Growing Up As An Unschooler

2011-04-22_12-34-45_Germany_Baden_Württemberg_Büsslingen-1Alternatives To School contributor, Gina Riley, Ph.D., follows up with many of the grown unschoolers who participated in the research study on grown unschoolers that she and Dr. Peter Gray conducted last year. Here is the third in a series of interviews of these grown unschoolers. (Click here to read the first interview, and here to read the second.) 

Josias is a young adult unschooler from abroad who had a variety of schooling experiences before unschooling. His dream is to eventually start his own farm, and he is well on his way to doing just that…

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I was born in 1993 in a tiny village in southern Germany. Though I quite like it here I’ve also spent several years in the UK, France and New Zealand and am still making my mind up where (and possibly if) I want to settle down. I enjoy working outside and playing games (card, board, roleplaying, computer, etc.). My plans/dreams for the future include building a tiny house, starting a farm and travelling.

Were you homeschooled or unschooled or both? For how many years? Did you attend public or private school? Why did you switch?

I started school at 6 in the local public primary school. Then at 7 I switched to a private Montessori school. When I was 9 my brothers both left school and after a year I said I wanted to do what they were doing. So I started unschooling at 10. We had a brief stint of founding a Sudbury Valley school where we hoped to have a little more contact with other people. We got shut down after a year because we were operating without permission from the authorities. When I was 17 I did a one year agriculture course at college. Afterwards I had periods of working and travelling and now I’m looking to go back to college for another 2 years.

What, for you, are the main advantages to unschooling?

The ability to pursue my own interests and make my own mistakes.

What are the main disadvantages?

It is the social question, although mainly limited to Germany. As it’s illegal to unschool in Germany, it can be quite hard to make new friends. This isn’t only due to being unschooled in my case. My grandparents moved to this area and we never integrated that well because we don’t go to the typical clubs and so on. In the UK this wasn’t as bad.

Ugh! The social question…(Sorry! But so many want to know…). How did you make friends as an unschooler? Would you consider your social life healthy (as a child and now)?

In Germany my friends are quite far away and are mainly other unschoolers. In the UK they’ve now spread out but used to be fairly close and were either unschooled or from college. I also regularly went to a sports club, partly for the social contacts. Although I didn’t see my friends as often as people in school might, I still view my social life as healthy. I do remember sometimes wanting more friends or closer friends when I was younger. I’m not sure school would have helped me in that sense, however.

Tell me about your first job (paid or unpaid). How did you obtain it? Did being an unschooler assist you in any way?

When I was 16 I started being involved in several work experiences. One of them was at the farm of my best friend’s dad. After working there unpaid for two weeks we agreed that I would work there for 2.5 days a week for some pocket money. It was fun and I learned lots. He’s still my favourite boss. After my year in college I applied for a job in a museum, which I found through a newspaper, and worked there for a season. Unschooling hasn’t per se helped me find a job, but since I know what I want to do for what, I’m more confident.

What about college? Did you attend? If so, how did you get admitted? 

I attended a one year course at British college (not uni). I did my German qualifications in order to be accepted there but found I didn’t really need them. After I do my other two years at college I have the qualifications I’d need to go to university but don’t see how it would benefit me.

What about your current career? What do you do? Is your current career somehow associated with what you did as an unschooled child/teen?

I’ve wanted to do a lot of jobs in my life, but being a farmer is one thing I’ve wanted to do from when I was very little which still stands. I come from the countryside and used to live right next to a beautiful apple orchard. My best friend’s dad has started a farm and I used to want to take it over. Well, I still kind of do, actually. After working for him for a while I decided that growing food is what I want to do. So yes, my current career goals are connected to what I did as a teenager. I’m working as a mover at the moment in order to afford college so I can gain more knowledge on starting my own farm.

What does the future hold for you? What are you excited about?

Hopefully a fulfilled relationship with children, who will be unschooled if they choose to be….A sustainable farm with cattle, sheep, a vegetable garden and perhaps an orchard. I’m interested whether I’ll achieve that and whether being an entrepreneur will suit me or if I actually prefer working for someone else. But I’ll give it my best shot and pursue my interests!

What advice would you give parents who are thinking about OR making the choice to unschool?

I would say that it’s not really their choice, but the children’s choice instead. I think unschooling is great, but the parents need to trust their kids a little. Like with the video game question: They’re still learning something when they’re in front of the computer and it’s their life.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

I have great parents who support me in practically everything I do. If they wouldn’t support me it would really get me thinking about if what I’m doing is right. Those things are connected. They trust me to do the right thing and in turn they have my respect. It’s important that unschooled children (and schooled children, really) have the possibility to get help and support, if they want it.

I’m very satisfied and happy with my life and I like to think unschooling is part of what led to that.