7 Steps to Earning an UnPhD

Unschooling is a deeply patterned and designed process

But, learning all this doesn’t help me one lick, I already have a “schooled” education. Unless… What if I could still continue my own education but take the unschooled path. So… ungradschool? Is ungraschool more farfetched than any sort of unschool? Is an unPhD possible?

Step #1 — Start Anywhere: Popular Books, Podcasts, and Magazines

Any field of study has popular books, podcasts, and magazines about that field. Considered by serious academics these books are sorta “fluffy” and simplify the complexities of a field. Nevertheless, they are the perfect gateway into a field you have an incipient interest in.

Step #2 — Read The Books that Popular Media References

Each popular book cites other books and writers. Generally these books will be more “serious” and more advanced. But you will be ready for them because you read the popular books. You are moving stepwise to a better and better understanding of the field. Likely some of the simplifications made in the popular books are becoming more complex.

  • Made to Stick by Peter Brown (about assessments and memory)
  • Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (about deliberate practice and mastery)
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck (the original researcher who coined the term growth mindset).
  • Deschooling Society by Ivan Illych (about transforming all of society into a learning experience)
  • John Dewey’s two classics: Experience in Education and Democracy and Education

Step #3 — Get a Few Hunches

You likely started out your Ungraschool with some kind of direction or interest or theory. Now that you have started to gain some insight, you should already begin forming some deliberate hunches and the direct your reading towards those hunches.

Step #4 — Read The Papers Those Books Cite And The Papers Those Paper’s Cite.

Ok it is time to move from books to papers. People write papers before they write books, so as you move towards the bleeding edge of research, we leave books behind. As you are reading the books popular media refers to, the next step is to read those books bibliographies and read the papers those books are based on. Although these citations might not be neat footnotes or a few pages in an index in the back, pick out the names that come up again and again.

  • “Interest and Its Contribution as a Mental Resource”— Suzanne Hidi
  • “Interest and Effort in Education” — John Dewey
  • “Self-Determination Theory and The Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being” — Richard M. Ryan and Edward E. Deci
  • “The Role of Expectations and Attributions in the Alleviation of Learned Helplessness”— Carol S. Dweck
  • “Effective Teachers of Indian and Eskimo High School Students” — Judith Kleinfeld

Step #5 — Start Writing

Now that you’re reading about topics all the way to their roots and all the way to their bleeding edges, its time for you to start practicing writing.

Step #6 — Make an Original Contribution

Once you’ve read deeply and broadly and you’ve practiced writing, its time for you to find an original contribution to your topic and to write it down and publish it. It can be published on Medium or anywhere you like.

Step #7 — Make Contact

At some point after Step #5, you should start reaching out to other experts in your field and begin a conversation. Ask a lot of questions, be humble, and don’t come out blazing with your half baked theories. Once you have a strongly supported argument, ask for feedback from these experts and take what they say seriously.



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Educator, Founder, Engineer. Interested in Evidence Based Education and Solving BIG Problems.