Standing up for my beliefs on teaching, learning, and working

At the start of June,  I met with an old guidance counselor, Ms. V, for coffee. I said to her, “I think I’m dropping out of college,” and she laughed. After explaining my plan and defending my beliefs, she called me a nut. Or did she say nut-job? She rebutted with a lot of talk about reality, low-pay, and not being taken seriously as an adult.

Ms. V is a successful, educated professional whom I respect and consider to be a valuable part of my support team. We have known each other for over five years, and she has always rooted for me.

I’m not sure if she considers herself conservative, but I definitely would — at least in this context. These revolutionary ideas of depending on work experience and self-directed learning did not sit well with her. At all. I tried to pry open her mind, but she held firm.

She asked her if I had a plan, so I explained my blueprint for building my portfolio — gaining relevant work experience, obtaining my TEFL certificate, blogging, networking, volunteering, etc. — to which she raised an eyebrow. In the 21st century, you cannot have a career without a college degree. Period. The words naive and idealistic were thrown around quite a bit. She asked me how I would establish myself as marketable without a degree. I said, “That’s easy. With work experience, recommendations, and with my ideas.”

I realize how radical it is to send your child to school with a teacher who is formally uneducated. It doesn’t quite make sense — how am I supposed to teach when I have never learned? Well, 1) I have learned. Sometimes at school, but mostly on my own. And I will continue learning (hopefully forever). 2) My role at whatever school brave enough to employ me will be more of a guide and facilitator than of a teacher. I want my students to want to learn, to pick what they learn, where, when, how, and why. My students will be pulled into their education, not forced.

And unfortunately, as a college student, that’s exactly how I feel about college — like I’m being forced.

We discussed the meaning of college, and I asked her why she would only hire a graduate. The two big reasons were that college ensures that they’ve learned their practice, and that college shows they can follow the rules. College graduates are obedient. Now, this really threw me off — to the point where I almost felt a little sick. “So, you would rather hire an obedient, inexperienced graduate than a competent drop-out with a good resume?” And she said yes. According to her, graduates can be trained whereas drop-outs are risks.

We didn’t really breach the subject of unschooling for children and adolescents because the lunch was mostly for getting advice for my particular situation. The advice given was heard loud and clear: GET A DEGREE. I think I can safely assume that Ms. V would not take kindly to the idea of unschooling, free schooling, or democratic schooling. She respects self-directed learning, but “do it on your own time.”

After our debate, we ended things amicably. I told her that I’d prove her wrong, and she said “I hope you do.”

These days, I waffle between whether or not I should get a degree. If I find a college that I feel offers me a respectable amount of agency, then I will consider committing to that. I wonder about unique options like Goddard and Prescott College. But, for now, I will work and learn on my own terms. Thanks anyway, Ms. V.

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