When Quinn Eaker dropped out of a Colleyville high school in the second month of his senior year, his mother was so happy she threw him a huge party. A hundred guests descended on their home to celebrate Quinn's return to the freedom in which he'd been raised: days on end without classes, tests or grades, days free of any schedule, days for Quinn to learn what he wanted, when he wanted and how he wanted.
He returned to being unschooled.
Now 22, Quinn draws stares as he walks into a pizza parlor in Plano. Stubble sprinkles his square jaw, and his streaked hair looks like it's been styled with a blender. One braid wrapped in copper wire droops between his blue eyes, other braids sproing out in all directions and the rest is untamed.
About 6-foot-3 and lean, Quinn has a hairless but muscular chest revealed by a laced-up white linen shirt. (Which he made.) Around his neck is a leather strap with a long silver pendant. (His design.) His feet are wrapped in shoes sewn of scraps of black leather with a bit of bone to hold them on. (Made two pairs of these, one black and one brown.)
The effect is of a handsome young man who has been raised by nice, middle-class wolves.
Animated, articulate and charming, with a vocabulary bent toward the metaphysical, Quinn describes his idyllic childhood spent at a rambling ranch house at the end of a dirt road. He and his two younger siblings had a pool and two wooded acres where they could frolic, build forts, romp with dogs and other pets, doing whatever they liked all day while the rest of their friends suffered in school.
"My mother taught us everything without teaching us anything," Quinn says. "Everything I know I've experienced myself, I've taught myself, I've learned myself. The whole childhood was magical."
Few people lived in Colleyville 20 years ago when his parents, Barb Lundgren and Steve Eaker, moved here from St. Louis. Since then, the surrounding farmland has filled in with acres of gargantuan custom homes of high-achieving parents. Lots of them probably moved here for the schools.
Lundgren wanted to get away from them.
Quinn tells the story of his mom's epiphany as if he were recounting a family legend. It started with his birth, an event that took place at their home in St. Louis in 1983. Lundgren was the college-educated director of financial aid at Washington University. Her husband was an advertising executive with an MBA in marketing and a big advertising agency job. Though neither ever wanted kids, Lundgren says that at age 27, her biological clock started ticking so loudly it was all she could hear.
She started reading Sante Fe-based Mothering magazine and soaked up its philosophy of natural childbirth, the wisdom of mothers and the instincts of babies. Lundgren's friends warned her that home birthing was not only painful but dangerous. But the experience was so amazing, so profound, that Lundgren began to wonder what other received wisdom was wrong.
As she delved deep into alternative parenting literature, Lundgren came to believe that sending her children to school--public or private--was a bad idea. In the early '80s, the homeschooling movement was small but gathering steam, especially in Texas. Parents, mostly conservative Christians, were quietly taking their children out of schools to educate them at home.
Lundgren had rejected her Lutheran upbringing but discovered the ideas of John Holt, who began in the '60s to advocate what has come to be called "unschooling." The child directs his education, deciding when and if he wants to learn reading, math, science, anything or nothing.
So when Quinn was 5, Lundgren didn't send him to kindergarten. At age 6, he didn't go to first grade. Neither did his sister Brenna or brother Ike. When Quinn decided in the eighth grade to try school, Lundgren was unhappy but bit her lip. Neither of his siblings has ever attended school.
It's an approach to child-rearing that would--and did--shock their families and neighbors. What about SAT scores? What about college? What about law school and medical school and getting a good job and marrying the right sort of person and then sending their grandkids to good schools?
Lundgren has heard it all, but, with a few detours, has remained a radical unschooler. It hasn't always been easy. A lover of books, Lundgren admits it bothered her when one child wasn't interested in learning to read until he was a teenager. An avid traveler, Quinn once came home with a tale of living on the streets in Hawaii with a homeless schizophrenic who taught him how to dumpster-dive--a practice he sometimes continues during pit stops at home.
"What I have learned to do is withdraw from the societal expectations that exist for my child and ask some basic questions," Lundgren says. "Does he seem happy with himself? Is he making inquiries into things he's interested in?"
Homeschooling's stepchild, the unschooling movement has quietly spread, especially in Texas, where there are virtually no legal restrictions against it. It produces either--as proponents contend--creative thinkers who are self-motivated to learn or, as critics maintain, illiterate young adults who can't read a menu or make correct change.
The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
According to a recent story in Mothering magazine, the U.S. Census Bureau in 2001 reported that more than 2 million children were being homeschooled in the United States. More astonishing: That number was rising at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year.
Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition and an unschooler since 1984, estimates that perhaps only 5 percent of those parents are radical unschoolers. One measure of interest is that Holt's books are more popular than ever.
Many parents who start homeschooling in a structured way often move toward unschooling as their kids get older, Lambert says. Often teens will become "apprentices," volunteering or working with someone to learn a trade or master a craft.
Tracy Wallace, a Lakewood mother who unschools her 10-year-old son Galen, takes an academic approach. "In some unschooling circles, it's almost negative to say the word 'curriculum,'" Wallace says. "If it works for us, we're going to use it."
Gail Paquette, a homeschooler and founder of the Web site Hometaught.com, is a critic of unschooling. "A child-led approach may develop the child's strengths but does nothing to develop his weaknesses and broaden his horizons," she recently told Salon.com. "I [mostly] disagree with the premise that children can teach themselves what they want to learn, when [and if] they want to learn it. Certainly children do learn some things on their own, but their often roundabout way of going at learning is not necessarily the best way."
Linda Dobson, author of a number of homeschooling books, offers another view. "What I would counter that criticism with is that the child is learning how to learn," she says. "If kids are allowed to learn how to research, to learn critical thinking, to question things, they can take those skills and apply them in the future to whatever they need to learn. They can conquer math in two months or six months or a year, instead of 12 years. They retain it. The difference is night and day."
For Lundgren, unschooling meant relinquishing her expectations for her children's lives. A collector of adages and aphorisms, Lundgren has clung to a quote from John Holt. During one of his lectures, a parent posed a question: "What are the things you think every kid should know?"
"Nothing," Holt replied. "There is absolutely nothing every kid should know."
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mostly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.
In the state of Texas, thanks to several decades of litigation, there are virtually no requirements of homeschooled kids. Parents don't have to be certified teachers. They don't have to devote a certain number of hours each day to instruction. Their children don't have to use certain books or pass any tests. As far as the state is concerned, homeschoolers can study one day a week and watch TV and play videogames the rest of the time.
Some do, but the expectation usually is high achievement. Many unschoolers point to the success stories like Jedediah Purdy, unschooled until high school and author of the best-seller For Common Things: Irony, Trust and Commitment in America Today, and Christopher Paolini, author of the best-selling fantasy books Eragon and Eldest. Another best-seller is Homeschooling for Excellence, by David and Micki Colfax, who unschooled their three sons into Harvard.
Few have been in the trenches as much as Lundgren, who, for the last nine years, has been one of the producers of "Rethinking Education," a national conference on unschooling. This year's conference, held in September at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Irving, attracted about 450 people from around the country.
Along the corridors of the Sheraton, Lundgren posted favorite sayings about life and education. Some of the sessions would have been popular with hippie parents in the '60s: Learning as a Subversive Activity, Nonviolent Communication, Simple Living, Animal Communication & Muscle Testing. Teens can attend discussions on dating violence or participate in "late night earth drums." Quinn did a class on applying body art with henna, a ceremonial form of decoration from India.
While many attendees have been unschooling for years, others are homeschoolers investigating the more radical approach. The discussions tend to meander but always center around how to guide children without stifling their natural curiosity and inner spirits.
Many unschoolers now call Lundgren for advice and guidance, something Lundgren resists. The whole point, she says, is for parents to follow their own path in uncovering their children's passions.
What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.
--Henry David Thoreau
This intensive parenting method required Lundgren to give up her own career. It was isolating. At first, the few homeschooling support groups she found were doing it "because Jesus told them to," Lundgren says. She'd rejected all dogma and felt little in common with them. So she started putting up flyers to find like-minded unschoolers. "Gradually, over a few years, we had many families," Lundgren says. "Now there are hundreds."
In fact, unschooling is the opposite of the approach taken by many homeschoolers, usually conservative Christians dismayed by the erosion of educational standards and pernicious cultural influences in public and private schools. Most homeschoolers attempt to offer a structured, back-to-basics curriculum in a disciplined environment. They are certainly not child-led (ever hear of Original Sin?), and their educational guru is not John Holt but James Dobson, the evangelical leader of Focus on the Family.
While the groups overlap, generally unschoolers are more liberal and less motivated by religion. Some only unschool in early childhood. Others keep their children out of school until they are grown but seek out community college classes or other enrichment opportunities the child seems interested in. They say the benefits are close-knit families, children who are unafraid to say what they think and young adults who have confidence in their ability to learn anything.
"From a learning and education point of view, people gravitate to the things that make them feel good and the things they enjoy doing," Lundgren says. "That approach is radically different from what most people are taught."
But Holt's admonition to "trust the child" wasn't always easy to follow. Lundgren remembers one of her most challenging moments as an unschooling mom came when Quinn, barely a year old, pulled a butter knife out of the dishwasher, pointed it at his mother and went "bang-bang!"
Guns. Her baby was play-acting guns. If Lundgren believed in the child following his curiosity, should she buy him a toy weapon?
Lundgren had gone from a professional woman determined to make a lot of money to a whole-wheat, granola kind of mom who believed in the things espoused by Mothering magazine. No immunizations. Everyone slept in the family bed. Breastfeeding until the children weaned themselves.
"We weren't going to have TV or guns or sugar," Lundgren says with a laugh.
With her short-cropped hair and glasses, Lundgren could be a librarian or a drill sergeant. She's sitting at the kitchen table of her Colleyville home, which looks out on a pool surrounded by sculptures and a wooded backyard. She brews a cup of lavender tea and remembers, in a voice that is both calm and commanding, what it was like to step out in faith that the path she'd chosen would result in happy children with a lifelong enthusiasm for literature, learning and life.
Well, two out of three ain't bad.
Literacy has been vastly overrated as a measure of competence and success in the marketplace.
--John Taylor Gatto, author of The Underground History of American Education
Lundgren had been a straight-A student, though she never liked school. A voracious reader, after Quinn's birth she'd devoured books by Holt, such as his classics How Children Fail and How Children Learn, published in the '60s.
Holt, a fifth-grade teacher, described the dynamics in most classrooms that inhibit learning, like kids terrified to answer questions for fear they'll get something wrong and be humiliated. He pointed out that little children learn an enormous amount by age 5, sometimes teaching themselves to read. At traditional schools, that enthusiasm for learning is stomped into the ground by mediocre teachers, peer pressure and curricula centered on boring stuff they couldn't care less about learning. What they needed: parents who could guide their interests without imposing expectations. In such freedom, they'd learn what they needed to learn when they needed to learn it.
Holt's ideas coincided with the rise of America's counter-culture. "The Russians had beaten us to space," says Pat Farenga, president of Holt Associates. "There was a big push to reform the schools. The answers are always higher expectations, more testing." The current motto: "No child left behind."
After a rave review of his first book in The New York Times and an appearance on The Donahue Show, the soft-spoken Holt vaulted into celebrity. A reluctant guru, Holt in 1977 started Growing Without Schooling, a magazine for the new movement. He died 20 years ago, but 10 of his books are still in print, selling more now than when he was alive.
Holt's ideas inspired the back-to-the-earth crowd as well as conservative Christians, who started pulling their kids out of school. But in many states, including Texas, school district officials began telling parents to present their curriculum for approval or be prosecuted for violating compulsory attendance laws.
In 1986, not long after Lundgren and Eaker moved to Colleyville, Texas homeschoolers filed a class action lawsuit for the right to teach their kids at home. A year later, says Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition, state District Judge Charles Jay Murray in Harris County issued a ruling that remains the guideline today. As long as parents rely on a curriculum from any source that covers the basic educational goals of reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship, and they pursue that in a bona fide manner, the home is considered a private school and thus exempt from the compulsory attendance statute. What is taught and when it is taught are completely up to the parents.
Upheld by the Texas Supreme Court in 1994, Murray's opinion gave virtual carte blanche to homeschooling parents. Since the Texas Legislature has never defined private schools by statute, homeschoolers are protected from government interference.
After Murray's 1987 ruling, the number of kids learning at home exploded. Lambert estimates that today there are about 300,000 homeschooled students in Texas--about the same number as in traditional private schools. Nobody knows for sure, because they don't have to register or be tested.
Critics have tried to link homeschooling with child neglect and abuse. "We point out that the vast, vast majority of kids abused or killed by their parents are in the public schools," Lambert says, but concedes "there are probably some folks who homeschool who are just as unqualified as some teachers out there."
Lundgren sees no downside to unschooling. "I think there are unschoolers out there where the kids aren't benefiting too much, but it's a mysterious process," she says. "I do believe the intelligence and drive unique to the human species is powerful, and the unschooled child will always gravitate to the things he's interested in. Even a dysfunctional family is able to see that."
Stand firm in your refusal to remain conscious during algebra. In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.
Lundgren believed her children came out of the womb with the intelligence and ability to express themselves, and her role was to listen to them.
"It's all about following the child's lead and not treating him like something that needs to be molded and shaped in my image," she says. "I think that from a learning and education point of view, you always gravitate toward the things that make you feel good and the things you enjoy doing."
So when Quinn persisted in "bang-bang," Lundgren bought him a squirt gun. He and his siblings, Brenna, now 20, and Ike, 16, spent their early years in the backyard waging battles with fake guns and swinging homemade swords. They had pets and gardens. They watched the weather and cooked meals, learning math by measuring out ingredients. They peered under rocks and caught turtles.
"There's a huge amount of natural science that comes in the life of a normal person," Lundgren says.
When Quinn turned 5, Lundgren bought some workbooks and sat him down for home "kindergarten." Quinn looked at his mom in bewilderment. "Up until that point, his life had been an organic diverse exploration of all things that were of interest to him and us," Lundgren says. They went to the library and took frequent field trips. She thought, "Why am I sitting him down with books matching shapes and checking boxes while he's out in the real world building forts?"
She chucked the workbooks, but when Lundgren noticed her children becoming intrigued with something--bugs, dinosaurs, mummies--books on those subjects would appear. They'd be off to the natural history museum or Fossil Rim Wildlife Center with a butterfly net. It required attentive listening.
Early on, Lundgren assumed her children would love the same things she did, especially books. But Quinn and Brenna didn't learn to read until they were 9. Though he could understand instructions for computer games, Ike was 14 before he got serious about learning to read. (Ike declined to be interviewed.)
Lundgren admits that provoked concern. "Just because your kids are home with you, it doesn't mean there isn't a lot of anxiety," she says. "I never tried to put any pressure on them to read. I think they learned how to read many times before their brains were able to keep up with it."
For Lundgren, it was an article of faith that--properly facilitated--each of her children would learn what he or she needed to learn. The gate in their brains would swing open. But as much as Lundgren loves the canon, those Great Books that form the basis of most classical education in the Western world, her three children simply weren't interested. "It's tough to get a kid to gravitate naturally to that," she admits.
Who wants to read Dante when he can play Doom?
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.
Quinn gets a dreamy look in his eyes when he talks about the early days--the closeness he shared with his siblings and his best friend down the street, the day-long games of make-believe uninterrupted by "musts" or "shoulds" or "have-tos."
And always the gentle influence of his mom.
"She would expose us to a lot of things and make opportunities available without making it seem as if she wanted us to do it," Quinn says. "Her philosophy was if you didn't want to learn it, it's not worth learning."
But that philosophy provoked some anxiety. Lundgren kept waiting for Quinn to express interest in reading on his own, but it never came. He remembers learning to read at age 9 only because it was "coaxed."
"My mother bought us a reading program and nudged us," Quinn says. He didn't start picking up books on his own until age 12, when he read his way through Lord of the Rings. "My life was so full," Quinn says. "All we did all day was play." He and his brother would often stay up until 5 a.m. playing videogames.
At about 11, Quinn decided he wanted a curriculum. Lundgren says friends who went to school were teasing him, saying he'd have to start in kindergarten if he ever went to school. "I think he wanted to prove to himself that 'I can do this,'" Lundgren says.
Lundgren agreed, telling Quinn if he wanted help, she'd sit down with him 10 hours a day, but she wasn't going to force him to study or do homework. It was all up to him.
She bought a curriculum package with lots of hands-on projects. But most of the books he'd already read. Quinn complained the science book was boring and didn't teach anything he didn't already know. Skeptical, Lundgren read him the experiments and asked him to describe the outcome. "He did," Lundgren says. "We tossed that book aside."
Quinn's initial excitement waned, but when another homeschool mom offered to buy the curriculum, he refused to give it up. Lundgren made her son a deal: For each week that he didn't keep up with the work, he paid her $4 from his allowance. He ended up paying for the whole thing. One night, Quinn cuddled up with his mom and said, "It makes more sense for me to do the things I'm interested in instead of what other people think."
But at age 14, Quinn announced he wanted to attend school.
Shocked, Lundgren thought the main reason was that his friends were all in school. Eaker says his oldest son was bored. "Quinn, of the three of our kids, is the more sensitive and had more of a need to be accepted," Eaker says. I think he felt more acutely the difference in which he was raised."
Quinn says the main reason was his love-hate relationship with his sister Brenna. Like most little sisters, she was driving him nuts. And Quinn admits he was rebelling. "I knew my mother didn't like school," Quinn says. His dad? "I think he was quite happy I was going."
Public schools are the nurseries of all vice and immorality.
Steve Eaker's biggest conflict with his wife over unschooling was simple: How would his children find good jobs? What if all Ike wanted to do was play videogames and Frisbee golf, as it now seems?
But Eaker's own life took a weird twist that proved a top-flight college degree doesn't provide lifelong happiness, or even employment.
A soft blanket depicting a tiger drapes a table in the room at St. Paul Medical Center. Diagrams of "trigger pressure points" adorn the walls. After several years, Eaker's massage therapy practice has built up a client base, but it's still a struggle.
Tall, his graying brown hair in an upswept brush-cut, Eaker wears a purple scrub shirt and large glasses. Low-key and thoughtful, he has found a niche in the massage business providing relief to people with long-standing pain, but 30 years ago, if anyone had told Eaker he'd be rubbing backs for a living...well, it wasn't even a "remote possibility." In fact, Quinn was the one who was interested in massage school. But in 2001, Eaker got laid off. Nearing 50, in a business--advertising--slammed by the collapse of the stock market, Eaker had few prospects.
Eaker now looks back with some regrets. "I wouldn't say I wasted 25 or 30 years of my life, but I do think a lot of my choices I thought I made weren't really choices," Eaker says. "They were fulfilling expectations I integrated into my personality." If he'd had more freedom to explore other interests, he says, maybe he would have found not just a job but a passion.
His father insisted on Eaker getting a master's degree. "It was important to him what schools I applied to," Eaker says. "He was seeing who was being hired and promoted. He would have loved it if I'd gotten into Harvard, but I didn't."
He admits today that he's had anxiety over his children's educations. He'd repeat to himself, "I believe they will learn to read when they are ready." Ike's late start spooked him, but he was comforted by the fact that soon after his children got serious about reading, they quickly progressed to reading at their grade level.
"For most people, it's the lunatic fringe," he says. "What I've seen is that our kids are better-adjusted than most other kids."
Like Quinn, Brenna wanted to go to school in the eighth grade, so Lundgren took her on a tour of the public middle school. "It seemed so scary," Brenna says. "There were so many people. The way they went from one class to the next class. It sort of seemed like prison." She said no thanks.
Brenna's experience mirrors Quinn's, except that from an early age she kept a journal and wrote to pen pals. At Brenna's request, Lundgren started teaching her math. Brenna lost interest after two weeks but has kept track of her babysitting money since she was 12. "I think my dad may have been a little scared that we wouldn't know the things that we should," Brenna says. "But he didn't pressure us."
At 18, Brenna took a couple of classes in science and math at a community college to see if she'd like to pursue a degree. She did well but hated the boring material. Brenna still hasn't found her passion, but she feels "happy, capable and smart" as a result of her upbringing. She's been financially independent for several years. An avid climber, she moved a month ago to Boulder, Colorado, with her boyfriend. If there was any downside to unschooling, it was that she was never around people who didn't like her. "I don't have as much experience with people being negative toward me," Brenna says. "People who have been to school can take that with more of a grain of salt."
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.
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."
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?
In Hawaii, Quinn became intrigued with a schizophrenic who was living on the streets. "He bordered on clairvoyant," Quinn says.
When Quinn called home to say he planned to live homeless with the man, Lundgren had a gut-check moment. "We had a long conversation about it," she says. "Ike came to me and said you have to talk him out of it. I said, 'Ike, you know I don't do that. We don't understand it, but this is what Quinn wants to do.'"
Quinn got an education in what it was like to be poor and crazy. He paid close attention to his new friend's ramblings, hoping to glean some wisdom, but after a week they parted ways.
"It affected me powerfully in positive ways but also in negative ways," Quinn says. "He would have anger fits and unload on me." But the man also taught Quinn how to dumpster-dive.
Quinn lived homeless alone for another week. One night he was sleeping in a doorway when he was approached by a woman wearing makeup and heels. She showed him a place to sleep out of the rain where cops wouldn't bother him. Quinn refused her offer of crystal meth and a blow job. "I've never had sex, so no," Quinn told her. Though he felt some pinpricks of fear, the woman left him alone. Quinn later realized she was probably a he.
Being homeless taught him a resourcefulness no reading ever could. "I lived two weeks without spending a penny," Quinn says. Every meal was scrounged. He has confidence today that he will never go hungry. Even now, when Quinn is home, he often brings his mother bananas or melons or rotisserie chickens he's found in trash bins outside grocery stores. Lundren tosses the overripe fruit, but Quinn says she sometimes uses the chickens for salad and burritos.
Quinn doesn't see college in his future. He's after something bigger than a bachelor's degree. "I just go and let the universe open up to me," Quinn says. He's shopping for a bicycle so he can travel without relying on oil or other methods of transport. "I always have some new profound experience. That's what my life is about now, a moment-to-moment, day-to-day existence."
It's not that Quinn doesn't have dreams. But in a world full of options, they change every day.
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