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My Unschooling/Anti-School Testimony

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

CONTENT WARNING: SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

In elementary school, I was the girl who got perfect scores on everything - even pretests. Teachers and other adults expected a lot from me as an academically advanced student, and because of that I started expecting a lot from myself. I slowly became more and more of a perfectionist.

This wasn't a huge problem in elementary school, since it wasn't hard for me to get perfect grades. Then I started middle school…

Middle school was a bit more difficult. I still got all A's, but I was no longer getting 100% on everything. This bothered my perfectionist mind, leaving me much more affected when some other students started bullying me. They told me I was immature, ugly, and, what affected me the most, not actually smart. They also stole things from me often.

The bullying would have been bad enough on its own, but my school made it worse. Teachers believed the bullies when they lied about me talking in class and vandalizing the desks, and they punished me for these things I didn't do without ever letting me defend myself. When I came to class without my school supplies after having it stolen from me, my teachers gave me lunch detention and told me to "stop making excuses" when I explained what happened. By the time my math teacher finally believed something was going on, I didn't trust teachers enough to be honest with them.

All the bullying and the way my teachers handled it took a toll on my mental health. By the time I was in 8th grade, my depression was draining all the energy I might have had to do homework. My grades started dropping from all A's to B/C's. Not bad from an average student's perspective, but terrible from my perfectionist perspective. The bullying eventually stopped, but at that point my depression had low grades fueling it as well.

When I started high school, I was determined to keep my grades up. I started self-harming to get through my homework, and for the first quarter of the year I had A's in every class. Then I got an English project that required me to analyze three stories of my choice and present my analyses in front of the class. After my experiences with bullying in middle school, I had a lot of anxiety around talking about myself. That English project required me to be open about my interests and that scared me. Of course, I could have just chosen popular media, but even that seemed too teasable. I never ended up completing that project.

I hated myself for losing all those points on my English grade. All the suicidal thoughts that had been piling up since 6th grade hit their peak, and I walked home from school that day planning to kill myself. On my way home, however, a guy that lived a street away from me asked me out on a date. A part of me was sure that he would break up with me within a week, but I still wanted to see how this would play out. I didn't attempt suicide that night.

To my suprise, he was still my boyfriend by the end of winter break. After our first day of school in 2018, I reached for my razor blade as I was getting ready to do my homework, then my boyfriend texted me. I realized it would hurt him if he found out I was self-harming, so I threw away my blade and tried to do my homework without it. I couldn't. I wasn’t able to for a while. But for what seemed like the first time in my life, there was something, or rather someone, I cared about more than getting perfect grades.

My grades started dropping again, but this time I had someone to help me through it. In February, I stumbled upon a copy of The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn and I realized I wasn't the only person that had a harmful experience with homework. Soon after, I got a persuasive essay assignment for English and decided to write an essay attempting to persuade teachers to stop giving students homework. During my research, I discovered an essay by John Taylor Gatto. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but I definitely remembered it.

When the year ended, my GPA was 3.32. Not bad, but not perfect. Nevertheless, I was able to enjoy my summer. That is, until August came around and I started dreading going back to school. That's when I thought of the John Taylor Gatto essay I had read. I started searching the internet for it and eventually ended up on the site for the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. What I read there sounded amazing, so I signed up for the newsletter, and created an account for the forums soon after.

Unfortunately, school started up again and I fell back into my old patterns of self-hate. I had thought about asking my parents to let me unschool, but I was afraid my dad would react harshly to it. Then, in October, my boyfriend broke up with me. Something happened that required him to move a couple towns away, and the distance caused some problems for our relationship. We were really close, so the breakup hit me hard. That week, I was once again struggling to focus in class and do my homework. That's when I decided to ask my parents to let me unschool.

I talked to my mom first, and then had her talk to my dad. I ended up creating a learning schedule to get my dad to agree, but I was able to leave school that month. By January I transitioned to full unschooling. Leaving school has allowed me to start healing my mental health. I've also been learning much more now that I'm free to learn based on my own needs and interests, at my own speed.

School isn’t a healthy environment for young people. I truly believe conventional schooling should be considered a mental health crisis. Please, if you’ve read this, join the fight against conventional schooling.

Author: Anonymous

(1 Comment)

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Posted in: Commentary by SoulRiser on July 6, 2019 @ 10:45 PM

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