Wild Child

For Quinn Eaker, a son of the radical "unschooling" movement, school's out forever

I remember that I was never able to get along at school. I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that my teachers did not sympathize with me, and that my father thought I was stupid.

--Thomas Edison

When Quinn announced one month into his senior year at Colleyville Heritage High School that he was dropping out, his dad couldn't believe it. "To me it was a very illogical decision," Eaker says. "I was like, 'You've played the game so long and you're one semester away from graduating.' Barb wouldn't support me in that."

Quinn Eaker, with his mother Barb Lundgren in their Colleyville backyard, where he says he spent an idyllic childhood.
Mark Graham
Quinn Eaker, with his mother Barb Lundgren in their Colleyville backyard, where he says he spent an idyllic childhood.
An unschooling family: clockwise from bottom left, Steve Eaker, Brenna, Barb Lundgren, Ike and Quinn
Holly Kuper
An unschooling family: clockwise from bottom left, Steve Eaker, Brenna, Barb Lundgren, Ike and Quinn

Quinn had attended eighth grade at a private, half-day Christian school that taught Latin. Though normally outgoing and effervescent, he was shy and didn't make any friends he brought home.

He went to high school for sports, but didn't make the baseball team. To fit in, Quinn became one of the preppy kids, wearing Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. But he was better with teachers (who didn't know his background) than other teenagers. He excelled at art and English, even though he couldn't spell and was terrible at punctuation. "I can communicate," he says. But Quinn never made good grades in his other subjects. Who cared?

His unschooler's ability to think out of the box at times came to his rescue. In physics, Quinn got the best grade in his class on the egg drop problem (a project popular with homeschoolers) even though he'd forgotten to do the assignment. In 10 minutes, Quinn says, he borrowed paper, tissue and tape from the teacher and fashioned a container and "parachute." His egg not only survived the 50-foot drop, he got extra points because his contraption was the lightest.

Quinn played some football, but after years of never going to a doctor, he got sick and lost so much weight that, by age 17, he was down to 100 pounds. No illness was diagnosed; was it depression?

"Part of me wanted to be popular and have friends," Quinn says. "But it wasn't me. It was like I lost my strength and confidence. I almost wasn't alive."

By his senior year, Quinn had had enough, or maybe--as the material got harder and more boring--he choked.

"My whole life had been just being, just playing," Quinn says. "A month into my senior year, I was like, 'Why am I here?' The only reason I was there was social reasons. My dad was like, 'Why now? Get the diploma.' I wasn't quitting for logical reasons. It was for the sake of being happy." (He later got his GED, "because my dad wanted me to.")

After dropping out, Quinn devoted himself to getting healthy, working out and taking dance lessons. He did some metal-working and jewelry-making. Then his ambitions took several turns that Lundgren could never have predicted.

He loved paint ball, and after a period of testing himself physically--like fighting someone bare-knuckled to see if he could hold his own--Quinn decided to join the Army.

A soldier? That wasn't how Lundgren expected her oldest son to turn out. "I was definitely sweating it," she says. Quinn didn't follow through.

At Grapevine Mall, Quinn went through a modeling program and was recruited by an agent. At 18, he rode his motorcycle to Los Angeles, determined to become a model and actor, his goal "to be as rich, as famous, as good-looking as I could."

In L.A., Quinn was working in retail, going on auditions and reading metaphysics when he experienced his own "awakening" as a female friend recounted an emotional experience. "She was really re-living it, and I was so aware of what she had been through, it was like I was tripping," Quinn says. "I experienced everything and nothing. I fell to my knees. I was crying. It was like a complete connection." All that mattered was being alive, because he felt so good.

Soon after, Quinn attended a 10-day program for teens in Oregon put on by the Conversations with God Foundation, created by New Age guru Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations With God and numerous other books and tapes. Walsch claims to have spoken directly to the Supreme Being and advocates a "new spirituality," encouraging people to chuck all religion-induced guilt by realizing they are just fine as they are. Quinn resonated with Walsch's message about choosing his own path, living in the moment, following one's "bliss."

Abandoning modeling, Quinn went on a pilgrimage, seeing members of his family he hadn't seen in years. Since then, Quinn has traveled around the United States and a handful of foreign countries, never staying anywhere longer than three months. Quinn has had 20 different jobs: painting, construction, yard work, selling art, teaching yoga or didgeridoo, an Australian musical instrument. But all jobs are on his terms: no diploma necessary, and no commitment.

There have been hair-raising moments in this self-directed tutorial. After reading a book on wilderness survival, he and a male cousin spent a month on Prince Charlotte Island in Canada with only the clothes on their backs and two knives. They planned to stay three months, but everything--building a shelter, finding food, making rope--took so much effort that they left exhausted after a month. But how many suburban kids could have lasted that long?

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