University without high school

This alternative-education advice (including how to get parents onside) is aimed at teens
Julia McKinnell

University without high school“Choosing to leave [high] school is an entrepreneurial move, not a cop-out” is the message of a new book aimed at teens, College Without High School. The author, Blake Boles, the co-founder of Unschool Adventures, writes, “Life is not a pyramid with doctors, lawyers and professors on the top, McDonald’s cashiers at the bottom and school the only ladder between.”

What does a high-schooler “who slaves away at meaningless disconnected problem sets every night become in later life?” he asks. “She becomes an adult who slaves away at a job she doesn’t enjoy, for less money than she deserves, for a one-week vacation through which she would prefer to sleep.” Boles’s book offers teens step-by-step advice on how to drop out of high school to tag tree frogs in Costa Rica or teach basic computer skills in Tanzania. It also shows how to condense schoolwork to meet admission requirements for university later on.

Boles studied astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, but left after hitting an “intellectual wall: quantum mechanics.” A book by New York high school teacher John Gatto inspired him to rethink his path. “I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my 25 years of teaching,” wrote Gatto, and that was “that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.”

To legally leave school, “the quickest, easiest ticket to freedom” is to become a homeschooler,” writes Boles. However, “I don’t advocate becoming a home-schooler in the common misconception of the word. I don’t want you to stay home all day, following the prescribed 10th grade curriculum and cut yourself off from the world.”

Instead of wasting time in a classroom, shuffling around hallways, Boles believes that academic material can be learned in a fraction of the time through online courses, tutors or auditing classes. “Common sense tells you to give yourself plenty of time to get an important task done. Forget common sense in this case. To tackle a big project, begin by giving yourself an unreasonably small time quota.” He suggests students keep their schoolwork hours to a minimum. “If you can learn chemistry in eight weeks at four hours per week instead of 30 weeks at eight hours per week, do it. A short deadline is superior to a long one because it has the psychological effect of making you do more work. This is Parkinson’s law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Do an internship with a small business, he suggests; the book even includes a script to follow when calling a business owner. Say, “Hi, my name is . . . I would like to do what you do and I want to help. There are a few specific things I want to learn but my first priority is assisting your business in any way I can.”

Wichita State University student Jenny Bowen dropped out of high school in the ninth grade to pursue her interest in ornithology. Boles reports that Jenny became an online authority in parrot forums, enlisted as a zoo volunteer and then interned for three years at an exotic animal veterinary clinic. In 2006, “with little more than a homemade unschooling transcript and ACT score, Jenny applied to and entered Wichita State as a pre-veterinary biology major.”

For other “unschoolers” who want to go to university, Boles advises calling undergraduate admissions and asking if the school has any specific admissions requirements or advice for home-schooling students. “Be sure to track your progress with documentation. In the language of college admissions: if it’s not on paper, it didn’t happen.”

At the University of Toronto, for instance, home-schooled students are welcomed, though they are recommended to “consult with us well in advance since an individual assessment of your qualifications will be necessary.” U of T does not require a high school diploma but does want to see results of standardized tests such as SAT 1 and 11.

“Unschoolers aren’t Einstein-like geniuses,” Boles writes. “They’re normal teens who, unsatisfied with school’s plan for their future, chose to get an education on their own terms.” As for getting parents onside, Boles says he tells teens to find other local unschooling parents. “Seeing at least one real-life unschooling family helps parents for whom the concept is scary. There are definitely Canadian teen unschoolers. I know a lot of them in the Vancouver area. Join a Facebook unschooling group and ask around.”