Boys Will Be Boys—Even When They’re Unschoolers

This is a guest post by Peter Kowalke, editor of The Unschooler Experiment Peter Kowalke is a 32-year-old grown unschooler and host of the biweekly radio show, The Unschooler Experiment Podcast. He also is producer of the critically acclaimed documentary about the lasting influence of home education, Grown Without Schooling. You can find more of his work at

When I was born, my mother had this noble idea that she would raise me free from the clutches of societal gender roles. I would play both with trucks and dolls. I would be comfortable in the kitchen and in the garage. I would cry but also be strong like a rock. You get the picture.

This would be possible partially because she homeschooled me; I wasn’t in an environment that forced gender roles on me. Like Rousseau’s Emile, I would develop naturally and unmolested by the silly notions of gender usually foisted upon us by school and other institutions.

The experiment took an interesting turn, though. Yes, I had an Easy-Bake Oven (it was the only way I could get brownies and cakes on demand—I mean, come on, why WOULDN’T I want a loophole like that?). But the dolls didn’t interest me much, and without prompting whatsoever I consistently zeroed in on boy things—trucks, gun, battle. It turns out that boys WILL be boys, and it isn’t just a social construct.

Peter (red shorts) and his brother (diapers) losing a fire fight to their dad in 1983.

But homeschooling has influenced my views on gender, even if I love football and notice busty women. As I recently wrote in my magazine about grown unschoolers, The Unschooler Experiment, homeschooling has profoundly influenced how much I take people as individuals, not stereotypes;  I seem to take people as they are far more than your average person, which means gender doesn’t influence the way I interact with a person as much as it does for some.

Homeschooling has given me a more nuanced view of gender, too, because I was allowed to listen to myself and stereotypes were not pushed on me as much.

I see a lot of nuance that isn’t often articulated. I played with guns when I was a child because they were fun, for instance, but also because on an almost biological level I knew I would have to address the threat of physical danger as a man. Sex can be just sex for me, but I always look to make it more. Women commonly have a biological urge to have children, and when I turned 26 I was surprised to discover that I began having a male version of that biological urge, too. Being a man is more nuanced than some people think.

Perhaps most transformative, homeschooling has equipped me to think outside of the box when it comes to gender. One of the biggest takeaways of homeschooling for me, that maybe there are more ways to do things than we think, has helped me develop ways to express my gender when society hasn’t given me enough options. I used to read a book under a tree before football practice, for instance, balancing my rough and my gentle sides while most of my teammates clearly struggled with this issue. Another example is my male gaze, which I accept but refuse to wrongly and simplistically define as a purely objectifying habit (but that’s for another article).

So homeschooling did not get me somehow “beyond” gender. Boys will be boys, even when they are homeschooled boys.

I would argue that homeschooling has, however, helped me develop a healthy, nuanced relationship to gender. So much of the gender discussion subtly is about hurt and misunderstanding, I find that gender doesn’t usually play a role in my life. Honestly, I’m healthy and I’m whole. I don’t need gender to help me understand and interact with myself and the world. I don’t need it because I’m whole. And I’m whole because of luck, good parents and homeschooling.

*  *  *

For some of my thoughts on boys and gender, check out my post on my other blog, Eat the Damn Cake, about the J. Crew nail polish scandal.

4 comments to Boys Will Be Boys—Even When They’re Unschoolers

  • […] recently published an article of mine about how homeschooling has influenced my views on gender. From the article: Homeschooling has […]

  • Morag

    I like this.

    I have 3 boys and 1 girl. When I had my first child nearly 15 years ago I fully believed that the only difference between boys and girls was their upbringing (I was the youngest of 7 – 5 boys 2 girls!!) I soon learned different. I now accept my sons’ masculinity but for some perverse reason I’m finding my daughter’s femininity difficult to deal with. I know however that I will get to grips with it and she will be a wonderful and whole person regardless.

    Thank you for your article.

  • Since we pulled my son from school in February he’s spent HOURS every day doing two things: hammering nails into wood and fishing (or practicing his cast when I can’t take him to water). At first I found this bizarre and hoped he’d develop new interests. But eventually I came to realize that he is working out his passions – passions that would have remained interests only if he’d stayed in school, forced to do worksheets and test prep. After months of working in his “shop” and fishing, he’s now really, really good at both of these things. He experienced failure in school – bad a reading, writing, math, and because he’s behind socially, had no real friends. For the first time in his life he’s good at something – and good at things that give him something in common with adult men (and women, of course, but mostly men). He gets praise from strangers about his cast. He builds things for us to use at our house. I am *So* glad I let him follow his interests in this deschooling period, and fascinated that his interests are those traditional to men in our culture.

  • Glad to find out about someone else who thinks outside the box when it comes to gender. I’m female but I liked playing with “boys stuff” when I was little. My mom didn’t approve of this but I didn’t care. Really, I could care less about “gender roles”. I treat everyone as an individual, not based on their gender.

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