The Curriculum Crutch

“Buy this, and your kids will be smarter!”

“Use this, you’ll be more organized!”

“Get this series and you will unleash their inner genius!”

Or something like that. Ahh… the lure of curriculum.

Marketing has targeted our community for some time now. Advertisers realize that while we are an independent lot, we still harbor a lot of fears. And isn’t that how marketing works best? Identify the fear or the lack, and then convince people that they need the product to fill their void. It’s as if they’re handing us crutches and telling us to lean on them – when in fact, we have no weakness, no lack of opportunity. The whole world awaits our children and these crutches they offer will simply hold them back. crutches

Pre-planned materials often inhibit learning, keeping the child from all the benefits of discovery and exploration. It keeps parents from continuing to engage and facilitate new interesting opportunities out in the world. Don’t look wistfully at those crutches – embrace freedom!

And yet. So many don’t. When people do things on what seems like a subconscious level – when they don’t question it, and they just accept it – we have to look a little deeper.

What’s the hold? What are we believing way deep down?

This desperate search for experts or someone to tell us what to do… isn’t it time to let that go?

No wonder we have those tendencies though. Schools conditioned us to look to teachers for instructions. How many times were you told, “Don’t read ahead”? Our self-confidence was systematically broken. If we poked our little faces up to explore outside the very clear boundaries schools had set into place, we were humiliated, ostracized or punished.

And if you think this is too harsh of a characterization, what was used in your schools to get you back in line or make you more cooperative?

Were you called out in front of the class?

Did the teacher say, “Class, Johnny has something he wants to share with all of us,” when Johnny did not have anything he wanted to share at all.

Were you sent to detention to “think about what you had done?

Was your named scrawled across the chalkboard when you did something wrong? – a reminder of who the class “troublemakers” were.

Not that long ago, religious schools and many schools in the south used corporal punishment for reprimanding youth. And while now, spanking is passé at school, diagnosing and medicating are the control mechanisms du jour.

Why do I bring this up?

Because this is what has conditioned us – you, me, all of us who spent time in the school system. We learned something there, something that trumped any other academic pursuit:

  • making waves comes with a price,
  • stay safe,
  • do not lean into that inner yearning that doesn’t fit the school plan.

But! You’re reading this, so you’ve probably mustered up the courage to say no to the schools and you’ve started on your home educating path. You still run into a lot of naysayers though, so you’ve either figured out ways to word it – or maybe avoid the conversation altogether (“Pass the bean dip”).

One way that does seem to appease everyone is if you’ve “found a good currculum.” Even if it’s 1st grade! Your naysayers are a little relieved if you tell them this. Often because they doubt themselves – and definitely, they doubt YOU! – to provide a good education for your child without a preplanned curriculum. They ask questions about oversight or testing or scope and sequence. None of which have to do with learning, and actually only relate to the teaching process. And that’s what using a curriculum does. It pulls you into the teaching process as opposed to the learning process.

Maybe your concerned relatives/friends come to you from a place of fear for you and they have only your best intentions at heart. Let’s assume that’s the case. Where does that idea come from? All that research they’ve done on unschooling families or even the current homeschooling movement in general? Not likely.

It comes from that deep seated fear they learned as children: Don’t step out of line or something bad will happen to you. Before you’ve even talked to them about the enormous advantages you’ve discovered by choosing to home educate, they can’t hear it. They’re working on their laundry list of all the things that could go wrong. (Maybe in your spare time, you could create a laundry list of all the things that could go wrong if a child went to school? Might take a while.)

And if their concerns center around academics – their assessment of YOUR intellect, or college opportunities, or basic education – you may have discovered that whipping out a full-service curriculum will calm them. (and it helps with those lingering fears you haven’t completely tackled, that pop up in the middle of the night)

But you’re still locked in.

Because that’s kind of the issue with these naysayers.

They’ve watched you eyeing the door. They see the yellow light spilling in from the cracks on the other side. But now you’ve gone and opened it!  And it’s just like the Wizard of Oz – leaving that familiar black and white room for Technicolor! They’ve been conditioned to stay in their seats. They’ve bought into all the rationales that tell them that the black and white classroom is best.

Wizard-of-OzAnd when you start heading for that door, they panic – for you, for themselves, for the entire system that their world revolves around. So that’s a lot of fear swirling around. And you have it too, to some degree. You may have just started dismantling it. It’s impossible to leave the school system and come away unscathed. We come away with various levels of confidence and courage.

And that’s where curriculum comes in. Curricula development companies don’t want you to trust yourself and just jump into life. They want you to prep for life – with their textbooks. They want you to think that life is better tackled in a linear fashion. Yet, what part of real life is like that? They want you to doubt your own abilities and rely on them. They’re counting on all those years of you USING curricula to influence you to the point that you think that’s where learning comes FROM.

What do you get when you choose their curriculum?

  • You insert someone else between you and your child. These experts believe they know more about what your child needs to learn than you do – even though you’re standing right in front of them.
  • You trade a watered down 3rd person narrative ABOUT life for actually living the life in front of you and your child 
  • Instead of creating a learning environment unique for your child, you try to fit them into that curriculum box.
  • You stop your own curiosity as you look for cool opportunities to share with your child, and trust that the curriculum knows best.
  • You become a warden, enforcing the curriculum package on your child. Your child tries to assert himself, explore his own curiosity, and you focus on snuffing that out so the all-important curriculum can be followed.
  • You tell your child that YOU know what’s best for him, and he cannot trust himself.
  • If you discover that the curriculum isn’t working for you, you stay with it a little longer because, after all you spent quite a bit of money on it.

Instead of moving toward MORE confidence, you move toward more dependency.
You perpetuate the cycle.

You end up CHOOSING the crutches,
instead of the freedom of stepping into life with your child.

So what do you get if you let go of those crutches you don’t even need?

  • Your child learns to trust himself and his ability to find what he needs in the world.
  • You and your child live a full rich life starting now – not waiting until later (after 18, after graduation, etc.)
  • You get to discover what are your child’s true interests – they won’t have to wait for years into adulthood to figure them out.
  • Your family bonds are prioritized and healthier than they ever could have been.
  • Your child knows that when you tell him that his learning is really his – you mean it.
  • You are truly in charge of your own lives – what an adventure together you’ll have!


Read more:
Our Curriculum Wars
Unschooling Mom2Mom Facebook Group


7 thoughts on “The Curriculum Crutch

  1. Thank you so much for saying that! Isn’t it awful how conditioned we are to feel we’re so deficient or lacking. Not true for us, and not true for our kids!
    Hope you’re enjoying your grown homeschoolers, noordinaryspider – I’m enjoying mine! New phases of life and all… 🙂

  2. Pingback: Our Own Curriculum Wars | Lifelong Learning

  3. I hate to say this but I’m one of those conditioned people 😦 Although this article definitely was a shot in the arm that I needed…..I struggle with unschooling and zero curriculum. I struggle with trusting that as my son is in his room most of the day on his computer “Gaming” that he is learning “something”. And yes, I struggle with trusting the process that he is right where is needs to be for a 15 yr. old boy. I think support is so important if one is to move from the “curricula” era to the “unschool” era! Just my opinion, but I think that unschooling has less support than a homeschooler with structured time spent on mind-bending curricula, as odd as that sounds….I live in Myrtle Beach, have been to a few homeschool events, which never worked out, as they were homeschooled, not unschooled. I truly love this article, it tells exactly what I have been feeling for the past few years. I want to be rid of those crutches once and for all! I want to feel good about unschooling as my son does. But when a State requires you to report 180 days of Math, Science, History, Comp/Literature etc. I don’t think that if I were ever asked for my records and stated on them was “unschooling” no curricula, that it would go over very well. I do the best I can with this, but … it is not as easy as having a curricula and just putting in the Journal what was done everyday…and ideas??? Thank you Sue, and I am sorry for rambling on….just a touch subject for me and my family as we have not found the best approach with documenting.

    • Though I’m sure it will get groans, I’ll say it anyway…..check out They’ll give you an idea of some “objectives” that your son is working on every day. As a former teacher (who never fit it), it’s how I unschool my son now. I still “think” objectives since it was a constant checklist. These days I let him be more, but in my mind on those days when i worry, I run through objectives and mentally check them off.

      Here’s what I mean: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.8
      Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.

      So, while playing Minecraft, though he may not be reading from a book, if he’s reading online about a mod plugin, or new ability, does it accurately give you insights on how it works or does he read it and say, “Hey! This plugin says it will do…..and it doesn’t work. Oh, I have to do ____first.” He’s reasoning, finding evidence, and solving technical problems.

      Yes, I speak broken-Minecraft language, but I hope that helps.

      • I did that at first when we started out. My mind just saw things compartmentalized into subjects. And of course it did, since I had been in school for years. So when the World Book Encyclopedia created a Scope and Sequence for each grade level, I loved it. I could feel accomplishment that different subjects were being checked off.

        Unfortunately, in retrospect, that tool that made me feel better, did nothing to help my child learn better, more efficiently, more deeply. If anything, it was actually a distraction from the child right there in front of me. If I could do it over, I’d have glanced at that list and then done away with. It truly just got in our way.

  4. I’m SOOO glad you wrote, Cindi! As far as the documenting goes, you’re 100% right, you can’t say “we unschool – no curriculum.” You have to play their game, for the most part. That doesn’t mean you have to impose it on your son…and it sounds like you don’t. But thinking about real world application for some of those subjects *could* be listed, should the need arise. Several of the subjects are probably covered in his games. Conversations about what’s happening in the world, maybe a history documentary here and there, cooking – real life. It just means you have to look through a different lens and find what would count. Remember, that’s what gifted programs do all the time. They take everyday life and interests and uncover the learning that is found there. So, that’s what you can do.

    I think that sometimes kids do need some nudging to see what else is happening in the world around them. And maybe you already do that. Often people say “video games all day,” and it’s really just a large part of the day – other things are happening too. Do you talk to him about the games? That might give you some insight too.
    In the meantime, you might be interested in reading Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal. We’ve started a thread over at Unschooling Mom2Mom about this exact topic.

    There are also some people there from Florida that may have other suggestions for how to address the laws there.

    I really do appreciate your sharing!

Let me know what you think, ok? Please comment.

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