5 Things I Had to Unlearn From High School

Hi, my name is Vanessa, and I am a product of public school.

I hated school. I never placed much personal value on it. But, because my parents and culture placed so much value on it, I tried hard. I got good grades. I was a “gifted” student.

Because most of what I “learned” academically in school was cut and paste – remember the correct answer from the textbook and regurgitate it on a test, only to forget it a week later – what I spent most of my time learning were “life lessons,” if you could call them that.

Here are five things I had to unlearn from high school.

1. People Who are Different Should be Treated Badly

School taught me that anyone who is different than you should be looked down upon.

My mother taught me that all people have worth and should be treated with respect. I consider myself lucky to have an attitude from home that counteracted what I was being taught in school.

Even teachers partake in the shaming and bullying of the “different” kids. If you made people uncomfortable because you weren’t exactly like them, you were treated as the lesser class.

2. The Rules of Grammar

Learning to write academically really messed with my ability to write creatively. The more I have grown as a writer, the more I have had to unlearn most of what I was taught in school about grammar.

Most writers and journalists will tell you, grammar “rules” are more like guidelines, and most are completely arbitrary. Unless your reader is another grammar Nazi created by public school, they aren’t going to care whether you use a comma or a semi-colon.

Writing is more about allowing words to flow; creating an experience that your reader will remember. They don’t teach you that in school.

Read: 5 Bad Writing Habits You Learned in School

3. The Subject at Hand Is the Only Thing That Matters

In school you are taught that your emotions, curiosities, and other interests should all be put on hold in order to focus on the subjects laid out for you.

Any interest you were acquiring in history class should be immediately shut down in time for science class. Interests that you have at home don’t belong in school. And going off on side trails that deviate from the perfectly planned curriculum are unacceptable.

I learned to operate on what they thought “should” be important to me, instead of what truly was important to me.

I have had to re-learn that side trails and fringe curiosities are often the paths that take us on the explorations and learning experiences of a lifetime, that there are things in life that are more important than academics.

4. Rebels are Immoral People

As with any institution or government, schools wanted students to believe that breaking a rule, any rule, meant you were a bad person. Their lesson in this has worked quite well as a culturally held belief. Even the people that struggle the most with breaking the rules believe this about their fellow citizens.

But life has taught me something that will get you expelled from school: that morals and good judgment cannot be contained in a rule book.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it good, and just because something is illegal doesn’t make it bad.”

5. School Is the Real World

When I was a young teen in school, I thought that the way I was living was the way life would always be. At the risk of sounding morbid, life in school was a depressing, consuming black hole. There were many times I thought: if this is real life, I don’t want to live.

I am so stinkin’ happy to report that school is NOT the real world.

School is an institution. Its rules and methods are developed to control a group of people, keep them on the same page, and manufacture results from them. Because most of them are there against their will, it seeks to manipulate children into believing that school is a requirement of life.

I think we all feel like rebels when we discover that it is not.

In the end, school taught me how to make myself look great on paper, but it taught me little to nothing about life. In many ways, it impaired me from life. Through years of deschooling, I have been able to recover and unlearn some of the bad life lessons I learned in school.

My name is Vanessa, and I am free from the institution.

~ Vanessa

About: Vanessa Pruitt

Vanessa and her husband Adam live in Nebraska and unschool their four boys. She is the founder of Natural Family Today, and also writes about unschooling on her blog Our Somewhat Life.


  1. Steph says:

    “In the end, school taught me how to make myself look great on paper, but it taught me little to nothing about life.”

    Yup. This is exactly how I feel.

  2. This is the first of your posts I’ve read……And I love it!

    I too got good grades but hated school. I too am glad school wasn’t the real world (although sometimes work feels a bunch like HS with drama, gossip and cliques…ugh!)

    As we prepare to homeschool our son (and future children) I find myself battling with, well myself, in the way I think school is supposed to be.

    I think you’re blog will be a valuable resource!

    • I know what you mean about work feeling like school. I remember entering the work force full time at the age of 17, and grown women over 30 acting like we were still in high school. My husband deals with the same thing at his job.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Aadel says:

    Most people really don’t want #1 to be true. They want to say that kids and teachers are unbiased, and that they get along with everyone. It just isn’t true. School creates this crazy universe where being different from the norm gets you labeled- as a freak, as a troublemaker, as a loser.

    And that attitude is carried into life by both sides, both the label-ers and the ones being labeled. Why else do you think most people are leery of unschoolers? ;0)

    • I don’t think it’s pretty hard to find an environment that is unbiased. Problem with school is that most kids are forced to go there, with no other options, so it becomes like a prison of mistreatment and degradation that they must face almost every day of their lives. That’s pretty depressing!

  4. TyKes Mom says:

    Number 1 is so accurate. I was picked on and bullied everyday, which is the norm from other children. But I remember being put down by several teachers as well, just because I was different. The worst part is that, when a teacher does it, you are helpless. Anything you say is considered disrespectful. I am so happy my children will not be subjected to a life like that.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I feel it’s important that we bring light to what is going on in public schools that most people don’t want to admit or talk about.

  5. Karen says:

    I am the Mom of a 12 year old daughter and we homeschool. I loved this post and have shared it on FB. This just reinforces the fact that homeschooling is the best thing for OUR family. Great post Vanessa.

  6. Therese says:

    I LOVE #5. I was just thinking on this earlier when starting my blog. School is NOT real life. At least not any life I would choose to live. GREAT post!

  7. Sandpiper says:

    I love the line about ‘school teaching you to look good on paper but nothing about real life’! That is sooo true!

  8. Colleen G says:

    Ever notice there are two kinds of grammar police out there? One is the “I want to pick you apart because I want homeschoolers to look uneducated” and the other is the way too uptight hyper-classicalmethod(sorry)homeschooling momma who is more worried about proper everything than quality time with her brood.

    • Vanessa says:

      I know some very cool people who love grammar! But, they would never make you feel horrible about not using all the grammar “rules”. But yes, I know of whom you speak!

  9. Amber says:

    Thank you! I’m not the only one who thinks this!

  10. Heather M says:

    Thank you for just saying high school was depressing. That and completely falling through the cracks both at school and home, thats why i am homeschooling. But i dont tell people that. I usually tell people i am just really excited to teach themmyself or its been proven that they learn more, which is all totally true. But the big reason? Its like Lord of the Flies in public school, and i am so happy there is an alternative. Now. I have a kindergartener and three little ones, but i want to research unschooling more. 🙂 i am loving Montessori menthods for my littles, but yea. Thanks for this post, its amazing.

  11. Tina says:

    Love this! #5 is my favorite! I am a product of public school as well. I homeschooled all 3 of my boys…..I broke the cycle! lol Thank you for this!

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