When did you unschool?
In what state did you "graduate?"
Describe your childhood education (through age 12).
I was unschooled. I freely chose activities, classes, and clubs through a homeschool resource center, and I also chose other activities outside of the center.
I played a lot in my earlier years, but I also chose to take a few classes, such as dance, Japanese, ASL, metal working, etc. I started Aikido at age five, stopped taking martial arts for a while between 10-13, then started karate at age 13. I read some science books, did a lot of journal writing, and I loved discussing math problems over the phone with my grandmother. I started piano at age ten: I begged my parents for lessons and I took them from our neighbor (who was my best friend’s brother, a teen at the time). As I got older I started taking Spanish classes and musical theater, and I continued in martial arts. I helped out in my Spanish classes as a teacher’s assistant, and I ran a Spanish club which involved fundraising and organizing.
Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.
I made friends in my neighborhood, at my homeschool resource center, and at the Aikido dojo (a martial arts studio). I always felt just as comfortable and familiar with adults as I did with kids. I had a huge range of ages to interact with, and I liked taking care of younger kids, playing with kids of various ages, and interacting with adults.
Who made the decision to unschool you?
My parents (my father suggested it and my mother agreed).
Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).
I was still unschooled, and I still went to the homeschool resource center, but I also chose to go to community college when I was 16.
In my teen years I chose to attend community college and take full course loads. I threw myself into multiple musical theater productions, got a job at my karate dojo, and trained constantly. I also continued piano, some dance, and Spanish (I took a single Spanish class in a conventional public high school when I was 15). I was busy, but I chose all of it, and I loved getting to continue working on the things I really cared about. I loved my experiences, my freedom, and even the opportunity to try out generic school classes.
Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.
I had friends at my homeschool resource center, and many of them went to community college with me too. Two of my neighbors became my closest friends. I also had a very close community and friend group at my karate dojo. I had several different types of friend groups and communities, and I appreciated them all.
Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.
The karate dojo included people of all ages, and there I taught students ranging in age from four to 65. I felt comfortable with my friends’ parents, and I babysat younger kids. My upbringing exposed me to a wide range of ages, and that’s something I really appreciate about my experience.
Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?
Yes, I was able to get a diploma through my homeschool resource center. I took the things I was already doing (Spanish, math, etc.) and plugged them into the required credits, and the rest of the gaps were filled by my community college courses, which counted as both college and high school credit (and they were free! Thanks Washington State running start program!).
During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?
I worked on many things, but my primary interest was teaching people and working with young kids. This passion started from a young age and it never disappeared.
I worked really hard on anything I got into, and karate was a huge part of my life, from competing to teaching to just pushing myself to improve. I also got into writing. Years of writing in my own journals, writing to my friends, and writing on forums helped me develop my writing skills naturally throughout my life. I love writing now, and it’s a huge part of me.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do it all, so I had to make some sacrifices. I gave up musical theater in favor of karate. I still did piano but I realized it was more of a fun hobby than a passion. I learned how to prioritize what I cared about. I also learned how to work with people, how to manage my time and other people’s needs, and how to function in a community.
I started to figure out how I could make money by doing work that interested me. I was very independent: I managed my own schedule, many of my own meals, and my own money. I budgeted and saved a lot because that was important to me.
How did you make the decision to go to college?
Going to college just seemed like the natural course of things, and I didn’t consider anything else. In 2009, college wasn’t yet being questioned too much.
What did you study?
I essentially wanted to quadruple major, but I couldn’t do that, so after about a year I decided to go to the alternative college that was a part of my university. There, I could design my own major based on a variety of interdisciplinary subjects, which made much more sense to me than trying to pick one thing. I combined alternative education, child development, language and culture, and movement, into a degree I called Alternative Education: Envisioning the Creative Classroom. I also now have a masters in Early Childhood Education.
What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?
It wasn’t hard. I mean, living on my own without my community and my family and my friends could be hard at first, so I guess that was the hardest part. I had already taken community college classes, so that wasn’t new (and when I started community college classes that “academic” transition was surprisingly easy). I was used to budgeting, making my own schedule, being in charge of myself and my interests, making my own choices about what to learn, managing my time, making my own meals, etc., so none of that felt hard to me. Going to college and being independent felt natural and fun and easy; it was what I was already prepared for and used to.
Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?
It’s hard to tell. I definitely think it made the transition to college easier. I didn’t feel that my unconventional background gave me a disadvantage in the application process, but I am not sure I felt that it was an advantage either. I was excited to apply for college because I’ve always enjoyed new things and challenges.
Did you feel pressure to attend college?
I did feel that I was supposed to attend college, but pressure doesn’t strike me as the right word. I wanted to go and felt it was the obvious path. I just didn’t think of other options, and neither did my parents. I’m sure if I chose not to go to school, they would have supported me in figuring out alternatives, but that didn’t come up.
Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.
I started working at age ten, when I got a paper route. I also worked as a dog walker and babysitter. I taught karate for years, and in college I worked at a childcare center. When I graduated, I got a job right off the bat at an early childhood education center in Seattle, which was exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t know it at the time, but that center was one of the most well-known, play-based, and supportive preschools in the Pacific Northwest. I worked there for a long time, learned a ton, and I loved it. When I moved, I got another preschool job easily. I then started working for the Alliance for Self-Directed Education (continued below.) I have also worked as a facilitator at a Democratic Free School.
What is your current job?
I work with the Alliance for Self-Directed Education as their Executive Director. I manage their communications, volunteers, social media, outreach, member support, local groups initiative, and support their online publication. I work with one other ASDE employee, with the volunteer board, and the organizing team, and I manage/support/onboard new volunteers. I answer a lot of questions, provide support for families just getting into self-directed education or unschooling, and write a lot.
I also run a group for unschoolers to explore the city and build community together, and I run workshops for parents to help them deschool and better support their children and/or the children they work with in self-directed education and unschooling.
Why did you choose your current job?
It is my passion to make the opportunities I had for freedom, self-direction, and happiness accessible to all children and their families. I chose this job because it is my passion, and in some ways, it has always been my dream job. This job combines a lot of my skills, and allows me to work with people as well as think of new ideas, make connections between ideas, collaborate, and write a lot, all of which are things I enjoy and am good at.
I chose to start groups for unschoolers because I also like to work directly with young people, and to support them in whatever ways they are asking for. I like to support parents through this journey as well. I know that self-directed education can be a struggle, and people often need human-to-human connection and support in this journey, which is why I have started workshops and coaching for parents.
Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?
It absolutely made it easier to forge my own path and find the kind of work I was looking for. I found this work by being confident, bringing ideas up to people, and being unafraid to connect with people whose ideas I am interested in. I have never had a problem identifying what I want to do and being able to find a job in that realm, and I think a lot of that has to do with my unconventional upbringing.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?
Find a community of support. Perhaps that is online, perhaps it’s in person. It might be a group of people who are also unschoolers, or maybe just a group of people with shared interests. Community is so important, especially when taking an unconventional path. Knowing others are there to support you when you feel unsure is so important and helpful.
I would also say: just do it! We are all built to self-direct our learning. We may need to deschool before we can really delve in or feel confident about it, but we can all do it. Trust yourself, allow yourself to make mistakes, and know it’s all part of the process. Everyone’s processes and choices are different, and that’s the beauty of it.
What advice would you give to their parents?
Similar things, actually. Find a community of support. Find others that can reassure you when you are questioning or worried. Trust your children and trust the process. Your children know what they need better than anyone, so really trust them and allow that process to happen.
When you are questioning it all, find someone to ask! There are plenty of grown unschoolers, long-time unschooling parents, and people in this community who would be happy to support you, so don’t hesitate to find them and reach out.
Deschool, deschool, deschool. We are never done deschooling — none of us. Parents and families need it as much, if not more than, kids. So keep reading and learning and deschooling and questioning your assumptions about school, about how learning works, about childhood, and about your own kid(s).
If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?
I have a stepson who attends a democratic free school. We tried unschooling, but with his personality, needs, and our situation, it wasn’t working out for him. He loves his free school and he is so happy there.
So the answer is: I would choose self-directed education. What that looks like for the individual depends on the child’s personality and their needs at the time. I think the child should always get to choose what their education looks like, within our abilities and resources, of course. Essentially, I would want to give them the opportunity I had to self-direct my own education.
Are there any other thoughts you want to share?
If anyone wants support or connection within self-directed education or unschooling, please feel free to reach out! firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: January 2020