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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why the Home- and Unschooling movement now?

When an entrepreneur brings an idea to a venture capitalist, one of the first questions to be answered is, "why now?" Likewise, it is interesting to ask that question of home- and unschooling. Is there something "of the moment" that has enabled this transition? And can we expect it to continue?

I count ten "inflection points," both in the categories of pushing families away from school and pulling families toward a real alternative:
  1. Schools as test prep: Schools have focused obsessively on their worst feature, for the worst reasons, to the worst result.
  2. Virtual universities: The lock-stepping of schools has been disrupted by the availability of virtual universities, that allow so much more flexibility for taking an alternative to "The One Successful Academic Path."
  3. More parents working more of the time: The shift to two working parents in increasingly workaholic conditions, while having so many benefits in so many areas and putting many brilliant people in the workforce where they are desperately needed, nevertheless puts a higher dependency on the schools from the parents than the other way around.
  4. Technology as a selective school replacement: Any student with a computer and a connection has access to more content than in almost any university thirty years ago.
  5. Technology as childhood context: The difference in the use of technology between teacher and student is the generation gap that may be impossible to overcome. Students now speak a different language than their teachers.
  6. Schools crumbling under their own bureaucratic weight: At some point, most organizations generate so many rules, policies, precautions, safeguards, and members of the old guards that they just seize up and stop being viable organizations. Where possible, such as in the private sector, they go bankrupt. Schools, as institutions, may have just reached that point where they have stopped working, but it is hard to tell.
  7. Increased use of legal pharmaceuticals in school: The introduction of the massive, legal, and recommended drugging of students is seen by many as both a seamless continuation of the current trajectory of schools as well as a near-criminal offense.
  8. Criminalization of student behavior: Zero-tolerance policies, and the increased relying on police officers in schools, have created environments where schools are high-risk traps for children rather than ladders. Middle schoolers are always ten seconds away from being permanently branded as sexual predators, racists, terrorists, or other criminals.
  9. Cost of schools:  The cost of colleges is finally recognized as being ruinous.   But the over-reach of most schools' involvement in a community has created an environment of chronic under-fundedness.   If schools' budgets increase more slowly than their ambitions, lack of money becomes a common complaint and excuse. 
  10. Assumption of College:  That college is now assumed as a check box for white collar jobs is both a form of economic inflation for most families and a force for deflation for the value of any college program. 
This list is far from complete. But it is so easy to see why families view schools with contempt and fear, not respect and pride. And if each of these factors increase, we should expect to see more people opting out.

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