Friday, May 13, 2011

Teen Takes Control of Her Own Learning and Opts Out of High School

Editor's note:  Here is the story of a teen who left school to take control of her learning.  If you're a teen or know a teen interested in opting out, check out The Teen's Guide to Opting Out of School for Success.

Co-authored by 16-year-old Leah Miller and Lisa Nielsen

In a world where it seems most every teen is in school, making the decision to opt out can be very difficult. After all, this is an age when most adolescents are trying to do what they can to fit in. Additionally, most people perceive students who leave school as “drop outs” and society has labeled them as lazy, unmotivated, not bright, etc. Students who have taken charge of their learning know this is not true, but the reality is that they will be spending a lot of time convincing others of this. 16-year-old Leah Miller is one such former student who has chosen to opt out of high school so she could acquire an education that was best was personalized to her learning goals.  To follow is her story complete with the presentation she put together to convince her parents she was making the right decision.

"As a school principal I have one job and that is to expose kids to a whole lot of different things and help them to get their light bulb to go on.”
--Barbara Slatin, Schoolwide Enrichment Model Principal (read more here)

Leah Miller - School was dimming my bright light
I am an unusual case. I hope one day, what I did will be commonplace, but with my circumstances, for now, I remain unusual. I have always been a “good student”. I got straight-A’s, I did my homework without being bribed, I actually enjoyed going to class most days.

I left school because my inner light was being slowly, but surely, being dimmed. I started dreading school and losing all my motivation for the mundane daily homework I was assigned. It was hell to put myself through the day-to-day activities that I didn’t care a whit about.

Fortunately, my mom had a great conversation with a friend that led to a discussion about unschooling--the friend had unschooled his three kids. My mom brought it up to me that night and the seed was planted. She didn’t have any agenda when she told me, but as the idea grew inside me, she saw me open like a flower in the dessert finally getting water. We talked to that family as we were deciding to leave. They have become a real support system for me. I left my high school just a few weeks after the initial conversation. My mind was made up, my heart followed and the rest is history. 

In the beginning, my dad was reluctant and unsure if it was a good decision so I made a Powerpoint presentation (which you can see below) and scheduled a meeting with my parents to help convince them. I took charge of my life and ownership of my learning and left high school right then and there. It was freeing, but also scary.

I got a lot of different reactions when I first left, and I am still dealing with the repercussions. Some of my friends and family were very supportive and they saw how much better I am doing. Quite a few of my friends still suffering through the school system were jealous. However, quite a few people dear to me were really upset by my decision. I got angry letters and anonymous hate comments on my blog

Unfortunately, I have kind of grown apart from most of my school friends. Thankfully, I had some really close friends from acting school that I still am super close with.

It was hard to deal with all of the various responses, but I feel that I have learned a lot and grown as a person from this experience. One of the questions I hear all the time is “So, what do you do all day?”. I hate this question. I know that people are just curious and they have every right to want to know more about my unconventional lifestyle. However, that question makes me curl up inside and get that dread feeling in my gut. Sometimes I feel like I am inadequate with what I am doing, but most of the time, I just know that the person asking won’t understand the way I live my life, because society hasn’t caught up with this fast-growing education revolution yet.

I live my life day by day. I take every opportunity that I can to learn from life. I believe that I am more prepared for real life now than when I was still in the sheltered school environment. I have learned how to handle myself efficiently in real-world situations. I do lots of internships with different theaters. I hope to get a job soon. Because I have so much free time during the school year, I am really interested in travel. I am going to to New York soon for over two weeks to explore and soak in the city. I know that I will learn bucketloads from that trip.

I plan to apply to Santa Monica College in the fall and take whatever classes I find interesting. After two years, it is really easy to transfer to a traditional four-year campus school. I passed the California High School Proficiency Exam, the California equivalent of a GED for minors. I am thriving as I live my life the way I want to, without having a “formal education” thrust upon me. I am confident that my path will lead to an amazing future, and I can’t wait!

Listen to Leah’s interview on with The Unplugged Mom.

Listen to internet radio with The Unplugged Mom on Blog Talk Radio

About Leah Miller
Leah Miller is a 16-year old unschooler. She left high school halfway through sophomore year, and now she enjoys her life and learns from everything around her, not in hour-long periods of enforced learning. Her passion is musical theater and she breathes it everyday. She is on a quest to find a better term than “unschooling”. Leah enjoys mismatched socks, driving with the windows open and the music blasting, and baking. She would be very content to never hear the words, “So what do you do all day?” ever again. Leah writes a blog called “said the red-head” and you can also follow her on twitter @LeahMiller28.

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