Alanis Morissette has made a seamless transition from 90s Canadian alternative queen to alternative mama type. So none of us should be shocked to learn that the mother of children named Ever, Onyx, and Winter and a father who goes by the nickname Souleye would be the type to skip conventional education in favor of an informal learning practice called “unschooling.” And she recently explained what exactly unschooling looks like at her house during an interview with Health magazine.
Unschooling is a form of learning that originated in – you guessed it – the 1970s, and it’s kind of like homeschooling. Except when I think of homeschooling, I think of a mom that has her doctorate from Pinterest University, says stuff like, “Okay, it’s 8:31am – pitter patter, let’s get at’er.” Unschooling is kind of the opposite of that. Alanis tours a lot, so her children are often on the road, and a conventional, structured classroom doesn’t really work for them. Basically, her education philosophy can be summed up by track #7 on Jagged Little Pill: you live, you learn.
“Unschooling, for me, is child-led education. So if there’s some agenda like, ‘Let’s play with these magnet tiles,’ and my daughter is like, ‘Fuck those tiles. I want to put glitter on that thing and cut the tree and put the thing,’ boom – we do that. I basically get inside their eyeballs. I’m constantly watching their eyes and what they’re pulled toward, and then we do the deep dive. My husband and I create pods all over the house – here’s where the spelling area is, and here’s where the fake animals are. There’s probably a better definition of unschooling, but there’s no rigidity to it.”
Alanis says that despite unschooling sounding like a no-rules free-for-all, it’s hard work for the parent in charge.
“If my son is going to bed late on tour and he asks me three really huge, existential questions, there’s no, ‘Ah, we’ll talk about it in the morning.’ That is the moment. Unschooling is 24/7. When I share with people that I unschool, a lot of people I’m close with say they’d love to do it but just can’t. And I get it. I’m like, ‘Yes. I understand, and I think it’s a smart choice not to do it.’ It’s a major commitment.”
What I’m getting from this is that the term “unschooling” is extremely misleading. Because what Alanis is describing sounds kind of like school to me. It’s not in a building with the word SCHOOL on the front, but there is learning and activities, and a teacher who has to deal with endless questions about the moons of Uranus. But even teachers get a staff break room where they can chug coffee and gossip. I guess that’s what makes Alanis’ unschool different. Well, that, and the fact that there’s no secret under-the-table attempt to trade a gluten-free hemp muffin for a Fruit Roll-Up at lunchtime.