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