Ordinarily, I like to think of myself as more pro-unschooling than anti-school. I prefer to spend my energy focused on the positives of the unschooling approach rather than on the negatives associated with traditional schooling. However, a recent episode of Harry’s Law, which touched on whether a college degree is still essential in this day and age, really got me thinking. We KNOW, you say, You’ve already made us read three OTHER posts about it!
Yes. I know. This will be the last one.
I think the reason I was so inspired by this episode was that it encourages us to think outside of our tidy little boxes. It asks us to question things we most likely take for granted. It dares us to move past our fears and explore the possibility of blazing new trails. And to me, that’s a huge component of the unschooling life – that willingness to rethink things, to see from a new perspective.
When it comes to college, so many of us still believe it’s the only way to make a good life for yourself. And we believe this in spite of mounting evidence. We all know the historical success stories – those people who achieved amazing things without a college degree. George Washington was one, Ben Franklin another. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and David Farragut are also examples. Not to mention the modern day successes, such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg.
Of course, not all of us are destined to be listed among the top of the crop. But does that mean the rest of us have to go to college if we’re going to have a shot at happiness?And if we do go to college, need it be immediately after we graduate from high school? Well, based on my own immediate experience, I’d have to say no.
My dad is a brilliant guy. He dropped out of college, married in his early twenties, and worked as a mechanic for 20 something years. Along the way, he decided to pursue another career. He took a tax prep course and then educated himself in the field of accounting. He’s now senior partner at his accounting firm. He may not be as rich as Bill Gates or as well-known as Ben Franklin, but his life has been just as satisfying. He loves what he does. He leads a fulfilled, purposeful life. And he did it without college.
My husband, another truly gifted guy, dropped out of high school and spent his teens and early twenties in the trades. At 27, he decided to pursue a college degree. He enrolled in a community college and 18 months later earned himself a place at Tufts University where he graduated with honors. Would this have been the case if he’d been pushed to go the college route as a teen? Certainly not. At 27, he was a motivated self-starter, who already knew he could educate himself. His confidence in his ability to learn, coupled with a true desire for an education – both products of the maturity that comes with age and experience – allowed him to make the most of the opportunities he had at college.
Just recently my husband had lunch with a former employee at his company. Ted had hired this kid – a real whiz – straight out of high school. He worked with my husband at a highly reputable firm, gaining valuable knowledge and experience. At the same time, he made sound investments that have given him a net worth of upwards of $200,000.00. In time, he left the company to attend a prestigious college. One semester in, he requested a meeting with the Dean, asking him to show him how the education he was getting at this reputable – and expensive – school could compete with the real-world experience he already had, not to mention make up for the four years of lost opportunities. The Dean wasn’t up to the task, and Ted’s friend dropped out, confident that he could educate himself in any field for which he became passionate.
Another friend of my husband, world-record holder Roderick Russell, is another example of success without schooling. Termed the “accidental unschooler” at the Life Rocks Unschooling Conference, Roderick gained an extensive education (not to mention great fame) without graduating from college. His story is so inspiring it’s best told in the first person, so I’ll say no more here. Check him out at roderickrussell.com if you get a chance.
Conversely, I know many people who have graduated from college and gone on to do not very much. They’ve bounced from job to job, vaguely unsatisfied, their earning power mediocre, their purpose elusive at best. And these aren’t “you’ve got no one but yourself to blame” types. These are people who made good grades, graduated with honors and did everything they were ‘supposed’ to do. College, it seems to me, may provide us with good opportunities, but it is no guarantee that we’ll come out on the other side poised for success and happiness.
So thank you, secret unschooling writer on Harry’s Law, whoever you are. Thanks for giving us a marvelous opportunity: the chance to question the status quo, and to practice thinking – really thinking – for ourselves.