Teens who came later to Unschooling

August 2007 on the Unschooling Basics list:

Hello all,

It is now one year since my now 15 y/o daughter Anya spent her last day in school.

To recap-my daughter should have been unschooled from day one, but that was not in the cards due to some circumstances. She begged me to "home teach" her all through first through third grades. (broke my heart) She had a few good years, 4th and 5th grades, due to some "hippie teachers." By the end of eighth grade, she was a dismal unhappy mess, and decided of her own accord to blow off high school. I gave her "The Teenage Liberation Handbook" and pointed her in the direction of Not Back To School Camp. It was at NBTSC that she discovered Unschooling and chose that over Homeschooling.

The last year has been a journey, to say the least. Nothing went as planned. I had planned to quit my job to facilitate her interests (not wanting to "leave her to her own devices") and I had made some financial arrangements to make it happen (real estate investments) but life intervened, the real estate market tanked, I lost some money, my husband had back surgery knocking him out of commission for six months, (putting me in primary breadwinner position)—long story short I could not quit my job.

Anya did a whole lot of sleeping for several months. She told me her dreams were more vivid and enjoyable than ever, and she was experamenting with "lucid dreaming." All fine with me. She spent time downloading music, maintaining her Myspace pages, surfing youtube, watching TV and reading whatever she wanted.

We moved and had no money for awhile while we carried three mortgages. No furniture in the new house, no money for any extras, but the other house finally sold and we bought furniture. She painted her new room turquoise, bought a black rug and black furniture, and put up music posters. Cut her long hair super short. Remarked that "when you unschool you have lots of time to get to know yourself. School keeps you too stressed out to have an original thought."

(How may times is my mother going to ask me if "anyone from the district is monitoring her progress?" )

I noticed that she has "dictionary.com" bookmarked on her computer. She has read about 10 different books, all her own choices. She reads the paper and bakes cookies. Works out at the gym. Travels up to our vacation home in the Tahoe area and hangs out in our cabin. (for sale, BTW, any takers?) She took a college course in Digital Photography. She goes to SKA band concerts. AND -She got certified as a junior open water SCUBA diver!! We went to Belize for 10 days where we spent four days diving the reef and four days in the jungle where she met a Belizean archaelogist and spent an entire evening discussing Mayan history and the lack of regard showed by the Discovery Channel while filming something they are calling "Adventures of the Bone Detective. " (written by a hollywood script writer with no interest in either archaeology or history).

Anya also got a job! I am proud of her because its pretty competitive in the teenage entry level market but she would not let anyone tell her she was too young. She found out the loopholes in the work permit system, and started applying everywhere. At one point, she was offered a job bussing tables at a restaurant but then they found out she was 14 and took back the offer. She finally got hired by Coldstone Creamery. She worked there for four months until the franchise was sold and the new owners laid everyone off. I am noticing she is far more focused somehow than her schooled friends. Her mental arithmatic has improved as well.

Anya will be at Not Back To School Camp in Oregon this summer for both sessions. She has no desire to go back to school. Life is so much better now that she is happier. She plans to find a job when she gets back, and still talks about passing the CHSPE, only now she wants to pass it for a different reason: to get the school district off her back about working. The permit process is B.S.


But what about a teen who is failing in school?

Jenny Cyphers, responding to:
***and i think he's older and "failing" high school, so a different situation altogether***
Oh, yes that is different altogether! Here, where we live it "feels" like there aren't any other options for such a kid as the one that fails. There seem to be plenty of options for kids that aren't failing, but are bored, for kids who have "other problems" like pregnancies or drugs or have been in trouble with the law, etc. For an average kid that is failing high school, well, those are the ones who fall through the "cracks".

Schools eat kids up like that. I'm watching it happen right now to someone we know. I'm going to assume that this kid is one who thinks about everything, but doesn't see what is so important about what he's doing in school. Perhaps he's not a hoop jumper. Some kids are way more inclined to just do what they have to do, while other kids really just don't care to.

If a kid like that has other interests, that is one step in the direction of letting school go. Some interests that humans pursue are just not fostered in public high school. Schools routinely fail really creative types by boxing them in and keeping them there. There is a lot of lost human potential through that. I was one of those. I did well in school though, with the promise that I'd eventually get to do what I wanted to do. All those years of pushing aside the ONE thing I wanted, to do all those other things that going to school forced me to do, did so much damage, that only now at almost 40 yrs old am I recovering. It's a bit like deschooling, but it's more like realizing that I don't "have to" do all those other things first anymore, and then KNOWing that I'm choosing to prioritize differently for my own reasons.

While schools talk all about fostering a child's potential and preparing them for the world, for some kids that is just talk because the reality is that some kids aren't doing well, and aren't having their interests fostered. Those kids are lost potential, collateral damage, skewing the test scores that help schools get funding. As long as there aren't too many of those kids, the schools can continue doing what they are doing. Those kids won't matter in the long run. They aren't being prepared for the world, they are FAILing. The child isn't a failure, the school is failing the child. John Holt was really good at seeing that and writing about it.

Here's an interesting example of failing students and how they are dealt with in a local school: Statistics show that 17% of incoming freshman will fail at least one required course for graduation in the first year of high school. That's a really high number for a school to contend with. The principal of the school decided to implement a program called "homework in the now" to bring that statistic down a couple of percentages. Note, they still expect to have some collateral damage. So, all kids that fail a class, get to do this program. Here's how that program works, they are forced to skip lunches to go to a study room to do homework. It violates their own school policy for lunches. Guess what the kids figured out? If they didn't show up on the first required day, they didn't get their name marked down on the attendance sheet, and then weren't looked for on subsequent lunch periods. So kids stopped going to those first "homework in the now" sessions, and continued failing classes.

Even if all the kids would've shown up and continued to go to the sessions, the school knows that more than half of those kids will still fail their class. So what do those kids get to do for an entire year? Miss lunches, miss probably the only part of school that makes going feel ok. None of that is for the kids, it's about keeping funding. Schools must statistically succeed in order to get funding. They do all sorts of things to get those numbers up including putting pressure on parents. Some of that pressure is making sure that everyone feels like high school is absolutely and completely necessary and that one must comply with everything a school throws at them or else they won't get THE HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA so they can go on to be successful in life.

A school with a kid that's already failing, or being failed by the system, isn't going to care much about whether or not that kid gets his diploma, as long as, statistically they have their graduate numbers up. They are allowed a few percentages of kids that don't graduate. I really believe it would be far far better for a kid to NOT have a high school diploma, than to have that same kid fail school. Failing out of school looks bad, being pulled out to homeschool, no matter how that looks, will look way better for that kid's future.

Jenny Cyphers, on the Always Learning list

Here's the reverse of the school-to-unschooling situation, someone who had been unschooled who went to school as a teen. It's worth considering the difference in both directions.

Unschool v. School, at "Five Freebirds"

Photos have disappeared, but the text is still there, and over 200 comments.