When did you unschool?
Where did you "graduate"?
Describe your childhood education (through age 12).
Until age twelve, my family ran a rather open homeschooling program. My mother wrote up a school schedule that covered the basics, such as math, science, and English, in addition to our personal interests. We were given a minimum amount of work each day on the core subjects, and then we were encouraged to do as much reading and self-motivated learning as possible on anything that interested us.
Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.
I met all my best friends early in life, around age four, when my family moved to Texas. I attended several co-ops throughout my childhood that allowed me to become friends with people in a variety of age groups, so my friends could be up to three years older or younger than me. Because there was no age-based stigma, I gave very little thought to age when deciding to be friends with someone. That was a pretty common outlook in our friend groups.
I attended a fair number of group outings like campouts or day trips with a large number of families, and although people tended to gravitate towards those of a similar age, it was never very rigid.
Who made the decision to unschool you?
My mother and father.
Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).
Upon returning to Texas when I was about thirteen and a half, my parents made the decision to officially unschool me. They began by lifting any expectation of a certain amount of schoolwork per day, and they removed limitations on things like screen time, which had been fairly rigid until then.
For the first month or two afterwards I did what any young teenager would do with such newfound freedom: I stayed up late playing video games, slept late the next day, and repeated the process ad nauseum, while smugly thinking I would never return to the shackles of academics or any kind of structured lifestyle. After several months of this, however, I grew bored. Slowly, I began to seek out the feeling of accomplishment I had felt through learning as a child. Within six months I had returned to a system that was very similar to the one that I had abandoned (although this was punctuated with far more video game playing and worse sleep habits than before). I slowly realized that I was at my happiest when I imposed structure and discipline on myself. Eventually I became far more disciplined and focused on learning than I had ever been before.
Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.
When I was around fourteen I had something of a phasing-out of the friends I had been close with before, and I started running in new circles. I played briefly on a baseball team, and for a summer I tried my hand at competitive sailing because a friend of mine recommended I give it a go.
I left behind the world of co-ops and most organized events, so after about age fifteen or so, most social interaction I had was strictly self-governed and planned. Around age eighteen I started a D&D group that I’m still part of to this day.
Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.
Homeschooling allowed me to develop easy communication with the parents and younger siblings of my friends. Because of my upbringing and the example my parents showed me, talking to and being around people of drastically different ages has never been difficult.
I worked as a lifeguard and occasionally helped out with swim lessons, so I had slightly more experience working with small children than I might have had otherwise. I also worked in a funeral home for several months. I was around a lot of seniors in that line of work, although they never seemed to reciprocate my efforts at conversation.
Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?
Technically I did, but other than submitting it to Austin Community College, I have never had cause to use it.
During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?
I felt like I was in a constant state of flux from ages fifteen to eighteen, trying to discover the focus that I felt would be central to my being. This caused me to dive into a new project every few months, from learning Java to woodworking to writing and back again.
Around the time I turned eighteen, a friend and I went to a two week wilderness first aid course in the mountains of Colorado. I immediately knew that it was something I was interested in. Six months later I had finished an EMT course and begun fire academy, having finally found my passion.
How did you make the decision not to go to college?
From age sixteen to eighteen, I took classes at a local community college, which allowed high school students to take core classes for free. Although I enjoyed the experience for the most part, by the end of two years I was burned out and tired of academia. Staring down the barrel of another three to four years of school was enough to make me realize that I had to look elsewhere for my future plans.
What did you do after high school?
I obtained my EMT certificate and began fire academy.
How did you meet people after high school?
I met several people through the fire academy I am enrolled in. I also stayed close with friends I’ve met over the years, and I met more people through inviting friends of friends to the D&D group and to various camping trips or social outings.
Did you feel pressure to attend college? Did that pressure come from within your family or from outside of your family?
I never felt pressure to attend college. My parents were very clear that attending college simply because it was the norm was no reason at all to do so. When I decided on firefighting as a career they were tremendously supportive, and indeed I think they would have supported me in any trade I chose.
Many of my childhood friends faced enormous pressure to excel academically and go to college for STEM degrees, but because of the way my parents raised me, none of that pressure ever felt directed towards me.
Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.
I’ve worked as a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool, assistant to the funeral director at a natural funeral home, and now in a donut shop.
What is your current job?
I work part time in the kitchen at Round Rock Donuts while I finish fire academy.
Why did you choose your current job?
The donut shop was conveniently close, it seemed to have an enjoyable work atmosphere, and above all it was different from what I’d done before. One of the most important things to me in a job is that it’s as different as possible from the positions that I’ve held before, just so I can maximize the number of novel experiences I get to enjoy.
Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?
I think my unconventional upbringing allowed me to find work more easily. Talking to adults in position of authority and presenting myself well in the interview process were skills that I learned from my parents at a young age.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?
Don’t worry about where you think you should be or what you think you should be doing. Just search for novel experiences until something piques your interest.
I would never have found firefighting had I not agreed to shell out the entirety of my bank account, drive halfway across the country, and spend two weeks in the mountains learning how to make splints out of tree bark. I had never been interested in medicine before, but I decided that since I had never given it a fair shot, I would put in my best effort. By pure chance it stuck and it gave me a focus and a passion I had never experienced before.
What advice would you give to their parents?
Be patient with your child. My mother jokingly refers to the time right after I started unschooling as my “hibernation,” and she talks about the fear she felt watching me do nothing but play games and stay inside day in and day out.
Realize that if you’ve taught your children discipline and given them the tools to succeed, they’ll come around in their own time. Sometimes they need to do too much of something they love to realize that it isn’t the be-all end-all.
If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?
I would recreate for them the experience I had growing up. I’d give them a more structured schooling experience until around age thirteen or fourteen, at which point I would remove the boundaries and allow them full freedom to discover and pursue their passions.
Published: August 2019