in Florida. Not all of those kids on the beach paid their own way. Their parents are these self indulged the world revolves around you make it possible children all grown up.


    I think socialization is a key part here. Even if the parents are smart and disciplined enough to teach their children via “unschooling,” it still restricts their access to other children. Yes, there are field trips, etc., but it’s not the same. Also this may make me sound like a jerk but I and people I’ve talked to about this get the general impression that children who were homeschooled are “weird” or “off,” partly because they weren’t socialized in a traditional way. That has nothing to do with their intelligence. But I don’t see the benefit of teaching someone inside of a bubble. The world isn’t a bubble.

  22. Aang says:

    I homeschooled. But we actually schooled with tutors and co-ops. My kids are thriving in higher ed. I know a family that unschooled. One kids is a professional ballet dancer, and other owns a bakery with some friends as a co-op. They did pretty well in my opinion.

    • yellow says:

      The homeschool options with a few days a week at an on-site school sound ideal.

      • Aang says:

        Yellow that’s what we did. It was 2 days a week at the coop. And we could choose the classes that interested the kids that semester. It worked well because they got to socialize with other kids their ages but we also got family time and time to do deep dives.

  23. Ryan says:

    Having recently started homeschooling my 5 year old, out of necessity, I have realized that right now, I am his best teacher. He gets all of my attention, I know his learning methods, and I can more successfully use the carrot and stick than his VPK teacher can.

    Teaching your child at home, beyond what they learn in school, should be part of childhood and parenthood, I think. So I don’t disagree with what she’s doing entirely.. However I think public or even private school education should also be part of the mix for the majority of typical children.

  24. Valerie says:

    As a teacher/tutor, I think if done correctly, non-traditional approaches to education work. Homeschooling doesn’t mean you just follow your own plan. You have to go according to a curriculum, even if it isn’t the mainstream one, and meet certain targets. The way she’s explained it here makes it sound like you just do whatever you want, and that’s not the case.

    That said, I have taught some Montessori kids who don’t even know what proper essay format is. There are shortcomings in every educational system. Alanis is a smart and educated woman, so even though she’s not trained as a teacher, I think she’s capable enough to lead her kids through this.

  25. Suz says:

    I’m reading all of your arguments here on unschooling/homeschooling/traditional schooling. There are many valid points here. But the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter how Alanis educates her children because they will inherit her millions and live comfortably so long as they learn not to squander their money. This is a privileged woman raising privileged children.

    • Valerie says:

      As much as I love her, I have to agree. If she fails as a teacher, it won’t necessarily translate into real-world failure. They will still find work and be able to make money in addition to having hers as a safety net. I don’t think she’ll raise lazy and entitled brats, but they will have her name to open doors for them.

    • Katherine says:

      Exactly this. This thread has been fascinating and I appreciate the perspectives and stories so much. However let’s not pretend we’re talking about apples to apples when we introduce rich celebrities into the conversation.

      If her children succeed it will be the result of the enormous financial and systemic advantages they will benefit from, and not their alternative education.

  26. AppleTartin says:

    My Parents did that they wanted us to “find our own way’ looking back it was really just lazy absentee parenting.

  27. Kat says:

    She sounds exhausting. That houlier than thou preach BS. When she tells other people that not unschooling is the right choice because of the time commitment…massive eye roll. So only she has the time and commitment. And her toddler is asking life changing questions constantly? Ugggh so aggravated with these competitive parents. These are the kids that act like brats and the parents explain that “oh they’re expressing themselves”

  28. Ames says:

    “I do think too many parents choose the homeschooling option because they believe they can do it better (like it goes hand-in-hand with competitive mothering).”

    So what you actually think is that too many MOTHERS hijack their kids’ education because they think they can do it better.

    That’s unfair. (Though not surprising to read on a site that regularly talks the empowering talk but doesn’t always walk it.) More than a few of these kids have two parents making educational decisions. And not all homeschooling mothers are self-involved, facebook-obsessed, spawn idolizing shrews.

    And you could not PAY me to homeschool my kids.

  29. LunaSF says:

    I live in a crunchy hippie city and unschooling is definitely growing here. It’s obviously not going to work for most single parents or working parents since you need to be able to stay home with your kids. My daughter is only 10 months but we may go that direction if possible (husband and I run our business from Home). The public schools here are very poor performing (my state ranks 49th in the country). Bless all our public educators, they are so important and I hope this crisis forces everyone to recognize it! I get so sad thinking about all the kids that are safer at school than home and are now in more danger.

  30. Arb says:

    Student lead schooling works well if the child is gifted and the parent is highly knowledgeable. Like, maybe she could off in music. Maybe.

  31. Eda says:

    I want to emphasize that unschooling is not the same as Montessori education, and it most definitely is NOT the same as traditional homeschooling. It is the most unstructured possible version of education, and at its worst, can be extremely problematic in that children do not learn the academic basics they need to function independently in the actual, outside world. There are no guidelines to unschooling. No standards. No expectations. No evaluation. No remediation. No group of qualified professionals to assist when education doesn’t progress as it should.

    How do you assess progress when you don’t evaluate a student against an accepted standard (that is appropriate for their age and ability)? It doesn’t surprise me that the crunchy You Tube anti-vaxxers we love to hate practice this method of education with their children. These are the same people who claim their children are healthy, when they have never had their child’s health assessed against an accepted, objective standard. Health and education shouldn’t be subjective entities.

    Teaching is hard. It is a skill and an art and requires education or at the very least structure to execute properly. The early years (especially Grades 1-3) are critical for building literacy and numeracy foundation skills, which will then be the basis for advanced learning later on. It is these years that, when not taken seriously, can negatively impact the rest of a child’s education the most. Still, every year of education is important, and I will argue that even the worst-ranked public school or the bare minimum of homeschooling with a curriculum will teach foundation skills better than the average unschooling parent *in the long term*. The key is the structure, curriculum, access to resources and professionals, and use of metrics to assess progress. These are absent in unschooling.

    A “student-led learning” approach will be fun for the kid (Of course! Who wouldn’t want to do what they enjoy all day long?), but how far away is that kid going to drift from meeting education metrics as they get older and older? What about when a child doesn’t enjoy a foundational skill (like reading/subtraction)? Nobody ever discusses what happens then. Ignorance is bliss in this case— unschooling parents will never know. The kids will really lose out and it’s so sad.

    Example: I watched an unschooling video where a large group of kids were asked to identify an unknown spice by passing it around and smelling it. This was the objective of the lesson. It was garlic powder. Really? That’s an insult to those children and their amazing minds, which are full of so much potential. These parents are squandering that because they think they know best, but are in actuality quite limited by their own lack of understanding and respect of education.

    Traditional education and homeschooling don’t just teach facts. They teach methods, HOW to think, and complex thinking. And hopefully: socialization, compromise, empathy, patience, friendship, advocating for one’s needs, etc.

    I believe the only area in which unschooling surpasses other types of education is in creative thinking. But at the great loss of critical and analytical thought.

    Another example: I see many unschoolers argue that a “deep dive” into a topic with unschooling could be far greater than anything encountered in school. Hmmm…maybe only at the preschool level. But using biology as a sample topic, discussing trees, painting them, looking at them under a microscope— these are all surface level activities. They do not constitute biology. With a competent teacher/homeschool curriculum, a child would be led through more complex levels of thought (critical/analytical) spanning evolution; ecological succession; symbiosis/parasitism; genetics; factors contributing to sexual vs asexual reproduction in plants (etc., etc). And yes, this could be taught at an age-appropriate level — but it sure as hell is not likely to be happening in unschooling sessions.

    Now imagine this for all subjects, at all grade levels. Superficial vs critical/analytical thinking.

    This is why we need to respect structured education and not assume we can throw it out the window because we just know better.

    TL; DR: Unschooling is a disaster.

    • Happy_fat_mama says:

      Eda, you sound like a really good teacher.

      • Eda says:

        Thanks, HAPPY_FAT_MAMA. I’m a clinician full time and an adjunct professional school faculty member and tutor on the side (basically, a huge nerd). I went to school for approximately one million years and was a special education teacher before I became a doc, so I do have some bias toward the power of effective teachers and education. Like many, I’ve had great teachers who have changed my life and some not so great ones. I just hate to see students of any age or level be robbed of opportunities. Nothing makes a teacher happier than seeing students thrive and succeed, thus I am wary of systems that close those doors for students before they even have the chance to see what’s happened and correct it. Education should empower students, not close doors.

        PS. I love Alanis so much. Just not this.

  32. Sass says:

    Lmfao our neighbors did unschooling. All three kids are now in regular school and came in not only totally unprepared and below grade average, they’re all rude, mean spirited, and dishonest. Because not only did they unschool, they barely parented. None of the kids on the street are allowed to play with them. I feel bad for the kids but soon they’ll be adults and they won’t have that sympathy from people they meet in the real world.

  33. waitwhat says:

    I understand this post is about the unschooling aspect of the interview, but HEAR HEAR to this sentiment “Ideally, we’re supposed to be ensconced with, like, 51 women, broths, soups, and warmth as the body is reconstructing—as your identity is reconstructing. Cut to modern times, where the world is very masculine, very alpha, which is completely the opposite.“ I remember reading the Red Tent years ago and being jealous of how new mothers were taken care of. Well said, Alanis!

  34. Rose says:

    I have come across a great deal of “unschool” and “homeschool” children who are in their teens and cannot read. They can’t read a clock. They can’t do simple math. They don’t have any special needs, no delays or disabilities. And it absolutely cripples them. They will be dependent on their parents for life.

  35. Lflips says:

    Please – “unschooling” is just homeschooling with a new name. Nothing novel here.

  36. A.Key says:

    And this is why many Americans can’t pinpoint their own town on a map, let alone know or say anything about any other country or culture in the world.
    I’m certain now in a few centuries no one will know anything about history or science because they’ll all be too busy expressing their inner boredom and stupidity by sticking glitter on dead trees… but it makes it very easy to control the masses if they’re all poorly educated, so well done to whoever first started this