Take whatcha got and go
M/W/F homeschooling webcomic

How Julia Eclipse Became an Unschooler

My parents weren’t crazy about the local public schools out in the sticks where I grew up – lots of violence, very few of the students went on to college – so I went to private schools for kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grades. My mom’s sister (who lived far away) homeschooled her kids, so my parents knew it was a thing, but they’d only heard of “school at home” and were intimidated by the thought of having to “be teachers” full time.

When I was 9 my private school went bankrupt. They were taken over by a new school (where I spent 5th grade), but we weren’t as happy with the new school – they didn’t include the parents in decisions as much, or even keep them up to date, and 4th/5th/6th grade science class consisted of reading A Wrinkle in Time (which is a swell book, but not so much with the detailed science). It was all boringer and disciplineder than before, and it only went through 6th anyway, so it was time to move on.

I wasn’t especially aware of it, but the whole year I was there my parents were researching homeschooling. In the last few months of the school year, I visited some other private schools. Mom told me that I could pick one of them to go to, or I could decide to not go to school at all. I replied: “Isn’t that illegal?”

My brother and I both decided to stay home, with the understanding that if we didn’t like it we could go back to school. Now, my mom had read a bunch of unschooling stuff, and I guess she’d always thought of me as real self-motivated, but I didn’t get the memo. When September rolled around that year I was like, “Oh boy, the first day of home-school! Mom, give me some work to do!”. I got a funny look and some worksheets. When I kept coming back for more mom explained that in a normal school a lot of the day was spent on organizing stuff and waiting for people and going from place to place, so a few hours of working was the same as all day at school. I could have more free time now, she said! “OR I could work TWICE AS MUCH!” I replied.

I don’t remember how long I didn’t get it. Weeks, maybe months. What I remember vividly is one day I was poking around the stacks of boxes and the huge bookshelves in our unfinished basement and I found “The Teenage Liberation Handbook”, left over from my mom’s research binge. I sat down on the concrete and read about half the book. Then I noticed that my butt was cold and went up to my room to read the other half.

Then I got it.

“It” was that 1. I had more free time than anyone in the world and 2. I could do whatever I wanted. (and 3. that was the best way to live.)

From that day forth I was an unschooler. Kind of a loudmouth too – a typical conversation over the next several years was:

Well-meaning adult: Why aren’t you in school? Teacher’s day?
Me: I don’t go to school. I teach myself.
Well-meaining adult: Ohh, you mean your parents homeschool you.
Me: No, I mean I do whatever I want.
Well-meaning adult: (shocked expression) That can’t be right!

This seemed to amuse my mother, but she never said anything. Unless the well-meaning adult asked her why I wasn’t in school in front of me, and then afterwards my mom would say to me, “Did you notice how they talked to me instead of you, even though you were right there?” and roll her eyes.

So I did what I wanted, but what did I want to do? The usual stuff. I drew pictures, wrote poetry, read several hundred books, played with my younger brother, raised chickens, played computer games, took piano lessons, weird gifted math classes, swimming lessons, weaving lessons, classes at the zoo, programmed computer games, raised angora rabbits, planted a small garden, discovered the internet, fell in love, won dog agility trials with Mercy, looked at the stars, slept in late, learned to cook, made a website, found a vocation, taught myself Hawaiian, studied linguistics, discovered peer-reviewed research journals, remembered my dreams, played role-playing games, rehabbed sick songbirds, demonstrated weaving in an art museum, wrote self-righteous letters about unschooling to the newspaper, took painting and chemistry classes, played with toddlers at a daycare center, took apart computers and put them back together, tried to learn digeridoo, wrote to a bunch of penpals, won a scholarship and went to college.

Roughly in that order.

My peer group was and is the unschoolers of Not Back to School Camp. I met my partner at camp (although we spent several years being best friends before we became life mates). One of my roommates is a camper, and our house is about 10 blocks from a house with 5 more campers, and I see dozens more online and travelling. NBTSC is as much a part of my life-history/identity as my college, New College of Florida, except even fewer people have heard of it!

I am now in my early twenties. I homeschooled for 7 years, went to college, messed around outside of college (I do web development if you’re looking for some), and am headed to graduate school this fall (I’m at least as curious how much that will affect Daywood’s update schedule as you are.) I remain a true believer in freedom, choice, and the sovreignty of young people.