Mieke Westra



Current country

United States

When did you unschool?


In what state did you "graduate?"


Describe your childhood education (through age 12).

Many of my most vivid childhood memories take place on the road. Since one of my parents was a professor and the other was a stay-at-home parent, we were able to road trip in the summer. I remember piling in to our family-size van, spending hours in the car between destinations. We listened to hours of audiobooks that were enjoyable and educational for all of us. While I may not have always understood these books on the same level as my parents or older siblings, I always had some takeaway from these stories. After we finished a book we would spend a bit of time discussing its themes and meanings, with perspectives from people ranging in age from five to 46. I didn’t realize until much later that this was one way my parents raised me to be an opinionated young person. 

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

I grew up in a fairly large secular homeschooling and unschooling co-op group. I always had plenty of friends my age, and of different ages too. That co-op group and my family’s travels allowed me to meet people of different backgrounds, some with opinions that opposed those that I was just beginning to form. This helped me develop a solid stance on my own opinions, and it gave me the ability to question my beliefs and to look at things from other points of view. 

Who made the decision to unschool you?

My parents decided together. 

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

When I was around 12, I began doing odd jobs for people. As it turned out, I rather liked working, because it gave me purpose and helped keep me happy. When I was 14 I got to audition for a professional children’s theatre, and I got the part. I began going to rehearsals and I loved every second of it. I got there early to help set up and I stayed late to help move the set off the shared stage. 

While I loved acting, I would always go into a slight panic before stepping on stage, not sure if I would remember everything that I needed to. For me, the stress of being on stage wasn’t worth it, but I was still madly in love with this world. When the theatre company saw this, and they saw my willingness to work hard, they offered me a job as an assistant to the Stage Manager, which I happily took. The following years were filled with self-directed learning as I devoured anything I could find about theater. I was constantly trying to learn more about different theatre-related jobs. 

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

My work left plenty of time for socializing with my peers. I still had a core group of friends from the co-op who kept me sane throughout my teens. 

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

Most of my coworkers were much older and had a higher level of education than me. I thrived in this environment. I loved being around people I could observe to learn the do’s and don’ts of theatre and adulthood in general.

Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?

My co-op group provided a ceremony with diplomas for my class of about 20 people. It was intimate, with photos of the graduates throughout their life and a speaker for every graduate.

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

Theatre was definitely a driving force throughout my teen years. Whenever possible I was at the theatre helping out, and in general, I was trying to gather as much information about theatre as I possibly could.

How did you make the decision to go to college?

When I found out the job I love required a degree, I decided it was time to get my college education. I’ve always thought I would go to college, it’s just been a matter of when. For me, there has seemingly never been a “right” time for school. I had to make the decision to further my education, and it’s still a decision I struggle with on the daily.

What did you study?

I’m currently working towards getting an associates in the arts, and then moving on to a bachelors in theatre.

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

The hardest part is definitely the pressure I put on myself. I think unschoolers often feel the need to prove our academic abilities to the world, as it was constantly questioned throughout our youth. Since my father is a college professor, I feel like I need to show a good example of unschooling. 

The easiest part was probably the professor-student relationship. Growing up without a strict line between my teachers and myself gave me a sense of ease with professors that many of them appreciated. I was brought up to think of teachers as people I could gain knowledge from, not as a disciplining force. This definitely gave me an advantage.

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

I feel like unschooling allowed me to prove myself for who I am now, instead of basing my worth on how I did academically as a teen. It gave me the opportunity to start life after my teenage years with a clean slate. I don’t think most people would want their life to be based on how well they did in high school, but as a society, we still place a lot of value on high school. 

Whether unschooling actually put me at an advantage or disadvantage is hard to tell, but  I believe that it gave me opportunities that many wish they had.

Did you feel pressure to attend college?

I definitely felt a lot of pressure to go to college. Both my parents have a higher education level, and since my father was a college professor, I felt a lot of stress over what the right decision was for me. I also put a huge amount of pressure on myself to do well in college, which contributed to my stress.

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

I have had many different entry level jobs, mostly restaurant work, along with working in the theatre.

What is your current job?

I currently work as a Stage Manager, and I have a couple of serving jobs to supplement my income.

Why did you choose your current job?

I learned that I couldn’t do a job where I didn’t enjoy my work. I found it soul crushing. So I pursued theatre, which I’ve always had a passion for, and I am so happy I did.

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

I think that at first, people are wary of unschoolers because unschooling isn’t well known. When I was younger, getting an interview with little work experience on my resume was difficult. I found that if I did get the opportunity to interview, I could give a good explanation of my background and quickly convince them to be more receptive of unschooling.

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

Be easy on yourself. Don’t feel like it’s your responsibility to give people a positive perception of unschooling. That’s not what unschooling is about. It’s about learning in a way that best suits your learning style.

What advice would you give to their parents?

I would give them the same advice.

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

I’d love to be able to unschool my children. I used to think I was at a disadvantage being unschooled, but my time spent with conventionally schooled peers has shown me that I was no more disadvantaged than anyone else my age. Everyone has things they wish were different about their childhood, but in my mind, unschooling is definitely not one of them.

Published: April 2020