Life Learning Magazine

About         Articles         Quotes         Editor's Blog

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

Chatting With . . . Sarabeth Matilsky, Age 26

Sarabeth MatilskyWhere I Am Now

My husband and I are selling our condo and moving in next week with my family in western New York, in the Finger Lakes. Eventually we want to use our savings to build a house and live mortgage-free, and to live in an intentional community or an eco-village. I also am a mom to Ben Starling and I’ve organized a mom’s group here in Boston for very cool moms. I am learning with my husband about alternative building, I handle administration for Grace Llewellyn’s Not Back to School Camp and I’m learning to make sourdough bread. I cook all the time.

No Secret Mix

Having a child has exposed me to a lot that I never thought about before. For instance, of course you follow a child’s interests. I was unschooled; I knew all about that. You have a baby, you do what they need, whatever. What I didn’t realize was that in my own head I had totally based my expectations of motherhood on what I thought a baby would need, not what my baby actually would need. He came into the world and I did everything I thought was right, but still he cried, still he fussed, still he had stomach problems. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping and all that weren’t exactly the answer. I was totally stymied, exhausted and sleep-deprived.

A major turning point was when Ben was three months old and I discovered that babies don’t actually have to wear diapers, which I’d never questioned in all those years with four younger siblings. It turns out that all over the world some caregivers respond to their children’s elimination by following cues and signals – listening to babies as young as newborns. My exploration into that led me closer to realizing what it means to unschool with my child, which is actually to listen to what he needs. Because, it turned out that Ben hated having a wet diaper, and he hated peeing and pooping while we were holding him. So, he was constantly crying for what I thought was no reason. And when I discovered he had a reason, I started holding him over the potty when he had to go. He turned into a much happier little boy. For me, it was a huge thing to realize that I could respond to his needs without having to have solutions ahead of time.

Children as Project

A lot of people I’ve met in the last couple years have babies and everyone’s said to them, “This is how it works: You have kids, then they grow up and go to school.” So motherhood is a project with a five-year end point, in the sense that they’ll have their lives back after five years. Because I’ve approached it totally from the opposite perspective, that I’m not going to send Ben to school, I’ve been trying to adjust my ideas so motherhood is not just this short-term thing; we’re creating a life that we’re going to keep doing for a long time until Ben chooses to leave home. I want to create a relationship with my child that’s going to endure way beyond five years.

Something that many people I know struggle with is that they feel their kids are going to go off to school, so they have to just do whatever their kids want. That’s the other thing I’m realizing: I have to make time for myself. I’ve always done that in my life with my friends and with my husband so I keep myself centered. I need to do that with my child, too; there are some times when Momma needs to go out. Last year I was the rehearsal piano player for La Cage Aux Folles, and there were some nights when Ben didn’t want me to leave and it was really important that I go. And I went.

An Unliving

My husband recently reread the Teenage Liberation Handbook and he was like, “This is great, but school isn’t the only institution out there that sorts us. There are so many other ones.” For some, it is enough to question school, but for us, in our lives, we want to start questioning everything.

Everyone told us it is better to buy than to rent. But we bought and suddenly we’re saving money as hard as we possibly can, being frugal, and the bank is getting most of our money. One day Jeff was like, “Why couldn’t we just save up some money, go find some land, build a really small, inexpensive house and live mortgage free?” I was like, “No, you can’t do that. There’s got to be some catch.” But why not? Why do we have to have debt? Why do we have to work 40 hours a week and also get money from someone else to meet our needs? Why can’t we meet our own needs? So, that’s part of what we want to do. We want to do more for ourselves.

In a way, school is an easy thing to escape because it is an institution, like a building, a place. A lot of the other institutions aren’t really institutions so much as social conventions and social mores. Like the idea of what success is, what economic prosperity is and what is necessary in your life. It is taking unschooling a step further. It is making an “unliving.”

Not a Prodigy

When we first moved to Boston, I took dance classes and writing classes, I wrote some articles for magazines and I experimented with a lot of different things. I took music classes, I did child care, I taught piano lessons. I worked for our food co-op. I choreographed some dance pieces. I called it Sara University. The whole time I was thinking, what do I want to do to make money? That’s sort of the end result in our society; you’re supposed to figure out what you want to do to make money. I started a personal chef service and I realized that I really dislike selling myself in the sense of marketing my business. The service never really got off the ground, even though I loved to cook. I kept thinking, sort of having these little inklings that maybe something’s wrong with me? I unschooled, and I was so successful in my own estimation. Why couldn’t I figure out a way to make money doing what I loved?

I often wished I was one of those people with a driving passion since childhood. But, I’ve come around in the last few years to realizing that neither Jeff nor I have driving ambitions; neither of us were 14 and like, “Oh, I want to be an astronomer.” We both have varied interests and passions but none of them have led to moneymaking careers we want to pursue full-time.

I made a realization just in the last few months that maybe it is okay not to want to make money, not to have a driving force to be an artist or a dancer. There was a lingering uneasiness that I didn’t have a career/job ambition, but then I realized that it is very normal, that many people feel the way I do. So maybe what we’re calling abnormal is really normal. Instead of changing our lives, we should change our expectations and not try to fit ourselves into a box of normalcy that’s not actually useful.

So we’re on our way now. We’re leaving the security of Jeff having a full-time job and we’re heading out to figure out how to do it differently, how to live on less. I have attacks of anxiety every so often because we’re leaving everything and boxing up our life here, but mostly I’m confident.

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.

Copyright © 2002 - 2023 Life Media

Privacy Policy

Challenging Assumptions in Education by Wendy Priesnitz Life Learning - the book Beyond School by Wendy Priesnitz

Natural Life Magazine Child's Play Magazine Natural Child Magazine

 Life Learning Magazine