A True Story: Unschooling & The Superintendents

Once upon a time, my husband and I lived in far northern Wisconsin with our younger two children. During our first year there, the older child’s “unschooling” included attending the local, rural public high school for just two courses–drivers’ education and photography. The younger child, then merely twelve years old, also attended the high school, but because her talent search SAT scores at age eleven were sky high, the high school counselor told her, “We already know you’ll get into college, so we’ll forget about prerequisites and graduation requirements and just let you take whatever courses you wish to take.”

When I heard that, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Imagine that–a high school guidance counselor spreading out the school’s offerings, as well as the teachers’ teaching styles, like a smorgasbord to whet my twelve year old’s appetite.

Life was fine that fall for both children, but the older one’s two courses ended in January, and younger one’s novelty with being a high school student wore off shortly thereafter. As a result, suddenly both kids were at home, almost 100% unschooling.

Our parental instructions to both kids were simple: “Your job is to find something to learn and to find a way to document that learning so your parents don’t wind up in jail.” Luckily, both kids did an admirable job of creating their own learning and their own documentation. Neither my husband nor I served time in jail.  🙂

Fast forward seven years. Also, prepare your mind for some “stranger than fiction but true” non-fiction story-telling. Really.

The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted hired me to keynote the parent’s strand of their annual conference. One of the board members picked me up at the Milwaukee airport and drove me the hour north to the conference. We arrived just in time for the fancy dinner that night.

When I walked into the ballroom for dinner, the president of the association asked me to sit at the head table to “advocate for gifted children” over casual conversation with the state’s assistant superintendent of schools and the superintendent of the local school district where the conference was held. I agreed readily, and casually pushed the “advocacy” button that someone installed on my arm years ago. I was ready to go.

Slight problem. I was a bit tired from the travel. And a bigger problem–when I’m tired, I get punchy. And an even bigger problem–I *remembered* my year as the parent of two mostly “unschooling” high school students dancing around official requirements and cherry-picking courses in that Wisconsin public high school and finally landing at home, almost 100% unschooling.

So, I told the superintendents how amazingly wonderful my family’s encounter with the Wisconsin public schools had been. How the high school my children partially attended knew that school is not the be-all and end-all of children’s existence. How the school knew that its diploma means diddly squat compared to what children might actually learn during their lives both in and out of school. How the guidance counselor allowed my younger one to consider the high school’s course offerings and teaching styles as a yummy smorgasbord. And–here’s the clincher–how at the time I spoke with the superintendents, the older one was a 21 year old enjoying a free-ride in top-ten university’s Ph.D. program, and the younger one was a 19 year old within months of graduating summa cum laude from a top-ten liberal arts college.

To this day, I don’t know if the superintendents thought I was loony-tunes or serious. Regardless of what they thought about me, I know I did the right thing.

I told those superintendents appreciatively, honestly, and earnestly that the artificial trappings of institutionalized education (the diploma, the grade level, the grades) mean nothing compared to the actual learning, passion, and drive that happens inside a child.


I’m participating in a blog hop. More posts on this topic are scheduled to appear later today, March 18, 2013. The times of publication may vary so not all links may be “live” yet. The landing page for all of the links will go live on the GHF page around 6am EDT. The link will be http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blogs/blog-hop



7 Comments on “A True Story: Unschooling & The Superintendents”

  1. […] A True Story: Unschooling & The Superintendents (Wenda Sheard) […]

  2. […] Wenda Sheard: A True Story: Unschooling and the Superintendants […]

  3. Jenny M. says:

    Lovely. I’m delighted you’re blogging, Wenda!

  4. Spam engine says:

    Highly descriptive blog, I loved that bit.
    Will there be a part 2?

  5. I was very happy to discover this website.
    I wanted to thank you for your time for this particularly wonderful read!
    ! I definitely loved every part of it and i also have you book-marked to see new information on your web site.

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