The School of Self Doubt

The School of Self Doubt

[Disclaimer: This post talks a lot about some things about (most) schools that aren’t so good. I want to mention beforehand that I completely recognize that school does a lot of important things and they aren’t all bad, and I want to write a post soon about the value and usefulness of school. I also recognize that all schools don’t teach this stuff. Sometimes, I generalize, to keep from repeating over and over “most schools” and “often schools” but it’s not meant to undermine schools that work hard to fight against these things]


Have you ever had a conversation about the fact that you unschool with someone who goes to school? I imagine you have, it seems to happen a lot. For me those conversation often go something like this:

“Where do you go to school?”
“Oh, I don’t go to school.”
“You’re homeschooled?”
“Well actually I’m unschooled. That’s when [and then I try to explain unschooling as concisely as I can].”
“Wow. That really awesome you can do that. But I would never be motivated enough. I would just sit on the couch all day reading/playing video games/watching television.”

This conversation normally ends in me trying to tell them they would be motivated, but also that those interests are totally valid ways to spend your time. I’ll get into the second part in a different blog post because today I want to focus on that first problem. The problem of doubt in personal motivation, and how to rise above it.


What school does:

Well, school certainly doesn’t help with this problem. Most often, school seems to be the main reason people lose faith in themselves. In my mind, I see a set of steps of how we end up with so many people doubtful of their ability to motivate themselves:

  1. First, schools teach that children can’t be expected to learn things on their own. Schools teach that a child won’t be interested in learning on their own, so schools have to force them to learn. They do that by teaching that learning looks like a textbook and completing problems that someone else has already done.
  2. The next step is for schools to use bribes to motivate students to do the boring work they’re assigning. The schools show time and time again that you just can’t learn anything without outside motivation, normally in the form of force and threat (spoiler: this isn’t true!).
  3. Then, schools repeat over and over that they’re preparing you for real life. That school is teaching all the lessons and skill you’ll need to know to be a competent and confident member of society. Which leads to the obvious conclusion: if you can’t motivate yourself in school, you won’t be able to motivate yourself in real life.


What to do about it:

What can we do to counteract this attitude? If you’re moving from going to school to not going to school, you may want to go through what’s called deschooling. Deschooling is the word we use for losing the school mindset and reclaiming your love of learning. It can take completely different amounts of time for different people, but many unschooling advocates say you should allow a month for every year of school you attended. That’s just an estimate, because deschooling is really a word to define a certain part of your unschooling journey. During your deschooling time, you may not be interested in anything that looks remotely like school. You need time to to realize that your time is your own. That you can learn what you are interested at the pace that works for you. Allow that time for deschooling and don’t try to rush it, that will just make it take longer.

A couple other things you can do, inside of school or out, still school age or not:

  • Engage in your hobbies no matter what people say about them. If you like, recognize how much you’re learning from them (look up things like “what you can learn from video games”, if you aren’t sure) but if that makes your passions less fun, don’t worry about it.
  • Talk to others about the things they’ve done using language that encourages better feelings about themselves. Try things like, “Wow, that much have taken a lot of motivation.” Or, “I’m really impressed by your drive.” Remind the people around you that they can motivate themselves.


What do you think? Do recognize the motivation within you? What did I miss? Any other strategies for combating this doubt? Let me know in the comments!


4 thoughts on “The School of Self Doubt

    1. Yeah of course! I hate to make big generalizations because they are pretty much always untrue in every instance. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! What ways is your school working against these harmful practices?


  1. Unschooling is a fascinating concept, Larkin, and one I had not encountered before. Thanks for sharing it! Thinking of it as a process of deprogramming and self motivating is one I’m going to need to sit with for a while, being a product of schools and a certain kind of intellectual and scholarly training. I can say with confidence that I self educate all the time now as a 48-year-old with specific research interests outside my degrees or job responsibilities. I can also say that how I do historical research, evaluate and process evidence and test hypotheses, comes directly from my academic training. I’m not sure I would have developed that approach on my own, and see plenty of examples of substandard scholarship out there. Your observations on motivation really intrigue me, though. I’ve always been motivated to pursue my interests, quite often at the expense of what fails to hold my interest. My academic record reflects this. I was raised to believe in the value of being broadly educated, and of forming interdisciplinary connections. A person who is hungry for knowledge and intellectually curious will quite likely be motivated to thrive as an unschooler. How about those who haven’t really sparked, yet, or made a commitment to developing deeper knowledge or proficiency? What awakens that? This interests me as a parent as well as someone who can point to specific teachers who inspired me. There are lots of teachers in life who aren’t part of formal school, that’s for sure.


    1. Of course, you are know better than many of lifelong learning and the fascination of knowledge. And you’re certainly instilling your kids with the same knowledge. Unschooling is not meant to happen on ones own. I think it is the perfect example of the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Many unschoolers go on to take classes (at high school, college, online or somewhere else). If someone had the interest you do in such a specific topic, they might decide a class was right for them. The class might teach them those research skills (my point there being that you mustn’t go to school for your whole life to learn such academic skills). On the other hand, all those things might not fall into place and a person might go through life never knowing a skill they would benefit from. But I don’t believe that only happens to kids not going to school. There are so many things to learn and everyone, in the end, only learns some of them. You just hope you come across the pieces of knowledge that help and interest you most, rather than the ones you’ll quickly forget. You talk of people who haven’t made a commitment to deeper knowledge. I’m unsure of exactly the meaning of that is, but I have a few ideas of why someone would want to pursue it. If the reason to do that is jobs, think of the multitude of jobs available. A person might not dive into calculus by choice, but go into the workplace a knowledgeable journalist. Often with more abilities due to the fact that they were able to devote so much time with the things that fascinated them. If instead the reason for developing those skills is simply for “real life,” what better way then to participate in real life? Unschoolers interact with the whole world on a daily basis and don’t need to be forced to learn the skills they need to interact in competent way. If instead the reason is for general fulfillment, I think fulfillment comes from the things you love and not the things someone else thinks important. In the end though, if your just worried someone won’t have anything to do well, I don’t believe anyone has nothing that interests them, it’s only when we undermine certain passions and elevate others that we’re left wondering what someone is interested in. And I think what awaken that is many things. I don’t know how much you’ve looked around on my site, but I talk of strewing on the unschooling basics page. That’s an important way. Other ways are talking to other humans, reading, browsing the Internet, scrolling your Facebook feed, visiting museums, seeing concerts, traveling, and just about anything else that gets you in direct contact with the world around you. I can point to teachers that have inspired me as well, but only one of them did I encounter in school. As you’ve said, teachers are everywhere. Thanks so much for stopping by and engaging with me on this. If you can’t tell, it’s one if my favorite things to discuss!


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