Grown Unschoolers Need Community, Too

Dec 14, 2012

ZTC Camp 2011
I’m constantly amazed by the community and support networks available to teenage unschoolers. For grown unschoolers, it’s a different story.

As a teen, you’ve got summer camps (NBTSCETUSC), conferences (LIGNEUCHSC + more), regional resource centers and free schools (like North Star in MA, Tall Grass in IL, or Open Connections in PA), and tons of local support groups. I’ve added to this mix, too, with Unschool Adventures.

Such options make it easy to build community as a self-directed teen. Yes—it’s still difficult if you’re rural, shy, or don’t have the resources to bounce between camps and conferences. But the options are there.

Turn 19 or 20, and the game changes. You drop off a cliff, community- and support-wise.

You can still attend conferences—some may even court you—but you’ll pretty much be the only person between age 20 & 30. You’ve aged out of the camps and alternative schools, unless you become a staff member. Support groups start looking like collections of little kids and parents.

College becomes your best option, and many unschoolers do go to college and find great community and support there. But the four-year college price tag is quickly departing from the value it provides. If your interests aren’t academic, will you pay $5,000 – $30,000 per year for the privilege of hanging around other people your age?

This isn’t just an issue for grown unschoolers. Some 18-22 year-olds from traditional backgrounds discover their autodidactic natures in college. I did. Lots of others do too. They crave a community of fellow self-directed learners but have no idea where to find it.

I think we need more self-directed learners in the world. We’re doing a good job of supporting such learners at the teenage level. We could be doing better at the young adult level.

– – –

To this end, I’m designing a big new annual event for 18-22 year-olds. Its explicit mission: to offer community, direction, and inspiration to the North America-wide community of young adult self-directed learners.

Unschoolers and the avowedly unlabeled… college students, college drop-outs, and college never-beens… entrepreneurs, artists, makers, travelers, and those without a clear direction: all will be welcome.

I’ll post more about this event very soon. (You may also join the Unschool Adventures notification list to get an e-mail when it launches.)

– – –

To promote self-directed learning as a viable approach for young adults, we will need more than an annual gathering. But it will be a step in the right direction.

What other steps can we take?


[Cross-posted on Blake Boles dot com.]


  1. Comment by Dana Winston Keller

    Dana Winston Keller Dec 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Have you considered using an Open Space design for the conference? Might be just right for non-traditional learners. I went to an Applied Improv Network conference where we used Open Space Technology and it was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. Works really well with adults, since we have some experience under our belts (some of us more than others!).

  2. Comment by Laura Ellis

    Laura Ellis Dec 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    I love Dana’s idea about Open Space. I think part of the problem with grown unschoolers is that we’re…well…grown. Many of us hold jobs that won’t give us time off for a week-long conference, or, in my case, are in graduate school year round (and as my program has a clinical component, missing clinic days is a huge hassle in finding someone to treat my patients while I’m gone). An internet forum or group of some sort would be fabulous, and that could spark some local groups and events that are easier to get to.

    And it’s so true, Blake. I am at the same time thrilled for and envious of Allen, who has managed to continue being an active part of the unschooling community. It’s one that I miss a lot, and sometimes it’s frustrating knowing that there’s this fantastic community of amazing people out there that I’m no longer a part of.

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