An Unschooler Goes To College . . .

After 2 years at a community college, Cheri entered UNCC as a junior. She was only 17 years old, which nonplussed more than a few classmates, most of whom were over 20 years past their first wails.

Cheri did her best to help other classmates past their rough spots, becoming the “go to girl” as in “Go to Cheri, she’ll know.” Just don’t ask for her notes.

Sarah: “How come you take hardly any notes?”

Cheri: “I only write down what is novel and interesting – things which I don’t yet know, and can’t figure out from what I do know. Stuff I’ll need to review.”

Sarah: “You saying you already know most of this stuff?”

Cheri shrugged. “Yes. Do you have time for a quick review?” Cheri rattled off an outline of the important parts of the lesson. She offered to amplify on any point.

Sarah: “I wish I had a memory like yours.”

One day, a classmate asked “How can you be so young, and so far ahead of the rest of us?”

Cheri: “Jody, have you ever felt you were wasting time in school?”

Jody: “Well, yeah. I could already read when I started first grade. Hated those stupid readers. Could already do some math, and we spent a year just talking about adding single and double digit numbers. Boring!”

Cheri: “Nobody ever wasted my time. I never had a 45 minute math class until I started community college at age 15. Till then, Papa would just have a brief talk about a single idea. He’d show a problem, we’d talk about it, he’d show another. Lesson understood. So I learned to focus on the important stuff, and get it right the very first time. Why repeat myself?”

“As for reading – since I was 4 or 5, I have been free to read as much as I want, whatever I want, as many hours as I want. If I don’t know a word or don’t understand a concept, I just ask, and I get an answer – sometimes right away, sometimes after a bit of research – and so I learned how to look at dictionaries, etymologies, books, and the Internet for answers to my questions. I learned whatever I wanted, as much as I wanted, as fast as I wanted.”

Jody laughed. “Yeah, I think I understand. So, if schools waste time – and I think I agree – why are you studying education?”

Cheri: “Well, you might have noticed, I do study lots of other things – math, neuroscience, history, economics – the tough classes for majors, not for dilettantes. More importantly, I don’t conflate education and schooling.”

Jody: “Conflate? What?”

Cheri: “Conflate, confuse two different things as if they were part of the same category. Did I use it wrong?”

Jody: “Oh, no, you got it right. I just have to think on this one. OK, education doesn’t always happen in schools. I get that. You’re obviously well-educated, from before you started school. Are you studying education just for you and your babies, do you have something else on your mind?”

Cheri raised her eyebrows. “Ever hear of Sudbury Valley Schools? Kids at Sudbury (or similar Democratic Free Schools) don’t ever have to attend classes. In fact, if they don’t ask, there are no classes at all. Whenever they are in class, it is because they negotiated for it and they want it.”

Jody: “And that works?”

Cheri: “By all accounts, yes – and much more efficiently.”

(The above is based on several actual people and incidents, but the characters and dialog have been fictionalized.)

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