College and Learning Are Not Identical

Why push more people to complete four years of college when there are other less expensive ways to help them find work worth doing and lives worth living?

I am developing a much more detailed response to this question that I’ll post in the coming weeks, though I feel I’ve been responding to it in various forms for all of my 30-plus years in homeschooling, but I feel compelled to provide a quick reply today based on some contacts I’ve had related to this issue.

First, Dr. Robert Kay, a retired school psychiatrist who is a long-standing, unabashed supporter of alternatives to conventional school, recently wrote this letter to his local newspaper and shared it with me. Though not all the articles he cites are current they are nonetheless still true and relevant and useful to anyone who wants to understand the issues involved. Further, some unschoolers will undoubtedly take exception to Bob’s claim that electronic gadgets should be rigidly controlled for the young, but Bob has his reasons for this. In fact, he rigidly controls his own computer use for these reasons, so if you want to engage him on this issue you’ll have to contact him via post or phone. Send me a private message and I’ll send you his contact information.

To the Editor:

While "Obama Calls for Restraining Rise in College Tuition" (News, Jan. 28) we might check out the Wall Street Journal of 8/13/08 -- "For Most People, College is a Waste of Time", a 10/06 op-ed in The Evening Bulletin -- "A Solution to the Fraud that is Higher Education", The New York Times of 4/27/09 -- "End the University as We Know It", and the Baltimore Sun -- "Is America's Love Affair with College on the Rocks?"

Not to mention the fact that in 2006 just 31% of college seniors were proficient in reading -- down from 40% in 1996 -- while, from K through most of graduate school, virtually all subject matter is happily forgotten come summertime.

So perhaps we should consult with wealthy Switzerland where 77% leave school at age 14 and then, as in the home/unschooling movements, HELP kids keep on learning with the joy, rapidity, and effectiveness of the average toddler especially if we rigidly control all electronic gadgets while exposing them to books, magazines, newspapers, libraries, museums, work, concerts, theater, movies, i.e., the wide, wide world. Meanwhile, we could check out the Inquirer article of 12/12/91 -- "Don't Try Another Choice Plan: Change the Very Nature of Schooling," plus three definitive works -- How Children Fail (Classics in Child Development) by John Holt, School is Dead (out of print) by Everett Reimer and Deschooling Society (Open Forum) by Ivan Illich.


Robert E. Kay, MD


Related to this is an email I received from Helen Rubin, a GWS subscriber whose grown son, Dan, is doing well because of, not in spite of, unschooling. Helen shared Dan’s recent blog post about his educational background; he is a professional photographer and designer, but it is unclear if he even graduated college from the post. However, he is clear about who his most important teachers and experiences were and how they inspire him to want to make the world a better place.

So was there an “aha” moment where you really knew what you wanted to do?

I don’t know if there was a single point. If there was, it doesn’t come to mind. There was no epiphany but that kind of ties into the way I was raised. The most valuable thing my parents instilled in my brother and me is that if we’re passionate about something, or even interested in it, we should just do it and let it run its course and if it’s something we learn more about and decide we’re not interested in, that’s fine, but we didn’t decide that prematurely. Instead of one big moment, there were a series of moments, and those continue. That’s an ongoing thing with me. I probably chase those moments, to be honest.

You talked about some of your mentors and people who have supported you. Who has encouraged you the most on your creative path?

Um, it has to come down to my folks, ultimately. I don’t think I’ve had people in my life who aren’t encouraging, but the groundwork for all I do and who I am was established when I was young. They were enabling in the most positive ways, fostering and encouraging creativity. My family (Mum, Dad, Alex, and me), we’re the kind of people who recognize when someone is passionate about something and we will do whatever we have to do in order to encourage that person. I feel really lucky that I haven’t had any barriers, and because of that, I try to help others if I see someone who needs encouragement.

That’s cool. So then, do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself and what do you hope to contribute?

I want to fix the world. I feel a constant pressure, not to do any one thing worthwhile, but that everything I do should make a difference. The only shame of it is that the drive to contribute to something doesn’t always result in me being able to do something. It isn’t always a clear path from, “I want to help, I want to make products that don’t suck, I want to fix every interface I see that’s difficult to use.” I think that’s my favorite thing about design as a broad term. To me, design is the medium through which I can improve the world.