In February 2013, Logan LaPlante delivered a TedX talk that changed his world. Just 13 years old at the time, Logan’s speech, “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy,” explored his homeschooling experience, focusing on the importance of happiness during the learning process. Now, for a variety of reasons, he's decided to go back to high school.
For the uninitiated, hackschooling—a term Logan coined because he didn’t like the reactions he got when he told people he was homeschooled—is a dynamic student-centric learning mindset. “I don’t use any one particular curriculum, and I’m not dedicated to any one particular approach. I hack my education,” Logan says in the talk.
It was just a school project that Logan thought might get 1,000 views tops—and he dressed accordingly, with untied high tops, a hoodie, and a beanie covering his shoulder-length locks.
If he had the prescience to know that the video would go viral (with almost 7 million views as of this writing), Logan says he would’ve cut his hair.
If you haven’t seen the talk, it’s worth your 11 minutes: Funny, earnest, and self-aware. It might have you asking, as many online commenters have: Is this kid wiser than his years or did his marketing-professional father do some heavy lifting behind the scenes?
But speak with the now 15-year-old for 20 minutes and you’ll see a blend of humility, confidence, and an impressive amount of maturity. Hackschooling seems to have worked well for Logan.
He’s been busy since that TedX talk: grown nine inches, been sidelined from competitive skiing due to multiple shoulder injuries, put on 35 pounds, and had his voice drop an octave. He’s been featured in a couple of forthcoming documentaries—including Universal Studios’ “A Search for Freedom”—learned how to build skis while interning with Moment Skis, honed his sewing and design skills while interning with custom baseball hat company, Bigtruck Brand, and published articles on Freeskier.com as well as a multimedia piece on MakeZine.com.
He also continues to speak across the country, for which he receives both money and school credits. In August, he delivered a keynote at the Arizona Innovation Summit, ultimately focusing on what it’s like to be a member of Generation Z: those born after 1994 who are growing up distracted, stressed out, and unhealthy.
“The thing is, it’s such an obvious topic,” says Logan. “Who doesn’t want to make being happy and healthy a priority in their life and education? I’m just an early voice for my generation, so youth had a lot to do with it. Many people have said this message before. It was really the right time, right place, right moment.”
Logan’s speech comes at a time when the nation is obsessed with happiness, and that's trickled into mainstream ideas of schooling, too. We’re actively questioning the country’s education system as we look for ways to boost our kids' happiness in and out of the classroom. Homeschooling is growing at a steady rate, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. And it's telling that the most popular TED talk of all time, with well over 28 million views, is Ken Robinson’s “How Schools Kill Creativity,” a radical rethink of contemporary education.
“The idea of personalizing your own education is always an interesting discussion," says education reform advocate and editor of Dropoutnation.net RiShawn Biddle. "There are two key realities: American public education is in a state of mediocrity, and there are certain things your kids may want to learn that the schools are not going to be able [to teach them]."
For Logan, that includes: getting sponsorships; collecting speaking fees; lifestyle modeling; and work to offset the significant expense of competitive skiing. Many of Logan's detractors write him off as rich kid—a criticism he gracefully deflects. “I’m not,” said Logan. “I’m just lucky enough to have an amazing community and my parents are very smart and want me to learn life skills.”
But even such an idyllic homeschooling situation has its limits, and last August Logan started attending Forest Charter School in Truckee where schedules are flexible, more like a college than a high school. Attendance isn’t mandatory and a lot of work can be completed online.
Logan and his family decided he should go back to school for a few reasons: girls, friends, an atmosphere designed to identify strengths and weaknesses, and college prep. The National Education Association acknowledges that during adolescence, the brain changes significantly. The teenage brain "makes a big move to social learning, whereby learning with friends can be powerful and motivational,” says Logan’s dad, David. “As the self authoring mind takes over and the need to create an identity separate of the family tribe takes over, the desire to try new things moves to the forefront.”
Forest Charter School is popular with many of Tahoe’s action sport athletes who travel a lot, including Toby Miller, a teen who’s already being billed as “the next Shaun White.” Logan’s fall and winter schedules will include a mix of traditional classes, independent study projects, skiing four or five days a week, and schoolwork.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what school you go to, says Logan. “I get bummed at all the people that have turned my talk into a fight about homeschooling. They missed the point. It’s the mindset and what you make priority. So for Generation Z, let’s make learning the skills and practices of being happy and healthy just as important as learning science.”
Logan urges his peers to join “T.E.A.M.S.H.H.,” an acronym for Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, Science, Health, and Happiness. Like a good brand, the group has a strong tagline, “Less Talk, More Walk.”
That’s a good distillation of Logan’s thinking: get out there and do stuff. Follow your own path and passions when possible. Fail. Succeed. And apply what you’ve learned in the past to future endeavors. The teen’s future? He’s toying around with the idea of graduating a year early so he can travel before going to college for design or film. And he cut his hair, just in case another talk goes viral.