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Author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook
"Your life, time, and brain should belong to you, not to an institution."
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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.
|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.
That led me into learning about the alternative school movement and pretty soon I had one of John Holts 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 changedeverything. 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
wasnt really observing the change, I was just in
it. I really dont 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 wasnt John Holt, if it was somebody else
talking about their experience with an author, Id
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 couldnt be a
teacher anymore. I had a major struggle; I had a
teachers 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 didnt 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
I kept trying to tell
myself, Its okay, its okay. These kids are
going to go to school, anyway. Its not your fault
that this system exists. It is okay that you are in it.
But it didnt sit right with me and eventually there
was one catalyst after another and I couldnt do it
To have had those two
extreme was very beneficial. The fact remained: they
werent that much different, they really
werent. 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 didnt 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 couldnt 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
wouldnt 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 dont put a second
date after someones 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 deadand 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 Its so much bigger than this;
its not just "Hey, by the way, did you know
that you dont have to go to school and heres
some ways to find out about it." Its so much
bigger than that! I would have little, subversive
conversations with my students and they really
didnt know what I was doing. But I would say:
"So, by the way, if you didnt have to go to
school would you?" They would all say Yes! and then
I would ask why. "Ive got to get a job when
Im an adult" or "What else would I
do" or "Well, Ive got to learn how to do
stuff!" I thought, This is huge; this isnt a
little pamphlet, this is a whole rethinking. Then I
decided that this was going to be a book.
There are a few frontiers I hope will get pushed. Ten years ago, one of the big frontiers was college and admission. Im 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 theretwice 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 theyll push that one eventually.
Nation: Are there any other envelopes homeschoolers will push?
Grace: Well, theres also an increasing trend in homeschoolers growing up, like you, doing whatever youre 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: Whats the new project for Grace? What are you excited about now?
Grace: Im 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. Weve 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 Im into that as well. Im 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 centeragain an offshoot of Genius Tribea place where unschoolers can come and stay for a while, meet others. It wouldnt 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 youre 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, Im never going to do that again!"
Nation: Why "like," not love?
Grace: Im not a very good speaker, for one. I put tons and tons of energy into this thing that doesnt last very long and that Im 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, Im 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 involvedand it is. It is great,
definitely a project Im proud of and happy to be