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An Interview With Grown Unschooler, Author, and Speaker Idzie Desmarais
By Camelia Jula

Interview with Idzie DesmaraisIdzie 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 website.

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 options available.

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.

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