A Community of Self-Directed Learners

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by Sandra Dickie

I would like to address the idea that I hear expressed from time to time that there is no point sending your kids to a self-directed learning center or school if they’re just going to play on their screens, which is something that they can do at home.  For me, this misses the heart of what a self-directed learning community is all about.

Whether it be music, art, cooking, science classes, walks in the woods, games of tag or video games/screen time, these communities offer a chance to come together with others and experience different perspectives and share new ideas. An artist friend of mine (who works in a field unrelated to art) rented some studio space a few years ago. She did this, rather than set up a home art studio, with the expressed purpose of being in a community of other artists. She wanted to be exposed to other people’s work and new ideas, to gain feedback on her own work, and to get the support, encouragement and fellowship that being part of a community of other artists affords. While there are social media sites and other virtual communities of artists she could have turned to, she recognized the value in being part of a larger community in person.

At a homeschool program on a farm where I send one of my kids, everyone comes together for lunch.  You can either share a dish or wash dishes at the end of the meal – not surprisingly, most people choose to bring a dish! By sharing a meal with a diverse group of adults and children, you are exposed to new foods, or foods prepared in ways you have not previously experienced.  The same thing happens cooking or eating lunch at the Macomber Center, a self-directed learning center in Framingham, MA where one of my kids also attends – it is simply lunch, but it is an amazing learning experience.

Board games, outdoor games and video games all have rules. But when playing with people outside of your family, outside of your immediate circle of close friends, you may learn new interpretations of those rules. Or you may be inspired to combine different interpretations and make a whole new game. Collaboration and inspiration are at the heart of most music and art – seeing and hearing new patterns, new ways of doing the same thing or perhaps something completely different. In short, playing around with ideas. And a core belief for self-directed learning communities like Macomber is that play is key to all learning.

I really feel that the magic of these kinds of communities (see this list of democratic schools and resource centers on this website) lies in the fact that they are so much more than the sum of their parts. Any single person attending one of these schools or centers could probably do what they are doing there at home. But the experience becomes so much more when it is shared in a supportive, open environment where there is no wrong answer and play and experimentation are encouraged.

At this point in time, we all have access to all kinds of information. Much of what we are aware of is sorted and brought to us in news feeds and on social media. Search engines are built on algorithms that send us advertisements and news articles that fit in with what we already like, what we have already shown interest in. While this is very beneficial on some levels, I do worry that what we are hearing and being exposed to has become increasingly narrowed. Where is new insight and inspiration to come from if we do not gain new perspectives or hear fresh ideas? In this age of internet and screen time, there is more need than ever to get together in person and share experiences and knowledge – even, or perhaps especially, when those experiences are related to screen time. Self-directed learning communities provide this and I feel fortunate to have such a community in my family’s life.

Sandra Dickie has been involved in alternative education for over 15 years. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner with strong interests in environmental policy, advocacy and education. She lives in the Northeast with her husband and family of alternatively schooled children.  Their diverse, self-directed educational paths include attending Macomber Center in Framingham MA. 

 

Dumping the high school diploma

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by Jim Strickland

Imagine someone offering you a certificate for speaking a foreign language, or putting new brakes on a car, or playing a musical instrument, or some other skill.  There are three ways to get this certificate, they tell you: 1) learn and demonstrate the skill, 2) write a paper on the skill, or 3) pay a certification fee.  In this scenario, the option you chose would depend on whether you actually wanted the skill or just needed the certificate.  And by the way, they add, your future happiness and success depend on having this certificate, whether you want the skill or not!

A similar situation has developed with the American high school diploma.  A person’s future success has become tied to possessing the certificate regardless of the skills it is supposed to represent.  On the one hand we tell our kids that school is all about learning and growth and finding your place in the world, but on the other hand we emphasize the certificate itself and warn them that failure to earn a diploma is tantamount to economic and social suicide.

Just how ridiculous this can get is seen in many of the credit retrieval options available to students who are at risk for not graduating.  If a student is missing a required credit in, say, history or science, he or she is often given a packet of worksheets to complete to “retrieve” this credit and get back on track for graduation.  Do these students experience real learning and growth?  Of course not, nor are they meant to.  This is the kind of crazy hoop-jumping that we demand of young people when we emphasize getting gold stars over doing something that really matters.

School reformers have been trying to shore up the high school diploma for decades with ideas like common core standards, merit pay for teachers, privatization schemes, etc.  But maybe it is time we call a spade a spade.  The high school diploma is an antiquated tradition that has become the single largest obstacle to real learning, engagement, and connection in our schools.  We use it as a hammer to enforce compliance with a system that is failing to give life to countless young people who are in dire need of inspiration and genuine respect.

What would happen if we just got rid of the high school diploma altogether?  Would we have a mass exodus of uninspired and disengaged students who had just been going through the motions?  If so, then what does that tell us about the quality of the high school experience for these students?

Rather than inciting a stampede away from school, however, I predict that getting rid of the high school diploma would open the door for creating learning that is an end in itself – relevant, meaningful, and personalized.  This would result in places of learning that truly respect the diverse interests, aptitudes, and needs of our youth.

To make this happen, we need businesses, organizations, and postsecondary education to screen prospective applicants on the basis of real skills instead of a misleading and grossly discriminatory piece of paper.

One of my favorite John Dewey quotes is from his pedagogic creed written in 1897 – “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”  The habits of the mind and heart–like courage, curiosity, freedom and compassion–are developed by living them now, not by jumping through standardized hoops for some hypothetical use in the future.

It is time to take the next step in American education.  Getting rid of the high school diploma may be just what we need.

Jim Strickland is a public educator in Marysville, WA where he lives with his wife and three children.  He is a long-time advocate of democratic, non-coercive, and learner-centered education, and writes regularly on these topics.  Jim welcomes your comments and ideas at .

The Natural Creativity Center – Philadelphia

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by Kerry McDonald

John Holt’s How Children Fail (1964) was one of the first books that Peter Bergson read after graduating from Harvard in 1967. It altered the way he viewed education and learning and propelled him and his late wife, Susan Shilcock, to write their book, Open Connections: The OTHER Basics, in 1980. While unschooling their own four children, the couple created Open Connections in suburban Pennsylvania as a self-directed learning center that has served as a model for natural learning for over 40 years. As one of the first self-directed learning centers, Open Connections has been a source of inspiration and knowledge for a new generation of educators that is expanding the philosophy of self-directed education across the country.

Bergson himself is not resting on his laurels. Now that Open Connections serves nearly 100 families (160 young people), and is almost entirely self-sustaining with an endowment that Bergson and his team have been building for over three decades, he recently launched The Natural Creativity Center in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Bergson has long believed that self-directed education should be accessible to all families regardless of socioeconomic background. “As much as I loved nurturing Open Connections into existence over the majority of my career,” says Bergson, “I always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to make self-directed education available to low-income and moderate-income families.” While he has tried tirelessly over the years to make Open Connections accessible to all families regardless of ability to pay, he knew that bringing a self-directed learning center to the heart of the inner city was the best way to reach under-privileged families.

In January 2016, Natural Creativity opened in the rented education space of a church. It currently serves as a natural learning incubator for 25 young people from the surrounding neighborhood, many of whom have fully subsidized tuition. Like Open Connections, all of the young people at Natural Creativity are registered homeschoolers, with the center complementing the learning that they are already engaged in at their homes and in their larger community. “We’re looking for young people to attend Natural Creativity an average of two to three days a week,” says Bergson. “We want the parents, when they can, to take them to different places in the city, to have different subgroups get together in the community for play or field trips. As they get older, we want teens to go off and do their own things.” With plentiful books and resources, Montessori-inspired manipulatives and a full woodshop, and optional classes on various topics during the week, Natural Creativity serves as a resource center to support self-directed learning. Young people are fully in charge of their own learning and doing, with resources and facilitators available to support them.

In just a short time, Bergson is already seeing positive results. “I had a conference two days ago with the parents of a 17-year-old at Natural Creativity. I asked them for a balanced response (pluses and minuses) about the center and both mom and dad couldn’t say enough about the growth and self-directedness of their son since attending the center. Last year they had to bug him to do things for himself, but now they watch him pursue his own goals, study for college boards. Last year he talked about it, but now he’s doing it, on his own. And mom and dad said how much more pleasant he is to be around. Self-directed learning improves family relationships! These families are learning as well.”

Natural learning is authentic and empowering. It taps into the innate, self-educative capacity of humans to explore and synthesize their world. For children who have never-been-schooled, their curiosity and instinctual drive to learn about their world continue into adolescence and adulthood. For schooled children who leave school for home-based, self-directed education, often in partnership with a learning center like Natural Creativity, their innate curiosity can be re-ignited. As Bergson says: “We see what gets traded-off with the ‘teach-em, test-em’ approach, and we place a higher priority on the self-directed learning approach and the creative process.”

To find a self-directed learning center near you, click here to browse the Alternatives To School website.

Kerry McDonald has been deeply involved in education policy and practice for two decades. She has a B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. from Harvard University, where she studied education administration, planning, and social policy. She is a writer for Natural Mother Magazine and editor for AlternativesToSchool.com. Kerry lives and learns together with her husband and four, never-been-schooled children in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she blogs at Whole Family Learning

Confessions of a Teacher’s Pet

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By Heather Svanidze

I should be a public school success story. I had straight A’s from kindergarten through high school (if you don’t count 9th grade PE, and the fact that I remember that single B should tell you more than the rest of this article will); I was a valedictorian, a National Merit Scholar, and got a full-ride scholarship to my top-choice private college. I list all of this not to boast, but to show that I was fully committed to the system. I didn’t resent school or question homework; I wasn’t even a creative genius who found school stifling. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about school. I liked most of my teachers and they all loved me. I was never even bullied. I fit into the system perfectly.

And that is why, as a 32-year-old mother of three, I am coming to question the school system and consider alternatives for my kids. Because I aced that system, without a doubt, and yet, as a young professional, I couldn’t manage to transfer that success to the real world of work. After college, I first had trouble deciding what kind of work I might enjoy and excel at, and in the jobs and internships I did pursue, I didn’t feel like I performed very well at any of them. You might say that the only job I was good at was being a student.

Without the incentive of grades and tests, I found my own motivation and discipline lacking. Without someone telling me how to organize my time, I found myself wasting it. Rather than excelling in my work and begging for extra credit, as I did in school, I found myself barely pulling off my work by deadline or doing a mediocre job. And as someone used to being commended for being diligent and accomplished, I hated that feeling. Now a work-at-home mom, I have finally had to learn to motivate myself, and I am still in the process of learning to organize my own time and work.

What exactly does my being a success in school have to do with my seeming inability to succeed in real work? What is the connection? These are my theories.

I never learned to motivate myself for the sake of a job well done or the love of learning. 

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I now see that most of my hard work and discipline were driven by grades and accolades, not true learning.

I recall very vividly the first professor who ever gave me a C on a paper in college. I went to her office to find out what I’d done wrong, struggling to keep my voice from cracking or my eyes from tearing up with my sense of failure. Her question surprised me.

“Why does this matter so much to you? It’s only one paper.”

I’m sure I made up some excuse about being worried about losing my scholarships or concerned about understanding the course material. But that was rubbish. My other billion A’s were more than enough to bolster my GPA, and I really couldn’t have cared less about the correct way to construct an historical argument. No, any less than an A meant that I was less. It meant that there were others better than I, that the teacher didn’t like me, that I hadn’t worked hard enough, and probably that I wasn’t as good a person as I thought I was.

You see, in my mind, C students were somehow less. I still remember my shock when I learned that the man who would become my husband, a man with more depth of knowledge in his fields of interest than anyone I’ve ever met, sometimes hadn’t read all the course material in college.

“If I felt it was useful or something I didn’t already know,” he explained, “then I would read it.”

“But, but,” I fairly sputtered in a perfect imitation of Hermione Granger, “The professor assigned it! I’m sure they wouldn’t assign it if it wasn’t important! They obviously know better than you, the student.” I couldn’t understand that he would spend his spare time pursuing his other interests, the things that weren’t covered in class.

Only recently, with the motivation of working from home and caring for my children, have I discovered my own sense of order and discipline, and most importantly, rediscovered my own passions and love of learning.

Even the subjects I loved were often ruined for me.

My best example is math. When I was in elementary school, I loved math, adored math, did math workbooks for fun. I wanted to be a mathematician when I grew up. Of course, I had no idea what mathematicians did (nor do I now, come to think of it), but I just knew I loved math, the way the numbers fit together so neatly. Even algebra was like a puzzle or a game to me.

But my love of math died a slow death in school, culminating in my 8th grade geometry class. It was the geometric proofs, writing prescribed language based on abstruse formulas to “solve” problems I hadn’t chosen and didn’t care about, that was the nail in the coffin of my lifelong love of math. After that, I did the bare minimum, taking only as much math as required to graduate and get into college. I still got A’s, of course, because I could memorize and apply the procedures; I just didn’t know what I was doing or why.

As for writing, I recall one particular seventh grade assignment to write a short story. I poured my heart and soul into a tale about an orphaned girl who befriends two dolphins and raises money to be reunited with her twin brother by charging her friends for dolphin rides. Despite my lack of understanding of both marine biology and custodial law, I threw myself so wholeheartedly into the endeavor that I ran over the page limit, turning in 12 (handwritten!) pages instead of the required 2. My English teacher informed me that my story was too long and unrealistic, offering no further encouragement for my clear enthusiasm. I don’t remember any creative writing I did after that, probably because I never put as much work or energy into it ever again.

I didn’t have the time to discover my own passions and vocation.

Beginning in middle school, I kept a very busy schedule – school, music lessons, dance, sports, church, and student leadership – which meant that I was often running around from 7 AM to 9:30 PM, after which I would do my homework, often past midnight. Although I freely and happily chose each of these activities, I remember the immense relief I would feel whenever I had to cancel one of my lessons or classes due to a cold or a family obligation. Oh, the sweetness of an unscheduled hour or two, to read or think or just be. Or the impossible luxury of a day off from school (often used to catch up on homework, of course).

Looking back, I realize how much of my real education – the lessons I’ve taken with me into adulthood, the deep-down living kinds of lessons – occurred during my ”extracurricular” activities. I don’t regret being overscheduled with activities so much as I wonder how necessary were all those hours of school and homework, most of which I have not retained.

But of course, it’s not useful or relevant now to fret over things I would have done, or could have learned, had my education been different or had I been less obsessed with playing the school game.

It does, however, make me think about the kind of education and childhood I want my three young children to have. Until recently, I would have been stressed about their starting school because that would mean I would take up the role of enforcer for the school, making sure my kids did their homework and kept their grades up, like I did.

But in the past year or two, after reading Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn, this Alternatives to School website, and many other sources, I have been questioning the whole system. Is that the education I want them to have, worrying more about getting the work done than actually learning? I wonder if that kind of education is the best way to grow into adulthood, and more importantly, I wonder whether it’s even necessary in any sense.

I look at my 5-year-old, who bombards us daily with questions about machines, flight, gravity, the universe, dinosaurs, air, chemicals, letters, and numbers; who pores over books about human anatomy and how machines work and how to draw animals; who is learning the basics of arithmetic from simply asking questions, and who, one evening before his 5th birthday, spontaneously decided he was going to start reading.

I look at my 3-year-old, who unashamedly uses incorrect (and adorable) grammar, proudly proclaiming “us ride us bikes!” and “that not fit me any morning” until one day she just suddenly starts saying it correctly; who finds out all she is capable of by climbing and sliding and lifting and breaking; who makes sense of the world through imitation and observation, who counts and recognizes letters and can’t wait to read like her brother does.

And I even look at my 15-month-old, who strings sounds together, playing with phonemes until she finds one she enjoys or that gets her what she wants; who is nearly impossible to dress because she cannot waste a moment lying still when she could be practicing her new walking skills; whose normally placid disposition turns to rage in an instant if someone takes away her new “toy,” because she doesn’t understand that it’s a choking hazard; she just knows that it is something new and she must get to the bottom of it.

This is how the vast majority of human children respond to a normal human environment: they learn. It is clear to me from observing these three small examples of human childhood that all children are born ready, able, excited, perfectly designed to learn. Not only that, but they can learn everything they need to know in our culture with more joy and exuberance and pleasure than the greatest teacher or the most well-designed curriculum could ever instill.

Of course, the A student in me wakes up and says, “But! What about… grades and accomplishments and scholarships and relatives and transcripts and proms and student council elections…?” If the school system is education, then how could an education outside of the system ever work? Unschooling would mean opting my kids out of the system where I had so much so-called success.

But then again, I’m not sure I want them to have the sort of success I had. I would prefer them to have the unfading success of knowing their own minds, of motivating their own learning and savoring that learning, regardless of what a grade or test score tells them.

Heather Svanidze is a French-English translator with degrees from George Washington University and Whitworth University. She lives in the Northwest with her husband and three young children.

Learning. It’s Not About Education.

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by Laura Grace Weldon

Learning is a whole experience of mind, body, and self in relation to the world

When you pick up an orange you feel its texture and weight in your hand. You breathe in scent emitted by the brightly colored rind. If you’re hungry, you peel and section it to savor piece by piece. A fresh orange has phytonutrients, fiber, minerals, and vitamins that promote health. And it tastes wonderful.

It’s possible to purchase the separate nutritional components of an orange. You simply buy vitamin C, vitamin A, flavonoids, B-complex vitamins, fiber, potassium, and calcium in pill form. Of course replacing an orange with supplements is ridiculously expensive compared to the cost of consuming the fruit itself. And isolated compounds don’t work as effectively in the body as the whole fruit. Besides, where is the sensation of biting into an orange bursting with juice? Lost. Divided into a fraction of the experience.

Imagine being told in your earliest years that pills were superior to food and should replace it as often as possible. Even if handfuls of supplements were deemed more valuable than food by every adult in your life you’d still clamor to eat what you found appetizing. If meal-substitution pills became mandatory for children once they turned five years old, you’d never relate to food (or its replacement) the same way again. The body, mind, and spirit reject what diminishes wholeness.

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Don’t argue. Just take it.

Yet that’s an apt analogy for heavily structured education, where learning is set apart from the threads that connect it to what has meaning and purpose for the learner. Conventional education separates learning into thousands of measurable objectives. It has very little to do with a child’s hunger to master a particular skill or thirst to pursue an area of interest, in fact such appetites tend to interfere with institutional requirements. It’s not designed for the whole child but aimed at one hemisphere of the brain, doled out in pre-determined doses and repeatedly evaluated. The most gifted, caring teachers are stuck within systems that don’t acknowledge or understand natural learning. In fact, most of us believe, however grudgingly, that schooling is necessary for learning without recognizing that damage is done.

For the very youngest children, learning is constant. Their wondrous progress from helpless newborn to sophisticated five-year-old happens without explicit teaching. They explore, challenge themselves, make mistakes, and try again with an insatiable eagerness to learn. Young children seem to recognize that knowledge is an essential shared resource, like air or water. They demand a fair share. They actively espouse the right to gain skills and understanding in a way that’s useful to them at the time.

Although we have the idea that learning flows from instruction, when we interfere with natural learning children show us with stubbornness or disinterest that it has nothing to do with coercion. Children often ignore what they aren’t ready to learn only to return to the same concept later, comprehending it with ease and pleasure.  What they do is intrinsically tied to why they do it, because they know learning is purposeful. They are curious, motivated, and always pushing in the direction of mastery.

Learning is a hunger too.

Learning is a hunger too.

But schooling irrevocably alters the natural process of learning for every single child.

  • The very structure of school makes children passive recipients of education designed by others. They cannot charge ahead fueled by curiosity, pursuing interests wherever they lead.  Although interest-driven learning results in high level mastery, the top priority in school is completing assignments correctly and scoring well on tests. Despite what individual children want to learn, value is given to what can be evaluated.
  • Segregated by age, children are limited to examples of behavior, reasoning, and ability from those at a similar level of maturity. They have little exposure to essential adult role models and minimal engagement in community life.  They’re also deprived of the opportunity to practice the sort of nurturance and self-education that happens when children interact in multi-age settings.  Even collaboration is defined as cheating.
  • A child’s natural inclination to discover and experiment is steered instead toward meeting curricular requirements. Gradually the child’s naturally exploratory approach is supplanted by less meaningful ways of gathering and retaining information.
  • The mind and body are exquisitely cued to work together. Sensory input floods the brain, locking learning into memory. Movement is essential for learning. The emphasis in school, however, is almost entirely static, and almost entirely focused on left-brain analytical thinking. Many children ache for more active involvement, but their attempts to enliven the day are labeled behavior problems. The mismatch between school-like expectations and normal childhood behavior has resulted in millions of children being diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Coming up with the correct answer leaves little room for trial and error. Thinking too carefully or deeply may result in the wrong answer. The right answer from a child’s personal perspective may actually be the opposite of the correct answer, but to get a good mark the child cannot be true to his or her experience. The grade becomes more important than reality.
  • Emphasis on the correct answer squeezes out unconventional thinking. The fear of making mistakes squelches creativity and innovation. After years of being taught to avoid making mistakes, the child has also learned to steer clear of originality.
  • Readiness is pivotal for learning, particularly in reading. In school, reading is used to instruct in every other subject, so the child who doesn’t read at grade level quickly falls behind. The subject matter in school, even when taught well, isn’t necessarily what the child is ready to learn. The way it is presented tends to be indirect, inactive, and irrelevant to the child. Schoolwork repeatedly emphasizes skill areas that are lacking rather than building on strengths, or goes over skills already mastered with stultifying repetition. Neither approach builds real learning
  • The desire to produce meaningful work, the urge to make contributions of value, the need to be recognized for oneself, and other developmental necessities are undercut by the overriding obligation to complete assignments.
  • Conventional education takes the same approach to a six-year-old and an 18-year-old: assignments, grades, tests. Self-reliance and independence doesn’t easily flourish in such a closed container.
  • Children must hurry to do the required work, then change subjects. The information is stuffed into their short-term memories in order to get good grades and pass tests, even though such tests tend to measure superficial thinking. In fact, higher test scores are unrelated to future accomplishments in such career advancement, positive relationships, or leadership. Students aren’t learning to apply information to real life activities nor are they generating wisdom from it. The very essence of learning is ignored.
  • Schoolwork clearly separates what is deemed “educational” from the rest of a child’s experience. This indicates to children that learning is confined to specific areas of life. A divide appears where before there was a seamless whole. Absorption and play are on one side in opposition to work and learning on another. This sets the inherent joy and meaning in all these things adrift. The energy that formerly prompted a child to explore, ask questions, and eagerly leap ahead becomes a social liability. Often this transforms into cynicism.
  • When young people are insufficiently challenged or pushed too hard, they do learn but not necessarily what they’re being taught. What they learn is that the educational process is boring or makes them feel bad about themselves or doesn’t acknowledge their deeper gifts. They see that what they achieve is relentlessly judged. They learn to quell enthusiasm and suppress the value-laden questions that normally bubble up as they seek to grow more wholly into themselves. Gradually, their natural moment-to-moment curiosity is distorted until they resist learning anything but what they have to learn. This is how the life force is drained from education.

We’re so committed to structured, top-down instruction that we impose it on kids beyond the school day. Young people are relentlessly shuttled from the classroom to enrichment activities to organized sports and back home to play with educational toys or apps when there’s very little evidence that all this effort, time, and money results in learning of any real value.

Many of us think that education has always been this way—stuffing information into young people who must regurgitate it back on demand. Based on dropout numbers alone, this approach doesn’t work for at least a quarter of U.S. students. So we advocate copying Finland or Singapore, using the newest electronics, taking away testing, increasing testing, adding uniforms or yoga or chess or prayer. We’ve been reforming schools for a long time without recognizing, as Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.”

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Figuring something out is itself a delight.

Structured education is actually very new to the human experience. Worse, it actually undermines the way children are primed to advance their abilities and mature into capable adults. That’s because most of the time humanity has spent on Earth has been as nomadic hunter-gatherers, before the advent of agriculture. This time span comprises approximately 98% of human history. Although our culture and lifestyle have changed considerably, our minds and bodies have not. Like our earliest ancestors we are still tuned to nature’s rhythms, cued to react quickly to danger, desire close interdependence with a cohesive group of people, and need in our earliest years highly responsive nurturing that gradually fosters our abilities.

Studies of isolated groups who continue to live in hunter-gatherer ways have shown us that during this era (and throughout most time periods afterward) babies are breastfed and remain in close contact with their mothers for the first few years. This results in securely attached infants who are more likely to grow up independent, conscientious, and intellectually advanced.

Their children play freely in multi-age groups without overt supervision or direction by adults. Such free play promotes self-regulation (ability to control behavior, resist impulse, and exert self-control) which is critical for maturity. Play fosters learning in realms such as language, social skills, and spatial relations. It teaches a child to adapt, innovate, handle stress, and think independently. Even attention span increases in direct correlation to play.

Playfulness can’t be separated from learning. Children watch and imitate the people around them. The child’s natural desire to build his or her capabilities doesn’t have to be enforced. Instruction happens when the child seeks it. The learning environment is particularly rich when young people are surrounded by adults performing the tasks necessary to maintain their way of life. Children naturally learn as they playfully repeat what they see and begin to take part in these real life tasks. Mastering all the skills for self-reliance isn’t easy. Hunger-gatherer children must recognize thousands of species of plants and animals as well as how to best obtain, use, and store them. They must know how to make necessary items such as nets, baskets, darts, carrying devices, clothing, and shelter. They need to learn the lore of their people and pass along wisdom through story, ritual, and art. And perhaps most importantly, they need to be able to cooperate and share in ways that have allowed humanity to thrive. In such cultures, children learn on their own timetables in ways that best use their abilities.

free range learning

It’s about curiosity and awe.

We don’t have to live as hunter-gatherers do to restore natural learning to children’s lives. Homeschoolers and unschoolers have been doing this, quite easily, for a very long time. Our children learn as they are ready and in ways that augment strong selfhood. They stay up late to stargaze or make music or design video games, knowing they can sleep late the next morning. They may fill an afternoon reading or actively contribute to the community. They have time to delve into topics of interest to them, often in much greater depth and breadth than any curriculum might demand. They explore, ask questions, volunteer, hang out with friends of all ages, take on household responsibilities, daydream, seek challenges, make mistakes and start over. They’re accustomed to thinking for themselves and pursuing their own interests, so they’re more likely to define success on their own terms. Because homeschooing/unschooling gives them the freedom to be who they already are, it pushes back against a world relentlessly promoting narrow definitions of success.

This kind of natural learning isn’t just an antidote to the soul crushing pressure of test-happy schools. It’s the way young people have learned throughout time.

Let children sleep in. Let them dream. Let them wake to their own possibilities.

This is an excerpt from Laura Grace Weldon’s book, Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything.

free range learning, holistic learning, effect of school, school mindset,

 

When Did It Stop Being Fun?

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By Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg

“Our kids are our future.” This is something I hear constantly as a parent of three children. Nowadays, the expectations by both parents and society do not permit our kids to just be kids. By burdening them with overfilled schedules, social and academic pressure and schoolwork that gives them anxiety, we are standing in their way from having fun.  We need to let it be okay for them to rest and relax, before we smother their creativity and love of learning.

Last fall, my high school-aged daughter was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She had anxiety-related tendencies that were extremely disruptive to her daily life.  At first, she visited a psychiatrist and began medication. After some time passed and she felt stronger over the summer, she decided that she would stop taking her medication. But when school resumed, her studies overwhelmed her and she was again working non-stop. Then one day, she fainted. She hit her head and ended up with a concussion and amnesia.  She was very confused and upset, wondering what had happened to her.  At the end of the day, she panicked when the doctor explained (and I reiterated) that she needed to rest, both physically and cognitively. She looked at us and asked, “What is the date today?” She was worried about the upcoming deadlines of her college applications.

What is happening to our children?

The extra stress causes illness and the increased use of medication. “Everyone is doing it (regarding taking medication), one psychiatrist said to me. “She’ll be at a disadvantage if she doesn’t take it,” the therapist said regarding my daughter having less success if she wasn’t on medication.

My older son had some serious gastro-intestinal problems, headaches and nausea last year. After numerous medical tests with specialists, it was concluded that he has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He missed twenty-one days of school.  This year, he feels better.

My youngest recently took the I.S.E.E. (Independent School Entrance Exam).  He was so nervous and scared that he would not do as well as his peers. He is an amazing eleven-year-old who does not deserve this much pressure.

Is success that important?  Is it more important than happiness?  Shouldn’t we want both?  Do pressure and anxiety produce excellence or difficulties?  As parents who are guiding our future leaders, shouldn’t we teach them that happiness and success are equally desired?  I believe that the two qualities do need to exist together.

Too much anxiety can cause a breakdown and children have no real way to deal with it. Some kids become too social, pushing their academics aside, while others work too hard and abandon their social lives. When they are younger, we prepare them for the road ahead.  In the later years, we can’t always pave the road as they travel through life. We are torn between letting them figure it out for themselves and hoping they have the tools within themselves to carry on and become successful adults.

The science of brain development has provided concrete evidence that there is real power in play.  Play is the vital activity that children use to learn and interact with their world, while gaining the mental, physical and social skills necessary to succeed in their adult lives. Play is the work of a child — they are preparing themselves for adult roles.  Play also has important links to developing key skills that serve as a foundation for life-long success, including critical thinking, communication, problem solving and collaboration.

As a photographer and artist, an educator and parent, I have created the multi-media exhibit, “When Did It Stop Being Fun?” that examines the changes of children’s emotions through their journey of formal education through their photographs, drawings, a video and an interactive installation.

The activity of making this exhibition helped me understand my feelings and I believe that my process also helped the kids involved. “When Did It Stop Being Fun?” discusses why education was set up in the first place, and the necessity for a set schedule.  It begins with young, happy children who show pride in their environment, and transitions to kids in higher grades who are filled with anguish.

I invite you to come, see, experience, review and consider your own thoughts on this subject.   

“WHEN DID IT STOP BEING FUN?” opens Saturday, April 16th, with a reception from 6pm to 8pm, at dnj Gallery, located at 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA.  http://www.dnjgallery.net

Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg received her BFA in both History and Photography from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA in Studio Art/Photography from Mills College in Oakland, California. Mayers-Schoenberg has been involved with several Los Angeles institutions including the Barnsdall Municipal Art Gallery for which she worked for the education department and developed elementary school programs. While with the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, she assisted in organizing exhibitions and workshops and handled grant writing. She worked in museum education programming at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Skirball Cultural Center and The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. She has been following kids and their development for years. She opened the dnj Gallery in 2007.

 

Why School Is Failing My Son

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by Jim Strickland

One of the saddest realizations of my life is that the institution in which I have placed my time, energy, and hope for the past 25 years is failing my own son.  Owen is 14 years old and he has not attended school for the past two years since his last experience in early middle school.  Since school is the only legitimate place for young people in our society, this has left him with few viable options.

Why is Owen not attending school?  Because school is not a good place for him.  Here is why:

1) School unnecessarily creates extreme anxiety for Owen because everything he does is scrutinized and judged.  He is constantly under pressure to compete because his efforts are compared with those of his peers.  This intense competition for approval is unbearably stressful and sucks the joy out of learning.

2) School forces Owen to deny his own interests, passions, and experience in order to focus on an imposed agenda that is meaningless to him.  When he has to leave all that matters to him at the classroom door, the classroom becomes a dry, inauthentic, and lifeless place.

3) School provides few opportunities for real work that is done for real reasons.  Owen may not be the biggest fan of household chores, but he understands that we all have to do our part to make our household work.  In school, almost all the work is artificial, contrived, and done for hypothetical reasons that do not inspire participation.

4) School does not connect Owen with a variety of adult mentors who are doing things that matter.  School culture is often dominated by a peer-centered social pecking order that can feel like something out of Lord of the Flies.  Yes, good teachers can be effective mentors, but with huge class sizes and their own pressures to produce, teachers can only do so much.

5) School does not give Owen a voice in the decisions that affect his life.  It violates human nature and personal dignity to have our lives controlled by someone else.  Experience tells us that people support what they help create.  School does not do this for Owen.

I believe that Owen is going to be okay.  He is a smart, funny, and considerate young man who has a lot to offer our world.  But how sad that he cannot be his awesome self in school where he can connect with friends and teachers who accept him as he is and encourage his unique strengths.

I have a dream… a dream that school will become for every child a place where they feel valued and accepted for who they are, a place where they are inspired by real work for real reasons, a place where they can work with adult mentors who have time to connect on a personal level, a place where they learn the art of democracy by having a real voice in the decisions that affect them, and a place where they know without a doubt that they belong.  We can do this.

In his classic Experience and Education, John Dewey wrote, “What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul;  loses his appreciation of things worthwhile?”  We are indeed in a battle for the souls of our children.  School can part of the solution, or it can be part of the problem.  The choice is ours.

Jim Strickland is a public educator in Marysville, WA where he lives with his wife and three children.  He is a long-time advocate of democratic, non-coercive, and learner-centered education, and writes regularly on these topics.  Jim welcomes your comments and ideas at .

 

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.

Where Are They Now? Insights from Grown Unschoolers

MustangsAlternatives 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 second in a series of interviews of these grown unschoolers. (Click here to read the first interview.)

Laura Ellis is a former unschooler, Master’s student, and experienced horse trainer. She was kind enough to share her amazing life experiences with Alternativestoschool.com:

Tell me a bit about yourself…
I’m 28, live in Santa Fe, NM, and will graduate with a Master’s of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine this August. After I graduate, I’m going to stay here for a few months to de-school, then move to Pittsburgh, PA to be with my family, where I will practice Oriental Medicine. I’m also a horse trainer and plan to (somehow, financially) continue training captured wild mustangs to be adopted. I also currently work at a craft brewery part time.

Were you homeschooled or unschooled or both? For how many years? Did you attend public or private school? Why did you switch?
I attended public school through the 2nd grade. Because of a particularly inflexible teacher, my (apparent, though I don’t recall this) love of math turned into a hatred of math, so my parents decided to homeschool us. Because of our family’s nature, this quickly became unschooling. In high school, I decided that I wanted the equivalent of a PA high school diploma, so I signed up for twice-weekly high school classes with the homeschool co-op that we belonged to. You might say I was “homeschooled” during this time, since I had homework, but I always considered myself to be unschooled through this time because of my learning philosophy and because all of the choices that we made educationally–classes and otherwise–were from the unschool mindset. Slightly more formal classes (with teachers and homework, though with flexibility that homeschoolers expect) were the way I wanted to achieve my goal. So in short, I unschooled for 10 years, 3rd-12th grades.

What, for you, are the main advantages to unschooling?
One main advantage, which I think is the foundation for the others, is that unschooling taught me to trust myself and to question the traditional paths. Not to scorn or dismiss traditional paths, simply to question. I have always been able to look at my life situations and decide on my next step based both on what mainstream says I should (“You graduated from high school? Go to college!”) and on out-of-the-box options. Being used to choosing less traditional paths and trusting myself to know which path is best for me have opened up opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have had the courage to look for otherwise.

Another (related) advantage is that my parents taught me how to pursue the scarier options–that is, how to ask strangers for help learning something or for internship/jobs, and how to look for and take advantage of opportunities.

Also, I developed a sense of self-confidence, a sense that I have something to contribute, and a realistic sense of my limitations. Together, I think that these three things are what has made my previous employers pretty unanimously fall in love with me. I can see my own potential and expect myself to live life, I try hard to succeed at new things, I expect myself to be valuable to the team/society (not only because I personally believe it’s important, but because I do believe that I am valuable, and being less is a disservice to myself and my community), and yet I know that there are certain things that I am not good at (not valuable for), and I can be honest about it from the start. I believe that all of these qualities (advantages) can be attributed to having been unschooled.

What are the main disadvantages?
This is always a hard question for me to answer because I think I sound particularly rosy and probably self-deceptive when I say, Nothing. Honestly, I cannot think of a single way I am not better off from being unschooled. But that’s me personally: I know that unschooling doesn’t work for some people, and that’s due to the beauty of human variety. Nothing is going to be the right path for everyone, and unschooling is no exception. I couldn’t tell you why, though.

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)?
Lots of other people will say it, too, but I think that my social life was much healthier than my peers as a child. My friends’ ages ranged at one point from 5-50, and they were people I considered personal friends, not just “my friend’s little sister” or “my mom’s friend.” My social life now is just as healthy because I know how to relate to people of all ages, including co-workers, bosses, fellow students, etc.

For socialization, we belonged to a few different homeschool/unschool co-ops. I was also involved with Girl Scouts until I was a teenager, I played with neighborhood kids, and went to summer camps. I also often made friends on family vacations–not that I kept in touch with them, but that’s how easy it was for me to make new friends.

Tell me about your first job (Paid or unpaid). How did you obtain it? Did being an unschooler assist you in any way?
My first job was at the riding stable where I took dressage lessons. I was about 11. I don’t remember how exactly I got the job, but I suspect my riding instructor suggested it, since they had a working student program where students could work in the barn for credit toward additional riding lessons. Probably the only part of being an unschooler that helped me get that job was flexible hours, but since I remember often working with other public-schooled kids, I doubt it was a huge factor.

What about college? Did you attend? If so, how did you get admitted?
I attended college after a gap year. Getting in was the same process as public-schoolers, only we had to write a transcript for me, showing the classes I had taken (both through the homeschooler co-op and the “classes” we made up when I pursued something far enough to warrant mention and “credit”), and one college required a portfolio of my activities (which they waived after my interview). Most colleges were very impressed at my educational background and experience, and I felt that the admissions interviewers were quite receptive to the idea of admitting a homeschooled student. (And yes, we used the word “homeschooled” for the sake of ease.) I got into four of the five colleges to which I applied, including Mt. Holyoke and Earlham College (which is the one I attended, partly for its reputation for academic challenge). The one that I was not accepted into (Kenyon College), I was told, had a massive influx of applicants that year, and I was told that I was the right caliber of student that they were looking for.

What about your current career? What do you do? Is your current career somehow associated with what you did as an unschooled child/teen?
My current career is “student,” although by the end of the year I will be a licensed practitioner of Oriental Medicine. I had hardly any idea of what acupuncture is and even less idea of energetic and whole body medicine until sometime in college. I did, however, always have an empathetic heart for human suffering and knew that I needed to be of some service to humanity.

I’m also a horse trainer, and working with horses is a love that began when I started lessons at 9 years old. I worked at that barn for several years, and then, when my family moved to the country, became the primary caregiver to two horses that we boarded in our pasture (their owner was a grown unschooler, actually, who became like a big sister to me, and was an influence in the ways of growing into an adult unschooler). I started to learn training with these two horses in the style of natural horsemanship. Then, when I moved to Santa Fe, I started studying natural horsemanship in earnest with a man who trains wild mustangs to be adopted out, and he (and the horses) are my inspiration for continuing this work.

What does the future hold for you? What are you excited about?
The future holds….too many things, and it’s a good problem that many unschoolers have. After I graduate, as I said, I plan on enjoying Santa Fe for a few months, then moving back to PA to be with my family. I will also be going on a month-long trip to China through my school in August 2016, assuming I can raise the money to help me go, and will be traveling around Asia for an unknown amount of extra time while I’m over there. In PA, I’m going to start my acupuncture and herbs practice, but how that will manifest is not yet solid for me.

I plan on bringing one of the mustangs that I’m working with and have developed a strong bond with back to PA with me and perhaps another green mustang to train.

I have also played with the idea of going on a 6-week intensive Spanish language immersion program to Peru next spring, but it looks like I’ll need to postpone that pursuit for now. I also desperately want to move to Alaska for a year, and I have the connections to do it (including housing and getting a job as a commercial fisherman, which I am mostly interested in because of my unschooler self shouting, “Something new!“), but again, my family is trumping my options, so I’ll be moving to PA instead and save Alaska for later. I was also thinking about moving to Oregon, and plan to settle in that region eventually.

I am equally excited by all of these things and sometimes despair that I can’t do them all now.

 What advice would you give parents who are thinking about OR making the choice to unschool?
It’s more work than it sounds like: you have to be present, attentive, and willing to devote a lot of time to driving and actively doing things. But it is also probably the most rewarding thing you can do for your kids (possibly for you, too, but I don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t know by anything but hearsay). As long as there is respect and communication (and I reiterate, respect), you’re going to have amazing relationships with your kids, your kids with each other, and your kids will know and appreciate your efforts.

Insights From A Grown Unschooler

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Alternatives To School contributor, Gina Riley, 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 first in a series of interviews of these grown unschoolers.

Ben is a 19-year-old musician and college sophomore who was home educated throughout his life. He considers himself a “relaxed homeschooler,” and is a highly self-directed learner. Ben talks about his experience with self-directed learning here:

Tell me a bit about yourself!

I am a 19 year old musician. My main instrument is guitar (acoustic, electric, and classical), but I also play bass and mandolin and am a singer-songwriter. I have completed a master certificate in guitar at Berklee College of Music and currently am a sophomore at a small college in New York, where I am working towards a Bachelor’s of Music in classical guitar performance. I play lots of local gigs in the New York area.

Were you homeschooled or unschooled or both?
I would say that I was “relaxed homeschooled,” meaning that we (my mom and me) did use a curriculum, but it was never forced on me and we didn’t do “school at home”.

Did you attend public or private school during any time in your school career? No. I was homeschooled from K-12.

What were the main advantages of homeschooling for you?

Looking back, the biggest advantage for me was that I was able to explore my own interests freely and was never stopped because of time constraints. For instance, if I wanted to study Ancient Greek culture for three hours that was actually encouraged, whereas if I went to school I would have to follow a set schedule. As a result, I had many different interests in various subjects. From age 5-8, I was obsessed with rocks and studiously collected and labeled hundreds of rocks and read lots of books on the subject. From age 8-10, I became very interested in coins, especially old coins. I collected, read about, and looked at them all the time. From 10 to about 15, I got into playing golf, and eventually got very good at it. I won 21 local tournaments and for a couple of years thought of golf as my future career. However, when I was 14, my mom started taking guitar lessons at a local music shop and asked me if I wanted to learn how to play too. At first I was resistant, but after a couple of weeks I would start to ask my mom to show me how to play. Since my mom probably only knew a couple basic chords, she instead signed me up for a month of lessons with her guitar teacher. After about a year, I truly fell in love with playing guitar. I do think that playing, studying, and writing music is my calling, but I would have never found that calling if I didn’t have the time to fully explore my different interests.

What were the main disadvantages of homeschooling for you?

I had a great experience with homeschooling, and the only disadvantage for me (especially as a child) was dealing with other people’s reactions to the fact that I was educated differently than my peers. As soon as my mom decided to homeschool me, and the neighbors never saw the school bus come, there was nearly a riot! Almost all of our neighbors fiercely questioned my mom and me, and sometimes they would actually test me. I was a very smart kid, so those neighbors that tested me were probably pretty disappointed that I did so well on their “tests.” This went on all the way until about age 16. After that people would gradually bother me less about it, and by now some of our harshest critics now actually encourage and support homeschooling as an educational choice! Random people in public would ask “why aren’t you in school today?”, and when I told them that I was homeschooled, they would ceaselessly question me, and not always nicely. As a kid, it sometimes felt that the world was constantly trying to get my mom and me in trouble for choosing a totally responsible and legal educational choice. One of my favorite things about being an adult is that no one asks me why I’m not in school. Sad but true.

Ugh! The social question…(Sorry! But so many want to know…). How did you make friends as a homeschooler?

I’ve been asked this question way too many times, but I do understand that as a researcher you have to ask. I never had any trouble making friends. However, I tried to pick my friends wisely (and still do). In fact, being homeschooled gave me many opportunities to make friends of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities since I wasn’t stuck with my same age peers all day or peer pressured to make friends with people that I didn’t like. I made friends through activities, and normal day to day interaction with other people. I did tend to have more adult friends than same age friends because I was around people of all ages, which some people had problems with. Once, a doctor told my mom that I had Asperger’s Syndrome because I had obsessive interests and seemed to be friends with a lot of people older than I. She was obviously misinformed…and now Asperger’s doesn’t even exist! I’ve never had trouble making friends and I feel that being homeschooled has actually helped me to meet many more interesting people than I would have if I were in school.

Would you consider your social life healthy (as a child and now)?

As mentioned in the previous question, I definitely had a healthy social life as a child. Now as a college student I have made more friends than I can keep up with despite being somewhat introverted. I never have had issues with having a social life.

Tell me about your first job (paid or unpaid). How did you obtain it? Did being a self-directed learner assist you in any way?

Though I have volunteered for almost as far as I can remember, I would say that my first job would be as a dog walker for one of my neighbors. I have done many different jobs both paid and volunteer in nature. I have been a camp counselor, eel monitor (DEC volunteer project), Meals on Wheels volunteer, and have played numerous paid and unpaid music gigs both with a band and as a solo artist. Being homeschooled definitely helped me in terms of being more flexible with hours than my school educated peers could be. I also was used to working with adults and am good at coming up with creative ideas and solutions to problems, which definitely was and is an asset.

What about college? How did you get admitted?

Since my mom is a college professor, I am used to the academic environment, so even if I chose not to go to college I would know what a life steeped in academics looks like! When I was 16 I successfully applied to Berklee College Of Music’s online school and completed a 24 credit master guitar certificate at age 18. From there, I chose to apply to a small college in New York because I liked the school and they have an excellent music department. I successfully auditioned and the application process went relatively smoothly, except for getting federal financial aid. Specifically, when I applied for TAP, I was denied because I didn’t have a high school diploma, which resulted in a hold being placed on my financial aid account. However, I had no problems obtaining other financial aid and I also earned two scholarships. I am going to college so that I can study my field of choice (music) in depth before I start working in the music industry. So far I am having a great experience at college and already have a clear reputation as a very talented and hard working student.

What about your current career?
Is your current career somehow associated with interests you had when you were younger?

As I mentioned earlier, I am a musician. As I am currently in college, I gig mostly in the summer and during breaks from school, but once I graduate I plan on pursuing music as a full time career. Since it will probably be hard to make a living at first, I might also teach music or work another job until I am able to make a living as a full time musician. Being a relaxed homeschooler gave me the time to explore my interests and get very good at my various interests. I started playing guitar at age 14, and I would definitely not have been able to practice nearly as much as I did if I was in school…it gave me more flexibility to play gigs, which was a big advantage.

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

Playing and studying music is my main passion, and I am very excited to try to make a living at what I love to do. It will probably be difficult, especially at first, but life is not a rehearsal and it’s too short for me to settle for a more respectable office job that I won’t enjoy.

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

My main advice would be to make an educated decision and to read a lot about the different types of homeschooling/unschooling that are out there so that you can determine what is right for your child/teen. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but for me it has been one of the best choices that my mom made for me. Being homeschooled allowed me to stay curious, open minded, and creative and not be stifled by time constraints or an over-scheduled childhood. Most importantly, it gave me the time and freedom to follow my passion. Read books that are both pro-home education and more traditional education-based, stay open-minded, and don’t forget about using your intuition!