Youth Radio: Living well and learning – without the schooling

Albany resident Sam Fuller gets to choose what he wants to learn, when he wants to learn it.

Sixteen-year-old Sam Fuller’s schooling doesn’t take place in segmented semesters. Instead, his school system is integrated into his life. Fuller is one of two million registered homeschoolers in the U.S. – and that number is growing by about 10% a year. But Fuller’s family has actually chosen to go beyond homeschooling – instead, Fuller’s being “unschooled.” It’s a more unstructured, self-directed education, and Sam Fuller’s family can do it legally because his parents registered their house as a private school. Youth Radio brings us his story.

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SAM FULLER: I’m unschooled. Every day of my week looks completely different. On Mondays, I write commentaries like this at Youth Radio. Tuesday, I could be hanging out with friends all day, studying martial arts, or listening to NPR.

Unschooling is like home schooling, except entirely self-directed. I learn what I want to learn, when I want to learn it, and not always in the conventional ways. For example, I only had basic reading skills until I was 10. That’s when I started playing an interactive card game called Magic: The Gathering. The game cemented my ability to read. Before that I had no interest – reading just wasn’t relevant to anything I wanted to do.

The closest I’ve ever been to a conventional classroom was spending four days at driver’s ed. After the first day of copying answers, hellish boredom, disruptive kids, and forgetting 70% of what I’d studied, I assumed something was horribly wrong. But when I came home and told my parents, they just laughed and said, “That’s school.”

People often ask unschoolers, “How do you learn if you don’t go to school?”

Well I learned about U.S. Geography, the Electoral College system, and how polling works, all through an interactive website about the 2004 Presidential Election. Every morning I’d check the site, then talk to my mom about what had changed and why.

Unschooling isn’t perfect. It has its flaws just like any other form of education. I’m 16 now and a horrible speller. But it’s an issue I’m hoping to resolve by getting a spelling tutor.

The average American spends more than 13,000 hours in school, and I don’t think it shows. A lot of what’s taught in classrooms is forgotten, or taught to kids when they aren’t interested or willing to learn.

I plan on doing what most unschoolers do, ramping up community college classes until I’m ready to transfer into a four-year university. To get there, I won’t be walking across a stage in cap and gown. Instead my graduation memories will most likely be of my mom and me figuring out how to turn a Word document sideways. And with the ink still wet on my diploma, I’ll thank my parents for the freedom I had as a child.

Sam Fuller is 16 years old and lives in Albany, California. This story was produced by Youth Radio in Oakland.