Last fall, during my senior year of high school, I started working for UnCollege. We help people take control of their education, whether or not that path includes going to college. I began working at UnCollege because I was frustrated by the complacency that high school cultivates: students don’t go to school to learn; they go to be taught.
The irony in this was that I myself was actually applying to schools. It was expected of me. In terms of grades and test scores, I was a top student. Although I supposedly did well, I knew I was missing something. I’d never learned how to learn on my own.
What Schools Don’t Teach
Schools pride themselves on providing students shiny new tools like tablets and computers. The problem is that they don’t encourage us to use them. Instead, we’re coddled, encouraged to stick to textbooks and handouts, to the exclusion of abundant online resources.
Real life doesn’t work this way. Only in school will everything you need to know be handed to you. At work, you’re expected to figure it out for yourself: using the Internet to research the problem, brainstorm solutions, and implement them.
In essence, three key decisions--“What do I need to learn? Why do I need to learn it? How do I want to learn it?”--are taken away from today’s students. We need to bring them back into the equation.
Deciding For Myself
I wrote about my hopes for our school system in my college applications. In the spring of this year, I got the thumbs up from my dream school: Stanford. I happily agreed to matriculate--but only after taking time off. Now I’ve officially begun my gap year.
I’m deciding to take control of my education by NOT going to school, at least for the time being. At first, this decision didn’t sit well with my parents, who both have PhDs. They’d expected me to go straight to a prestigious college after graduation. Taking time off after high school was completely off their radar, and they were worried that I would lag behind in my education.
What I explained to them was this: taking a gap year will help me when I go to college, since it gives me extra time to grow and mature. When I do go to Stanford, I want to lead. Real-world experiences will give me perspective, and thus the confidence to do so.
Finally, I explained that instead of defaulting to the structure that college provides, I wanted to understand how to approach learning in a more effective way. This would require that I first be able to answer the what, why, and how of education on my own, using online platforms.
Using the Internet to Learn
People my age are always online. Unfortunately, it’s usually to waste time, not make the most of it. What if we changed this? What if every student consciously chose to use the Internet to learn?
Schools don’t teach us how to use the internet to learn. That shouldn’t stop us, however, from figuring it out ourselves.
Below I share three platforms that I’m personally using during my gap year. I’ve created a table that helps me visualize what and why I’m learning. I’ve already got the “how” nailed down: I’m using the Internet.
(I have no affiliation with any of these platforms, and you by no means have to use them yourself. This is just an example of the key decisions everyone should be making about their education. For a great list of resources, I recommend taking a look at the UnCollege resource page.)
Treehouse: An online platform that teaches people how to code.
||To gain knowledge. Programming is a crucial skill of the 21st century, and I want to learn it.
Accredible: An online platform where you can create and share “Certs” (certifications) for yourself.
||To signal my learning. Instead of giving someone else the power to certify my knowledge, I’ll demonstrate it myself.
Meetup: An online platform that helps you connect with like-minded people.
||To expand my network. I want to connect with other people who choose their own education.
No matter your age, interests, or enrollment, it’s important to choose to always be learning, and to decide for yourself what, why and how. To help you answer those questions, the Internet is a great place to start.
By filling out this chart for yourself, you can easily create your own college experience with tools you find on the internet. This is the route that many self-directed learners--hackademics, as we call them at UnCollege--take. For others, like me, who plan to go to college, learning how to take advantage of online resources is just as worthwhile, especially in the long-run.