Unschooling the University

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of High Education by Anya Kamenetz is a fantastic examination about how college has become so expensive and extremely over-rated, yet remains the ultimate goal for nine out of ten high school graduates. Armed with solid research and statistics (“…the United States has fallen from world leader to only tenth-most educated nation. The price of college tuition has increased more than any other good or service for the last twenty years. Almost half of U.S. college students don’t graduate; outstanding student loan debt totals $730 billion.”), Kamenetz marshals her arguments cogently to show not only how we got into this mess but provides ideas for how we can get out of it as well. 

I was pleased to see her use and cite the work of Holt and Illich, as they were early and vocal critics of the university but they are now remembered primarily as critics of K-12 education. One of my favorite photographs of John Holt is of him refusing an honorary degree. The Associated Press printed a photo of Holt with his fist pumped into the air on June 11, 1970 with this caption:

REFUSES HONORARY DEGREE. Author John Holt, critic of modern education, refused to accept an honorary degree as he spoke recently at Wesleyan University, saying that colleges are among “the chief enslaving institutions” in America.

Kamenetz is a lot less harsh in her comments about college than Holt and Illich were, but her call for change is as earnest as theirs.  After writing about the historical, social, and economic history of college in America she writes about several new directions higher education can take to transform itself. DIY U provides you with new technologies, Open Education programs, self-learning and other examples of college-level independent study that anyone can benefit from. Some of the insights she makes regarding the future of college are quite striking, such as this:

Brian Lamb, an educational technologist at the University of British Columbia, sketches out for me a potential vision: “ For universities, here’s the nightmare scenario. Imagine Google enters a partnership with two or three top educational publishers, builds on the existing open-educational resources already released, uses the reach of Google to coordinate discussion and peer-based networks and develops a series of tests that they also certify. What then?”

Teenage homeschoolers and unschoolers and their parents would benefit from reading DIY U in particular, if only to give them pause before going to college. After years of learning without attending elementary or high school, homeschoolers and unschoolers who decide to continue learning in their own unique ways without going to conventional college will find DIY U a valuable resource. Indeed, the last section of the book is a very useful resource guide for creating your personal Do It Yourself University.