Back to School - Or Not? Five Reasons to Consider Learning Without Schooling for Your Teen

Back to School - Or Not? Five Reasons to Consider Learning Without Schooling for Your Teen
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Here we are in August and teens across the country are getting ready to go back to school. Some of them are looking forward to it. And some are not.

If your teen is in the not category, here are five reasons why that just might be ok.

1. There’s nothing you can do with a high school diploma that you can’t do without one.

This is not a well-known or widely accepted fact, but it is indeed a fact. It may not be relevant to the many people who enjoy school, and that's great for them. They should certainly stay there and continue on to a diploma as long as school continues to be a good fit.

But for everyone else who is not thriving in school, you should know this: Whatever future you envision for yourself, it's all available without a high school diploma. Millions of homeschoolers and others prove this every day.

2. Adolescence is a perfect time to explore and learn about yourself.

For teens living at home, the stakes are low.

It may feel terrifying to imagine your teen leaving the stability and structure of school - for what? So much unknown.

Learning without school is a lot like being self employed. It's endlessly and wonderfully flexible and while there are resources, suggestions, and support, there's no one but yourself to blame if it doesn't go well. You have to keep trying different approaches until it does go well, and there's no one to tell you exactly what is going to work in every moment.

Learning without school is also not like being self employed, however, because your current finances do not depend on nonstop success. As an adolescent you get all the bonuses of trying and failing and learning from each misstep and adventure, and none of the potential financial disaster like not being able to pay your bills.

Adolescents (hopefully) have the luxury of support, which creates ideal conditions for experimentation and learning.

3. Certain crucial skills are less expensive and easier to learn outside of school.

Schools are very good at scaffolding skills and ensuring students get their work done. There's much less room for error in school than in life because in school there's a whole team of helpful people over your shoulder spelling it out, breaking it down, and making sure you get it done.

Most young people don't have the opportunity to develop real skills in time management and personal organization until after high school, which is one of the reasons why the college dropout rate is about 50%. (See article in The Atlantic.)

For those who do manage to stay in college, there is usually a steep learning curve for figuring out how to manage their newfound freedom and their studies. The mistakes along this curve are extremely expensive. estimates average college costs at $.05 per minute, or $72 per day.

Every day a college student stays up too late and oversleeps and misses class costs approximately $72.

Increased academic freedom and more room for mistakes as an adolescent allows teens to develop these life management skills at much lower costs. By the time they begin college, they're really ready.

4. The most economically valuable skills do not require school.

To be sure, students are likely to learn a bunch of useful skills in school. But according to best-selling author and psychologist, Daniel Goleman,

"The abilities that set stars apart from average employees cover the emotional intelligence spectrum: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social effectiveness."

Some students may develop these emotional intelligences in school, but not because they are part of the curriculum. They're not.

Teens who are absolutely miserable in school are unlikely to develop these important skills while they are suffering. For these teens life outside of school is often healthier and more likely to support their emotional development, which according to Goleman, leads to increased financial success in the future.

5. School is not for everyone.

Despite the best intentions and hard work of thousands of wonderful teachers and the best efforts of our legislators and PTA people and everyone else, many learners do not thrive in a school environment.

If your unique learner is suffering in school, take them out and help them access different environments for which they may be better suited. School is one place to learn and grow. It's not the only place.

You don't have to be mad or disappointed. Schools are doing the best they can with the resources they have for as many students as possible. If your child is not benefiting, it's ok. Stop fighting about your IEP and services and accommodations and support and disciplinary measures and homework overload and just do something else entirely.

At any moment you can join the millions of other families nationwide who are also currently choosing learning without schooling. What if instead of dreading the start of the new year, you and your teen were creatively and excitedly imagining new possibilities?

This article first appeared at

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