Deschooling: The Death and the Resurrection of the Self
Kah Ying Choo
The institutionalization syndrome that
frequently occurs in individuals who have received long-term treatment
or care in institutions such as psychiatric facilities encapsulates the
• Loss of independence and self-confidence,
• Erosion of desire and skills for social
• Excessive reliance on institutions and
fear of authority (Lamb, 1976).
With their daily routines, organizational
structures and practices that are imposed on patients,
psychiatric facilities are notorious for cultivating patient dependency
and hampering the development of independent functioning that will
facilitate the patients’ reintegration into the community. In such
institutional settings, patients are required to conform to the
instructions of doctors and staff members or deal with aversive
consequences. They thus learn to submit to authoritative figures
such as doctors. Furthermore, they are also expected to adapt to
an externally imposed schedule of eating, socializing and other
activities. In addition, their individual perceptions and
responses are disregarded and their interests neglected. In this
conformist environment, patients’ efforts to express their individuality
and display their skills are thus discouraged, or even suppressed
Because their activity is constantly regulated
and restricted by staff members, patients do not have the
freedom to exercise initiative and assert their individuality. The
constant suppression of their individuality and attempts to initiate
activities typically results in frustration and depression. Over a
long period of time, these patients eventually lose their sense of
identity and initiative in order to cope with living in such a rigid and
controlled environment. Furthermore, since the institutional settings
satisfy all the basic needs of the patients and extinguish their unique
needs, these patients eventually become disconnected from the outside
world. They also abandon their beliefs that they can satisfy their
basic needs on their own. Although psychiatric facilities are
supposed to “help” improve the lives of their patients, they are
ultimately guilty of sabotaging their patients’ recovery (Boettcher &
Schie, 1975; Denner, 1974; Wright & Kogut, 1972).
The adverse impact of institutions on patients living in psychiatric
facilities can be analogized to the experiences of children
who have been subjected to the pressures of traditional schooling.
As with patients in psychiatric hospital, children in traditional
schools are required to conform to the rigid routines of school
schedules and their learning limited to the standardized curriculum.
Their teachers and principals restrict their ability to move and
exercise their curiosity by expecting them to sit at their desks quietly
and forbidding socialization among peers during class time.
Struggling to adapt to an environment that rewards them for their
compliance and punishes them for their expression of individuality,
these children eventually become excessively dependent on schools to
direct their learning. The suppression of their individuality and
interests eventually extinguishes these children’s passion for learning
and life (“What is Deschooling”; Meyer, 2000).
Therefore, when children are removed from traditional schools to
embark on the journey of homeschooling, they need to
undergo the process of “deschooling.” Deschooling can be
considered a detoxification period that enables these children to
unlearn the negative concepts of learning associated with traditional
schooling such as “grades, semesters, school-days, education, scores,
tests, introductions, reviews and performance” (Dodd, qtd. in
Bell, 1998, p. 1). By eliminating these ideas from their mindset,
these children can regain their intuitive love of learning and discover
their sense of self. Thus, deschooling is a healing process that
is critical to the future of the children as they recover from their
wounded psyches and prepare to create their unique idea of learning
||Depending on the
individuals and their experiences in schools, the deschooling period
lasts an average of one year and up to two years (“Homeschooling gifted
kids,” 2001). Experienced homeschoolers suggest that the children
need one month of deschooling for each year of schooling (Hayes, 1999).
During this period, most parents offer their children
|complete freedom to transition from traditional
schools to the home. Although deschooling is a difficult period
for parents who are concerned that their children are not engaged in
learning, it is important that parents do not act like teachers in
schools and attempt to imposing their learning objectives on their
children. (“What is Deschooling,” p. 1; “Homeschooling Gifted
Once the children are free from the pressures
of time and the dictates of teachers or any individual, they
will be able to rekindle their interest in learning. When they
are ready to begin learning, these children will take the initiative to
pursue subjects of their interest without external prodding. Although
they will be frustrated initially by the fact that their parents do not
provide them with answers and tell them what to do, these children will
begin to learn and enjoy their independent ability to conduct their own
research and apply their learning in an interesting fashion.
Instead of directing their children’s learning, parents play the role
of facilitators and provide supportive guidance and assistance in order
to ensure that their children have access to the necessary resources
for their projects (“Zone FAQ: What is “deschooling,”” 2001).
However, the institutionalization effects of
schools not only affect children, but also their parents.
Many parents who have been exposed to the oppressive experiences of
traditional schools also need to undergo the process of deschooling.
The deschooling of parents is critical to the ultimate success of
homeschooling. Otherwise, parents are likely to replicate the
components of traditional schooling such as worksheets and textbooks in
their homes. In order to realize the intrinsic objectives of
homeschooling, parents thus have to address their traumatic experiences
in a rigid and organized classroom and embrace innovative learning
concepts that challenge those of traditional schools. For
example, they need to promote their children’s freedom to learn in
community settings and acknowledge the ambivalence of issues that do
not offer simple solutions (Meyer, 2000; Hayes, 1999).
Although some may perceive the comparison of
the impact of schools and the effects of psychiatric
institutions as excessive, this juxtaposition captures the tragedy of
children who are oppressed in classrooms, which is enacted day after
day in our country. The fact that children need to be detoxed
from their experiences in school highlights the adverse impact of
schools on their whole being. Apart from their academic learning,
these children need to rediscover their identity and regain their
passion for life itself during the deschooling period. The
journey towards successful homeschooling, beginning with the
deschooling process, can be a frightening experience. However,
this courageous decision will reap incredible rewards that are captured
succinctly in this beautiful statement by a homeschooling parent:
When we started homeschooling, I felt as
though I had tucked a child under each arm and jumped off a
cliff. Imagine my surprise to discover we have wings (Maura
Seger, qtd. in Hayes, 1999).
A. (1998). Natural Learning Page. Retrieved February 4, 2002, from
Boettcher, R. C., & Schie, R. V. (1975). Milieu therapy with chronic
mental patients. Social Work, 20, 130-134.
Denner, B. (1974). Returning madness to an accepting community. Commit
Merit. Health Journal, 10, 163-172.
Hayes, L. C. (1999). What is deschooling? Retrieved February 4, 2002,
from National Home Education Network Website:
Homeschooling gifted kids. (2001). Retrieved February 4, 2002 from
Lamb, H. R. (1976). Community survival for long-term patients. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lipsitt, D. R. (1961). Institutional dependency: A rehabilitation
problem. In M. Greenblatt, D. Levinson, & -G. Klerman (Eds.), Mental
patients in transition: Steps in hospital-community rehabilitation (pp.
34-45). Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publishers.
Meyer, J. B. (2000). Homeschooling anywhere. Retrieved February 4,
2002, from Denver Northwest Homeschool Community Website:
What is deschooling? (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2002, from
Wright, A. L., & Kogut, R. S. (1972). A resocialization program for the
treatment of chronic hospitalized schizophrenic patients. Diseases of
the Nervous System, 33, 614-616.
Zone FAQ: What is “deschooling”? (2001, May 28). Retrieved February 4,
2002, from http://www.homeschoolzone.com/faq/deschooling.htm
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