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
From 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
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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