The first thing that caught my eye about Logan LaPlante, whose TEDx talk went viral on Facebook, topping a million views, was that the 13-year-old seemed fearless, self-possessed and at home onstage.
The second thing I saw was that he had some pretty great ideas. “If everybody skied this mountain like most people think of education, everyone would be skiing the same line, probably the safest, and most of the powder would go untouched,” Logan said, pointing to a slide on the TEDx stage at the University of Nevada that showed a steep mountain buried in snow. “I look at this and see a thousand possibilities: dropping the cornice, shredding the spine, looking for a line from cliff to cliff. Skiing to me is freedom and so is my education. It’s about being creative…doing things differently. It’s about community and helping each other. It’s about being happy and healthy among my very best friends.”
That’s how Logan, who lives in Lake Tahoe, California, with his parents David and Jessica and brother Cody, came to coin the term “hackschooling,” a fresh take on homeschooling.
Hackschooling, to Logan, has nothing to do with breaking into computers and everything to do with living and learning in the most innovative way possible. “Most people need everything neat and tidy,” he says. “They’re afraid of getting messy and trying new things. I think they fear change.”
For inspiration Logan looks to Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and—most of all—alpine legend Shane McConkey, who introduced the concept of fat skis to the industry when he floated down an untracked Alaskan mountain on 1970s waterskis.
Logan’s parents set the stage when they took him out of school after third grade so he could explore his passions, a long list currently topped by designing outerwear, which he does one day a week through an internship with Big Truck Brand, a Truckee, California, business that sells hats and bags. (“It’s by far my favorite class,” he says.) Other days, he can be found on the slopes of the local mountain; coaching young kids in skiing with the High Fives Foundation; taking classes with other homeschoolers in chemistry, government and video editing or working independently on projects like the TEDx talk that unexpectedly catapulted him into the limelight.
“The easiest road is to do what everybody else is doing: to start with kindergarten, to let them get on the bus, and that’s it,” says Squaw Valley Kids Institute founder Carolyn Hamilton, whose family has been close to the LaPlantes since Logan was 8. “But these kids who throw their ideas out there into the real world with a book or a talk or an internship—they develop beautiful relationships with mentors.”
And that’s when you see how little difference there is, Hamilton says, between creating an innovative education and creating an innovative life.