06/06/2011 04:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

No Homework and Never a Test - The Life of an Unschooler

Originally published on, the premier source for youth-generated news throughout the globe.


With summer on the horizon, many teens are looking forward to a break from school and tests, but for 16-year-old Sam Fuller of Albany, California, not much will change. Fuller is part of a small minority of homeschoolers who call themselves unschooled -- a more unstructured self-directed form of homeschooling. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, there were about two million registered homeschoolers in the U.S. as of 2010, a number they estimate to be growing by about 5-10 percent every year. Sam's family legally unschools him and his brother by registering their house with the state as a private school.

By: Sam Fuller

I didn't have a reason to read until I was 10, so I didn't. Eventually when I did learn, it wasn't because of a book, test, a teacher, or even because I was embarrassed I didn't know how. I learned to read because of a card game I wanted to play called Magic the Gathering.

In order to play this new and exciting game I had to be able to read about the different characters on the cards. I'm 16 now and I learn what I want to learn, when I want to learn it, and not always in the conventional ways. My mom had the idea to unschool me when she was a teacher, and I was a baby.

"I thought, here I have a 4-month-old baby and well, this is fine, how he's learning now," says my mom, Pam Tellew, "I don't really see any reason that that has to change."

2011-05-31-201006270.jpgUnschooling is like home schooling, except entirely self directed, with lots of support from my parents. When I first got my allowance of $2.50 a week, I remember calculating how long I'd have to save up to buy my next toy. Everything I've ever learned has been for a practical purpose or because I was interested, never for a test or because someone made me.

My 12-year-old brother Nicky has also been unschooled his whole life. He is pretty shy; he likes reading fantasy books and watching South Park. Before last year he wasn't comfortable with groups of kids.

My mom will occasionally suggest activities, like going to the botanical garden, but Nicky will usually shoot them down with an immediate "no." He's bored a lot because he's in between interests, and yet he's nervous about trying new things.

I had a similar problem when I was his age. It's part of growing up unschooled. We don't have as much pressure from school and friends telling us what to like, so it's our responsibility to figure out how to spend our time.

My grandpa, Glenn Fuller, is one of the people in my family who had concerns about unschooling. "I didn't think it was a good idea," he says. "One of the reasons I was worried is that I was afraid your education might be a little spotty. The other thing is the social aspect of the thing. For example you couldn't take part in team sports."

Not having a social life is a big misconception about unschoolers. In our world, the idea that we are shut-ins who barely see the light of day is kind of a joke. Unschooled kids have their own networks and conferences. We go on camping trips and we hang out with friends whenever we want.

And the truth is, my Grandpa's right, my education is spotty. Up until a year ago I could barely spell. It was my own fault, because I was reluctant to take on the daunting task. Most parents would have intervened in this situation, but my mom says there's a cost to that.
"When you force someone to do something, especially when they're a child and there's an imbalance and a power relationship anyway, they lose part of their will and their confidence that they know what's right for them. And I think that's a pretty high cost for being a good speller."

A few months ago my mom bought a book and we started working on my spelling. And I've also enrolled in my first community college class, with the plan of transferring my credits to a four year college.

And although I acknowledge that school does work for some people, I'm incredibly grateful my parents decided to unschool me.

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