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Grace Llewellyn

Author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook

"Your life, time, and brain should belong to you, not to an institution."

Wikipedia Page on Grace


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From the Wikipedia Page on Grace (as of Nov 2011)

After teaching for three years, Llewellyn came across the work of John Holt (a pioneer in youth rights theory), which led her to re-consider her approach to education. In 1991, at age 26, she wrote The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education.

Th book concludes that education is greater than school, and aims at presenting high-school-aged teenagers with a viable alternative to the United States' compulsory school system. Llewellyn uses examples of rural and urban teenagers who choose various, alternative paths of intentional learning, and she details a variety of possible ways that teens can peruse a rich and multifaceted education and go on to attend college, without attending high school. She emphasizes using personal interests as motivation to learn in a meaningful, real-world context.

One reviewer, Jamie Littlefield, says, "Llewellyn sympathizes with teenagers who get a sub-par education, wasting hours of their time on worksheets, “classroom management,” and other needless time-busters. Instead of such waste, she contends that teens should quit school and take charge of their own learning. ...this book isn't just about lofty philosophical ideas. Llewellyn backs her claim with hundreds of pages of practical suggestions on how to claim responsibility for your educational life."

Llewellyn published the Teenage Liberation Handbook through her publishing company, Lowry House Publishers. Since its release, the book has sold tens of thousands of copies, and in 1998 it was revised and released in an international edition.

In 1996, Llewellyn started a summer camp called Not Back to School Camp, or NBTSC, attracting teens from all over the U.S., Canada, and other countries. NBTSC offers campers support in perusing varied avenues of education by connecting them with a pool of unschooling peers (about 100 other campers per session) and an eclectic staff.[2]

Today, Llewellyn continues to direct NBTSC, and she lives in Eugene, Oregon.

From An Interview

The link no longer works


I guess you could say that I first got involved with homeschooling at the end of my first year as a substitute teacher, in 1986. I was twenty-three at the time.
II had spent a year in the public school system of Oakland, California and up until that point, had been totally committed to the idea of teaching in the public schools. All of my ideas about what was possible (well, most of them) were shattered during that year. I realized that it’s not teachers’ faults that certain things don’t happen in classrooms. I started to see it in a much more structural sense, why things were the way they are. So I started brainstorming about what I could do instead. At the time, I really didn’t feel like I wanted to just turn to a private school. I thought that a private school might be really different, but I really didn’t want to teach kids who had lots of money. Now I think that I have some different ideas about that, but at the time I felt like I had this mission, that liberal Save the World thing. These kids need good teachers! So I started brainstorming—what could I do instead of teach in a ritzy, private school where all of the kids had a lot of money? What could I do instead of that and instead of public schools? I came up the idea that maybe I could start my own little tiny school, like ten people, and it could be really, really cheap because there would be little overhead and we could rotate between five different houses, all staff.

That led me into learning about the alternative school movement and pretty soon I had one of John Holt’s books in my hands.

I am pretty sure that it was Instead of Education.

Everything changed at that point. I opened the book, read a few pages and it was over. Everything changed—everything. My assessment of my whole life changed. My plans, my dreams, my beliefs about education changed in a few pages.

That period in my life is really confusing, because my mind changed so fast and I wasn’t really observing the change, I was just in it. I really don’t know where the old way of thinking left off and the new way of thinking took over. Suddenly I would have all of these thoughts and I would feel that they were my thoughts. But then I would look back on the book I was reading and Oh, I had just read that. I immediately incorporated his thoughts as my own. If it wasn’t John Holt, if it was somebody else talking about their experience with an author, I’d probably go, Oh, weird. It sounds like a cult or something. It made so much sense to me, though. At that point, I pretty much decided that I couldn’t be a teacher anymore. I had a major struggle; I had a teacher’s certificate and realized for the first time in my life that I was not an educated person. I was this person who had gotten wonderful grades and knew nothing, who had very few skills.

I didn’t know what else to do; I was terrified. I floundered around for about a year, doing different things, subbing a little bit more and mostly traveling. Then I gave up. By giving up, I went back into teaching again. I taught at a private school for two years. In retrospect, I think that it was good that I did give up, because I very much had one extreme and the other; I was in the huge, very poor public school system of Oakland, California and then I was in this tiny, wonderful (as far as school goes) private school where I could do anything I wanted in terms of curriculum. It was so unlike public school in that sense; I had complete freedom. My students were wonderful, I knew them all (there was only twenty of them).

I kept trying to tell myself, It’s okay, it’s okay. These kids are going to go to school, anyway. It’s not your fault that this system exists. It is okay that you are in it. But it didn’t sit right with me and eventually there was one catalyst after another and I couldn’t do it anymore.

To have had those two extreme was very beneficial. The fact remained: they weren’t that much different, they really weren’t. They were still school, they were still adults telling kids what to do. They were still kids without a life.

I would say that I got involved then with the homeschooling movement by writing The Teenage Liberation Handbook. The research I did for the book involved visiting homeschoolers, sending out surveys, writing to them and that was pretty much how it happened.

This is pretty funny, actually. By this time, when I decided that I really could not teach, it had been two years at least since I had discovered John Holt and I had read almost everything he had written (but not everything). I didn’t know that he was dead! He had been dead at that time for about four, five years. He was such a real person to me. Somewhere in my mind I thought that I would write to this person. I had never written to an author, but I thought that at some point I would probably contact him.

This one day, when I knew that I couldn’t teach anymore, I thought that I would write to John Holt and ask him if maybe he could write a book that is directly for kids. There was all of this great stuff out there for parents, but most kids wouldn’t think to read the books because it was not addressed to them. So I was thinking, and as I was pondering the idea I was holding one of his books in my hands. My mind was spinning with the idea and I looked down. For the first time, it registered that on the back of this book it said John Holt, 1927-1985!

I sat there staring at it and started thinking, Usually you don’t put a second date after someone’s name unless they are dead… I just stared and stared. The earth shook under my feet and I think that I ran to some other John Holt book I had in the house. Yes, indeed, if I read the little blurb in the back I would see that he was dead—and had been dead for five years. I was totally stunned.

I decided at that point it was up to me to write the book. But I thought in terms of brochure, pamphlet or tiny booklet. Essentially, a resource list. As I started to plan the list and work on it, I realized that It’s so much bigger than this; it’s not just "Hey, by the way, did you know that you don’t have to go to school and here’s some ways to find out about it." It’s so much bigger than that! I would have little, subversive conversations with my students and they really didn’t know what I was doing. But I would say: "So, by the way, if you didn’t have to go to school would you?" They would all say Yes! and then I would ask why. "I’ve got to get a job when I’m an adult" or "What else would I do" or "Well, I’ve got to learn how to do stuff!" I thought, This is huge; this isn’t a little pamphlet, this is a whole rethinking. Then I decided that this was going to be a book.
For me, there were a few blocks I had in the beginning. One was that a lot of families didn’t teach their kids to read really early when they were six or whatever, letting them learn to read really late. That disturbed me a lot in the beginning. It was a big block, but I totally got over it. It took me a while.


There are a few frontiers I hope will get pushed. Ten years ago, one of the big frontiers was college and admission. I’m hoping that some people who really want to be something like a lawyer or a doctor, I am hoping that they will push this envelope by educating themselves through the college level and then applying to grad school directly without having gone to college.

Nation: Is that even possible?

Grace: Yes that is possible. In most states, you have to have a medical school degree, but there is no law, there is no formal requirement that in order to get into grad school you have to have an undergraduate degree.

I believe that it has been done here and there—twice or something. But it is not yet something that is visible. Eventually I think it will happen, because homeschoolers are going to push envelopes and I think they’ll push that one eventually.

Nation: Are there any other envelopes homeschoolers will push?

Grace: Well, there’s also an increasing trend in homeschoolers growing up, like you, doing whatever you’re going to do and having the rest of us see that. It is not so much pushing a frontier, as it is an inspiration that will come back to homeschooling families and back to teenagers and younger kids, too, who will see what grown-up autodidacts have done with themselves and can do.

By the same token, as those people continue to interact with others who were not homeschooled, more adults, I think, will think about such issues and get the sense that they can take more control of their own lives.

Nation: What’s the new project for Grace? What are you excited about now?

Grace: I’m also really excited about starting to work on the house project I mentioned earlier. Also, a really big thing right now, which is about my personal life but also potentially about my work is that my husband and I really want to buy some land and live in a bigger space, outside of town, with some other people. We’ve been talking with different people, brainstorming. One possibility is that we will be able to create a multipurpose center.

Nation: A multipurpose center?

Grace: Some of the friends I am talking with about the project are really into natural or alternative healing and I’m into that as well. I’m also really into dancing and one friend is into yoga. I would like to have dance retreats and she would like to have yoga retreats. But I would also like to incorporate into the center—again an offshoot of Genius Tribe—a place where unschoolers can come and stay for a while, meet others. It wouldn’t be as formal, nor as organized as my house idea. It would be more of a "center."

Nation: It sounds like Genius Tribe all over again.

Grace: It does in a way, but… Yeah, it does sound like Genius Tribe. There would be certain things that it would not be, however, and there would be clear agreements like if you stayed a night it would be five bucks plus a couple hours of helping with the kitchen. If that were incorporated into a larger living situation where we were out in the country, it could be much cheaper, much more informal. We were paying city rent with the original Genius Tribe. This could be something much more low-key, semi-camping.

But you’re right. Actually, you saying that is just one more little reminder: Grace, be careful!

Nation: Can you tell me about the Not Back to School Camp? What initially spurred you to concoct such a getaway?

Grace: It was partly Genius Tribe not working out as a resource center, but still wanting some kind of contact with kids. Another thing that really spurred it, too, was that for years I had a like/hate relationship with homeschooling conferences. I would be invited to speak at them and would go speak at one, then come home and say, "Oh, I’m never going to do that again!"

Nation: Why "like," not love?

Grace: I’m not a very good speaker, for one. I put tons and tons of energy into this thing that doesn’t last very long and that I’m not very great at, anyway. It is not a very efficient use of my own energy. I think that I am a good writer, so if I put the same amount of energy into writing, I can come up with so much more than one little hour speech that is tape-recorded and now available for people to buy! Oh, I’m just not very good at it!

Often I am scheduled to sit down with the teenagers for an hour or two hours. This group of sixty kids and me for two hours. This is the contact I am having with homeschoolers? This is not enough. I wanted something more. The camp seemed like a good thing. Also, I imagined that it would be a lot of fun for the kids involved—and it is. It is great, definitely a project I’m proud of and happy to be involved with.