School's Out Forever

"Unschoolers" like Holly Furgason don't believe in public education. They don't even believe in teachers. They believe in the ability of their children to teach themselves. Will the law catch up with them?

At a Heights park with some 35 HUG kids and their mothers, Furgason has transformed herself from political activist back to casual, craftsy mom. She has brought the newspaper and other materials to make a kite with no sticks, and she's working hard to make it flight-ready. The other mothers, talking around her at the picnic table, aren't much help. And the kids, who don't have to do anything they don't want to do, are playing a raucous game of tag/king-of-the-mountain around the jungle gym, with Justin as the ringleader. A few girls are hanging out in the shade just on the fringes of the action.

Courtney is barefoot, her outstretched legs and those of another, taller girl's forming a diamond shape in the playground's pebbles. They push the pebbles into a little hill between them and talk quietly until a boy runs by, extolling the virtues of a World Wrestling Federation character. Courtney begs to differ; she thinks the WWF stinks. She and the boy have e-mail arguments about it all the time.

Once the boy has disappeared back into the game of tag and the girls are alone again, there is another interruption, this time from a reporter, Courtney informs her friend.

Do you ever think about going to school?

"Yeah," Courtney says, still pushing the rocks around. The other girl offers that, based on what she has heard about school, she doesn't think she would like it.

Do you want to go to school?

"Yeah," says Courtney again.

Would your mom let you go to school?

"Nope," she says with a laugh.

Why not?

"I don't know."

Why do you want to go to school?

"'Cause I've never been there."

She's curious to learn about something new, just like her mom said she would be. But for all of Furgason's protection of her family's freedoms, in this instance Courtney will not be allowed to pursue her interest.

E-mail Lauren Kern at

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