Child Prodigies and Unschooling

Have you ever noticed that people always approve of homeschooling for child prodigies? Tell someone, anyone, that there’s a child who doesn’t go to school but who breathes calculus, or dances eight hours a day, or is building a robot that can cure cancer, and that person will applaud vigorously and say, “Wow, what a kid; he certainly doesn’t need school.”

But, as many of us know, tell someone, anyone, that there’s a child—your child, in fact—who doesn’t go to school but who sometimes reads all day, and sometimes watches television all day, and sometimes just kind of sits around and thinks all day, and that person is very likely to say, “Well, shouldn’t she be in school?”

Being a child prodigy validates unschooling for people because it places unschooling in a realm they can understand: the realm of competition. If a child is “the best” at something, suddenly the way that child spends her day isn’t so important anymore. A child who is not flagrantly superior, however, needs to stay with the other sheep-children and devote herself to becoming a good citizen-consumer. That’s the way I see it.

And I don’t like it.

Unschooling allows every child to be the best at being herself. It provides room for a child to pursue her uniqueness and to learn incessantly without sacrificing it. A child who can do that is indeed a “marvelous example” (the definition of a prodigy).

By the way, the girl with the goat on her head at the top of this post is my favorite image of an unschooled child: free, happy, and flagrantly off the beaten path. Now that’s what I call a child prodigy.


6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Well put. And what about the child that struggles? “Certainly,” they say, “he must be in school!”
    “Why?” I ask. So he can be labeled and medicated and ridiculed his entire childhood? No thank you.
    Let him find his niche so that he can be elevated to prodigy status!
    BTW…popped over from the Carnival.

  2. 3

    Hi! I’m the Mom of Juggling Paynes, grandma of 4 homeschoolers. Enjoyed your Carnival piece and love the term “sheep children”. What an image!


  3. 5

    Beatrice said,

    Insightful post. You have to be ‘well- rounded’ if you’re ‘ordinary’ and allowed not to be only if you’re prodigious!

    I interviewed the author of this book Grace Llewellyn (The teenage liberation hand book) a few years back for our radio show and currently have an excerpt from the interview on our blog (

    To sgaissert, I’d be interested in learning more about homeschooling grandparents if you’d like to contact me?

    • 6

      sgaissert said,

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing the interview information. I’m an unschooling parent, not a grandparent, but you can probably find some of them by joining and posting on a homeschool list on Yahoo or Google. Best wishes, Susan

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