Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rethinking Post-Secondary

It seems that everyone with a teen is thinking about life after homeschooling.

If you've read David and Micki Colfax's book, Homeschooling for Excellence, you may be under the impression (like I was) that attending Harvard (or some other top ranking University) is the goal of home education, especially if you value a post-secondary education yourself. It's easy to be seduced into thinking that post-secondary is the only pathway to success in life, as this is a value that is rampant in our society. A post-secondary degree is the new high school diploma. Or is it?

Seth Godin, author of the book Tribes, has a blog on all-thoughts-Seth-Godin. And he's written a post about higher education and, as he puts it, "the coming meltdown".
For 400 years, higher education in the US has been on a roll. From Harvard asking Galileo to be a guest professor in the 1600s to millions tuning in to watch a team of unpaid athletes play another team of unpaid athletes in some college sporting event, the amount of time and money and prestige in the college world has been climbing.

I'm afraid that's about to crash and burn. Here's how I'm looking at it.

He goes on to give the following points (and you'll need to click and read it for yourself to get the details):

1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.

2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.

3. The definition of 'best' is under siege.

4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.

5. Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

He makes some excellent points that are worth thinking over.

He closes his post with:

The solutions are obvious... there are tons of ways to get a cheap, liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter and to learn to make a difference (start here)...

The only people who haven't gotten the memo are anxious helicopter parents, mass marketing colleges and traditional employers. And all three are waking up and facing new circumstances.

Finding this post came right on the heels of reading this Pat Farenga review of the book titled, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz.

As per the Publisher's Weekly review:
Kamenetz, author of the alarming personal finance expose Generation Debt, drops another bombshell on the emerging cohort of young Americans, this time regarding higher education. While she mounts a standard (though illuminating) attack on spiraling tuition and the bottomless pit of student loans, Kamenetz also questions the fundamental assumptions of modern American education culture: the twin, contradictory ideas that college must be universally accessible, and that the smallest accepted denomination of educational currency is a bachelor's degree from a four-year, liberal arts institution. Kamenetz explores those ideas' fallacies as they play out daily in American classrooms, as well as students' myriad alternatives, from community colleges to online learning collectives. In great detail, Kamenetz explains the flawed economic models that underpin higher education, the faulty premises they maintain and the government's failures to address them. Kamenetz's approach is methodical and balanced, showcasing extensive research and thoughtfulness, while acknowledging one of the chief problems with reform: no one wants to experiment on their own child. This volume merits consideration from high school students and their parents, as well as educators preparing a generation for uncertain job prospects, an information economy still in its infancy, and the steady erosion of geographical barriers.

And there are still others who are encouraging people to rethink their perspective on post-secondary education.

In his book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, John Taylor Gatto includes a letter he wrote to his granddaughter Kristina when she was going to interview for Dartmouth College. He talks a lot about the illusion of prestige and the development of conformist thinking that is part of the quest for a diploma. And he also tells her what he thinks are the important skills for a person to develop, the signposts of truly being educated: self-knowledge, observation, feedback, analysis, mirroring, expression, judgment, adding value. You don't need a college or University degree to develop these skills... in fact, John Taylor Gatto states that "the connection between schooling as you know it, including collegiate schooling, and education is mostly a masterpiece of fabrication -- on par with the medieval theory of four humors." (p. 167) He encourages his granddaughter to "struggle hard" to free herself "before you're dragged any further into the abyss by Dartmouth".

Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Centre are providing an in situ example of a consenus-based, community-initiated, learning environment that they liken to a library.
The Purple Thistle was started in 2001 by eight kids who wanted a space that was a mix between an open community and resource centre and an artist-run studio. The term ‘deschooling centre’ is a really good way to think about our approach. We focus on young people (aged 15-30), because we feel these are the people who need to be supported in their independence the most. But we encourage participation on all levels from people aged one to one thousand.

The Thistle offers free classes on all sorts of topics. There is also equipment available that anyone can use. Once or twice a year they run a Service Canada-funded Skills Link program in either desktop publishing or web design that operates like a full-time job (with full-time pay) for the participants. Yes, they take government money.
Yeah, we take money from shady characters. It’s a bigger philosophical issue: pragmatism within the Almighty Dollar System versus lifestyle politics and ideological purity. Capitalism makes everything a personal choice about what you’d rather sacrifice in any given situation. In this case, we’re more concerned with having an alternative-to-school than we are about not depending on the government for cash.

Now, there's nothing wrong with attending college or university. At all. Personally, I loved University and would have become a perpetual student if I could have (and I did attend for a total of 10 years as it was). My parents would have had a fit (especially as I changed faculties six times in my first two years) if my older brother hadn't told them that you don't go to University to get a job; you go to get an education. My experience at University was life-changing and opened my eyes to the world. I understand that a person doesn't need schooling to do that... but I did.

Fortunately, there's a new book out for homeschoolers who don't want to "do" conventional high school but still want to go to University or college. College Without High School. Blake Boles did not homeschool himself. In fact, he was half-way through a degree in astrophysics when he stumbled on a John Taylor Gatto book and was inspired to change to a self-designed degree in alternative education. As per the book description: "Boles shows how to fulfill college admission requirements by proving five preparatory results: intellectual passion, leadership, logical reasoning, background knowledge, and the capacity for structured learning. He then offers several suggestions for life-changing, confidence-building adventures that will demonstrate those results."

It may be worth rethinking our current societal push for everyone to attend post-secondary. My oldest brother, who was able to retire at age 50, did not complete a college degree. There are many examples of people who have managed to shine in areas that have nothing to do with their formal education or training.

And if one wants to think about jumping through the hoops of University admission, it is possible to think outside the box and it's worth exploring one's options. There are many roads to Rome... and to higher education. And as information becomes more and more available and people become more and more comfortable with accessing virtual venues for learning, the "how" of education will be dramatically altered. It's truly a transformational time for the field of education, with so much possibility for real and beneficial change in how things are thought about and done. As homeschoolers, our kids have the opportunity to be riding on the crest of this wave. Personally, I find that exciting.

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