Learning to live: unschooling makes me happy too

Sometimes it just takes the courage of one person to propel a discussion that had once been fear provoking. TED talks seems to be a great environment for these leaders of conversations to grow.

Last night I watched this TED talk by an incredible speaker, ­­Logan LaPlante.

The video motivated me greatly and made me come to terms with the truth of who I am, who I am becoming, and being okay with it.

No, I didn’t have some incredible break though about the meaning of life or have a spiritual awakening, I simply came to terms with something I’ve known my whole life: I’m a hack/unschooler.

Even though I subconsciously (like most of us) tend to label things as I discover them, I had never really labeled myself as a “type-of-schooler”. I don’t go to a school, I’m just always learning, and I knew that the most basic way to explain my education style to someone within the traditional school system was “homeschooler”. But even acknowledging the fact that I’m a homeschooler can build barriers and prejudice without much reason. I’ve been asked some strange questions in my day. “Do you have friends?”, “how do you meet people?”, “are you smart?”, and “are your parents smart enough?” are among the most popular questions. I grow tired of these repetitive and realistically irrelevant questions, but people unexposed to the realities of the non-traditional education have every reason to ask these strange questions. It’s the cultural stigma that’s been placed on us by the media—the stereotypes that we rely on to define and categorize the people around us. On too many popular TV shows, perceptions about cultural groups are planted. I was watching an episode of Glee where a “homeschooler” starts class at the Glee’s William McKinley High School and is portrayed as a pot-smoking, barefoot, pierced, hippy. I’m not saying that any of these traits are necessarily bad or untrue about some homeschoolers (just like any person in the world may have these characteristics), but Glee made it seem as though because this person was homeschooled, he was naturally this way. This would be different if there were positive, accurate portrayals of alternative education in popular media, but again and again we see homeschoolers being portrayed as either “hippy”, “religious” or “ultra-geek”. Of course, this issue is widespread and attacking millions and millions of subcultures through our media platforms, and alternative education is just another one of those to be attacked.

I have always known I was an unschooler—doing things because of my own motivation, on my own time. For me, being an unschooler doesn’t mean limiting myself from any formal classes, but rather that I partake in them because of my own interest, instead of force. Throughout this journey, I have had many meltdowns and fits about “not being good enough” and “not being smart enough”. We live in a world obsessed with comparing ourselves to others. It can be hard to stay strong when you’re constantly going against the grain of years of traditional education your peers have lived through.  For many of my traditionally-schooled friends, it can be hard to understand school as anything but a rigid schedules and comparisons. Even some of my homeschooled friends have a hard time grasping the idea of unschooling and have ridiculed it just as traditional-schoolers question the tactics of homeschooling. Living confidently with these nonstop questions and doubts isn’t easy.  But, it is totally worth being happy.

Being an unschooler, I have been able to take control of my education. Contrary to popular belief, I actually DO have friends! I have been able to experience some extraordinary things from intelligent, diverse members of my community and I consider every moment of my life to be a moment of learning. I have been able to reflect on things that I have passion for and dedicate time to those things that I find important. This freedom has lead me to discover that I really am the change I wish to see in the world.

I really like my life, and I guess that’s the point of living. I don’t think I’ll ever “graduate” from unschooling because (for me) it’s more of a mindset of non-stop education.

I don’t think that the way I’ve been unschooled would work for everyone. It takes a village and a whole lot of dedication. I’ve seen lots of comments about how non-traditional schoolers must be only the super-rich, and to that I say—there is a cost involved with education, but like hackschooling shows us, there is always a way to make things work out.  The main currency for unschooling is time, and with effort we can build that foundation.  That being said, I love the idea of public schools and believe they’re important beyond measure. I believe that everyone deserves an imaginative foundation of education to proceed with his or her life. But, I don’t think that the way the system works right now is achieving that goal. Right now, it seems like we’re only giving students one set of skills and stripping them of their passions and individual curiosities–spitting them out of the system with the same set of knowledge without much creativity, inspiration or individual confidence. I think that we need to make the school systems much more diverse and personalized in order to educate the next generation with creativity and purpose to propel forward. We can’t stick to the same ideals of education that we held nearly 100 years ago and expect things to move forward. We have to evolve with the changes in our world to prepare for the future.

Through the amazing adventure that I’ve had in my education (which is really just my whole life), I have learned incredible amounts about the world around me. I am curious about everything and seek adventure. Recently, I became motivated to attend college, so I applied. I was in this time very worried about how I would measure up, and if I would be successful in my pursuit. I haven’t taken the ACT or SAT because I don’t consider them an accurate measure of one’s success in life (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post), and just a big time-waster. I was prepared to take the tests if it came to that, but I thought I would first try applying without those scores.  My worries were averted when (after sending extra letters of recommendation, and letting the admissions people talk to my professors at community college to substitute for test scores), I was accepted to Antioch College with the full-tuition Horace Mann scholarship. My tantrums about measuring up never were necessary. I learn what I want and need to learn when I want to learn it. Unschooling hasn’t restricted me from pursuing my goals. It has just made me understand what my goals are and how to tackle them.

So, I ask that no matter your background or your future, you stay inquisitive with yourself, ask questions without condescending others, and stop your prejudices from forming before you learn more about the reasoning for them. Every human deserves to be listened to. Most of all, love yourself, love your life and love your friends. Do only things that make you and the world happy. We all need to work together and understand one another. Oh, and also have awesome hair like Logan LaPlante.

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