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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Birth of the Cole Summers Fellowship

With this new initiative, FEE is expanding its role as an active player in the alternative education movement.

Image Credit: Pixabay

In the spring of 2022, a fourteen-year-old phenomenon from Utah burst onto the alternative education scene.

I first encountered Cole Summers (the pen name of Kevin Cooper) through his tweets about unschooling. He was rapidly building a large following by talking about his unconventional education and career path.

Cole was an unschooler and entrepreneur who already ran his own 350-acre ranch, had financed his own tractor, and was building a business dedicated to saving the fragile ecosystem of the southwest desert valley he called home. He took an interest in Twitter after realizing it was a powerful tool for marketing his autobiography Don’t Tell Me I Can’t: An Ambitious Homeschooler’s Journey, which he self-published that April.

Cole took Twitter by storm. His inspiring story was picked up by Bari Weiss, and by us here at FEE. And his book sold copies faster than his desert home dried out after a storm. Two years later, it’s still selling.

Cole traced his can-do spirit back to his toddler years, when, according to his parents, he insisted on helping out his disabled dad. “Me do it” became his signature saying. At age five, he planted his own backyard garden. At the “ripe” age of 6, his self-taught kindergarten included watching YouTube videos of the famous investor Warren Buffet. At age 7, he launched his first business breeding meat rabbits, which later evolved into a full-on ranching operation. The education that emerged from these endeavors was as unusual as it was beautiful.

Except, it’s not entirely unusual. Not anymore.

Homeschooling and the broader alternative-education movement has been growing for decades, and that growth has been explosive since Covid. Parents have become disillusioned with government-run schools, and teachers are looking for more freedom to innovate than the public education bureaucracy can offer.

This widespread dissatisfaction has precipitated a mass exodus from the public school system and into alternative models, as FEE’s Kerry McDonald has been tirelessly documenting. As Kerry recently wrote in her LiberatED email newsletter:

Researchers at the new Johns Hopkins University Homeschool Hub analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, finding that homeschoolers comprised a whopping 5.8 percent of the entire U.S. school-age population in the 2022–23 academic year.

And microschools are popping up like mushrooms after a rain all over the country. According to a recent poll, a staggering 10 percent of school parents are now microschooling their children. Online schools have been emerging, and in-person alternative education networks like Acton Academy have reached an international scale.

The future of education is rapidly changing, and there are many articulate and insightful people documenting its unfolding.

But Cole’s story was so powerful because it was being told by the student himself. Who better to document the rise of a movement than those living in it?

This was the reason the Cole Summers Fellowship was born.

This spring, FEE completed the inaugural cohort of the brand-new fellowship—named in memory of the precocious 14-year-old writer, who we tragically lost in a kayaking accident in June 2022, only weeks after the publication of his book.

The Cole Summers Fellowship is a four-month writing intensive for teenagers pursuing alternative modes of education.

The young minds comprising our first cohort were as wide-ranging as the alternative education movement itself. Students hailed from Montessori backgrounds, homeschooling backgrounds, online school backgrounds like Synthesis, and a Socratic school being run by Michael Strong.

Over the course of the fellowship, students learned the art of writing—and more importantly, how to write about their education experiences. They learned how to outline ideas, how to make compelling arguments, and how to talk about unconventional educational approaches in ways that readers can understand. They learned how to treat their writing as both a personal portfolio and a practice for “learning out loud.”

They also learned hard professional skills (like specific software tools and working with an editorial team), and they’re learning to build a presence on the social media platforms of their choice.

And they had the chance to meet other writers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs in the education world, to springboard their networks and their future projects.

The fellowship is designed to give them a launchpad into building an internet presence, a following, and a body of work—on whatever topics and sub-topics they’re most excited to explore.

The Fellows were a precocious and impressive group, and it’s my honor to introduce them.

Eva Kay McKinley

Eva is a 17-year-old homeschooled high schooler, blogger, and artist. Her blog, The Old-Fashioned Girl, was launched to help teenagers learn skills that will make them more independent and self-sufficient.

Her family homeschools in part so they can travel (on a budget), and Eva Kay has been to almost 25 national parks and 30 countries. She uses her homeschooling freedom to work on projects like creating a permaculture food forest in her backyard, selling her watercolor artwork, and learning how to invest. She writes about skills like growing organic gardens, making food from scratch, making your own cosmetics, and her own experience as an artist and a homeschooler.

You can find her artwork on her website or on Instagram.

Arjun Khemani

Arjun Khemani is a 17-year-old writer who dropped out of high school in India to help lead support at Airchat, a new social network co-founded by Naval Ravikant. Outside of his work, he hosts the Arjun Khemani Podcast where he’s interviewed guests like Chiara Marletto, David Deutsch, David Perell, Jim O’Shaughnessy, and Yaron Brook, among many others. His blog, “Progress Good,” serves as a defense against the anti-Enlightenment tradition, exploring progress, rationality, and optimism.

I interviewed Arjun a couple months ago on my podcast; you can hear more about his story here, or you can follow him on Twitter.

Scout Clark

Scout Clark is a 14-year-old from Arizona, who started homeschooling nine years ago to support his dyslexia remediation. For the past five years he’s used ESAs (Education Savings Accounts) for classes, extracurriculars, online programs, and more. Some of his favorite classes are woodworking, guitar, cross country, and track & field. Scout spends his free time on Synthesis Teams, playing chess, and listening to Audible, where he has consumed over 400 books.

As a homeschooler benefitting from ESAs in Arizona (the frontrunner state of the ESA movement), he’s writing, in part, about his experiences using ESAs and how they’ve affected his education.

Savannah Forgy

Savannah Forgy is an advocate for alternative education, and particularly the Montessori approach. Savannah has experience in a variety of different models: Montessori school from ages two to eight, public school starting in third grade, and most recently an online Socratic school called The Socratic Experience. Savannah writes about her experiences inside of different education models, the debate between nature and nurture, a student’s perspective on Montessori, and topics like critical thinking and entrepreneurship for kids.

You can find her work on Substack or on Twitter.

Sophie Fischer

Sophie Fischer is a 13-year-old homeschooler, a competitive equestrian, and a world traveler. Sophie attended public school until second grade, when a move led her family to begin homeschooling. She started her first business selling granola and dried fruit at farmers markets, and is now an assistant to her equestrian trainer. She’s writing about how her unorthodox education allows her to train as an athlete and an equestrian.

Soli Gunter

Soli Gunter is an artist and a student at The Socratic Experience. Over the course of her 13 years, she’s attended four different schools, ranging from a strict uniform-based school, to a school with its own on-campus farm, to her online learnings at The Socratic Experience, a virtual school that relies on the Socratic method as its primary form of intellectual inquiry. Soli is currently focused on building a business selling her art.

If you’re interested in future Cole Summers Fellowship cohorts, please email Jake Klein at [email protected].

  • Hannah is a career development coach and a course instructor. She works as an advisor at Praxis and an instructor at The Objective Standard Institute. You can find her work at