Unschooling is Cool

By: Alejandro Silva Malines

Most of us went to school and some were homeschooled…what about unschooled? What about not being pressured to learn subjects and just learn whatever you want? No teacher because…you are the teacher!

Unschooling is, according to Mark and Helen Hegener, “a method of homeschooling that puts the desire, drive, motive and responsibility for life – this thing we call learning, or education – in the hands of the learner.”

Dalina Aimée Perdomo Álvarez, born in Mayagüez and raised both there and in Añasco and current student of English literature in the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, is one of the first unschoolers to enter college.

Interviewed her on November 7, 2014. It was a rainy and cold day. I waited at the tumultuous campus cafeteria, where all kinds of sounds are merged. Students are talking about their classes and lack of sleep, the employees are chattering among themselves, phones are ringing, tables and chairs creak and squeak. Suddenly, a peculiar silhouette appears. Black hair with hints of green, glasses and a Peter Pan shirt.

“I didn’t even know that I was being unschooled,” she said.

“I found out that I was being unschooled when an old lady came to our house to congratulate me for being one of the first unschoolers to enter college,” said Dalina laughing. “I was like ‘WHAT?!’ ‘what does that mean?’, ” she jokes about it while playing with her hair.

Her family supported her and helped her with her studies, but she eventually became her own teacher. “My mother would sometimes try to help me read books in English but I got better at it than her and she would just let me read on my own,” she explains. “How do you say ‘autodidacta’ in English? Self-learned? Self-taught, is that the word? I think it is!”

“I spent most of my time with American kids and for the first few years of my life I barely spoke Spanish and that influenced a lot because I could not communicate with other people.”

She explains how language became an obstacle in her early life and jokes about it too. ‘Why do I speak another language mom? What did you do to me?!’

“Everyone just knew me as ‘la gringa’ and I haven’t even been to the US y ya soy gringa.” “Like my cousins used to make fun of me because I spoke English and I spoke it correctly and they would also make fun of me because I liked to read.”

Once she moved to a neighborhood where there were kids her age running around and playing, she had a realization. “They used to make fun of me because I was homeschooled and they would say I was dumb because of that. And I remember realizing that they were the dumb ones.”

So not only was she homeschooled but she was and is her own full time teacher. “That’s why it’s hard for us when we go to college or when we go to a school it’s like ‘yeah you’re teaching me but I could teach myself better’.”

Dalina enjoys music and plays various instruments, including the sweet flute, the guitar the piano and the violin. She started playing the sweet flute by herself and learned to play it. By doing this, she had set solid foundations on her musical career.

Later on she attended the Escuela Libre de Música for various years, where she honed her violin skills, but to some degree playing such instrument was a matter of fate. “When I went to the school [Libre de Música] they told me the choir and the guitar were full and only trumpet and violin were available,” she explains. “I  thought, ‘I don’t think I can play trumpet,’ and then during a concert a random girl said ‘hey, you look like a violin girl,’ and I played the violin,” she added while smiling and jesting about it.

She also enjoys acting and performing. Her giggle enriches the atmosphere as she recounts her experiences. “My mom always says ‘I thought you were shy until I saw you performing, ’but I just always kept to myself.” She has fond memories of one of those times when she proved she was not shy, “I was 10 or 11…and after our performance I poked back out like through the curtains and I just waved at the audience.”

So where does this passion toward theater or performing come from? “ I just always wanted to be a musician, like I was just like ‘I wanna be a musician mom and I wanna be an actress, I wanna be a musician/actress’.”

“And it wasn’t like I wanted to be famous, no. It was more like ‘I wanna learn how to do music and how to act,” she clarified. That zeal for performing has become quite important in her college life, for she recently performed in an adaptation of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” made in campus. In addition to theatrical performances, she is also part of a musical group from Añasco called Güaybaná.

That’s the unschooled cool girl. That’s the violin girl. That’s Dalina.

Dalina performing at the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the UPRM (Courtesy of HB Photography and Dalina Aimée).

Dalina 2

Actress Dalina Aimée and actor Fernando Rivera from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the UPRM (Courtesy of HB Photography and Dalina Aimée).

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