Dear Tess and Tucker,
For most of your young lives, you’ve heard your mom and I occasionally talk about your futures by saying that someday you’ll travel off to college and get this thing called a degree that will show everyone that you are an expert in something and that will lead you to getting a good job that will make you happy and make you able to raise a family of your own someday. At least, that’s what your mom and I have in our heads when we talk about it. But, and I haven’t told your mom this yet, I’ve changed my mind. I want you to know that you don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, and that there are other avenues to achieving that future that may be more instructive, more meaningful, and more relevant than getting a degree.
Let me put it to you this way (and I’ll explain this more as you get older.) I promise to support you for as long as I can in your quest to learn after high school, whatever that might look like. I’ll do everything I can to help you find what your passions are and pursue them in whatever ways you decide will allow you to learn as much as you can about them. I’ll help you put together your own plan to achieve expertise in that passion, and that plan may include many different activities and environments that look nothing like (and in all likelihood will cost much less than) a traditional college experience. Some of your plan may include classrooms, some may include training or certification programs. But some may also include learning through online video games, virtual communities, and informal networks that you will build around your interests, all moving you further along toward expertise. (Remind me at some point to tell you what a guy named George Siemens says about this.)
And throughout this process, I will support you in the creation of your learning portfolio, the artifact which when the time comes, you will share to prospective employers or collaborators to begin your life’s work. (In all likelihood, in fact, you will probably find these people as a part of this process.) Instead of the piece of paper on the wall that says you are an expert, you will have an array of products and experiences, reflections and conversations that show your expertise, show what you know, make it transparent. It will be comprised of a body of work and a network of learners that you will continually turn to over time, that will evolve as you evolve, and will capture your most important learning.
I know, I know. Even now you are thinking, “but Dad, wouldn’t just going to college be easier?” It might, yes. And depending on what you end up wanting to do, college might still be the best answer. But it might not. And I want to remind you that in my own experience, all of the “learning” I did in all of the college classrooms I’ve spent time in does not come close to the learning that I’ve done on my own for the simple reason that now I am learning with people who are just as (if not more) passionate to “know” as I am. And that is what I want for you, to connect to people and environments where your passions connect, and the expectation is that you learn together, not learn on your own. Where you are free to create your own curriculum, find your own teachers, and create your own assessments as they are relevant. Where you make decisions (and your teachers guide you in those decisions) as to what is relevant to know and what isn’t instead of someone deciding that for you. Where at the end of the day, you’ll look back and find that the vast majority of your effort has been time well spent, not time wasted.
In many ways, I envy you. I think about all of the time I spent “learning” about things that had absolutely no relevance to my life’s work simply because I was required to do so. Knowledge that became old almost as soon as it was uttered from my professor’s mouth. I think about how much more I could have gotten from those hundreds and hundreds of hours (and dollars) that now feel frittered away because I had no real choice. I want to make sure you know you have a choice.
So, when the time comes, we’ll start talking about what roads you might want to pursue and how you might want to pursue them. Your mom and I have high expectations, and we’ll do everything we can to support the decisions you make. But ultimately, my hope is that you will learn this on your own, that you will seize the opportunities that this new world of learning and knowledge offers you, and that you will find it as exciting and provocative a place as I have.
Love always, Dad
technorati tags:college, education, George_Siemens, shifts, learning
Abigail's Daddy says
You finally did it – turned out well mate.
Joseph Papaleo says
I’m thinking of returning to study, but most courses I’ve looked at seem outdated compared to what I’ve learned in the last 18 months. Guess I’ll stay at home and spend valuable time with my kids …
Meredith Broderick says
Yes, collegem unless you are in the room with students and instructors filled with curiosity, passion and a firm commitment to learning life-long is at best a boring necessary evil. a boring unnecessary evil unfortunately what I often think of many of our K12 classrooms
Eric Langhorst says
Excellent! As the father of a 3 year old I wonder if I will have the same guts you do to tell my daughter the same thing. I hope I would have the guts – I REALLY hope that in about 15 years things might change enough that I won’t have to be a rebel to suggest a different path.
Karl Fisch says
I think it’s interesting that several edubloggers have really been somewhat pessimistic lately, and it seems to relate to their own children’s experiences in school (you, Darren had a post not too long ago, and Bud had a post or two as well – although his daughter is not in school yet – I guess he’s just advanced!) I have a first grade daughter and have been feeling many of the same frustrations – both within my own building and looking at her experiences so far. Not to send you off the deep end, but I guess my question for you is – why wait until college?
Well I do have a 17 year old daughter, and a 16 year old son and I have told them that they don’t have to go to college. They can’t believe their mom is telling them that. The cost of college far exceeds its value – especially when college professors continue to use 20th century methods that have little meaning to our kids. My daughter, who is a senior, feels incredible pressure to conform to traditional standards – SAT pressures, grade pressures that don’t reflect all that she has taught herself, etc. I really believe that college will become obsolete in its current form. Access to information is possible everywhere, online communities are pervasive and virtual learning opportunities are growing exponentially.
So what is the purpose of a $100,000 college education in an artificial environment, sitting in static classrooms with professors as the keeper of knowledge? Beats me!
audrey hill says
Academia is a machine and in many places the product is not worth the time or money. But… There are plenty of innovative programs out there in the better schoolsâ€¦. (even in the area of video game research if that’s what shakes your treeâ€¦ Places like Georgia Tech, MIT, Berkley, ITP at NYU etc. all have great programs most tech passionate people would LOVE to grow in) And there are some great cohort programs. Art school, computer/design/psychology/biology coming together in interdisciplinary programs, small schools where there are intimate groups coming together.
I can see not goingâ€¦ there are other ways, but there are some potential losses too:
1) loss of connections (the right program creates lifetime connections that pay big dividends)
2) The possibility of a lifetime of explaining and being taken advantage of. No degree means uneducated in the minds of many. So while you may think youâ€™re as smart and well educated as anyone else, youâ€™re constantly asked to prove it
3) loss of those years in the young adult community of other intelligent people. Thereâ€™s a social organization around the college years that is hard to replicate outside of it. Although, not impossible. For a short period of time, you are surrounded by other people who are also investigating themselves as thinkers, doers, artists.
4) In a good school program thereâ€™s a foundation built in some basic ways that will be added to throughout life. I know that itâ€™s fashionable in tech circles today to feel that none of this education is relevant, but itâ€™s one of those thingsâ€¦ a backdropâ€¦cultural IQ or somethingâ€¦ you may not know you have but you sure as heck know when someone doesnâ€™t have it.
Walter Hutchens says
This vision of learning outside the church of third-party, formal credentials offers several compelling advantages—individual control over pacing, greater portability, lower cost, better time:learning efficiency, greater customization, broader access . . .
Dean Shareski says
I keep telling everyone that in 3 years many of our students will choose not to attend high school. They’ll instead find a way to “play school”, get their diploma and pursue other interests. My question lately to teachers/administrators is “What will your school offer students that will make the choose to come?”
What you are describing to your kids is they have a choice about how they’ll learn. As Karl said previously, they won’t have to wait till college to make this decision.
My work experience has always taught me more than my schooling, although my schooling has also taught me much…but in theory. We need to find a way to combine that on-the-job real world experience with our educational experience. Remind you of a certain philosopher or two?? Why does everyone think so many “colleges” are now crediting students with on-the-job experience?
Sounds like you’ve been channeling some John Holt and Ivan Illich lately. This and your “Owning Teaching…and the Learning” post are spot-on. Just one question: Why wait for college to opt out?
I don’t think we have to work with the education system as it is. Let’s set up shop elsewhere and if what we create proves to be all that we think it will be, eventually everyone will migrate.
See also Daniel Pink’s ideas for free agency in education:
audrey hill says
It all sounds so heady… this talk. Let’s make our own way.. let’s carve a new path… let’s be free of the credential system. I’m not so sure how great it is. It sounds like the enthusiasm before a dot com bust to me. We’re so interconnected now that we don’t need any of that old fashioned education stuff. Everyone is focused on the delivery system and no one seems to be at all interested in the content of that system.
I mean, I’m all for taking some of the power from the academic mill that makes money on the hopes of generations. BUT… realistically speaking… who’s getting an education based solely on what they want to learn with no foundation in place? No one. This fantasy that young people already know what they need to know, that if they learn it in amorphous ways that they will by definition choose all the content that is essential for their fields or for basic cultural literacy… they will by definition choose to learn difficult material that they sometimes fail at if it serves their ultimate goal (which they will by definition understand because they already know what they need to know), and that they have no need of guidance other than to have their whims (which is their wisdom)facilitated.. oy.
I feel like I’m at a party where everybody’s drunk but me.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
I had similar thoughts when mine were nearing school age and I did read quite a bit of John Holt and attended several of his lectures before he died. For me, it wasn’t college I was concerned about; it was the K12 school environment and the constraints of mass educating 100s and 1000s of children at one time. I was saddened by the way we drill creativity out of kids and the rigor that was lacking. I secretly wished they could skip K12 and jump to higher education where you could choose your passion and your teachers.
So I decided to teach my own. It was incredible. We traveled, invited brilliant, creative people to come to our home and be interviewed, published a newspaper, we did project-based learning, and collaborated with others around the world via the computer (via bulletin boards) and interwove life around what we needed to learn. Each child, (I have four) chose a sport and an instrument to master and I designed a curriculum around things they were interested in and wanted to learn. Everyday was an adventure.
Out of that I started a group of likeminded parents and we began meeting to give the children a chance to have an authentic audience and play in larger groups. The organization grew and grew. Out of my home was birthed an innovative school, Beach Academy, where parents fostered a love for reading and math in their homes and at our school I guided everyone in a thematic approach to explore science, social studies, art, and creative writing using a one-room school house approach (we had K-11 the first year). Everything was student centered and inquiry driven. We went on field trips every week and were regularly visited by preservice teachers from the local college to see how using this approach played out.
In the last year of this innovative school, that wasnâ€™t funded by any bureaucracy- just parents working together, we had a chemist teaching chemistry, a local recording artist working with those who wanted to learn voice, a basketball team, a mother who was socially adept teaching manners and interpersonal skills, a professional artist teaching visual art and each caring parent by contract brought something they were skilled in for all of us to learn.
If a child wanted to learn more about biology let’s say and they were only the age of a typical 4th grader, we didnâ€™t hold them back. Children were encouraged to fly where they could fly and walk where they needed to walk. Everyone was eager, on task, and never wanted to leave “school”- including me.
What was the end result? I say this not to brag- but to show it can work, unschooling that is.
My oldest, Amber (24), only attended two years of conventional school was regularly sought out for scholarships. She graduated first in her school of Arts and Letters, is a graphic designer for Norfolk Southern, a talented writer, designer, home owner and is wildly creative.
The second daughter (22) is fast after a Physician’s Assistant degree, married a talented musician, works in an oncology unit at a hospital and has a deep drive to leave the world better than she found it.
My son (20) was a kindergarten dropout! He wanted to ride the bus and eat in a lunchroom so he started conventional school in K (while his siblings were at home) but after 6 months decided he wanted to come home so he could read books again and not just learn ABCs. He is now getting a computer science degree, is a talented artist, taught himself Russian, works as a CADD tech for an engineering firm. He loves snowboarding, gaming and creating online.
My youngest (18) is a theatre major with a strong science and math background who will probably become a news anchor or such. She is netgener personified and paints, sculpts, quotes Shakespeare and talks incessantly.
I get the spirit of what you are saying Will, as often I find my PhD program getting in the way of my real learning, the learning that takes place everyday along side of you and other brilliant minds and hearts in this wild, wild Web world. However, I do what I do because I am driven to change K12 into the kind of place my grandchildren will be able to thrive and chase their passions. And unlike me, I do not want them to have to wait until they are 26 to discover they have a love for learning.
I think this could be great for the right kind of person. However, I worry that the philosophy of “If it isn’t exactly what I want to know, or doesn’t relate exactly to what I want to do, then I don’t need to know it” might be a bit harmful. I took courses in college that weren’t the most interesting thing I could’ve taken. In doing so, I was exposed to information and ideas I would not have otherwise been exposed to.
I think it’s just as important to be a bit worldly as it is to be globalized, and to have general knowledge as well as specialized knowledge.
Will Richardson says
I didn’t say anything about not giving my kids a foundation or just letting them run amok in their pursuits. And I don’t think I’m suggesting that they don’t need any guidance. On the contrary, they will probably need more. As Sheryl’s story articulates, a different model suggests different thinking and different action by all of us. And for me, at least, I see the option of a different model that wasn’t really open to me. Sure, it’s scary, but the potential is amazing.
Tracy Fowler says
Audrey & Will,
George Siemen’s presentation puts Will’s post into perspective, I think. I love the discussion on Learning Approaches and context for learning. It’s very powerful and thought provoking. The point is, in my mind, that learners have an increasing number of learning opportunities in their “tool kits”. We’re going to be able to direct our own learning in a greater variety of ways – all to our own benefits.
While formal learning certainly exposes you to ideas you might not have sought due solely to interest, community learning and informal learning does as well. The fact that I’m wandering around on these web sites when I should be grading papers attests to this!
Wow â€“ The comments are exactly what I would expect from a post like this. It is quite a profound and thought provoking passage. I think I got what you were trying to say and understand you don’t mean to just “cut the kids loose” on a haphazardly unorganized quest for knowledge and enlightenment. I am with ya in the sense that we are at the point of that exciting rush getting to the top of the big, first drop of the roller coaster. These discussions are like hearing the click-clack of the cars getting to the top of what is going to prove to be a wild, exhilarating ride.
I, for one, am glad to be a guest at the above referenced party Will, and I guess I am pleasantly tipsy.
(I will also have you know that I have never written anything with that many metaphorical references eitherâ€¦haha)
audrey hill says
Thereâ€™s always a bandwagon, and the bandwagon is always about overthrow. If youâ€™ve been in education for any length of time at all, you have years of listening to different pundits talk about how the whole world has changed and that this yearâ€™s children need a whole new paradigm for learning. We have a history of throwing out one baby with the bathwater after another. I looked at George Siemenâ€™s presentation. Itâ€™s interesting. I want to know more. In fact, I think I like his theory a lot. Thereâ€™s a lot to simulation (particularly real world, as opposed to online virtual). I do a lot of simulation in my classroom and my kids learn a tremendous amount that way. I believe that learning in community, self reflection, mentoring and apprenticeship are all viable methods. And who doesnâ€™t agree that knowledge is always emerging and changing? But I donâ€™t think that these ideas about learning impact every age equally. I donâ€™t think, for instance, that the elementary and early middle school grades are the most appropriate for unstructured, self invented or emergent approaches. I think that before you can deal with emerging new knowledge and soft knowledge, you have to have a foundation in the hard knowledges. You have to know the rules in order to break them successfully.
Enthusiasm for new approaches, especially, should not translate into allowing children to pass from one grade to the next with no foundation in basic skills, no ability to sustain attention for a task, and no understanding of the need for rote learning (as example, practicing scales and etudes in order to be a better musician). The problem is that everyone wants to have the fun of teaching; no one wants to deal in the brass tacks of it. We admire the guy who has his students blogging or making podcasts and class videos. But, there are no laurels for the teacher that insists that children learn how to add, subtract, multiple and divide without a calculator. (And yes you do need to know this. Ask any real mathematician.) We love a wiki, but we have nothing to say about the teacher who teaches how to make an assertion and support it with facts and details. Whoâ€™s more unsung than the person who teaches basic penmanship (I know. Can you believe someone actually advocating for instruction in that corniest of old school skills…Penmanship? Except that thereâ€™s something right about building grapho-motor skills in the early years) But, who wants to talk about penmanship and it’s impact on writing development. Weâ€™re too busy being rocked when a teacher puts up a video that is little more than a superficial PowerPoint (an undigested outline with pictures).
The result of all this singing of praises is that the under trained educator understands only that they will be praised if their kids make a podcast. So soon they’re saying all the rot about not having to do anything other than get out of their studentsâ€™ way so that they can teach themselves. Do I sound old fashioned? I do all the things with technology that I can, but my early years of teaching taught me a lot about how destructive ideas in the wrong hands can be to children. I’d rather be heard, but Iâ€™ll wear flannel underwear to this party if I have to.
I started public school teaching as a middle school English/Social Studies teacher in NYC. My students came exclusively from working class and poor families. They didnâ€™t have the benefit of educated parents or role models that could help them to navigate for success. The impact of every new theory of learning on these children was significant.
I remember the little 7th grade girl who, because of a misguided elementary program of invented spelling, was an enthusiastic, prolific writer who had never learned even the slightest notion of spelling and whose writing literally could not be understood unless she read it to you. (Forget about spell check. She wasnâ€™t even in the ballpark for spell check… because, guess what? She didnâ€™t get phonics, either.) If you think that her deficit could be remediated in middle school, youâ€™re wrong.
I remember how my house principal (a well meaning, but idiotic woman) used Gardnerâ€™s Multiple Intelligences to demand that an illiterate student who couldnâ€™t write a complete sentence, but who could draw a cartoon, get an A in my course because he was a visual learner. You don’t need to wonder about what kinds of opportunties he’s had since.
I remember the district wide presentation where a young man who taught 3rd grade was touted by the superintendent as one of the best teachers in the district for his whole language approach to learning. He was the first, or one of the first, to teach the rainforest by turning the classroom into one. When you went into his classroom, you were transfixed by the leaves, vines, green cast to the room, the nets with paper mache animals all over, the tape of rain forest sounds. When you looked at the paper mache old world chameleons and listened to the sounds of coqui, you were impressed, but when you looked that the writing and math taught, you realized that there was no substance. Every administrator beamed with happiness at the constructivist classroom where children were building their own meaning and learning what they wanted to learn about. Terrific. If you donâ€™t mind that none of those kids were from middle class, educated families. They were just under educated poor children who were the victims of the newest fad. The real impact of the rainforest was to bump up the teacherâ€™s career and send a message to every other teacher that colorful presentation kicks contentâ€™s ass.
Iâ€™m not speaking against technology, innovation, self directed learning, alternatives to generic buy a ticket get on the train college degrees. Iâ€™m right there with you. Iâ€™m just speaking for babies in the bathwater and I think that there may even be some babies in that college water you’re about to trash.
Gary Stager says
Your article is certainly provocative, but I wonder why you’re worried about college when your children are so young and likely to have their options constricted and fire distinguished by the decade or so of compulsory schooling ahead of them.
It would seem to me that a concerned parent like yourself would be seeking options for tomorrow, not ten or more years away.
Besides, although there may be boring lectures or out-of-touch professors at the university level, American higher education is still the envy of the world and the limited time I’ve spent at Bard College, where my youngest is now enrolled not only renews my hopes for all that education can be, but makes me want to be an undergraduate again.
Going through the motions just to get a degree may be a drag, but there are LOTS of pretty terrific college options available across the United States – schools where learning and respect for students are paramount. There is even a book and marketing consortium called, “Colleges That Change Lives.” (http://www.ctcl.com/)
Maybe we should tell kids about those schools and stop prepping them for “competitive” colleges where you get taught by grad students in 1,800 seat lecture halls and never have a relationship with an actual lecture.
I am not against any of the technological opportunities that exist today and will be bountiful in the future.
How does a first grader cope today?
PS: I hate making educational arguments based on economic rationale, but the last time I checked the difference in lifetime earning potential between a US high school graduate and a 4-year college graduate was $1.4 MILLION.
I am deeply touched by your letter.
I am 51 and throughout out my life I started and discontinued several educations, always feeling like a failure because of that. But still, I was sane enough to know that I needed to find my own way and create my own education. As much as I appreciate it all – including the many hardships – it is so life-reaffirming to know that there are people like you “out there”, supporting their kids in the best way they can be supported.
Cynthia Dunsfors says
That children know there are alternatives is always good. Our children were not pressured into a university ediucation, although they chose it, to them it was a start to somthing more.
Whether it be university or college, a northern expedition or ripping apart a car and putting it back together, a start is a start and provides portals to a broader life-long learning experience.
All we can do help them believe that their way is just as good as the so-called norm.
As a teacher, I can understand that college isn’t for eveyone. However,I believe that everyone should have a back up plan such as a college education to fall back on in case the school of life doesn’t work out for them. My college degree is more than “just a piece of paper on the wall.” It is my reward and a representation of all my hard work and dedication to my education which prepared me for my career.
You make no sense.
Charles McCutcheon says
This is really irresponsible stuff. I listened to and absorbed alternative ideas in the seventies. I dropped out and reaped the consequences of doing so.
If you blow the opportunities to get a qualification a “piece of paper on the wall” that is presented by society (supported by your family) you spend a lifetime in the service industries or have to rely on the charity of others and you wait for years before getting another opportunity to get a qualification.
The world is still the same now. I am 54 and now have the qualifications of a 25 year old and might have the prospect of a half decent job if my age does not stand in my way.
You are misleading the learner. Young learners, especially those who need to be encouraged to work hard at school, don’t need to hear this. This is almost as destructive as Pink Floyds “We don’t need no education”.
I quote my Prof “Don’t confuse the learner.
You have to be within the system to change the system.
You have your qualifications and the esteem it gives you. If you did not, no body would listen to you.
Please recant this.
Fred D says
I applaud you for giving your kids various options – but the response seems to be mostly negativity about what colleges have to offer. In Canada, university educations are much more affordable, and although still a large expense, are WELL WORTH IT in terms of life experience. Yes, I said it.. life experience.
I took “Environmental Studies” in University – to those that thought Social Science was the least useful degree of all time, you’re wrong. Although I work in a totally different field today, the life experiences in university were WELL worth it.
At the start of my first year, my dean said (and I will never forget this), “DON’T LET YOUR COURSES INTERFERE WITH YOUR EDUCATION”. This means through our university years, we learn so much more about ourselves and the world, apart from the content taught in textbooks. We learn responsibility, how to build and nurture partnerships, we learn how to network, and how to negotiate. This is where leaders become leaders, and where very important social skills are developed. University is a functioning microcosm of the world around us, and is an excellent tool to develop many of life’s skills, INCLUDING how many beers to stop at when you have a big test (or meeting) the next morning. That sounds like a joke, but it’s not.. a very important life lesson to go through! The best part of University is that you’re surrounded by people going through the same challenges and life lessons that you are, while allowing you to find yourself, regardless of whether that be in a classroom at the time, or at a social event, varisty game, or otherwise.
My courses were bogus, but my EDUCATION?? I wouldn’t trade in those years for anything in the world.
Will Richardson says
No one said anything like “We don’t need no education.” All I’m saying is that “we may not need no college education” in the future. I choose not to recant.
And for the social education that one gets at college, does that mean we can’t be taught responsibility, partnerships, networking and negotiation WITHOUT it? If I’m going to pay $100,000 so that my kids can figure out how many beers to have before the big test, I’ll help them figure that out at home, thanks very much. ;0)
Fred D says
hehe… I agree wholeheartedly… you can learn any life lesson anywhere – my point was that the college / university experience is an excellent medium for learning, not to mention how structured it is; and with so many parents taking a half-a$$ed approach to the art of parenting these days, you almost can’t leave the responsibility up to them, expecially given that their kids are supposedly ‘adults’ by college time. Kudos to you for caring this much about your kids’ future – this is severely lacking in our western society these days.
As for the $100k, that’s just ridiculous that your american colleges charge that much… more reason to push your kid into a sport to get a scholarship! (kidding)
Another point… why should YOU have to pay?? Back in the day, I worked my butt off to put myself through school. What a sense of accomplishment that gave me…
Let me re-state that I agree with you – not everyone needs nor fits into the college lifestyle, however, for some, not going MAY close some doors in the future. Given how much fun I had during my university years, I have a biased opinion, but I certainly know I have the flexibility to do whatever I want with my career at any time just because I went through it (technical, trades, corporate, whatever). I’m actually considering making the jump from corporate to trades, and may want to jump back someday.
And before you give up on it – let your kids check out the Canadian university scene when it’s their turn – the sports are indeed terrible, but the experience is similar. Although it’s not for everybody, it is for some – I respect your position of choice, and I believe in it too, but I must say, this website does show your bias towards the ‘non-$100,000 alternatives’ when really CHOICE should be most important, with price a non-factor. Reality tells us price is a factor in anything, but it should be your kid that decides if this ‘100k’ investment is worth it to them.
Best of luck, and let me reiterate the most important part of this all – I find it extremely refreshing that you care about your kids and their future enough to go to these lenghts. Keep up the good work,