My proudest day of school was the day I dropped out. That was the day I declared my learning autonomy; the day I took direct action to occupy my education. I have Sierra College to thank for reigniting my passion for exploration and desire to learn. When I first graduated high school, college was the last thing on my mind. The busy work and pressures of public school had rid me of any interest in further studies. To me, school was a prison. Perhaps I felt that way because I had something to compare it to.
Up until eighth grade, my mom homeschooled me and my six siblings with a local homeschool co-op. Our studies were experiential and project based. My time spent homeschooling afforded me a great deal of freedom and flexibility to learn and develop at my own pace, according to my needs, abilities and interests. It was a joy to learn.
Upon enrolling in public school, I lost touch with that joy- and with it, my motivation, focus and energy. I quickly adopted an anti-school attitude and a resentment for the cage school came to represent. After having managed myself for so long, I never got used to the power dynamics, rigid schedules or authority figures in public school. Nor did I take well to being isolated among my peers in an environment that promoted conformity and exclusion of “abnormals.” As for the stale repetition and memorization of dry information, I found it was toxic to my imagination and creativity. I felt like a fish plucked from the sea and abruptly plopped into a tank- where I quickly sank into the depths of apathy, despondency and depression.
High school was merely a matter of “getting it over with” and to this day I can barely recall which classes I took- let alone anything I supposedly learned. Graduation meant I had earned my freedom, and I would be damned to trade that for anything. I took up traveling and started reading for pleasure again, researching concepts and ideas that interested me, taking every opportunity to learn new things.
It was during that time that I realized my passion for alternative education. I drew inspiration from pioneer of youth rights activism, John Holt, “Education… now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all social inventions… My concern is… to end the ugly anti-human business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”
I knew I wanted to be a part of radical transformation, the only question was how? I took what seemed like an obvious first step, I enrolled in classes at Sierra College and declared Early Childhood Education as my major. That season I had clarity, purpose and vision guiding my every step. I wasn’t concerned with grades, or credits, or majors first, instead I was there to learn.
As an adult, I felt more empowered to engage my studies while maintaining a healthy balance.
I scheduled a three hour block between my morning and afternoon classes to ensure that I’d have ample time for processing, reflecting, and ultimately; self care. I feel I was able to get the most out of my time there because I knew then what I didn’t take seriously in high school; that stress is counter-intuitive to learning and that the two can hardly coexist.
Moving on from Sierra College was bitter sweet. I had big ambitions and a lot of momentum. My goal was to think, not memorize, to create, rather than consume. So I moved to Washington with hopes of transferring to The Evergreen State College; a school known for it’s interdisciplinary- project based approach.
When it came time to start classes at Evergreen, I felt it was no longer in alignment with my values, ideals and learning practice. I wanted to exemplify self initiated learning- unhindered by institutional agendas. I wanted to take a risk and be my own experiment. Ultimately, I chose to drop out and apply my understanding of alternative education to my own learning approach.
It seemed to me that all the energy it would take to pay an institution for my education, I could just as easily design my own experience based emergent curriculum. I began by seeking out resources, mentors and opportunities that I felt would better equip me to actualize my vision of someday cultivating a homeschooling/ unschooling support space and intentional community.
I spent a term conducting my own independent study abroad, where I was able to work first hand with folks on the frontier of Forest Schools and am now working towards becoming an internationally qualified forest school facilitator.
I’ve spent several months living and working on various permaculture projects and exploring intentional communities both in Europe and in the Pacific Northwest. I’m studying concepts like consensus, Non-Violent Communication, unschooling, sustainable living, cultural evolution and community building.
Since dropping out of college, I have spent time on the French Italian borders working with local activist groups and learning first hand the stories and challenges of refugees fleeing from North Africa and Syria. I was able to join up with the Extinction Rebellion folks in Galway and learn about the climate crisis and international efforts to take direct action. I volunteered with a surf school outreach in Ireland and was able to explore cross cultural approaches to connecting with children and being a mentor.
I visited the Reggio, Centro Internazionale in Italy where I was able to experience the roots and cultural context of the principles I had been studying. None of this would have been possible had I merely been reading about it in a classroom and stressing out about how to pay off my student loans. Needless to say, I now swim freely through an ocean of possibilities.
My path and journey are my own. There is no one size that fits all. What I am doing is not for everyone, just as institutional or traditional approaches are not for everyone.
If I could say one thing to others, it would be, find your feet, find your voice, and cultivate an experience that is in line with who you are and what matters most to you.
Success is a matter of well-being and fulfillment. Individually and collectively we are all cultivators of our culture, our values, our future. The challenges we are currently facing as a species require of us innovation, creativity and willingness to try and explore what hasn’t been prepackaged for us. Trust yourself, and be willing to take risks and initiative on your own behalf. You do not need permission or approval to be your own cause. That which you can conceive, you can create, so what kind of world do you want to work towards?
As they say, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Written by Jenny Stamps | Photos provided by Jenny Stamps