Backstory: Why I am Not in School Today

So, who am I, and why do I care so much about having life without college? And who do I think I am, anyway, to have anything to say on that subject?

Well: my name is Jess, and I am presently 19-years-old. My parents educated me using varying methods of homeschooling and unschooling since practically the day I was born. I graduated at the age of 17 in May 2008 with a highschool diploma from the North Carolinians for Home Education conference, and with many hopes, dreams, desires… and so, so many interests I had discovered in my freedom over the years.

In my “senior” year of high school, I made up my mind to spend those last two semesters trying out some college classes through dual enrollment. My parents thought it would be good, if I decided I wanted to go to college, for me to get a feel for it, and rack up some credits while I was at it. I took two classes each semester, so I wouldn’t crowd out the biology, math, and animal behavior I was studying at home on my own.

These classes went along pretty well, though I wasn’t exactly a fan of being shoved in a room full of people who couldn’t care less about the subject material, who were just there for the grade and credit, and who would have rather been out doing anything else, except they assumed there wasn’t anything else for them to do. Granted, there were exceptions among them, but in general I felt extremely out of place among my peers. I tried to talk it up with the teachers, but often they didn’t even remember me from class to class. The homework often felt irrelevant or overbearing; and often I just wanted to go outside, but I had to sit inside and write a paper about a subject that nobody, not even I, not even my teacher, cared about. That is, as long as I wrote it and cited things right (which I, invariably, would get something a little bit wrong in my citations and it would bring my grade down significantly).

Over the summer I tried to re-embrace the freedom of life and become in charge of things I wanted to do again. Unfortunately, the release from responsibility was a little overwhelming and I didn’t know quite what to do with myself, except swim in meets and hang out with my friends. By the fall I had magically forgotten the hassle of my former classes, and signed up for two more classes at the local community college. I figured I would ease my way into things, in the meantime I would spend time with a great guy I had met over the summer and we could plan out our future life together. Perfect.

Instead what hit me were more irrelevant papers, an inability to enjoy family vacations, a small but bitter case of depression because of the awful statistics and stories presented to me in sociology, and an overall feeling of misery because deep down inside I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, or, often, who I really was.

After that fall semester of 2008 I officially became a college “drop out” and swore I wouldn’t set foot in that kind of classroom again. Naturally, I acquired a lot of opinionated feedback from some of my loving family and friends on this matter. And I didn’t have a good rejoinder either: “College just isn’t for me. I… I don’t like classrooms, particularly.”

You might be able to imagine the responses:
“But classrooms are where you learn.”
“If you don’t like classrooms, you won’t like cubicles, so just get over it.”
“College isn’t all classrooms, you know.”
“That’s just ’cause you were homeschooled. You’re spoiled.”

Of course, if I had received the same feedback now, I would have better comebacks. But that was not the case then. If I came up with another argument it would be something about wanting to be a stay-at-home mom anyway; otherwise, I would attempt to change the subject to anything else I could possibly think of.

I spent that following spring semester composing and writing songs on the piano, swimming exhibition on my high school swim team, writing stories and poetry, performing with a local improv group, and cooking. In the summer I started an organic vegetable garden and was able to compete on the summer swim team for an extra year because of the age-out date.

Also in the summer, I signed up for two classes at the community college for the fall. I know that you are wondering what I was thinking, but here was my reasoning: one was a journalism class, and the other was a creative writing class. And neither of them offered transferrable credits. I figured I would learn some of what I really wanted to learn, and have a small portfolio of some sort by December.

Around that same time in the summer, I found out about a novel writing retreat for unschoolers in Oregon to take place in the month of November, AKA National Novel Writing Month: the challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in that one month. This retreat was designed for everyone to write their novels with a group of like-minded individuals to provide support and feedback.

Man, was I torn!! I expressed my indecisive feelings to a few friends; and they expressed to me that I should go the college route. It didn’t surprise me. So, I did the best thing any teenager could do: I talked with my parents about it.

They asked me which I would rather do: stay home and take classes from people teaching theory and end up with a few halfheartedly completed assignments, or travel across the country, live on the Oregon coast for a month, and have a finished novel in my hands; something I would never have if I just took a college creative writing class?

Well, you can imagine which one I chose, and may I say that it was the most God-given blessing that I have ever received!! My month in Oregon changed my life around, completely, in every single way imaginable. Not only did I complete a novel, but my life changed. My goals resonated. My dreams were suddenly right in front of me, waiting for me to grab on so they could sweep me away to sail on stars.

That was November 2009. It is now March 2010, and so much has happened in these past 4 months, it is positively the most crazy thing ever, period.

So, that is my back story, in several words. And I feel as if I have said quite enough for now. Just chew on this, and in my next entry I will go into more specifics about what Life Without College means to me, and how it really, really makes sense.



8 responses to “Backstory: Why I am Not in School Today

  1. wonderful stuff Jessica. I wonder if I could post it on few local unschool lists in pa.? I’m 50 and have done 13 years of college: art- education-computers- social work; and all but my first art school 5 were exactly as you write. I think college is good for one thing and that is to make you unaware enough of what feels true for yourself to accept unsatisfying compromises to actually learning and growing from experience. It enables one to hide from emotional reality that always challenges us to face unknown /frightening choices with a sense of known chronic malaise peppered with flashing toys and soothing addictions. I never get why many unschoolers want to go back to school focusing their perception and decision paradigm on what to learn in college rather than how is this any different from what I choose not to do.

  2. Okay, I can see why you don’t like college if you took sociology… but college isn’t all sociology! You get to do fun stuff like Calculus and Physics! Hmm. Maybe those are bad examples.

    However, I would definitely much prefer something like NaNoWriMo to a creative writing class.

  3. Jonathan: yeah….physics and calc aren’t great examples.

    I honestly think your experience is based on where you go as well. I think had I gone to a larger university I wouldn’t enjoy mine as well. However, Meredith is absolutely nothing like WT. I can’t think of 1 professor in my 2 years of being here that doesn’t know who I am (still) and hasn’t talked to me outside of class. Also, the difference between University and WT is that people at the University level tend to care more honestly….WT is so easy to get into, jt’s harder to take seriously. Our classes aren’t boring, either. I have had maybe 1 class out of 60 credit hours that I would call a pointless class. I honestly think it’s all in where you attend, what you major in, and how you invest your time…if you’re not giving it your all at our school, you will fail. Our assigments are difficult.

    That said, college isn’t for everyone, and understandably so. And yeah….novel writing camp sounds much better than a creative writing class. 😛

  4. Patrick: Thank you! Yes, you may certainly post this on some unschooling lists. I definitely want to reach as many people as possible with my message. Thanks! =)

    Jonathan: Calc and physics = not better examples. 😉 But yes, actually, the majority of my classes were subjects I found, in general, interesting, like music, English, and psychology. Although the rate that information is thrown at students is quite enough to make me HATE something I loved before. Still, I definitely wouldn’t wish a sociology class upon anybody.

    Allie: yes, a lot does depend on the school, and, of course, the major and classes you are taking. Also, re: not giving it one’s all, I can imagine that the people who aren’t giving it their all are those who don’t have enough desire to be there in the first place; who would rather be doing something else with their time. Which is, as you said, why college isn’t for everyone.

  5. I got to see your blog on a PA unschooling network and wanted to thank you for it. As the unschooling mother of 7 (decided on unschooling before the oldest was even talking), I’m scratching my head, now that the two oldest are in college. We’ve never seen college as the ultimate goal, and have always told our children we’re on the 90-year plan, not the college one. So we’ve been a little surprised when the oldest two were bent on going to college. Especially Hannah, the eldest, who was completely un-academically inclined and then decided at age 18 that she wanted to attend a military academy.

    I think both of our oldest (Hannah and Sarah) opted for college more for the environment than for the studies. Neither would have chosen to attend a 4-year college if it had meant staying at home and attending classes. Hannah wanted to be part of a team, after enjoying her highschool cross country running experience, and Sarah wanted to live at school and have a taste of that social environment. Both of them are doing very well academically because they haven’t been burned out by years of classroom experience, and are enjoying the good parts of college social life. Because they have a pretty good idea of who they are, the harmful aspects of the college social scene do not affect them as much as they did the likes of me, for instance, when I entered the college scene.

    Having said that, if I were to categorize my children’s entry into college as a success or failure, it would probably lean more to the failure side, I suppose. Hannah has not been able to pursue some of her biggest interests in college and she and Sarah are both part of a system for 4 years that prepares a person for a job that makes money, rather than fostering their gifts so that they find a way to pursue what they love and find a way of making a living to support those gifts.

    Our third child, Sophia, is doing more along the lines that one would expect an unschooler to do, I think. She may or may not go to college, and has been studying things she is passionate about outside of the regular classroom.

    Anyway, that was a lot about my family, and I really did want to just thank you for a beautifully written blog that really touches on what I as an unschooling mother have been thinking about since 2007 when Hannah left for college.

  6. Thank you, Mary! You have such an interesting perspective as a parent, and it is very admirable. Feel free to mention my blog to any other parents you meet who may be having similar thoughts.

    You phrased my thoughts exactly, about how your daughters “are both part of a system for 4 years that prepares a person for a job that makes money, rather than fostering their gifts so that they find a way to pursue what they love and find a way of making a living to support those gifts.” This is the way I most often see college.

    But there’s still hope! College is certainly an experience; and I have my doubts that your daughters, as unschoolers, will walk away after 4 years with nothing more than a sheet of paper. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Memoirs of a College Rebel: Just Call Me Rip Van Winkle | Life Without College

  8. Such a fascinating subject that you have chosen to blog about. I had a similar experience; was homeschooled, lived/worked for a couple years, then this year, decided to go for college. So I can really appreciate that you didn’t have a comeback for those people who did not understand. Everyone around me was telling me that I needed to go to school and complete my education. They told me that I was homeschooled and just needed to adjust. And, guess what, I listened to them.

    I applied, got accepted to the University, starting working on grant money, changing my work schedule and all that jazz…then I attended the first day of orientation. That first day totally woke me up to the lie that college has become.

    I have always loved learning, and as a child and teenager that’s what I thought college was about. An environment where you could immerse yourself in books and knowledge. A nursery if you would, a place to grow.

    At orientation I realized that college today is more like a…a trap. The people there want to tell you what to think, what to accept and when to accept it. They want to tell you how much money you can have and can’t have, where you can go and where you can’t go. It’s like being put in a jar. They put a ceiling and expect you to be happy when they shove a leaf of grass in.

    Since I decided not to attend, I’ve had some oposition. Even from myself. However, once I listened to that small voice inside of me – tuning all the others out – I decided that I was not going to be scared and back down. Taking the time to reflect, I think it is the wisest decision I’ve made in a long time. I feel like I can choose what I want and go after it. There’s not lid on a jar.

    I’m very glad that you listened to your heart and not everyone else. Wish you the best of luck in your blogging, writing, and other endeavors. Thanks for sharing! Keep up the good work 🙂

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