March 16th, 2007
"Wait a minute," they say, their eyes wide open. "You don't go to school?"
They are aghast, as I knew they would be. The reaction is always the same.
"I go to school," I reply. "Kind of."
With my friends I laugh that I am a high school drop out, which is both true and untrue. I am still being educated, albeit not in the traditional sense. I am unschooled.
So what exactly is unschooling? It is sometimes confused with or used synonymously with "homeschooling", although the two are a little bit different. I think of homeschooling as the traditional style or method of schooling, but at home. Simply put, it is like being in public school, but a little more tailored to the individual student. Unschooling on the other hand is concerned with the process of learning, not just the content or the end result. It is a different approach to learning. It is school outside the box. It is lifelong education, not merely learning facts until the next test is over.
I started unschooling this year because I was very dissatisfied with my education. From the first day I set foot into my dreary, prison-like high school environment, I knew I would hate it. I was lost in the shuffle, merely a number (student ID #107870) in the eyes of the teachers and faculty. The teaching was rote and uninspired, even in my honors classes. I remember purposely not studying for certain tests and scoring 98s and 99s anyway because all you had to do was listen a little bit. Then after the test was over it was out of my brain. I found that my classes consisted of very bright but very boring students who only cared about their grade point average. I spent most of the time writing in my journal. I was very prolific during this time period, simply because I had nothing better to do than to sit and write and observe the things around me. All my time was spent on subjects I didn't care about-- I spent three months breeding fruit flies and then writing a 40 page report on it. Even in English, the only class I could tolerate, we were learning that haikus had a 5-7-5 syllable form. I couldn't take any of the few classes I was interested in, because I didn't meet the prerequisites.
High school was the name, and conformity was the game. Anything the slightest bit creative or original was looked down upon because the teachers simply didn't have the time or energy for it. I wanted out, and I wanted out now.
I was lucky to be blessed with parents who took me seriously. After complaining to them day after day after day, they pulled me out. I switched to a private school, which I liked better, but still wasn't that great. It was too small to offer that many options and still was very routine. So after two more years of uninspired learning, I dropped out. I never finished my junior year. Most people are horrified when they find out this information. "You can't just quit school," they tell me. "What are you going to do with your life?" As if school is the only path to getting anywhere.
But I didn't quit educating myself, I just quit school as an institution. I am being unschooled- I create my own curriculum. I take some of my classes at a community college, classes I am actually interested in and where the professors actually know my name and have the time to talk to me one-on-one. Some things I teach myself from books, such as U.S. history, which my mother and I will discuss ad nauseum. I take field trips to nearby Chicago to learn from experience. I learn about architecture not from books, but by analyzing the Chicago skyline. I go to the Art Institute and take notes and study the paintings and sculptures I find most interesting. I read a lot of zines, which offer some of the best writing out there, writing you can't find in formally published literature. Unschooling is all about this-- learning what you want to learn on your own terms.
Unschooling is not for everybody. If you're not completely dedicated and passionate about education, it won't work. Without standardized tests and without a teacher breathing down your neck, some people cannot focus. But if you're an independent thinker, it's a viable option. And it's not completely abnormal either. I'm still graduating. I'm still going to college.
So if you or your children or anyone you know is especially dissatisfied with the education they are receiving, unschooling may be the answer. It is a lot of work and it is definitely not easy-- it takes a lot of effort on both the parents' and the student's part, especially at younger ages, where you can't be as flexible. In some respects it is a lot more challenging than "regular school". But in my opinion, the benefits outweigh the costs. Unschooling prepares the student for making their own decisions. Unschooling gives the student the rare opportunity to take control of their education.
If you are interested in unschooling or have some questions, check out the book How Children Learn by John Holt, the website unschooling.com, or feel free to email me at fanterview (at) gmail (dot) com.
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Jamina Lin is a student living on the outskirts of Chicago, IL. She writes the zine "Oh My Stars" and maintains glisteningpoint.com. She spends her time writing, crafting, taking pictures, and observing the world around her. Her column takes a look at mental health and life issues.