Oliver lost interest in school around age 12 and was suddenly bored and apathetic. Now he is excelling far beyond expectation.
I never had much trouble in school. My grades were good, and things were fine socially as well. Everything was just that -- fine. Looking back now, it all seems a bit odd. Most teachers could teach, most students could learn. The mark of a good teacher was not the ability to drive knowledge into the heads of their pupils, but their ability to make the need to drive it in disappear. Though good teachers like this didn't redeem school for me, they certainly created a set or two of 180 days that I'll never forget nor regret.
I left school halfway through sixth grade. The only major problem I had was boredom. My assignments were meaningless, my teachers disinterested, and my peers either apathetic or pressured into overachieving. Whether it was being forced to spend my time both in school and out of school coloring maps, reading books I hated, and memorizing lists, or if it was watching the art teacher play a semi-hidden game of solitaire during class, something led me to believe I was bored.
I voiced to my mother my desire to take classes outside of school. She made calls to Sylvan Learning Center and a few local community colleges but, of course, my mother’s last call was to North Star. The call was picked up by Ken. Ken said that although North Star did offer classes, they were only for those not in school. Up to this this point, homeschooling was far from being on the mind of any of my family members. In fact, we weren't fully aware of what North Star was. Despite never before considering pulling me out of school, my mother asked Ken for more information. After coming home that day and hearing what Ken had said, I never set foot in school again.
Although my transition into the North Star mentality was quick, it was an odd experience. The classes were voluntary, which allowed their subjects to vary widely. Attendance was based entirely on interest, whether your interest was computer programming, writing, or maybe a weekly role-playing game session. There were no desks, just chairs, tables and a few couches. Despite this alien (for a place dedicated to education) informality, the true purpose of North Star was to help its members grasp that, being no longer in school, they were ultimately the ones responsible for their education.
My first half year at North Star was fairly structured academically. I would usually figure out a weekly or monthly agreement with my parents, and I would usually adhere to it. Life was nice socially as well. I made many friends and few enemies.
When the next September rolled around, socially, little changed. When it came to education, however, I did a lifetime's worth of nothing, and I was whole-heartedly convinced that it was exactly the right nothing to do. Maybe I'm stretching the truth here. I did do something: I constantly defended my right to do nothing. I would repeatedly say that I'd wait to be inspired, that I wouldn't do busy work just to appease others. This worried my parents; it even worried me sometimes. I never knew how my education would turn out. Although I'd attend a class occasionally, I would spend the majority of my days at North Star on the couch, or perhaps across the street for lunch, and my time at home was a bit too similar. It seems, looking back, that there was some form of defiance in this inactivity. Perhaps I was trying to establish this "self"-education as truly my own, but whatever my now-forgotten reasons were, it worked. Halfway through that same year, my (now fully self) education picked up. From then on, nearly all academic decisions were on me, and I, for the most part, happily made them.
After I won the battle over my homeschooling freedom, my home life changed greatly. Home became, largely, where I got my work done. I've worked in math from the very basic algebra I had started in school, to the calculus I'm currently working on. Though I was tutored through parts, I mainly worked in math on my own from a textbook.
I've certainly read many books over the years, fiction and non-fiction, classic and obscure, and, of course, all of my own free will. I've read a few biographies of famous scientists, notably the particle physicists Richard Feynman and Robert Oppenheimer, the latter being a subject of an essay I wrote. My focus has largely been on hard science and technology, with home studies of chemistry and physics being my main route.
In past years North Star had been entirely a social place for me. I had never taken many classes. With this past September, however, came much greater participation in courses here. In keeping with my earlier studies, I've been taking a physics class, Relativity, as well as an experimentally oriented chemistry class. Offsetting my normal interests, I've taken the biodiversity classes of Evolution Biology and Hotspots, along with Mathematical Biology, a math in nature class. I've also taken a social science class, Economics, the very philosophical Logic Class, and, in the greatest contrast to my usual path, Electronic Music.
This year brought about another, even larger academic shift. School. In December of 2007, I applied to Holyoke Community College. After a brief bureaucratic scuffle about my age (15), I was accepted. My goal in applying had been to take a calculus course. After studying the necessary pre-calculus material in the month and a half I had before the spring semester, I took a placement test. I passed the test very well overall. I took the higher math section twice in order to score high enough for the class I was hoping for. I am now two months into Calculus I, and will attend more classes over the summer.
My decision to leave school was very quick. I just threw myself at this idea of freedom in education. Despite a long time of uncertainty about whether homeschooling could work for me, I really knew from day one that I never would nor could, go back.
Admittedly, I was wrong. But, who am I to complain? College was my idea.
Update: August, 2009: Oliver has been accepted to the Commonwealth College (honors program) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst as a mathematics major at age 16, after taking a year's worth of math and physics classes there as a non-enrolled student and maintaining 3.9 GPA.