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Unschooled: How One Kid Is Grateful He Stayed Home

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Unschooled: How One Kid Is Grateful He Stayed Home

Unschooled: How One Kid Is Grateful He Stayed Home

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This time of year, teens are looking forward to summertime, and freedom from the pressures of school. But for 16-year-old Sam Fuller of Albany, California, not much is going to change. He never stays up late cramming for tests or finishing homework, or worrying about his parents' reaction to a report card.

An estimated 2 million kids are home-schooled. Sam Fuller is part of an even smaller subset of children who are unschooled. That's a less structured, more self-directed form of home-schooling. Sam's family is unschooling him and his brother legally by registering their house as a private school.

Youth Radio brings us his story.

SAM FULLER: I didn't have a reason to read until I was 10, so I didn't. Eventually, when I did learn, it wasn't because of a book, test, a teacher, or even because I was embarrassed I didn't know how. I learned to read because of a card game I wanted to play, called "Magic: The Gathering."

Oh. Oh, my God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FULLER: I passed that, I think.

In order to play this new and exciting game, I had to read about the different characters on the cards. I'm 16 now. I learn what I want to learn, when I want to learn it, and not always in the conventional ways. My mom had the idea to unschool me when she was a teacher and I was a baby.

Ms. PAM TELLEW (Teacher): And I thought, oh, here I have a 4-month-old baby and, well, you know, this is fine, the way he's learning now. This is really the ideal school. He's learning exactly what he needs to, when he needs to learn it, with plenty of support in a loving environment. I don't really see any reason that that has to change.

FULLER: Unschooling is like home-schooling, except entirely self-directed, with lots of help and support from my parents. When I first got my allowance of $2.50 a week, I remember calculating how long I'd have to save up to buy my next toy. Everything I've ever learned has been for a practical purpose or because I was interested, never for a test or because someone made me.

My 12-year-old brother, Nicky, has also been unschooled his whole life. He's pretty shy. He likes reading fantasy books and watching "South Park." Before last year, he wasn't comfortable with groups of kids.

What do you do all day?

NICKY: Well, it depends. Kind of bored, usually.

FULLER: What would you like to be doing?

NICKY: Well, I usually wish I had a new book to read or like, a TV series to watch or something.

FULLER: My mom will occasionally suggest activities, like going to the botanical garden, but Nicky will usually shoot them down with an immediate no. He's in-between interests, yet he's nervous about trying new things.

I had a similar problem when I was his age. It's part of growing up unschooled. We don't have as much pressure from school and friends telling us what to like, so it's our responsibility to figure out how to spend our time.

My grandpa is one of the people in my family who had concerns about unschooling.

Mr. GLENN FULLER: I didn't think it was a good idea. One of the reasons that I was worried was that I was afraid your education might be a little spotty. The other thing is the social aspect of the thing. For example, you couldn't take part in team sports.

FULLER: Not having a social life is a big misconception about unschoolers. In our world, the idea that we are shut-ins who barely see the light of day is kind of a joke. Unschooled kids have their own networks and conferences. We go on camping trips, and we hang out with friends whenever we want.

And the truth is, my grandpa is right. My education is spotty. Up until a year ago, I could barely spell. It was my own fault because I was reluctant to take on the daunting task. Most parents would have intervened in this situation.

Ms. TELLEW: But then, I think there's a cost to that.

FULLER: My mom again.

Ms. TELLEW: When you force somebody to do something, especially when they're a child, and there's an imbalance in a power relationship anyway, they lose part of their will and their confidence that they know what's right for them. And I think that's a pretty high cost for being a good speller.

FULLER: A few months ago, my mom bought a book, and we started working on my spelling. And I've also enrolled in my first community college class, with the plan of transferring my credits to a four-year university.

And although I acknowledge school does work for some people, I'm incredibly grateful my parents decided to unschool me.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Fuller.

BLOCK: Sam's story comes to us from Youth Radio.

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