When did you unschool?
Where did you "graduate"?
Describe your childhood education (through age 12).
I attended public elementary school through age 12. For the most part, I enjoyed it, but I was frustrated with the limits imposed on me. In 7th grade, I procrastinated on a big project for two months and finally started working on it the night before it was due. My mom caught me doing research on the computer late at night, and she and I got into a HUGE fight. The fight ended when I said that I just wanted to get a “C” to move on the next project, the next grade, the next hurdle, until I could finally drop out and start living my life.
Without hesitation, she said “Okay then, your life starts now. Tomorrow we start unschooling.” Wow! I had no idea what that even was! The next day, I realized that although I was satisfied with our decision to unschool, I realized I had no idea what that was, or what I wanted out of life. I began to stare at the wallpaper for the next two months, a process I now know as de-schooling. I had no clue what I was “supposed” to do. So I spent a lot of time in contemplation and reflection. I felt grateful that I no longer had to memorize that poem that I didn’t like, or learn French, or wake up at 6:30 AM!
A few years later, my parents and I travelled to Albany, New York, for the first annual conference of the Alternative Education Resource Organization. While I was there, I met Jerry Mintz, the leader of the organization, and I made plans to work with him as an intern. I began traveling back and forth from North Carolina to New York by train, a tremendous moment for my independence.
While we were in Albany, my parents and I saw Eric Clapton play. Almost immediately afterwards I begged my parents for an electric guitar. Ever since then, I’ve known that I wanted to play music.
Without becoming a self-directed learner and using music to make it through hard times, I estimate that I probably would have ended up in a dead end job, addicted to drugs, in jail, or worse. Music/songwriting gave me the outlet I needed to express my discontent with the world.
Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.
My interactions were super normal. Since I was still in public school at the time, I was accepted by everyone. I’m generally a pretty outgoing person, unless I’m under stress. I wasn’t involved in co-ops, community events, etc.
Who made the decision to unschool you?
My mom. At the time, I didn’t even know what unschooling was!
Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).
My education was mostly unschooling, with a bit of self-imposed structure and part-time college at 16. It became less structured over time. When I was 16, I decided I wanted a “senior project”. I traded the Buick my grandma left me at 16 for an old diesel Mercedes, and I built my own vegetable oil refinery. I would go to a local japanese restaurant to collect their waste oil to use for my car! My bandmates thought I was so smart since at the time (2008ish), fuel cost over $4 a gallon.
Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.
No sportsing, no co-ops, but once a year we participated in an unschooling camping trip called Families Learning Together (in North Carolina). All of my public school friends drifted away except for one, and I started a band with him, another homeschooler, and an arts school student. I remained super close with that group of friends until I decided to leave North Carolina and travel the world. I ended up moving to Memphis, Tennessee where I lived in a co-op house with 11 other people my age (18ish). That experience was some of the most fun I‘ve had! We hosted couchsurfers, weekly house concerts, and people our age in the neighborhood would come by all the time to hang out and do drugs (haha). We made lots of mistakes and it was absolutely glorious. Embarrassingly enough I wore a fedora. O gawd.
Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.
I led a dual life, going back and forth between North Carolina and New York to live independently and intern for AERO. I got to visit a lot of different democratic schools, I played a lot of table tennis, and I interacted with a good mix of ages in my community. When I was in Winston, I would go into the city on the bus and just walk around aimlessly. I hung out with homeless people and all kinds of people. People were curious about me since I wasn’t in school. They thought I was delinquent until I told them about unschooling.
Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?
I got a GED and I created my own high school transcript.
During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?
I mostly focused on music — playing guitar, recording my band, songwriting. I conquered my stage fright by playing an open mic every day of the week for a whole month. I started bands, and in general I lead a wild life. My hobbies were a bit of applied science (like running a car on waste vegetable oil) and table tennis. I explored a lot of different things like drugs, sex, traveling, and relationships.
How did you make the decision to go to college?
It was mostly about proving to other people that I was smart. I was only slightly curious about the experience. I knew that after I got my GED that college would cost money, so I did dual enrollment while I could.
What did you study?
I just studied general stuff: English 101, Psychology 101, Math Model 150, Communication Skills, etc.
What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?
The easiest part was the work (except math at first), and the hardest was the social stuff, though there really isn’t a lot of that in community college.
Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?
Easier. I was also able to go to community college for free through dual enrollment.
Did you feel pressure to attend college?
Yes. By society and my extended family. My parents were neutral, but my grandmas on both sides pushed me to go to school.
How did you decide not to continue in college?
I’m an alternative rock musician, and I realized there wasn’t really much to gain from going to college. Basically none of my idols went to school. I knew that I wanted to travel, and that I didn’t want to go to school online. Traveling has lead to so many exciting things in my life, and real-life experience is how I learn the best. Field trips, baby.
What did you do after high school?
I moved to Memphis Tennessee, lived in a house with 11 other people, started a band called gypsy wildlife, worked as a singing tour guide, worked for AERO a bit more, and drove a semi truck. Now I’m an entrepreneur.
How did you meet people after high school?
Couchsurfing, traveling, going out, Meetup.com, friends of friends, alternative education conferences.
Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.
My first job was working as a cashier, and next I worked in a roller skating rink. I’ve gigged as a musician in three continents, worked as a singing tour guide, worked as a semi truck driver, and recently I worked in a yoga studio, and I just got certified to teach yoga and meditation! I’ve also done lots of work through AERO (The Alternative Education Resource Organization) on and off for ten years. Now I’m self-employed!
What is your current job?
I’m an entrepreneur, influencer, and digital nomad. Right now, I’m making an online course to help musicians with contemplative practices like meditation and yoga.
Why did you choose your current job?
Freedom and meaning.
Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?
I think it made it easier to make money at what I actually like doing and to be an entrepreneur, but more difficult to find conventional work.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?
Don’t be afraid to do “nothing”! And don’t feel guilty no matter what your family says. I repeat, don’t listen to your extended family! Learn how to meditate and look into “Unified Mindfulness.” Reach out for help when things get hard. Hell, send me an email.
What advice would you give to their parents?
Get out of your kids’ way, but not too far, in case they need you for something. Ideally be like 40-50 feet away.
If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?
I would unschool them but within a community.
Published: September 2019