Tag Archives: homeschool

Unschooling Rather Than Highschooling

This is a particularly long piece, but I think it captures the essence of what “unschooling” can be during what would conventionally be ones high school years. It chronicles highlights of the educational journeys of my two kids (Eric now 25 and his sister Emma now 21) who made the decision (with their parents’ consent) not to go to high school, which facilitated their own self-initiated “deep learning” projects done instead.

To set the context for their unschooling experience, we pulled Eric out of school in February 2000 a month after his 14th birthday because it had become clear that he hated going to school and, being a total autodidact, had a profound incompatibility with the conventional instructional academic environment. The previous year we had hired an educational specialist who had worked with him for several month trying unsuccessfully to help him develop study skills and get past his determination not to to do any home work he considered “boring and pointless”. Earlier in the current year, he had gotten everyone’s attention by writing “Fuck math!” as his only answer on the State of California standard math test given to all eighth-graders in the state. That expletive, a culmination of sorts, of years of becoming more and more math-phobic under the tutelage of “drill and kill” math teachers. With his single scrawled answer on the many-question scantron test form, we could tell from subsequent meetings and other discussions with the school staff, that they were reframing Eric as a problem kid, a frame he too seemed to be internalizing.

Since the beginning of the school year, Eric’s mom had done a fair amount of research on the Internet on alternative schools and even the possibility of homeschooling. The few really alternative schools in our area were hugely expensive private schools beyond our means. Even if we could have afforded such a school, Eric was such an “autodidact” (self-learner) and so burnt out we weren’t confident any school environment would work for him. So against conventional wisdom and the advice of friends and even some family members, we finally made our anguished decision to pull him out and figure out how to educate him at home. Though his mom and I both had jobs, we had some flexibility in our schedules, and my mom was now living in our guest house, so there generally was an adult around, but Eric would have to pursue his curriculum mostly on his own.

By the time our daughter Emma completed eighth grade at a small alternative charter school, her brother Eric was already in his fourth year of unschooling, and mom and dad were comfortable enough to offer her at least three choices. She could leave school like her brother, go to a small alternative high school run by the same crew that had launched and ran her middle school, or she could choose “door number 3”, which was the large public “digital arts” magnet school not to far from our home.

Emma chose to attend the large public high school. She and her brother were already into the online role-playing games (that I will discuss in more detail shortly) and she also was very interested in art, so the “digital arts” focus of the magnet school (which the brochures said included computer game design) piqued her interest. Also she was hoping for a vibrant social scene with her fellow students in a big high school, like she had seen on TV in Nickelodeon’s shows “Daria”, “Doug” and “Degrassi”, all set in conventional high school environments full of the kind of intense human drama she had tasted in her online role-playing games, if not in her real life to date.

But after her first year at the school she told her mom and I that she definitely did not want to go back. The school had implemented short passing time between classes and very short lunch and nutrition breaks so there was little or no time for that social interaction and drama between kids she had been hoping for. She felt that much of the school day was wasted on bureaucratic logistics and that most of her teachers were obsessed with grades and tests and trying to keep students from failing rather than really creating a compelling learning environment. And rather than integrating digital arts into all the classes and curriculum, there was one mandatory elective class (oxymoron?… not in public schools), a digital-arts survey art class where you learned more about art than actually learn the digital tools and producing art.

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Taking Eric out of School

Eric, age 17, three years into unschooling
The recent piece on Good Morning America featuring a mom and dad who were unschooling their two kids, and the negative, rather than inquiring tone, that it was framed with, made me recall our own decision to let our son Eric unschool, rather than go to high school. I wrote a piece about it in January of 2009, “Unschooling Instead of High Schooling”, and I have reworked that piece below, based on additional thought, more feedback from Eric, and more water under the bridge…

We pulled Eric out of school in February 2000 at age 14 because it had become clear that he hated going to school every morning and had a profound incompatibility with the conventional instructional academic environment. We had been considering doing it for a while, and Eric’s mom had done a fair amount of research on homeschooling on the Internet. After pulling Eric out, which removed the most acute of his issues, Sally and I had tried initially to build a home curriculum that included the four standard academic areas – English, social studies, science and math. Eric, as it turns out, had other ideas. Continue reading →

Alternatives to Middle School… Revisited

At my partner Sally’s suggestion and based on her research, we have one more followup on Emily’s son in middle school looking for a profoundly different educational path. Another path through the high school years that we have seen work is the academic homeschooling coordinated through a private independent study school like Clonlara @ www.clonlara.org/home_based (located actually in my hometown of Ann Arbor but facilitating online students all over the country). They work with you to decide on the appropriate curriculum (including the appropriate “classes” for college prep) and then you work at your own pace and on a regular basis (weekly or monthly or whatever you work out) share your work with your remote supervising teacher who certifies your completion of each subject area and, when you have completed your program, creates your transcript and issues you a high school diploma. Continue reading →