An Unschooler In High School
By Ann Leadbetter
The last article I wrote for
Magazine was a
year ago, when my daughter, Kate was on the brink of starting high
school, her first taste of school since first grade. I wrote that she
was curious about high school and that I wanted her to go so
homeschooling could be something she chose (or didn’t choose) for her
own reasons. She was able to navigate a middle path by taking only two
classes (plus lunch) to start with to see if she liked it. Here is how
it worked out.
She stuck with it the whole school year, took six
classes total (two for each trimester), and opted out of lunch the last
three months. Did she like it? No. Did she do well? Yes.
In Mythology, the very first academic class of
her life, in which she was the only freshman, she created a stunning
chess set of Greek gods and goddesses that the teacher said was the best
creative project she’d ever seen in all her years of teaching. She got
As in all her classes.
I was so proud of her, not because of her grades
but because she had the courage and the faith in herself to enter the
classroom and give it a try. My greatest fear leading up to this
experiment was that she thought herself incapable of doing schoolwork
and that she would be afraid of failing in front her peers. But somehow
she wasn’t. Somehow, while I wasn’t looking, she grew an extra layer of
self-confidence in the nick of time. I knew she could do schoolwork –
just about anyone can – but I didn’t know how to convince her. Perhaps
the best thing to have come out of her schooling is this: Now she knows
it’s not a big deal, that she can do it if she wants to.
However, at this point, she doesn’t want to. I
had originally thought that if she had a positive experience she might
opt to take more classes for her 10th grade year. But she didn’t like
school at all. Even though her teachers loved her, even though it wasn’t
hard, even though she was one of only three freshmen to make the varsity
soccer team, she still didn’t like it. To keep her options open, she
registered for six classes for this school year, but she was dreading
the prospect of returning. Then she had to start a week late because of
a tennis camp she was attending in Vermont, and after two days she hated
it so much she decided to “rise up” out of the first trimester. She
tentatively plans to try again in a few months, but when the time comes,
I doubt she’ll feel any more like going than she does now.
She found her Spanish classes tedious and boring.
Her teacher was dull and lazy, relying entirely on worksheets and end of
the chapter exercises. She liked her two art classes, but she didn’t
like being on a schedule to finish a project. She felt she had to cut
corners in order to make a due date. Mythology and a fitness class were
her favorite classes, but she would have preferred them insmaller doses.
She didn’t like the relentlessness of attending them everyday.
I’m glad she wasn’t taken in by all activity and
propaganda of school. I had hoped she’d make friends, though. I know
teenagers love to hang out with friends. That’s all I loved when I was
in high school. I worried that her adolescence would be freakish and
stunted if the only friend she continued to have was her younger sister.
She’s not a misfit! She’s not shy! Ninth grade, I thought, is the time
to break into the high school social scene when everyone is displaced
from middle school. I was thankful she played soccer because she could
bond with her team. They could become her social group. But it didn’t
work out that way. The phone hardly ever rang. When someone did call to
invite her to a movie or pre-game dinner, half the time she’d refuse. I
don’t think she’s ever even chit-chatted on the phone with a single girl
(and certainly not a boy). When I think of how much time I spent on the
phone when I was 15! So I spent the whole of last school year suggesting
she call so-and-so, encouraging her to go to team social events,
arranging carpools so she’d have more opportunities to see her
teammates. But nothing worked; she still opted for her sister’s company,
or her own, or her family’s.
|“Perhaps the best thing to have come out of her
schooling is this: Now she knows it’s not a big deal, that she
can do it if she wants to. However, at this point, she doesn't
One day, out of the blue, she said, “I don’t like
kids my age. I’m going to wait until I’m in college to have friends.”
Okay. I decided to quit worrying about her social agenda She had her
reasons and her plans, and I needed to let her deal with them in her own
way. I ceased my cajoling and arranging, but I still feel sad and a
little guilty, like she was giving up on the social scene before she
really gave it a chance. But I know what’s important is that Kate is
happy, probably happier than most 15 year olds. She loves soccer and
tennis and painting and writing fantasy stories. If she had to be in
school all day and was stuck doing homework all night, she’d never have
enough time or energy for the things she likes. When she turns16 in five
months, she can get a little job instead or take some courses at the
Apart from the lack-of-friendship issue, things
couldn’t have turned out better, really. I would have been secretly
appalled if she’d taken to school like a fish to water. I would’ve hated
hearing her say, “Mom, I can’t believe you kept me from this great
place. How could you have done this to me?” If instead of just barely
tolerating it, she wanted to become president of student council or
editor of the yearbook or a rah, rah school spirit type. I would have
had serious doubts about myself and the life I’d chosen for my children.
Luckily, the timing was right; she was mature
enough and confident enough to see the real picture, to see that school
is tedious, loud, crowded, boring, full of stressful social posturing,
and in general not worth the energy it demands. The soccer wasn’t even
that good. She’s accustomed to her rec-league team which is composed of
the best girls from the whole city and not to a team composed of anyone
who wants to play. And the upper-class girls weren’t very nice to the
freshmen. She can still play high school soccer if she chooses to,
however, even if she doesn’t take any classes. We’ll see what this year
brings, and I’ll keep you posted.
Ann Leadbetter unschools her daughters with her husband Gig
in Grand Junction CO. Her articles have also appeared in Home Education
Magazine and in GWS. This article was published in Life Learning
Magazine in 2003, as one of a series of articles describing a teen's
adventures with home-based and school-based learning.
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