Age

24

Current country

United States

When did you unschool?

2000-2012

Where did you "graduate?"

Vermont

Describe your childhood education (through age 12).

I was unschooled with very little structure. My parents did not enforce structure, and I did not enforce it upon myself. Occasionally my father would try to teach me some math or science, but we were not very good at communicating with each other, and our sessions would always end with both of us extremely grumpy. I did a bit of Waldorf tutoring for a few months here and there, but my parents and I chose to do this specifically for the social aspect, not for the education.

Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.

My parents moved around a lot. They moved from Los Angeles to Vermont when I was six. Once in Vermont they changed towns often, and at one point we were living in the forest in a tent with a two mile long driveway. Because of this I didn’t have very many friends until I was around eleven or twelve.

Who made the decision to unschool you?

My parents decided on this before I was born. 

Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).

Unschooled. Again, my parents didn’t impose structure on me, and I didn’t impose structure on myself. When I  was 12, I did attend an accredited school for a couple months, which consisted of grades 1-6, all working together. When I withdrew from the program, a Truant Officer came knocking on our door, asking telling us we had to go back to an accredited school, or send in a curriculum to the state as an official homeschooler.  After that, we were forced by the state to make a curriculum for my “schooling.” A certified teacher had to assess our curriculum each year to make sure I was learning all the appropriate school subjects. We usually just made up random things to put on the curriculum, and a day or two before meeting with the teacher I would read up on all the subjects we had put on the curriculum. I managed to pass the assessment every time. 

Having to conform to this curriculum was the only real “structure” I remember having. I was a dancer, a musician, and an artist. In my early teenage years, I was involved in dance classes every day and then I would come home and read, or write songs, or paint. In my later teenage years I got more serious about music and would spend about six hours a day playing piano. 

I also attended a homeschooling program in our town,  started by a friend of ours, called Pacem Learning Community. We did high school classes together with some volunteer professionals in the community. We also did community service, art, science, literature, and language classes, tennis, etc. There were about 20 students altogether.

Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.

I definitely had problems interacting with people. These problems might not have been noticeable to anyone else (I don’t remember anyone specifically not liking me), but on the inside I was incredibly shy and not very confident with my social interactions. Many people, kids and adults alike, felt it was necessary to inform me that this was due to my unschooling background. I’ve since learned, however, that feeling this way is incredibly normal and kids both in and out of school have trouble dealing with social anxieties. It’s a shocker, I know! I mean, there are only about a thousand TV shows revolving around the hardships of social situations within high school, but of course because I was unschooled my shyness was “due to that.” Oh well, live and learn.  

I was in dance groups and classes, and I would play my original songs at open mics every week, so I was involved with the music community. I still had lots of activities connected to that homeschooling group I mentioned above. Even with all of this I didn’t feel like I had many friends, and I didn’t feel like I was very good at interacting with people until I turned fifteen. That was a golden year for me. That was the year I found Not Back To School Camp, a camp where unschoolers and homeschoolers gathered at the start of the school year to connect and build community. There, my social life completely blossomed. I feel it’s safe to say that I would be a totally different person now if it weren’t for that camp. It taught me how to speak to people and build connections. To this day, I talk with people I met at that camp ten years ago.

Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.

I don’t really remember how I interacted with people younger than me, because I always remember being the youngest person around. The town I grew up in had an age majority of around 35 and up, which made it difficult to find people my age to befriend. 

Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?

No.

During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?

Music (piano, guitar, accordion, drums, violin, singing, songwriting, record production, studio recording techniques). Writing (poems, short stories, lyrics). Painting and other visual arts. Dancing, acting, theatre, graphic design, and movie editing.

How did you make the decision to go to college?

I had a boyfriend who broke up with me, and I was devastated. After a bit of time I realized I was more devastated that I would no longer get to visit him in Montreal (where he was attending college) than I was about not being with him anymore. So, with just under one month left before the application deadline, I rushed my butt off to find all the long-lost homeschool records I needed to apply. I also had to prepare an audition for the music program I wanted to attend, and study for a music submission test they give. I also had around three weeks to study for and take the SAT. Most of the information the test contained was stuff I had never bothered to learn before in my life. I took the test. I passed it. I got into the one and only university I applied to, and in a foreign country, at that.

What did you study?

This is a bit of a tricky question to answer. Within the first week of school I realized I hated it with a burning passion! The teachers were bitter and their outlook on music was bleak and cold. My piano teacher told me that he couldn’t believe I got into the school and that the school must be lowering their standards to let people like me in. (Yep, he was a total charmer). I was also adjusting to living in a different country, to living in an urban environment rather than a rural one, and adjusting to living on my own (I had always had a very tight-knit connection with my parents). It was a rough first couple of weeks! 

In the first week of university, I tried to adjust my schedule to take as many electives outside the music program as I could. Most of these ended up being English Literature classes. For the next three years I took only two classes per semester (which was technically illegal as an international student in Montreal), and then in my fourth year, I changed my major officially to English literature. Then I dropped out. Best decision I ever made! 

Going to college allowed me to move to Montreal,  become involved in the music scene there, and to build a network, which is what I had wanted from the experience all along. No harm, no foul! 

What was the hardest part of the transition to college? What was the easiest part?

Aside from learning how to live alone, how to take care of myself, how to deal with teachers who think they know about my education better than me, and how to stick to a very strict schedule — the hardest part was the freakin’ citations! I had never used the academic citation format to cite anything before college, and that was hell. Quite honestly, after four years of school I still don’t fully understand them. 

I don’t think I can recall a particularly “easy part,” not in the beginning. The most rewarding part about going to college was being able to figure out who I was and how I worked. 

Granted, I may not have needed college to do this. I could have just moved to a new city on my own, gotten a job, and saved a bunch of money. But I chose college and I’m not sorry I did. Even though I never got a degree, and I’m sure I never will, it was the exact right thing for me to do. It got me to where I am now, and it has paved the road for where I’m going. 

Do you feel like your unconventional upbringing made getting into college more easy, more difficult, or both?

Apart from the stress of having to apply to college in under a month, the application was relatively easy. I think that, in general, having a homeschool/unschooled background does make you stand out. Whether that is good or not, I don’t know! In my experience though, being unique is never a bad thing.

Did you feel pressure to attend college?

The opposite — my family pressured me NOT to go to college. My parents are very against the standard schooling system. Once I made the decision to go they supported me every step of the way.

Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.

I’ve worked as an actress, musician, entrepreneur, graphic designer, freelance writer, barista, mural painter, and dancer.

What is your current job?

Musician/singer-songwriter.

Why did you choose your current job?

It didn’t feel like I had a choice. I’ve been writing songs since I was eleven, and I was playing music randomly all over the place before that. 

If I had chosen, I probably wouldn’t have picked a career that is so incredibly hard to succeed in. Still, writing music is the only thing that gives me pure and utter fulfilment. I feel like I have no other choice but to make it my life. 

Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?

I’m not sure I can answer this properly as I never really looked for “normal” paid work. I did get a job making coffee once though. The manager there seemed to find my background more charmingly quirky than suspiciously questionable.

What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?

Make sure that you do extracurricular activities with other people/other kids. Try to give building a community and learning social skills as much importance as immersing yourself in science, writing, or the arts. 

What advice would you give to their parents?

Always give your children the option to socialize. Offer to take them to extracurricular activities, theatre programs, or other places where they can learn to socialize and build a community. 

Always offer knowledge, but don’t force education. Offer them cool books to read, tell them stories, teach them how to interact with people, and show them how to deal with regular day-to-day issues like how to fix a clogged toilet etc., but never push them to learn. If they really don’t want to learn something that you think is vital to succeeding in life, let it go. Maybe try to come back to it later when they are older, but in general, just trust that if ever they are in a situation where they need that information to succeed, they will figure it out at that point. They will be okay. 

If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?

If I found an incredibly cool private school, and my child seemed interested in attending, I would enroll them. Otherwise I would unschool them. I would unschool in a city if I could. I would travel with them often if I’m able, and I would make sure that they are surrounded by kids their age.

Published: October 2019