Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dropping Out was a Great Idea

Guest post by Nick Perez

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of questions raised about how innovations in technology will change education as we know it - Can machines replace teachers? Do internet resources provide everything needed to develop professional skills? What happens if you replace school with online learning? I’ve spent my life trying to find out, and the answers I have are both promising and a little horrifying.

The good news is that it worked. I’ve developed a wide range of interests and skills, with my lifelong field of choice being software. I have a software development job that I love, I have no student debt, and I feel secure about my long-term future. I’m pretty sure that this is what most students dream of. The path here wasn’t easy or well-traveled, but the experiment has been a success.

The bad news is that along the way, I discovered that public schools are not prepared to fairly compete for their students’ attention. This has resulted in a long series of slightly traumatizing events. From the prescription drugging, to the humiliation of being singled out from the rest of my peers, to the threats of litigation, it’s been a long road. I left school at the age of 17 after deciding that I’d had enough of my school district’s attempts to forcibly shift my attention toward the classroom, and away from my independent studies. This didn’t happen because of human evils, but because of old, rigid systems that have yet to bend and break under the pressure of progress.

One of the arguments in favor of schooling that I hear most frequently is that the diversity of curricula changes the way students view the world - it exposes them to things they never would have explored otherwise, and it’s the perfect recipe for a well-rounded individual. While that sounds great on paper, it is an obsolete notion. In the information age, exposure to new ideas is inevitable. The diversity of ideas being shared online and in the real world far exceeds the diversity of a single school’s curriculum, and it is highly unlikely that this will ever change. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs in tech, media, skincare/beauty products, marketing, and education. I’ve interned in a professional recording studio and written hundreds of my own songs.  I’ve had discussions and debates with people from all over the world, with passions ranging from evolutionary biology to international philanthropy to psychology to social activism to mechanical engineering to the arts. Opportunities to explore new ideas will always be incredibly abundant, but I’ve found it more important to focus on the things that I’m devoting my life to.

It is now easier than ever to discover your passion at an early age.

There has been no subject of interest that I’ve found to be more captivating than technology. I spent most of my early childhood playing video games and learning how to use my old DOS PC. In the mid-to-late 90s, computers began to transform our culture in a huge way. I figured out how to use e-mail to stay in touch with my aunt who, at the time, lived across the country in California. I learned how to browse the web and download games. Magazines started including interactive CD-ROMs with every issue as the downfall of paper media began. I could learn about anything imaginable with Encarta ‘95. As a curious elementary school student, I was witnessing and being a part of one of the biggest changes that humanity has ever faced in all of history. When the time came to get off the computer and sit in a classroom for seven hours, I felt reasonably preoccupied.

My experiences in classrooms largely consisted of staring at a clock on the wall and waiting for a bell to ring so that I could go home and learn about more interesting things. While I thought I was just “playing on the computer”, I was really developing indispensable skills and fully experiencing the joy of education. The enjoyment of  learning is a feeling that I cannot find words to describe, and a feeling that often seems to be lost on society. In the eyes of my school, this was not considered ‘work’, and I was failing.

The Westfield school district has what they call a “child study team”. They were called in to save the day. Their job was to figure out what was wrong with me, to completely disregard the dangers of a confirmation bias, and to have me somehow classified for special-education. The idea of a student primarily learning outside of the classroom was unheard of. It especially confused them when I scored highly on tests, despite ignoring all lectures and homework. I was always told that I had potential, but because I wasn’t doing the work that they provided, I wasn’t living up to that potential. School “experts” recommended that I see a psychiatrist. After all, it’s easier to fix a child by giving him a bottle of pills than to actually attempt to fix the bureaucratic, factory-like conditions that exist in public schools. I underwent a psychological evaluation and was diagnosed with ADD. I was placed in a ‘supplemental’ class where I could do my homework during school hours, and was placed on Adderall (an amphetamine) at 9 years old.

When I was 10 years old, my aunt noticed how inspired I was by technology, and paid for me to attend a computer camp over the summer. I was completely in awe of the realization that I could use my mind to build things for others to use. The possibilities will always seem endless to me, but these things are particularly enthralling when viewed through the lens of a young imagination. When I got home from camp with all of my new books and knowledge, my journey in independent education truly began. I knew that if I put enough effort into learning how to code, I could change the world. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to do this in school. The inability to devote my time toward the pursuit of my dreams made me miserable. I began to stay up late into the night to write code, which resulted in exhaustion, lateness, and absenteeism during school hours.

If you defy the system, expect it to slowly tear you apart.

When Adderall failed to make me care about school, they decided to try more drugs. Wellbutrin gave me a seizure. Prozac made me irritable and hostile. One day, while on Effexor XR, I experienced a dangerously rapid heart-rate, turned pale, and couldn’t stop vomiting. I was too young to understand what it meant to take mind-altering drugs, and was unaware of how it was affecting me. The belief that chemicals are the answer to low classroom motivation is not only incorrect, but also extremely dangerous and completely unforgivable.

After failing to accomplish anything positive through the use of amphetamines and antidepressants, the Child Study Team came up with the bright idea of having a paraprofessional follow me around all day to keep me on top of things. She was a wonderful person, but everyone knew that this was an odd arrangement, and it became really difficult to develop socially. This was the beginning of my isolation in school - when I really started to believe that there was something horribly wrong with me, and I didn’t belong. Everyone else was normal, and I wasn’t. I still knew I was gifted in some way, but felt that I was broken in every other way.
“Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.” - Frank Zappa
Treat a student differently, and rebelliousness will become a survival tactic.

Lacking a healthy social life in school, I had to look elsewhere. At 13 years old, I started hanging out with a group of high-school students who loved to party. We drank a lot, smoked a lot, and wrote a lot of music. It was a huge comfort to know that even though I felt like an idiot in school, I could feel like a badass outside of school. We did a lot of stupid things, but in hindsight, it all ended up doing less harm than the prescriptions. One day my school district found out about our little party scene, and then they had a reason to call me a troublemaker.

The more my school insisted upon treating me like a problem child, the less I wanted to subject myself to it. My family started receiving legal threats from the school district because I so frequently refused to go to school. To this day, I’m proud of every moment of schooling that I missed. I felt confident and comfortable outside of that environment, and skipping school gave me a significant amount of extra time to focus on positive things that were important to me. I composed music prolifically. I learned about 3d modeling, the inner workings of synthesizers, databases, Internet security, reverse-engineering, and at this point I had coded in about a dozen different programming languages.

It became very apparent to me that compulsory schooling was working against my favor, and skipping school wasn’t just a form of protest, but also a necessity. My school wasn’t helping me in any of my areas of interest, and options like homeschooling & private schools weren’t feasible. My mom was raising three kids on her own and could barely afford to pay the rent, so there was a lot of stress and uncertainty about what was going to happen to us. Unless I wanted to surrender all control over my education to a system that was simply not equipped to provide what I needed, this was the best I could do.

Things could have been worse.

I graduated from Roosevelt Intermediate, and felt like I had just survived a long walk through hell. It almost seemed like the situation couldn’t possibly get any worse, but it always can. Next, it was time to go to Westfield High School.

For many, high-school is considered to be one of the most important stages of life. The social development that takes place during these years, in these environments, is irreplaceable. That’s what I’d heard, at least. I would never find out for myself, because I would never be allowed to experience a regular high-school class. From day one, my good friends in the Child Study Team decided to place me in a program called The Bridge. My ADD diagnosis was not a severe enough diagnosis to have me placed me in The Bridge due to Least Restrictive Environment laws, so they did another psychological evaluation and concluded that I was “emotionally disturbed”, which is not a legitimate term in psychology - it is an umbrella term invented exclusively for the purpose of placing severe classifications on students who can not be diagnosed with an actual severe disorder. Google it. The number of students in the program was constantly changing, because some would leave due to jail-time, pregnancy, etc, but it was typically between 5-20 kids, which is all age-groups combined.

There’s a threshold of desperation in schools, beyond which grades become a currency.

The Bridge was never challenging, and there was always a focus on convincing us to do a bare-minimal amount of busywork so that we could get a passing grade for the day. The teachers cared about us, but it was clear that the bar had been lowered due to our unwillingness to participate. I think we all realized that our grades didn’t stand for anything valid - in The Bridge, grades are an imaginary currency. There were attempts at having actual classes, but they were frequently interrupted by things like fights breaking out, or students yelling “Man, this is bullshit!” It wasn’t much of a healthy learning environment, so passing grades for each day were typically offered in exchange for good behavior and a boring worksheet. The whole program is an attempt to get the least motivated students through high-school, whether actual learning is occurring or not. I’m sure it makes the district look great on paper, but I find it shameful that our flawed metrics for success could cause a school to forget what its primary purpose is.

I didn’t want the bar lowered. I wanted to focus on my work. I didn’t want to be isolated from my peers. I wanted to feel normal. Westfield High School has an enrollment of over 1,500 students, and I was one of them, but I was one of approximately 5-20 students who were placed in a single room all day, and not allowed to be a part of the larger community. No matter how much I expressed that I wanted to be in a normal high-school classroom, they didn’t listen. In return, I didn’t listen to them either. I completely stopped going to school and was left back a year. In a strange act of desperation, they offered to let me take a regular science and phys-ed class with students who were a year younger, which was awkward, and kind of defeated the purpose. That was when I realized that it was too late.

My school had wasted my time until there was no time left.

I had my education covered all along - what they didn’t understand is that they had failed to fulfill the single greatest responsibility of a high-school, which is to provide an environment that promotes healthy social development. From an early age onward, I was denied the right to exist normally, all because I had the audacity to challenge the notion that compulsory schooling holds a monopoly on my education.

I left, and I still feel cheated sometimes, but it isn’t over yet. After leaving school, I realized that there exists a massive movement of current and former students, teachers, parents, thinkers, entrepreneurs, and leaders who believe traditional schooling is a mediocre and obsolete educational approach. The old-fashioned learning institutions that are failing our communities will be replaced by something better, and now is the time to build it.

The world outside of the public education bureaucracy is enormous, and the alternatives to traditional schooling will continue to rise up, until they’ve risen above everything that is currently considered to be the norm. There can be no tolerance for the dying breed of traditional education professionals who mismanage groups of children in destructive ways when they choose the alternatives. There is no ‘fixing’ traditional schooling to adapt to the age of information. We will need to re-evaluate our needs from the ground up, and the result will not resemble our current Industrial Age institutions. The reinvention of schools won’t be easy, nor will it be met without resistance, but one thing that history teaches us repeatedly is that progress cannot be stopped. I think it’s time to accept that the role of educators is changing, because classrooms literally face a world of competition, and I can confirm that the competition is unprecedentedly powerful.

Editor's Note: I had the extreme pleasure of joining the author of this post, Nicholas Perez, as a guest on Paul Allison's Teachers Teaching Teachers. In the episode we discussed who drops out and why. I was invited on the show as author of the Teen's Guide to Opting Out of School for Success. Nick was invited because he was a teen who opted out of school to find success. I LOVED what Nick had to say and asked him to please consider sharing his story as I know it will be inspiring to parents, teachers, and teens across the globe. The following post is the result of several month's work. It provides amazing insights and lessons for every educator, administrator and parent. It also happens to be the most important post I've published. This is the first time it is being shared publicly.

If you are a parent who is living or is considering a school-free life for your child, join others who are doing the same here.


  1. Nick, you tell an important story and tell it well.
    Lisa, thank you for sharing this story. I hope others listen as well as you do.

  2. Thanks to Lisa and all who have taken the time to read my story.

    This is the hardest thing I've ever written in my life, because the negativity surrounding my schooling has never gone away after all these years, and it has taken years to conclude that I shouldn't blame myself for any of it. Through writing, I kinda feel like I can move on now.

    If anyone wants to talk privately about any of this stuff, you can e-mail me at, or text/call my Google Voice # , (908) 514-8420 .

    1. Thank you for sharing this Nick. This is a powerful story. I know that this will have an important impact on the lives of many parents, teachers, and young people.

  3. I bet this was hard to write. It was hard to read! It's been four years since I opted out, and I have yet to put my entire story in writing because it still hurts. Kudos to you.

    1. Six years for me. The process of putting it in writing was not pretty at all. I decided I wanted to scrap the article and start over, twice, Then went back to the original. Countless revisions and constant questioning of whether it would really be a good idea to share this stuff with the world. Ultimately, I decided that if there are any other students going through something similar, I need to step up and speak up.

    2. Youth voice is so important. It's time we took it out of the shadows and shared these powerful stories that need to be told. Articles like this can become a huge support to the transformation of education.

  4. It's so ironic that my kids who were unschooled (one still is) have opted to go to school- one in grade 11 and one in grade 9. I practically beg them to continue their independent learning but they won't - even the one who is not happy being at school! What is the hold on them? Being 'normal'?

    BTW- My blog has a section on kids that have grown up without school. Check it out here:

    1. I think public schools might work for certain people in certain districts under certain circumstances. In every level of schooling, there is an opportunity to socialize that makes it worth it to put up with the poor quality of learning. Unfortunately, I wasn't given that opportunity in high-school.

      If we want to talk about solutions to make independent learning competitive with institutions, there's a big one. If a student is socially thriving outside of the institution, the only remaining competitive factors are the quality of the education and the long-term career benefits. I believe individualized education and life-learning are superior, but institutions currently have the edge when it comes to credentialing. This can be changed via technological innovation.

    2. ..and by "worth it to put up with the poor quality of learning", I'm speaking from the perspective of young minds who deeply value healthy social lives, typically more than their work.

    3. Making friends was a big factor for my oldest who has indeed found a great group of chums. But needing a lot of time to pursue her interests, she never has friends over after school or in the weekend. My middle child also needs a lot of down time. My still unschooled kid wants to try school for the experience. She doesn't go to school and has the most friends of all!
      I would love to see experiential learning getting equivalent credentials. Interested in how you foresee change (technological) affecting credentialism.

    4. Nick, thank you so much for sharing this. We have linked this powerful piece to our Facebook: Center for Self-directed Teens(

      I am a mother of 3 (all now grown)who each had very traditional schooling which mostly worked okay for them. But in the meantime, I discovered that in my bones I am a teacher, and at age 40 earned a masters degree in education and went into the public schools. That lasted 8 years, when, though I loved working with the kids, I finally gave up trying to create a supportive learning environment in that broken system.

      Since then I have worked with home schooling families to offer programs and experiences that are based on student interest. It has been a joyful experience for all of us.

      With the knowledge I've gained from those 5 years of experience, I've recently teamed up with another unteacher to open a Center of Self-directed Teens. The idea is to support teens who, like yourself, feel so stuck and frustrated. We want to give assistance in homeschooling, making that a possibility, thus helping them discover a viable, life-giving alternative for developing their unique gifts.

      Our goal is to assist teens in learning how and what is of interest and importance to them, to help them explore other options, and to create a community of unschool learners so they can have that important social element.

      I'd love to hear from you and others on this post: what you think of this idea, and what you see the particular needs of most students who opt-out or wish they could.... that we might be able to provide.

  5. Nick, yours is hard-won wisdom.

    I totally agree that, as you wrote, "We will need to re-evaluate our needs from the ground up, and the result will not resemble our current Industrial Age institutions." Homeschooling, unschooling, and Democratic schools are ways we respond with collective intelligence to our recognition that humans learn best in dynamic, open-ended, meaningful, and creative ways. I give plenty of examples of this in my recent book, Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything.

    May your journey be filled with ever more wondrous adventures now that you're free.

  6. My husband and I have four school-free kids. Two are teens who have much more opportunity to pursue their interests (such as writing their own book, making videos, volunteering, singing and touring with choir)than they would have if they had gone to school. But even more than that, being outside of the system has I think given them access to a greater range of people and attitudes than the same-age peer groups most kids come up with in schools. They have also not had to experience the many destructive and unhealthy elements that are often present in schools. I truly believe our decision to educate our children outside of school was the right one.

    Nick, I also had very bad experiences in school, particularly high school, an environment that was not at all conducive to learning (overcrowded; poor condition of the classrooms and books; disrespectful and dangerous kids). My way to survive was to try my best to get into the "honors" classes so that I didn't have to be around the dangerous kids. It seems insane to me, and punishment indeed, to force subjection to conditions that, in the real world, any normal person would strive to get away from and avoid.

  7. Nick, I know this was hard for you to go through these memories again, but I appreciate you having done so. So many end up broken by the school system, they survive, but they don't prosper. I commend you for getting through your difficult situation and not only surviving, but giving yourself your life back! I could get sappy on you ;-) but I won't. Just know that your story is a beacon of hope for many, people need to hear stories like yours, more people identify with your story than you may realize, and they could even be in the mainstream school just jumping through hoops...feeling oppressed and crushed, just like you did. You prove that there are other ways. Kudos for you.

  8. Nick,

    You are a true hero! Your story needs to be handed out to every child in school! My own son, age 18, is an unschooler, so he's been fortunate to be able to live and learn in freedom. I only wish you could have had this freedom sooner, without all of the damage, but like me, who also had to suffer through it, you have an amazing story to tell!

    Laurie A. Couture

  9. The premise of liberal arts is to equip everyone with a core set of learnings that is foundational to everyone,regardless of their specific interests. I do believe in this approach. I also believe that the kind of learning one experiences through on-line chats, interactions, postings, etc. is very different from discussing and debating in person with interested participants.

  10. I greatly appreciate your sharing Nick. I had negative experiences in school, and have chosen to homeschool my kids. It's not easy, we have 6 kids, but to see them doing what they really want to, and enjoying learning is so important. We cover everything they need to learn too, but we just do it different. Thanks for your story, it's hard to relive it I'm sure. Glad you are doing what you want now.

  11. "If you defy the system, expect it to slowly tear you apart."

    "There can be no tolerance for the dying breed of traditional education professionals who mismanage groups of children in destructive ways when they choose the alternatives."

    These where two of my favorite quotes. Your story is powerful and moving. Thank you for putting this time and effort forth to share it. Hopefully it will reach many more eyes and ears and the paradigm shift in education will happen sooner than later. How long can we let the system go on hurting children like this? Though it's been happening over a hundreds of years, I work each day to try and stop this beast. Thanks for the fresh breath of inspiration.

  12. Having worked in the public school system I have to say that the number of medicated students is outrageous and alarming. Do these students really have a learning disability, ADD, etc., or is there a problem with how the school system, curriculum try to educate these children??

    1. There is a probem with how the school system works, but the worst problem is the way parents resign themselves to it, even when it's destroying their children's health. For teachers, let's face it, it's just a job. For us parents, it's our children, our love and our future. For that, I feel outrage at the way even very "well educated parents" consent to the way children are treated at school and beyond, since they come home after seven hours of classroom with homework loads of several more hours.We need parents to take ownership of their children's learning, together with the children themselves.
      I experienced the american school system through my son, who in some ways reminds me of Nick, whom I thank for telling his painful experience. I don't mind saying that it made me cry, Nick. But then my heart has been crying for a long time. I remember the sadness of passing by the beautiful playground, empty of children, the beautiful fall leaves on the ground clamoring to feel cruched by their little feet, the precious little warmth of a New England fall, so short, spilled to nobody's pleasure. And my son coming home saying he didn't have recess at all, his already very short recess taken away, because he had to finish a composition, and as punishment that he had forgotten a book at home.
      I didn't accept the system, and yes, it was tearing me apart, because I was alone, but it could have been different if the other parents had showed a bit more gumption. I tried to get them to get involved, to no avail. I'm sure my son's school was still paradise compared to other US schools.
      So we left, I had to find out if what I remembered from being in school back home in Portugal was still there. Here, too, schools have limitations in offering to each and every student the learning opportunities they crave,although with today's technology this need not be the case anymore. Like Nick, my son is finding them through the Internet, and through us. But he spends some pleasurable time at a school that gives kids about 2 hours of recess, plenty of socializing opportunites, and no unrealistic homework loads. No wonder he doesn't want to go back to the US yet, even though he still misses his friends there.

  13. My 13 year old daughter is a school free teen - well except for a couple of online classes she chose and the interests she pursues. We pulled her at age 5, when her teacher would say she was a wonderful child but a distraction to herself and others. Even then her imagination was more compelling than the classroom. :-)

    Thanks for the article and a reminder that going a different path can be okay.

  14. This is a powerful and important story. In my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers, I have emphasized the fact that constant pressure to fix the child and get him to conform breeds the acting out behaviors that this individual reports. We need to understand that when he calls rebelliousness a survival tactic, he is telling the truth for himself and for so many other homework-trapped students. The first and most important component of any 504 or IEP should be homework relief. Children under pressure need respite and relief, not more pressure at home. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

  15. Nick, thank you for sharing--what an amazing story. It's incredible that you finally found the courage to choose a different path. I homeschooled my younger daughter for one year in elementary school when the pressure for her to always have "the right answer" got under her skin and she stopped being able to learn. (And I thought that was a big decision at the time.)

    She returned to public school the following year (for various reasons) and is now in high school. In retrospect homeschooling was the right decision; she became a reader that year; she made a ton of progress in learning how to write (not as much since returning) but more importantly learned to like writing a little and be a bit more confident as a writer; and she improved her attitude about learning, about making mistakes, and about learning from mistakes. Unfortunately she currently hates high school and feels frustrated and unmotivated.

    I have been researching education issues for 10 years and have just finished my degree in education and certification in general and special education. I totally agree that school needs to change. Unfortunately, I think it is only going to get worse in so more ways than not under the current plan.

    I think there are many students who would do better just by going their own way as you have done, learning on their own--independent, creative spirits who are being slowly pounded into a mold. However, I don't think everyone who is unhappy and unfulfilled with the way things are (my daughter) could thrive simply doing it on their own. It takes a certain combination of independence, natural smarts, street smarts, intitiative, tenacity, confidence, etc. that I don't think everyone has. I think some kids need more guidance. But it should be guidance not overbearance.

    I still believe it doesn't have to be either or for learning. I highly recommend "Lives of Passion, School of Hope: How One Public School Ignites a Lifelong Love of Learning" by Rick Posner. They have no grades, for starters; and their graduates are nearly all extremely happy and "successful".

  16. Thank you Nick. I needed to hear your story. It helps me to know that I did the right thing for my highly gifted daughter when I pulled her out to homeschool because they would not give her the education she needed and wanted her drugged into compliance. I see a lot of myself in your story and what I survived in school, and what I have been smart enough to avoid for my daughter. I am bookmarking this so I can come back and read it over and over as I need the boost.

  17. Nick, I think it was very brave of you to write this. Even braver of you to have survived this with the insight that you have now! My daughter went to high school for a year and half, after unschooling her whole life prior to that. While her experiences were different, she did end up completely disillusioned. The amount of boredom, teacher condescension toward students as well as peer-to-peer meanness that can only be attributed to those trapped in a situation they feel they have no way out of, eventually led to her leaving in the middle of her Junior year. No promise of prom could make her give up her freedom - something she was always aware was just beyond that door. We always chuckle that she had only about a 65% attendance rate (and an A/B grade average.) Compare that to the Cosmetology school program she WAS interested in (that she enrolled in the following year) where she had a 104% attendance rate and an A average. She graduated last month and has already begun her career at age 18. High school was truly a waste of time for her - she just needed to see for herself.

    I'm going to link this article to our Homeschooling Your Teens Facebook page at:
    I think this article could be very helpful to those who are struggling with what to do with a failing high school experience. Do you have a website of your own?

    Thanks again for writing and sharing your life with us.

  18. Thank-you for your experience. Thank-you for sharing. God Bless.

  19. I'm pleased you took the time to share your story. Not only are you brave for putting yourself out their for people to judge and criticize, but more importantly, so very brave to follow the path that you knew was right for you. When I get the chance, I am going to show this article to my step-son who is having problems at high school. I hope it will inspire him to realize the world is his oyster, and instead of being the victim, he can take charge and determine his own destiny.

  20. Nick, wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. I'm sure it is and will make a world of positive difference to teens and parents who find this. I am posting a link to this story on my blog, and will be referencing you frequently in the literature for my school I am starting- an on line and phone support system for kids like you in leaving their current schools- and following their interests and passions....

  21. What a cogent description of your experience and reflection on larger themes of education and society -- and how traditional schools fail to understand that there is a difference between "schooling" and "learning."

    In many ways, this is like reading an alternate path for my now-teen son, had we forced him to stay in the system. When he was 6 he was withdrawn from/kicked out of a private school's first grade, for many of the reasons you describe. His interest in "just reading" all day, or in looking for higher-order geometric shapes in everyday classroom materials, were labeled deviant. So was his desire to storyboard entire levels of games he imagined in his head and to write matching scripts.

    Socially, he was fine -- playing and laughing with kids, joining in group projects, etc.

    His behavior eroded as he fulfilled the expectation of "deviance," and we soon realized how damaging school was, for him. Eventually, his social development took a hit as other kids, following the teacher's lead, viewed him differently.

    We homeschooled and his reading level zoomed 5 grades suddenly, all through video game manuals. Take a motivated 6 year old, give them one of those giant Pokemon cheat guides, and just try to restrict reading comprehension and vocabulary!

    At 9 we found a Sudbury school and their free approach to learning has been invaluable. Critics ask us how he and his younger brother will "learn," and we used to bluster and justify, but now we just deflect or tell the story of my older son's YouTube channel, with videos and walkthroughs and voiceovers -- all self-taught. He grabbed the video camera, found free video and audio editing software, taught himself Paint and how to import hand-painted graphics onto YouTube, etc... Or how he moderated a Spore challenge on a forum and that's how we realized his writing was at high-school level (when he was 12). Or how his chess rating is nearly 1500 -- and analytical math concepts develop along the way. Or picking up more of a foreign language via Rosetta Stone and conversing with fluent family members than he ever would in a middle school classroom.

    "But what about learning the things he doesn't want to learn?" we're asked. Once they ask that question we realize they really don't WANT to understand.

    Thank you, Nick, for telling your story. It could have been my older son's and for as painful as your journey has been, you've also found your own internal beacon, and that is a tremendous lesson to learn (self-taught!) at a fine, young age.