Category Archives: adult unschoolers

Freedom, Fear, and Unschooling

After I left school and started unschooling,  I had freedom, I put my trust in myself, and  I did a lot of healing work. Still there was a fear inside me that took me years to be fully aware of and make the choice not to let it control my actions.

Recently I rediscovered a poem I wrote during my second year of homeschooling/unschooling in high school, when I was about 17 years old that surprisingly addresses this fear.

In the beginning of the poem I say:

But once the song’s over or the race is done
I’m just me again:
Scared shitless
Living heartless
Terrified of investing myself
In something or someone else

(You can read the whole thing here.)

I had trouble convincing people about unschooling, freedom, and their ability to direct their own lives partly because of my own emotional wounds regarding the subject. But I realized years later I also had a fear of being effective, fear of success, in talking to people about freedom and unschooling. There was an element of self-sabotage involved.

There was a part of me that knew it was possible I could very effective in talking about these subjects: I could help inspire people to leave school, or let their children leave school, have freedom, be trusted, and pursue their dreams.

That would be a truly wonderful thing and have so much meaning to me. For some reason, I think because of, not in spite of, that fact it’s also very scary. I’ve found that:

The more meaning something has to a person, the scarier it can be.

The more meaning something has the more painful the disappointments can be. You can feel pressure and new responsibility. With real success your life can change. And I always try to remember when I feel anxious:

Change, even if it’s good change, can be scary.

Writing these blog posts about unschooling, freedom, trust, diversity, and healing, then hearing how some have connected with them and been appreciative of them has had so much meaning to me! I’ve also definitely felt some fear and anxiety: I’ve heard from my toxic voice as my uncle Robert Gerzon calls it.

But the other thoughts that have come to my mind are:

“I love my life!” and “I feel free. I feel like writing is setting me free.”

More and more I’m letting parts of my true self come out and be heard. And it feels good! It feels like it’s taken years and epic journeys to get to this point, actually.

I guess it’s good to remember that when I feel disappointed or frustrated that there aren’t more people trying to learn and live in freedom or pursue what has meaning to them when they do have freedom: it takes time and is challenging.

Still, I hope that in talking about my own experiences it encourages others to make the choice to be free, the choice to use their freedom, the choice to follow what has meaning to them, and finally, the choice to do what has meaning to them regardless of fears that may stand in their way.

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My Unschooling and Trust Journey

In my last post I talked about how trust is key in unschooling. To learn to be free we need to trust ourselves even if things start out rough, and they certainly did when I started unschooling!

Decompression” is what unschoolers call it when you start unschooling and “do nothing” for awhile. My first several months homeschooling I hardly left the house (following that stereotype about homeschoolers!) and had only ultimate frisbee and cross country running as organized activities: nothing resembling school or academics! But honestly, more than that, I was just an angry and unhappy guy.

It’s kind of like cleaning up a big mess: often things get messier before they get nice. There’s a lot that comes to the surface and needs to be sorted out: things to decide to keep or throw away. Sometimes it’s very hard to throw things away! And it takes a lot of trust in the process when things look pretty bad on the surface.

Many people thought I was making a bad choice when I left school. Sometimes my reaction was very strong against this, but ultimately I thought, “I’m just going to try doing this myself and see how it goes. If I need to, I’ll go back to school, but I’m gonna try relying on myself.”

Underneath my initial anger and defensiveness about homeschooling and unschooling, I had doubts, fears, and insecurities all along the way; still do. I’ve been humbled from the beginning with the mistakes I’ve made after I left school and even more while I travelled the world!

But by the end of that first year of unschooling things were getting a lot better: I was working on an organic farm, going to a wilderness survival school, then even taking great courses at a community college and going  to homeschooler classes that people organized. But my real education came from all the healing work I did sorting through things and healing wounds that were stopping me from doing what I really wanted to do.

Through unschooling and exploring the world around me, worldschooling, I’ve come to honestly understand what my strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve learned to accept the wise and caring guidance from others when I need it, reject the false fear based pressure from some, and follow my bliss and inner knowing and learn from my mistakes.

Despite my insecurities, in the end, with my actions, I put my trust in myself. Looking back, I am so thankful for that journey I started a decade ago. Again, when I wanted to run my own business and I was reluctant to go to college, some people weren’t sure it was a good idea: I decided I’d see how it went. Including some ups and downs, it continued to go well, so I continue to put my trust in myself.

I still have more worries and fears but they don’t stop me from continuing to learn and grow. They don’t stop me from shining my light and loving my life.

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Unschooler Peter Kowalke Interview about College

Peter Kowalke is a 30 year old lifelong homeschooler/unschooler and the creator of the Grown Without Schooling (2001) documentary about ten grown homeschoolers who “explore and candidly discuss the lasting influence home education has had on their lives” as it says at www.grownwithoutschooling.com. Peter Kowalke and the many adults he has interviewed in the documentary and his magazine columns followed the “unschooling” philosophy in which students follow their own interests without having to follow a set curriculum (click here to read more about the definitions of homeschooling and unschooling).

Many people would be surprised to hear that this works at all! As thousands of unschooling families around the U.S. and the world will tell you and show you, unschooling does work, often in truly wonderful ways. Unschoolers go on to many versions of success (check-out my post Links to Successful Unschoolers). But maybe because it is so out of the mainstream unschoolers concentrate mainly on the positive. Peter Kowalke’s Grown Without Schooling documentary was new in that it openly discussed the challenges of unschooling as well. Many unschoolers were relieved by this, others found the documentary too negative.

What many people may not realize is Peter was in the middle of a very traumatic experience with college when he made the documentary. Eventually he graduated with a degree in journalism but those wounds stayed with him. Many unschoolers and homeschoolers go on to graduate college and clearly not all have such difficulty as Peter Kowalke did. But maybe he was somewhat of a canary in a coal mine: more sensitive, aware, and out-spoken about problems that affect all college students on some level.

I think we can all, unschoolers, homeschoolers, everyone else can learn from Peter Kowalke’s experiences and observations. And hopefully parents and young adults will realize college is not always best for some and there is at least a choice, while Peter Kowalke felt like there wasn’t for him….


The Interview in His Own Words


“I didn’t even realize it was an option.”

My parents loved college and there was just sort of this expectation that I would go to college. I didn’t even realize it was an option. We were still in the phase of homeschooing when there weren’t enough people who seriously questioned this notion that the ultimate validation of homeschooling was to go back to school! The ultimate validation is whether or not I could get into college and do well in college! I didn’t critically understand what the problem was but I sort of felt in my heart that there was something wrong. I didn’t particularly want to go to college. I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew that much. I sort of got roped into it and I lived under that fear. My whole life I saved money and it was like, “You’re saving for college.” Even as a kid college was this big bad thing looming down the horizon for me.

I went away to Hampshire College which kind of sounded unschoolerly. I didn’t know where else to go. By that time I knew that a traditional school didn’t make a lot of sense so I went to Hampshire when I was nineteen in 1998.

Grown unschooler/homeschooler Peter Kowalke: "Imprisoned by College?"

Grown unschooler/homeschooler Peter Kowalke: "Imprisoned by College?"

I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I was into reading a lot of lay quantum physics books: Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku; books by Richard Feynman; pored over Scientific American, etc. Like a good unschooler, I was broad. I’m interested in weight lifting; I’m interested in writing; and here came the science side to me. That was real sexy and exciting stuff.

But at the end I knew I wasn’t a quantum physicist because there were people who knew so much more. I actually tried not to be involved with the campus publications because all through my teen years I was defined as the guy who ran that magazine: I ran a little magazine all throughout my teen years. That was my life. My identity was editor and chief. So I wanted to go to physics. But when I got to Hampshire I discovered: “Let’s face facts, you’re really a journalist. You love being an editor because that’s what you do. It’s not as sexy as physics but that’s only because you don’t know physics and you do know journalism. You do know what it’s like to be an editor, so yeah, there’s some bad sides. But there’s bad sides to physics too.” So the best thing to come out of Hampshire, was that I became the youngest person to be the editor and chief of the college newspaper. And despite my intentions to not get involved at all with campus publications!


“Every college out there, more or less, gives up its soul.”

But overall it didn’t work out. Part of it is I’m very reluctant to talk about the Hampshire thing. When there were injustices done I called the administration on it. I worked at the paper and saw the seedy underbelly of how the administration worked. That gave me pause. And some of the weirdness at Hampshire disillusioned me. At the same time I was starting to realize why I was always reluctant about college. And that was basically that college was a continuation of the school system: it’s K-16.

And just like 5th grade is vastly different than high school. College is very different than fifth grade but still the fundamental assumptions and underlying structure and philosophy of it is still the same even at a Hampshire because all colleges are accredited. And basically a college lives and dies by its accreditation. That means they have to do a certain dance for the agency that accredits them. Every college out there, more or less gives up its soul. That’s why you don’t see any viable accrediting alternatives to college at this point. So I saw that, that’s why I said “I’m gonna do it on my own.” And I continued to unschool through college.

Part of the reason I made the Grown Without Schooling documentary was I was trying to discover why college didn’t work for me. Is the system really as messed up as I think it is? I was trying to understand my homeschooling experience. It was an opportunity to soul search and be helpful for other folks. With the documentary and these grown unschooler columns I may be, on some level, trying to answer the question: How do you live as an unschooler in a society that believes in school? And will believe in school, I don’t believe in my lifetime I can change that.

“Unschool in a Schooled Society”

One big problem I’ve faced is figuring out how to live in this society that’s structured around the school mentality when I don’t believe in the school mentality. I’m not in a position to be completely self-sufficient and divorce myself from society. I wouldn’t have enough friends. I wouldn’t be able to make my own food, and housing and all those necessities. And I wouldn’t have the community. I can’t do it all myself, I’m very aware of that. So I have to live in society on some level. I have to figure out how to live in society but at the same time not give up what’s truly important to me, my life, and the philosophy that’s truly important to me. This has been a struggle for me for many years.

I wrote an article earlier about meeting the mainstream: how much to give into the culture and how much to stay true to yourself. I was very lost when I wrote that article. But now I’m found. I’m a magazine editor. And that’s what I’m good at because I was a magazine editor as an unschooling teenager; that’s the lifestyle I’m used to and expect and have conditioned myself for. So it’s nice to actually be doing that and to be doing it with an interesting magazine. I’m glad I’m working for a wine and beer and spirits magazine instead of an air conditioner magazine! Who wants to be the editor of air conditioner monthly! You know? I have a pretty sexy magazine and it’s something I’m interested in and I’m living true to myself. Things aren’t perfect. But it’s a lot better now than things have been since I was forced to go to college. I think I’m finally recovering from the major sidetracking that was college. College knocked me off of my trajectory in life and I’m just now getting back.


“Hopefully I’ve learned from that experience.”

I do believe society sort of forced me to do something that wasn’t healthy for me. Parts of it was very happy. Other parts it was hellish. And I really hope I never have to go through that again. I hope that I’ve learned from that experience. There weren’t enough people to guide me or maybe there were guides but I never ran across them or I didn’t know how to take their advice. But I had to stumble into that pit and deal with it. And hopefully I’ve learned so that I won’t have to do it again. Now the pessimist in me says I probably will step in the pit again! (Laughs) But we’ll see, maybe I’ll get lucky this time. Or maybe I’ll have somebody who will have been there and will help me avoid it by and large. That would be very, very nice. I don’t need to make that kind of mistake again myself. I don’t need to have another trauma that was as traumatic as the college years were for me. I would like that to be a once in a lifetime trauma.

The Hampshire experience really showed me that life is not all stars, that it can be tragic, and unexpected and cruel.

When you’re driving your car before you’ve gotten in an accident there’s a certain invulnerability that you have and then you get in an accident that’s bad. And then you think, “Oh my God: every time I drive I could actually get myself killed, or injured, or crash!” You realize that it can happen to you in fact. I think that has happened to me in my life so there is an element of tragicness. What I’ve tried to do is embrace life and say to myself, “There is tragedy: there could be tragedy at any moment. So enjoy life right now.” Don’t be a hedonist. Planning is very important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of enjoying the moment. And it doesn’t take anything to enjoy the moment other than a positive outlook.

(Eli Gerzon again: I published this interview on my site before. But I decided to post it again on my new blog so more people could find it and comment and discuss the issues raised. And of course I can add pictures now!)

Grown unschoolers, left to right: Peter Kowalke, Eli Gerzon, and Peter Griffin (one of the subjects of the Grown Without Schooling documentary) hanging out after the Connecticut Homeschoolers Conference in fall, 2007.
Left to right: grown unschoolers Peter Kowalke, Eli Gerzon, and Peter Griffin (one of the subjects of the Grown Without Schooling documentary) hanging out after the Connecticut Homeschool Newtwork Conference in fall, 2007. Peter Kowalke spoke and led a grown homeschoolers panel discussion.
In this photo Peter Griffin flashes Quahog gang signs. Eli Gerzon tries to learn. Peter Kowalke thinks we're funny.
In this photo Peter Griffin flashes what must be Quahog gang signs. Eli Gerzon tries to learn. Peter Kowalke thinks we’re funny. We are unschoolers… and we’re cool. (Both photos by Mae Kowalke, Peter Kowalke’s wife, who he met while interviewing her for the Grown Without Schooling documentary!)

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Links to Successful Unschoolers

Someone recently asked  for links to successful unschoolers’/homeschoolers’ websites and blogs on the Ask Unschooling Offspring Yahoo list.

Here are the links I recommended to him plus more I’ve thought of since posting on the Yahoo group:

Homeschoolers’/Unschoolers’ Websites and Blogs

www.eligerzon.com – This is my site. I travels all over the world, write and speak about travel, unschooling, and worldschooling, and lead travel tours for young adults to learn about the world and themselves.

www.perrykroll.com/www.take247.com www.studiofreeradical.com – Perry Kroll is a fellow Massachusetts unschooler. Does great video, graphic design, and website work (he designed my site actually).

www.yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com – Very interesting blog by a grown unschooler/homeschooler in Montreal, Canada expressing her views on unschooling, education, politics, vegeteranism, civilization, sustainability, etc.

www.financeyourfreedom.comwww.thegrowinglife.com One of the number one sites on the net about “life-style design”: creating the life, money, and freedom you want without being stuck in an office all day.  Clay Collins left school at age 15 and started unschooling. Then he went to college, worked in an office, hated it, “killed his day job”, and learned to make a good living while enjoying his life.

www.grownwithoutschooling.comPeter Kowalke is a life-long unschooler who made a ground-breaking documentary about 10 grown homeschoolers talking candidly about the effect not going to school or following a set curriculum had on their lives.

www.deepgreenbuilding.net/ Sean Ritchey is a grown unschooler/homeschooler who does wonderful work designing and building energy efficient and environmentally friendly buildings and homes that save people money and help keep the planet healthier.

www.allenellis.com – Grown unschooler/homeschooler who does photography, graphic design work, and photography. Really nice quality work. He also designs websites such as this one:

www.theautodidactsymposium.com – Cameron Lovejoy left school at age 12 and started unschooling. He helped his family run the Live and Learn Unschooling Conferences which have influenced many other conference. Now Cameron is running his own unschooling conference that looks very exciting, The Autodidact Symposium, in March, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina. He also started the Ask Unschooling Offspring group on Yahoo mentioned above.

www.matchingorange.com www.myspace.com/mandolinisgoodforthebrain –  Eric McDonald is another  fellow Bostonian grown unschooler and an amazing musical performer and songwriter. He sings, plays the guitar, and rips it on the mandolin all over the northeast. One of his bands is Jaded Mandolin:

www.myspace.com/jadedmandolin – Jaded Mandolin is a folk/bluegrass band  originally made up of four unschooling teens. You can listen to their music and order their awesome self-titled CD through this MySpace page.

www.ahem.info/LinkstoHomeschoolersWebpages.htm – List of many more homeschoolers’ websites compiled by my friends at Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts (AHEM).

www.ahem.info/FamousHomeschoolers.htm – List of famous people who were homeschooled.

There are more! Please feel to comment and add to the list!

The man who asked about this on the list is actually from Germany and having trouble being allowed to homeschool his children there. I assume he wanted both personal support for his choice and maybe help proving the legitimacy of homeschooling to the German authorities.

As I noted in my response to him according to John Taylor Gatto modern compulsory schooling started in Prussia (Germany) in the 1800s so it’s understandable it’s not easy to homeschool there. And it’s especially wonderful and significant to hear about people fighting for the right to direct their lives and education.

(Btw you can view my site in German here or use this imperfect but very helpful translation tool from Google for any site: www.translate.google.com)

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