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Grown Without Schooling
By Peter Kowalke
An adult unschooler interviews his peers to find out what they are doing and thinking now.

Chatting with . . . Ben Kniaz, age 23

Grown Without Schooling - Ben KniazFrom College to Admissions:

I graduated from homeschooling back in 2000, whereupon I attended the University of Dallas for a year. That took me a long way from my family, in Massachusetts, and that distance became one of the reasons for my transferring to the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. I graduated in May and took a job almost immediately as Assistant Director of Admissions at the college.

There’s quite a lot of room for making things up as you go along in this job. I like that a lot. One day I will spend a great deal of time designing an ad for the college that will appear in some fairly major magazines. Another day I will be making phone calls to seniors and juniors. A third, I’ll be designing the web site or visiting a high school. I have become the designer and the one who thinks up new things here.

Self-Direction Matters:

When I learned at home, I ordered my own day for the most part. The same happens at work, and this flexibility I really like. In homeschooling, you have time to really get into things. And, you begin to have a real appreciation for that state of being – when you have almost forgotten about everything else. A lot of the most interesting things come out then. At work I try to allow myself that time still. This means not giving up immediately when I can’t figure something out. It also means letting go when something is not coming.

Part of the beauty of my job is that there are no strict rules. I have some freedom. The job is measured mostly by my results, not by my daily activity. I am in my office for a while, then I come out to present my latest creation to my fellow workers. That’s the painful part! Often they are critical, which is just and helpful. But, it does jar me back into the world of results.

Escaping the Crush:

It has not been all that easy making the transition to working full time. I am realizing that it is important to find balance. Otherwise, I finish the day feeling like all inspiration has been taken from me. You know, the feeling of “all I want to do is watch TV and go to bed.” A homeschooler is a homeschooler for the rest of his or her life. And, work is just as much a challenge to the casual homeschooling lifestyle as college might be. I only can say “thank God!” that I don’t have an eight-to-five office job with no windows. Right now, that seems like death itself to me.

I think a homeschooler can feel trapped really quickly. His air can be taken from him, and when that happens he fumbles, chokes, can’t remember anything, wishes he were home! But, he also knows that this can happen. And he has an intuition of what is good for him – because he has lived “what is good for him” before. So retreat is not the answer most of the time. The work-a-day world is also his world, and the world of college also is his world. He shouldn’t be frightened of them. When I leave lunch sometimes, I dash over to my room (which is 100 yards from the office) and play my violin for 15 minutes.

The most important thing is not success; the job itself does not have to be my master. The most important things are people. If I forget that people are more important than success, I begin talking to prospective students as though they were customers.

That’s a very real example of the dangers of a business world. I recognize that the little things, like playing music for a few minutes, or talking to a friend, or taking that extra minute to eat lunch, matter. They were real joys back when I was learning at home, and they still are now that I am grown up.

Homeschooling vs. Structured College:

Working at a college makes me uneasy at times. At one time, it might have felt like working for the enemy. I can’t answer this uneasy feeling yet. It is something like knowing that when one does good things there sometimes are repercussions that aren’t so great. Some of the students who I help come into this college may go through all four years not really engaging in “the great works.” But there also are many students who I will help enroll who will discover what learning can mean for the first time. Poetry is a good example. There are times when students really just start loving poetry once they are here; they recognize something in it that they hadn’t seen before.

Perhaps the question of whether we should come to these things totally on our own, by our own interests, is the question that troubles me. Even when we are little children we often become interested in something after someone has pointed it out to us. Just a few weeks ago I was playing with a one-year-old, and I showed her a spider on a leaf. The point is that someone else can help you find something exciting. But it is a different situation when you are already in a college and following a course of studies. Then you can’t simply walk away from something that doesn’t interest you any longer. We can put ourselves into a curriculum that we know we will not always like but, at the same time, we want. In a perfect world (that is, if we were not given to laziness), we would learn all of this on our own in our own good time.

I know I am not answering my own question fully, and that is what makes me uneasy. Still, I think I am on the right track. I think.

Peter Kowalke grew without schooling. He is a journalist and the producer of “Grown Without Schooling,” a documentary about grown homeschoolers and the lasting influence of home education.

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