Desmarais is a twenty-something lifelong learner who lives in Montreal,
Quebec with her family. With the exception of six months of kindergarten,
she has never been to school. Instead, she grew up following her passions
and figuring things out in her own time. In her late teens, she became fascinated
with the unschooling education she’d grown up with, and started reading
everything she could about freedom-based education, going to unschooling
conferences, and writing the popular blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write.
You can learn more about her, her projects, blogs, and interests at her
The following interview was conducted via email
for the Romanian website Think Outside The Box. Idzie has shared the original,
English language version of that interview with us.
Q: Why unschooling and not homeschooling? Why was that
the choice versus homeschooling and, of course, versus public schooling?
A: Why not public schooling was, well, a mix of things.
My mother never wanted to send me to school, but because my father wanted
to, I went to kindergarten. However, there were quickly problems (weird/obscene
prank calls from a kid a couple grades ahead of me, as in, grade two) which
convinced my father that maybe homeschooling was a better option.
As for the why unschooling question, unschooling is something we just
organically moved into. The home education in my family was relaxed from
the start: I didn’t have to do a set amount of things each day, and although
my mother started out with some curriculum, when it came to everything but
math I was free to stop using anything I wanted to. Over the years, our
house just filled with interesting books and games, we went to a couple
of different homeschool coops and classes, and participated in a range of
different activities, from Nature clubs to French classes. My sister, who’s
two years my junior, and I learned about whatever excited or interested
us, always with an enthusiastic parent ready to take us to the library,
search for relevant local events, and otherwise assist us in our pursuits.
After finally saying, “No more math textbooks, I hate this too much,”
at around age ten or so, I’d say we truly became unschoolers, although we
didn’t start using that term until a couple of years after that.
Our learning experience though, no matter what term we were using at
any given time, was always something very flexible and driven largely by
passion. My mother has always been and continues to be truly passionate
about learning things, all kinds of things, and that really influenced her
approach to parenting and home learning right from the start.
Q: What do you consider to be your most important accomplishments
due to unschooling (what’s the best things you think you came to experience
because you were unschooled instead of being in a system)?
A: One of the best things is definitely the writing
and advocacy stuff I’ve done! I have a successful blog, I’ve done public
speaking as far away as Texas and as close as my home city of Montreal,
my writing has appeared in multiple magazines and a book, and I’ve gotten
messages from people all over the world telling me how much they appreciate
my writing. That means a lot to me, and I’d say all that is an accomplishment
(or series of accomplishments) I’m really proud of. Essentially, I’ve built
a name for myself as a writer and speaker!
Q: Will unschooling be the choice for your children
in the future or will you let them choose for themselves if they want to
be in school or not?
A: I definitely plan to unschool my kids, although when
they’re older, they’d be free to make their own choices about whether they
would go to school or not. When they’re younger? I don’t know, and I don’t
think that’s a question I’ll be able to answer until I do have kids. I think
it would depend on my child and the general situation, as well as the school
Q: What did your parents, family, and friends think
about you being unschooled, in the beginning and what do they think now?
A: Honestly? For the most part I don’t know. Perhaps
surprisingly, unschooling isn’t something I discuss regularly with people
who aren’t interested specifically in homeschooling or alternative education.
One close friend whom I’ve known for years still likes to mention that my
sister and I are unschoolers when introducing us to new people, since he
seems to find the fact either an interesting anomaly or an important part
of our identity. I’m not really sure which. My mother was the most enthusiastic
advocate for home education and later unschooling, and that hasn’t changed
to this day. My father’s feelings have gone up and down over the years,
I believe, sometimes worrying, other times feeling better about things.
All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty mixed bag.
Q: Which are, in your opinion, the most important features
of unschooling, the ones that make a real difference for life, for unschooled
children, compared to the public schooled kids?
A: Firstly the flexibility and personalization of unschooling:
The fact that each and every unschooler is learning about different things
in a different way, guided by their interests, their needs, their family,
and their communities. To me that’s something truly special, the ability
to have so much choice and options in what and how you learn from a young
age. I also believe that this can contribute to a healthy community, with
a variety of individuals who have different skills and strengths, who are
confident in what they know and are good at.
And secondly, being able to learn in an environment that feels safe with
support that feels nurturing. Without the competition, stress, and shame
often induced by trying (and sometimes failing) to learn things in a school
setting, there’s just so much less pressure and so much more joy that can
come from learning. If you don’t have that terror of failing in front of
a whole bunch of others, if you don’t have a teacher watching you with eagle
eyes and standardized tests measuring whether you’re doing well enough,
it can be a lot easier to take risks, try new things, and explore new skills
without fear. I believe getting to choose which environments (classes, coops,
groups, home, libraries, community centers) feel good to be in is a really
powerful thing when it comes to emotional health and growth. It’s important
for kids to branch out, and take on new situations as they feel ready and
able to, instead of being thrown into an environment that might be causing
a whole lot of stress and anxiety with no option to leave it.
To sum it up, I think the biggest difference with unschooling, as opposed
to schooling, is that each unschooling journey is entirely unique and built
around the needs and desires of the learner. Children are allowed to grow
and learn in a respectful and caring way that promotes well-being.