Young, Smart, Influential at 17 and Homeschooled

Javier Fernandez-Han was recently named by Forbes Magazine as “one of the most influential people in the nation under 30 in the energy industry;” he invented a process that “uses algae to turn sewage into fuel.” A local news feature about him and his award notes:

Javier is home schooled, something his parents decided to do because of their own educational experiences.

"At least for me, I came out of college pretty much useless. You give me a test, I can take it, but who's going to pay me to take a test?" Javier's father, Peter, said.

As more parents reflect on their schooling I hope they, too, will consider homeschooling an option—not because homeschooling is a better type of school, but because it can be a totally different educational experience than school.

If you look through the Forbe’s Energy list there are four people who are 19 or younger, which is pretty inspiring (I wish there were more information about their efforts; you get no feeling about hard it was for them to get their ideas off the ground and be taken seriously). It appears from the text that three of them were in high school when they developed their new ideas, so one can’t claim it is homeschooling that makes a difference for young inventors.

However, one can claim that homeschooling did not diminish the chances of this young man succeeding as an inventor. On the video attached to the local news story the announcer says, “The parents wanted to empower their children to make a difference in the world no matter how old they are.” Javier’s parents reiterate this point eloquently in the video, and I think it is an important point for any adult who works with children. All too often, adults have nothing but the lowest expectations about what children will do other than “have fun and cause trouble” if they are given freedom to learn. But it doesn’t have to be this way; there are other ways of relating to and living with children besides just educating them to do as you say.

 There are many ways to succeed in life, but our culture’s infatuation with human-made systems makes it seem that only by graduating from a school system can you even begin to think about becoming successful. Don’t tell these Forbes winners though—three of them haven’t graduated from high school yet and the fourth has decided to forgo college!

I can’t say that the other three students greatly benefitted from a standard high school laboratory and science curriculum, but I can say those things are not decisive factors for being a successful inventor. Just ask Javier Fernandez-Han.