The new homeschool

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 31, 2010

• The least tech-savvy piece of the "edupunk" movement are attempts to champion — and get funding for —NON-TRADITIONAL POST-SECONDARY LEARNING EXPERIENCES such as one-year certificate programs, public-service volunteer programs, alternative colleges that emphasize internships over lectures, and vocational schools. This also includes online for-profit universities like Western Governors University, which Kamenetz claims "unbundles" university functions, focusing more on skill acquisition than on time in the classroom.

These issues are as much philosophical and semantic as logistical or financial — though the latter are just as complicated as the former. "It's time to aggressively demystify the college degree and to say more loudly that four-year college is not for everyone," Kamenetz writes. "Not in the name of limiting choice, but in the name of expanding it."

It's true that many of these efforts are geared toward currently enrolled college students or older people with college degrees — a tacit acknowledgement of the intangible benefits of the traditional college experience (peer interaction, cultural offerings on campus, dorm living, exclusive time to learn). And there's no doubt that smaller, specialized, or elite "in-person" colleges will continue to thrive in the future (hopefully with continued integration of open-learning resources).

But those at the forefront of this new movement want their efforts to grow beyond the existing education market.

"Right now there's no doubt that the people who come to us are people who have some educational background," Haklev says. He predicts a change, though: "There are some brave souls who are very full of initiative. I think we're going to see this more and more, people who are putting together their own thing." He refers to people who might compile a sort of "portfolio" of experiences — online coursework, volunteer work, internships, travel experience — and present that to potential employers as relevant, valuable job qualifications.

"It's harder to take the DIY path than to do the traditional thing," Kamenetz says. She wants to make it easier. "How can we structure our society so that a maximum number of people have the freedom to have a customized experience?"

Deirdre Fulton can be reached atdfulton@phx.com.

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