When did you unschool?
Where did you "graduate"?
Describe your childhood education (through age 12).
I attended a conventional elementary school from 2006 (age six) to 2008 (age eight). In 2009, my mother started homeschooling my two older siblings and me. As you can probably imagine, homeschooling three kids (all different grades) is no easy task, but she managed to do it for three years, until our circumstances changed in 2012.
This is more or less when we became unschooled, although my mom still tried to enforce some degree of schoolwork by making us weekly schedules.
In terms of the structure of my daily life, I found that homeschooling gave me much more freedom than conventional school. I didn’t have to ask to go to the bathroom or get something to eat, and I could do (most of) my schoolwork whenever I wanted to, as long as I got it done by the end of the week. I think that balance of free choice and imposed structure worked really well for those three years!
When 2012 rolled around, suddenly I was expected to do my work without being told to do it! Truth be told, twelve-year-old me didn’t have the discipline to do that for very long. Thus the unschooling began.
Describe how you interacted with other kids around your age in your childhood.
I had a few friends at elementary school, but I made many more friends after I left. We found a homeschooling network of like-minded families in our area, and one of my mom’s friends already happened to be involved. (They even had a Facebook group page, so we knew it was legit!).
Basically, this big group of homeschoolers/unschoolers would get together every Wednesday at an agreed upon park. The group consisted of about twenty to thirty kids on any average Wednesday, with ages ranging from five to sixteen. Of course, cliques were formed, and I found myself hanging around the teenagers more often than not. Looking back, it surprises me that these teens were happy to let a nine-year-old hang out with them all the time, but they were always really welcoming! Despite the cliques, for the most part everyone got along with each other really well.
I rarely attended the co-op classes that people held in their homes, but I did “assist” my dad in teaching a one day video editing course to four older teens. (Essentially I was his hype man!).
I also got to see an old lady cadaver be dissected in an auditorium at St. Louis University’s PASE building. You know, normal stuff like that.
Who made the decision to unschool you?
Ultimately, I made the decision. I was responsible for my own education, and while I did keep up with the weekly schedule for a little while, eventually I ended up stopping altogether. My mother wasn’t exactly ecstatic about this, but she wasn’t about to force me to go back to public middle school, so she settled for having me watch Crash Course and read books about science and history.
Describe your education in your teen years (ages 13-18).
Ages thirteen and fourteen were, for the most part, devoid of any real structure, self-imposed or otherwise. I would read the occasional history or science book, or watch an educational YouTube video here and there, but that was the extent of my self-educating.
Shortly after I turned fifteen, I began to feel self conscious about my lack of education compared to other teens my age. I felt guilty for having so much free time. So, a couple times a month, I would dust off some workbooks from our shelf and make sure I still knew the basics. As long as I had a fundamental understanding of arithmetic and the sciences, I was happy.
I also joined a book group at age fifteen, which had a substantial impact on my literary education. At age seventeen, all of the Youtube videos and video games I was consuming actually sparked my interest in history. They inspired me to learn much more about ancient warfare, religions, cultures, and even world geography. Thanks, video games!
While it’s true that I did very little “schooling” in my teen years, I never stopped learning about the world, and I never will.
Describe how you interacted with other people around your age in your teen years.
After my family and I moved to Texas in 2012 (age twelve), I didn’t have much of a social life for quite a while. About once a year I’d go stay with my best friend back in St. Louis, but it took a very long time before I found another group of friends that I connected with. At age fourteen I met a couple of teens around my age that I immediately considered to be close friends, and at age fifteen, they convinced me to join the book group (which I am still a part of today).
Book group became my new park day. It consists of about seven or eight teens around my age and two or three middle aged adults (the parents of some of the members, who started the group several years ago). We meet at the same house about once a month, sometimes twice. I consider them all to be like a second family.
I wasn’t involved in any sports or co-ops, unless you consider the book group a co-op. I could probably have done with a bit more social interaction in those delicate teen years. Again, it was my own choice; the options were always there, and I was content with my amount of friends.
Describe how you interacted with people much older or younger than you during your teen years.
I didn’t have a job throughout my teen years, and I didn’t interact with people younger than me very often at all. I was a bit of a recluse, and I didn’t attend many community events either. When I was sixteen to eighteen, I frequently saw movies or went hiking with my brother and his best friend/roommate (both early twenties). I’ve also had close friends in their forties through my book group.
Did you receive a high school diploma or equivalent?
I have a transcript, but no physical diploma. When I asked my mother about it when I was eighteen, she said something like “I can make you one if you want!”
During your teen years, what did you end up focusing on, working on, or learning?
I began taking more of an interest in reading and history. Ancient history became something of a hobby for me. It’s what I’ve gravitated to for the past few years.
Driving was also a big deal for me. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was eighteen, and I live rurally, so that was a focal point for a while.
How did you make the decision not to go to college?
I’m still not 100% decided, but one of the main concerns is, of course, money. There’s also that voice in my head that tells me I may not be good enough for college, that I would fail. Mostly, though, I just don’t support the current college system.
If I were to pay that much money for an education, I would need to know exactly what my career would be afterwards, and I don’t.
What did you do after high school?
I’ve been doing odd jobs here and there to pay off my car. I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, really. I don’t have any major plans at the moment. I’m just living my life.
How did you meet people after high school?
Through mutual friends, much the same way I did whilst I was in “high school.” I’ll be meeting a lot more people when I start working a job soon!
Did you feel pressure to attend college? Did that pressure come from within your family or from outside of your family?
Yes, absolutely yes. Mostly from my mother and step-dad, but also from society in general. Everyone expects you to go to college as soon as you get out of high school, and if you don’t, they say you’ll be stuck working a job you don’t enjoy for the rest of your life. I hope that isn’t true!
Describe the kinds of jobs you’ve had in life so far.
Odd jobs like house/pet sitting, yard work, construction clean up. I’m lucky in that many of these jobs are for extended family, so they offer me jobs like these relatively frequently.
What is your current job?
I’m pet sitting right now, but I’ll have an “actual” job pretty soon, either at my local grocery or hardware store.
Why did you choose your current job?
Money. Gotta pay for stuff when you’re an adult, even when you still live at home.
Did your unconventional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to find paid work?
So far, neither. I haven’t had to go through any job interviews yet, so we’ll see, but I don’t foresee it being a problem!
What advice would you give to someone beginning their unschooling/alternative schooling journey?
It gets pretty messy sometimes, but remember that in the end, it’s about learning in whatever way you do best. So whether you’re homeschooling, unschooling, or whatever, don’t push yourself too hard. Learn what you want to learn whichever way works best for you, be it Youtube videos, textbooks, or having a physical teacher.
You also have to learn about yourself and what kind of person you want to be. So go make friends, read a book, have fun. You’ll be just fine.
What advice would you give to their parents?
Find a balance that works for both you and your kids. Don’t try to force too much knowledge into their minds, but try to encourage them to find out what their interests are and to pursue the interests they already have. And take some time to do fun stuff as a family!
If you choose to have children, what school/unschool experience would you want for them?
I’d probably put them through grade school, as I do feel like that’s a good environment for early learning and socializing, but after that I would let them choose whether or not they want to continue going to public school. If they try public school early on and decide it’s not for them, that’s okay too.
As far as unschooling goes, I’d encourage them to find out what they’re interested in, and I’d make sure that they read a book once in a while.
Are there any other thoughts you want to share?
So many people believe that education is just attending a class or passing a test. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Not everyone learns the same way, and that’s okay.
Published: August 2019