Lua Martin Wells [ TEDxCharleston ] I’m here today to talk to you about the reinvention of education and about school choice. My family’s choice of school was actually no school at all. You could say we took the path less traveled.

My son Patrick dropped out of traditional school in the fourth grade with my blessings and his sister Maddie had even less school than he did.

Both kids are grownups now and both did well in college.

Maddie just finished her masters but as kids they were unschoolers.  Unschooling, as a type of homeschooling, is, I would say, the most radical type of homeschooling.

My children’s job as unschoolers was simply to figure out what they were interested in and go for it.

They had no set schedule, no curriculum, no homework and no tests. They had plenty of time for play and for exploring the world — in addition to parks like this one.

We spent a lot of time at the library, running around science museums, visiting with friends, traveling and just living life.

Unschooling is definitely an adventure.

It is a little scary because people will think you are crazy and you’re probably still wondering if I’m a crazy person right now, aren’t you?

I tend to agree with Sugata Mitra who said that schools are obsolete if you make sure that your children have access to interesting people and books and new experiences and of course some TED Talks.

They really can’t help but learn.

My daughter Maddie was interested in lots of different things as a kid and, as an unschooler, she had time to follow up on those interests.

I’ll give you just a few examples: she loved animals and so she volunteered with the SPCA and interned with a vet.

When she got interested in the law she worked with teen court and attended trials in the town of Mount Pleasant where we lived

She worked at the library and she took classes in drama but in the end the thing that she loved most of all was books and so she eventually decided to become a librarian, which seems to be the perfect career for her.

She is the only person I know who uses Facebook mainly for posting book reviews.

Patrick, as a kid, also volunteered with the SPCA and teen court but what he loved most in all the world was roller coasters.

I did not really see how this was going to evolve into a job someday and my husband and I worried a bit but we needn’t have because he too figured out the perfect career for himself –meaningful and interesting work important work that even allowed him to buy his own house at age 21.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I’m going to tell you a story about the magic of unschooling so hopefully you can begin to get an idea of how this whole thing works.

One day, when Maddie was about 14 we were driving a friend home after some random adventure and the friend ask Maddie, “hey, have you seen this really cool book at the library called the Friendly Shakespeare?”

No, but next time we were at the library Maddie remembered to look for the book. Turns out it’s about a 500 page book but because her friend recommended it Maddie checked it out and much to my surprise she loved it.

That started a major Shakespeare obsession.

Next she wanted to see all the plays and she wasn’t content with just one version of Hamlet or Macbeth she wanted to see all the different versions so she could compare them to each other.

Imagine if you had tried to require a class of teenagers to watch a bunch of Shakespeare plays?

How do you think that would go?

But Maddie and her home school friends loved Shakespeare because they discovered him on their own.

That’s how unschooling works.

Patrick, you remember the roller coaster thing, he had a need for speed and he also liked TV show called rescue 911.

One day we heard that Charleston County EMS was inviting civilians to come along spend a day on an ambulance to see what paramedics do in real life.

Patrick was interested, so I called.

“I know you weren’t imagining a fifteen-year-old as a ride-along but would you consider it?”

You learn to make these kinds of calls as an unschooling parent.

We went to fill out some permission forms and Patrick got a chance to meet the head of Charleston County EMS, Mr. Don Lundy, who was amazingly kind to this little kid.

We are very grateful to him because he encouraged Patrick and allowed him to come back every now and then for another ride along.

Now Patrick is a paramedic with Charleston County EMS and, from roller coaster to ambulance, it actually kind of makes sense when you think about it.

That’s how unschooling works.

We were lucky to get to talk to Mr. Lundy that day but unschoolers develop a knack for finding mentors.

No matter what your child is interested in, at any given point, there’s bound to be an adult somewhere who’s willing to encourage your child and talk to them about their experiences.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states and, as long as you jump through whatever hoops your state requires you to jump through, you should be fine.

The key to record-keeping with unschooling is simple. Although you don’t plan much out ahead of time, you will find yourself with plenty to report on after the fact.

People always want to know, “how do these kids get into college?”

It was actually easier than you might expect.

First, like many unschoolers, Maddie and Patrick had figured out what they were interested in, what they were most interested in at a relatively early age, and so they each had a goal.

They both started taking classes at Trident Tech while they were still high school age.

Then Maddie, for example, applied to four-year colleges both in-state and out-of-state and she was accepted at all five.

Often to the Honors College as well.

How did this happen?

We just made our own transcript.

It had the community college classes, her various activities, volunteer and paid jobs and her book lists and remember, everything she read, everything she did, was done because she chose to do it — not because anybody required it. College’s seemed to appreciate that.

I recently learned something new about unschooling that I find kind of fascinating.

I picked up a new book at the library called free to learn, by Peter Gray, and I found out that there is an entire school in Massachusetts called Sudbury Valley that runs on unschooling principles.

I hadn’t heard of that before but they have no curriculum, no traditional classes, no grades, no homework, no tests.

It’s k through 12 and they’ve been doing this for 40 plus years now.

The kids have complete freedom to decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and to play all day if they so choose.

Studies have been done, so there’s a lot more research about this than I realized.

The studies show that these kids also, like mine, have gone on to colleges and successful careers and happy lives.

Unschooling is still the path less traveled but it’s an exciting path and one that can lead to exactly where you want to go.

So I hope you’re beginning to see that maybe skipping school is not such a crazy idea after all.

We’re all born with a love of learning and a curiosity about the world around us and we really just need to give kids the time and freedom to try things out, to make mistakes, and to eventually figure out what their own special interests and talents are.

Because they all have them and that’s the most important thing.


FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Jan David Hanrath

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