Fresh from College
I just finished college last year, and currently I’m working at a
design firm in Union Square. My training is as an industrial
designer, but I’m working on an exhibit design project. It is a
really great project because I’m working with graphic designers,
researchers and content developers to pull together a museum on
Wall Street about American finance. It will open in October.
Industrial design is really broad. Some people go into
transportation design, some people design furniture, others
design consumer electronics like cell phones and blenders.
While I was at school I really concentrated on furniture and
lighting, and I did some packaging work. I really liked
packaging because it was a combination of graphics and more
structural, three-dimensional work.
The packaging work helped me transition into exhibit design
because we’re considering the lighting, the case work and the
fixtures that will actually display artifacts, but we also have
to integrate them with the graphics and the way-finding
information for visitors. It is like packaging design a bit,
just on a much grander scale.
Originally, I was of the mind that I really didn’t want to go to
college because I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I didn’t
want to go just to go; it didn’t seem like the right path. So
instead, I took four years off. I did a couple of internships, I
worked full-time for a while and saved up money, I traveled. It
wasn’t until I was 20 that I went to college. (I “graduated”
homeschooling when I was 15.) I think those four years were
definitely important. They let me follow my interests and just
get a little more grounded.
There definitely was a lot of societal pressure to attend college.
I had people asking me everywhere I went, and everyone I met
asked me why I wasn’t going. I got fairly defensive about my
choice, and I really felt that I had to prove that what I was
doing was valid even if it was an internship. I came across a
lot of people who thought that because I wasn’t going now, I
wouldn’t ever go. There also were people who wondered if I could
handle college because I had homeschooled.
I think I drew strength from my homeschooling experience during
the pressure to attend college. I was home- schooled all the way
through, and it was always the case when I would meet people
that I’d have to explain why I wasn’t in school. I always had a
set of answers to give, and I always had to defend where I was
and what I was doing. So when people would ask why I hadn’t
decided to go onto college, I felt pretty accustomed to
defending my choices.
The Allure of Gold Stars
I feel like I have to prove homeschooling, even to this day.
Generally people have a pretty positive impression of homeschooling.
Even so, I do feel it is something I have to prove.
The feeling that I needed to prove myself in college made me really
push myself academically. I never had been given grades before, and
getting good grades became very important for me. It actually was kind
of scary. I didn’t like myself when it came to really wanting to excel;
it really took hold of me.
Until college, which was my first structured academic setting, I had
just pursued things because I was interested in them. There never was
any system of rewards or punishment. But when I got to college and
continued as I had been, following my interests, I discovered that if I
really put in extra hours and over- achieved on certain projects, I
would be really appreciated. I just really soaked that up.
I could definitely feel myself getting addicted to the gold stars. I
kind of wanted to hold myself back and resist that, but I was very much
allured by it. Luckily, I loved what I was doing and it wasn’t just
about the grades.
Discovering Sustained Community
A positive side of the more structured environment of college was the
interaction with my peers in class. That was something I really
appreciated, getting all the critique and feedback from my classmates.
At times it could be frustrating, because rather than just a
one-on-one situation where I got my teacher’s feedback, our group was
talking about 25 projects. Four hours later, you’re falling asleep in
your chair. So at times it could get frustrating.
But for the most part, that was a really positive thing – to be given
the same assignment, and to see where all these other people took it, to
watch their processes. It was different from my homeschooling
experience. I saw the way my brother learned, and I was involved in
classes here and there, so I was not in an isolated situation by any
means. I never had the contact on a daily basis for four years, though.
In many cases I spent the entire year with the same group during
college, and having that continuity and group dynamic was really a big
difference for me.
I don’t think, “Gosh, if I had gone to school I would have had this
all along!” It was nothing like that. But, it was an added benefit of
It is interesting to be dating someone I consider to be almost a
homeschooler. Zack shares a lot of the values I do, and he is the
closest thing to an unschooler that he could be. But he went through the
system. He didn’t have the best experience in school by any means, so
maybe as a result of that he shares a lot of my values when it comes to
More than interesting, it makes sense. A lot of homeschoolers are
drawn to each other because there’s a commonality; a lot of us are
coming from the same place. So, it is fitting that I would be drawn to
someone like that. I have dated people who have been far more
mainstream, and it has worked all right. But I missed that shared
experience. Like most people, I’m looking for similar thoughts and
values in a partner. As a homeschooler, though, there is a diminished
number of people out there who would be right for me.
My partner doesn’t have to be an unschooler, but I do need someone
with those same unschooler qualities.
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.