Monday, May 16, 2011

Story about how my teenage son opted out of school

I just had the pleasure of contributing to the The Teenagers Guide to Opting Out (Not Dropping Out) of School. It got me thinking about how my passion for alternative education and learning really started. I first became aware of and interested in unschooling when my oldest son was in the 8th grade. He began to experience panic attacks and, of course, we looked for solutions. We went to doctors and a psychiatrist, but acupuncture finally helped. He healed with several needle treatments and Chinese herbs that nourished his nervous system. The doctor believed that the symptoms were probably due to 2 different occasions when he banged his head (minor concussions) snowboarding and skateboarding. The relief I felt was immeasurable and his well being became my main focus.

During this time, I discovered Grace Llewellyn's book The Teenage Liberation Handbook. Everything she talked about rang true for me and made perfect sense. Based on my new awareness and the ideas forming, the next couple of years of my son attending public school were confusing and infuriating. When he would complain about school/homework/teachers, I started to tell him that he had a choice and didn't actually have to go to school. I stopped caring about grades, tests, what his teachers thought, etc. He thought my suggestion to consider 'no school' was crazy. However, on one special day at the beginning of his 10th grade year, he told me after school over a hot chocolate that he would like to try home schooling. He was concerned that he might want to be able to go back to high school if he changed his mind, so we found a public independent study program and he kept up with the state curriculum at home. It was basically more of the same boring assignments. He would cram it all in the night before we had to visit his teacher to turn in his work. It was obvious that he wasn’t passionate about it nor did he need any of it. He was merely jumping through hoops to get to the next level and destination. I realized that this was how he had approached most of is school work throughout the years- by doing the absolute minimum required and somehow coming out with decent grades. He became an expert at “getting by.”

After about 4 months of independent study, he decided he was done for good. He took the California Proficiency Test and quit the public school system.
He clearly hated writing essays and reading books in which he had no interest. He tested very high in English and mathematics, but I did not get how those tests worked because they clearly did not show an honest or helpful picture of my son.  

After the first year of deschooling (which included lots of sleep and hanging out with friends), he enrolled at our local community college and started exploring different subjects such as psychology, philosophy, drawing, photography, dramatic arts, 3D animation and auto repair. I encouraged him to not worry about transfers to state colleges and required classes. We were letting go of these imposed expectations and we were learning to follow our own hearts. I learned to trust him and his own life path....

Next time...more on his learning journey.
 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to your next post! Thanks for writing!

Sam said...

Oh my! I did not want to stop reading that, really looking forward to more of this story!

I often think of how my teenage years would have played out had I known about the Teenage Liberation Handbook and unschooling. Could have been the most amazing years!

George Haines said...

Great piece, Amanda. You know I disagree with some of the conclusions and some of the phrasing, but I liked this post.

It is interesting to see a documented account of the process, the feelings, etc. Thanks for sharing this, I look forward to reading the rest.

Amanda Enclade said...

thanks guys, I appreciate the positive energy and encouragement to share more.

Gwen said...

Amanda, I've been a public school math teacher 30 years and boy, can I relate to your story! We should talk over coffee sometime soon. Gwen

Gwen said...

Amanda, I've taught math in public school for 30 years and I can relate! By the way, I've often thought of you as the mother of my future grandkids!

monika hardy said...

i love this:
We were letting go of these imposed expectations and we were learning to follow our own hearts. I learned to trust him and his own life path....

i love it.
culture of trust.
let's get back to that. no?

Fiona (aka @nlpmum) said...

Hi Amanda - I'm reading so much about how our school systems need to be changing and nothing about them actually doing it. Seems the only way to give our kids a good education for modern times is to do it ourselves - trouble is, I really believe that everyone has a right to a decent education which works for them. At the moment the state (public) sector here in the UK is lowering kids expectations, rewarding rote learning and valuing this over imagination and creativity. What world are the educators living in? It ain't my world (and it sure as hell ain't that of my kids). Our 6 yr old is in school at the mo, but I anticipate having him in alt ed or at home later on. Thanks for the thought provoking post.... we have all this to come ;-) Fiona

Tanya said...

I love this post! I look forward to reading the next one! We are just beginning homeschooling this fall, kids would be going into 3rd and 5th. for a lot of the reasons mentioned!

chrisbronstein said...

This is so refreshing! With my oldest only in 5th
Grade I still find myself worrying about how he will handle high school with his dyslexia, but now I dont really have to worry! I always imagined he would find a vocation he liked and your son's path is such a liberating inspiration. Thank you! And thank you for inviting so many amazing women to join A Band Of Wives!!

chrisbronstein said...

This is so refreshing! With my oldest only in 5th
Grade I still find myself worrying about how he will handle high school with his dyslexia, but now I dont really have to worry! I always imagined he would find a vocation he liked and your son's path is such a liberating inspiration. Thank you! And thank you for inviting so many amazing women to join A Band Of Wives!!