Abrome extends academic calendar to 210 days; attendance still optional

Abrome is uninterested in replicating the practices and structures of schooling. For example, when we launched Abrome this past August, we committed to never subjecting young people to classroom instruction, homework, or testing, because those are oppressive practices that undermine learning. One practice that we felt we could not yet move away from was the 180-day academic year.[1] This coming year, we are introducing a year-round, 210-day academic calendar. 

This year, Abrome operated on an 11-month schedule consisting of 180 days.

The standard American school, public and private, requires students to attend classes for 180 days over a nine-month period. Year-round schools typically stick to the 180-day schedule, but they stretch it out over 11 or 12 months, giving students and teachers more frequent one- or two-week breaks throughout the year in lieu of a three month summer break.[2] A small minority of schools extend the academic year calendar without adding in additional breaks, giving the schools more instructional days.

Within the current schooling system, year-round schooling has palpable benefits in terms of testing and efficiency. Summer learning loss is attributed to long summer vacations, and it requires teachers to spend time each fall reviewing material that the students had supposedly learned the prior year. This eats into instructional time that could be used to move students further into their standardized curriculum. Additionally, there is a maintenance aspect of constantly having students in school and engaged in required academic material, because when there is not intrinsic motivation to master material that is going to be tested, schools are best served by repeatedly drilling students to keep material top of mind.[3]

From the vantage point of traditional schools, because they are typically measured by how their students perform on standardized tests, the aforementioned arguments for year-round schooling are quite compelling.[4][5] However, the benefits of year-round schooling extend to teachers, students, and families, as well. Teachers and students are less likely to experience burn out when there are more frequent breaks throughout the year. And studies show that although only about 50% of parents support year-round schooling before implementation, nearly 80% of parents support it after implementation.[6] Some of the benefits to families include reduced family conflict,  fewer childcare challenges over the summer, and the ability to take family vacations during off-peak travel periods.  

However, the reason Abrome is moving to a year-round, 210-day academic calendar has nothing to do with the benefits that traditional schools would garner from it. We are focused on helping young people lead remarkable lives so they can positively impact society and improve the human condition. In order to lead a remarkable life, one must become a lifelong learner. Meaningful educational experiences cannot be confined to the four walls of a school for 7 hours a day, 180 days and 9 months a year, for 13 years. At Abrome, we want to provide a safe space for Learners to be able to engage in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences throughout the year, including the summer.

Next year, Abrome will operate on a year-round, 210-day schedule.

In order to tear down the notion that learning only happens at school, attendance at Abrome is optional, and we will highly encourage Learners to take at least 30 days off during the academic year to engage in off-site learning experiences. Abrome is a space where Learners can come to engage in self-directed learning, collaborate with other Learners, receive guidance from Learning Coaches, and recharge before their next learning challenge.

This new 210-day, year-round academic calendar also provides significantly more flexibility to Learners and their families. With an additional thirty days per academic year, Abrome Learners and families will not feel conflicted about taking time off for family vacations, summer camps, internships, or community service opportunities. For Learners who have friends in traditional schools, they can take time off when their friends are freed from school. For Abrome parents who have children at multiple schools, they can organize their schedules around the more inflexible academic calendars of traditional schools. And fundamentally in alignment with our educational philosophy, Abrome Learners will be able to take time off as they see fit for any other reasons they may have, without having to provide justification.

1.     We underestimated the extent to which Learners would want to be at Abrome. The most common complaint we hear when Abrome Learners come back from break is that they wish there were less breaks, and that they could not wait to return.

2.     For our first year at Abrome, we stretched 180 academic days over 11 months.

3.     http://www.nayre.org/questions.html

4.     Affluent high schools are also measured by the selectivity of the colleges their students end up matriculating into. Fortunately for the overwhelming majority of affluent high schools that refuse to move away from the traditional model of schooling, college admissions is highly correlated with family income.

5.     For the sake of brevity, we did not list other benefits of a year-round schedule for schools such as higher utilization rates of facilities and the ability to accommodate more students by offsetting the start dates of different groups of students.

6.     Palmer; Bemis (1999). "Alternative Calendars: Extended Learning and Year-Round Programs,". University of Minnesota, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.

What Is the Best Way to Crush Entrepreneurial Spirit? Force Children to Take an Entrepreneurship Class!

Gallup recently shared the results of their annual poll on entrepreneurial ambition among American students.[1] In the prior five years of polling, 33% to 35% of high school students indicated that they planned to start their own business. This year that number dropped to a lowly 27%. This drop would not necessarily be noteworthy, if not for the unending emphasis that educators, economists, and politicians have placed on the importance of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation.

The focus on entrepreneurship is well placed. We have entered a period of technological advancement that is unprecedented in the history of humankind, and it is accelerating at an exponential pace. Within the next few decades, it is predicted that half of the jobs on earth will become obsolete, and many futurists believe that we will hit technological singularity.[2][3] Most young people are not going to have the luxury of getting a degree or learning a trade, and settling into a job for the duration of their adult life. They are going to be forced to constantly evaluate their skillset and their place in the world, acquire new skills as necessary, and create opportunities that allow them to provide value to others in a rapidly evolving marketplace. In the past, an entrepreneurial mindset was a lifeline for those who could not stand to work for others, but in the future, it will become a necessity to survive.

While the interest in entrepreneurship among high school students hit a low, Gallup pointed out that a majority (55%) of middle school students plan to start their own business. Gallup suggested that the 2:1 ratio in entrepreneurial ambition between the groups may be a result of goals changing with age, although that would not explain the widening gap between the two groups. Gallup also posited that familiarity may result in decreased interest in entrepreneurship among students. On that point, Gallup is part wrong, part right.

Gallup is part wrong because there is evidence that being introduced to entrepreneurship at a young age increases, rather than decreases the likelihood that one becomes an entrepreneur. This is particularly the case for children of entrepreneurs, who are two to three times more likely to become entrepreneurs than their peers who were not raised in entrepreneurial households.[4] Therefore, the phenomenon of student interest in entrepreneurship decreasing as academic entrepreneurial offerings increase needs to be scrutinized.

Gallup is part right because the wrong type of familiarity breeds contempt. Gallup points out that high school students were twice as likely as middle school students to have access to classes on entrepreneurship. In line with the counterintuitive reality of education, the more that learning experiences are formalized into curriculum, tested, and graded, the less likely it is that students will want to engage in that experience once class has ended. If you want to crush the entrepreneurial spirit in students, force them to take an entrepreneurship class.

Furthermore, schooling, with or without entrepreneurship classes, impedes an entrepreneurial orientation in students because it produces a risk averse mindset.[5] By virtue of high school students having on average four more years of schooling than middle school students, they are less likely to be able to tolerate the ambiguity and uncertainty of an entrepreneurial existence.

As opposed to Gallup’s misguided proposals for more academic offerings, schools should immediately drop entrepreneurship classes, entrepreneur workshops, and startup fairs if they are interested in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in their students. Instead, schools need to step aside and allow students to engage in self-directed learning experiences in real world contexts so that young people can experience the challenges and joys of entrepreneurship in a low risk setting.

 

1.     US High School Students' Entrepreneurial Ambition at New Low (Gallup)

2.     For example, Thomas Frey has claimed that 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030.  

3.     Kurzweil Claims That the Singularity Will Happen by 2045 (Futurism)

4.     Like Father, Like Son? (Entrepreneur) 

5.     http://www.abrome.com/blog/2017/4/21/does-self-directed-learning-create-an-its-all-about-me-problem

Elon Musk Does Not Care Whether You Have a College Degree. Why Should You?

While the Abrome YouTube channel has only eight videos on it, we have over half a million views. 99.95% of those views come from a video of super-entrepreneur Elon Musk insisting that when it comes to hiring talent for his team, that he could care less where candidates graduated from college, much less if they graduated from college at all.[1]

In the clip, Musk is asked by the interviewer which colleges or universities he is most interested in hiring from. He responds that it does not even matter if a candidate has a college degree, or a high school degree. He acknowledges that a top university can serve as a signal that a candidate might be “capable of great things,” but clearly that is not sufficient to justify bringing one on his team.

Musk is not alone. Internet giant Google has moved away from their early focus on hiring from a collection of top schools, and as of 2013, up to 14% of some Google teams were filled with people who had never even gone to college.[2][3] Google did not change their hiring process based on some sort of anti-establishment ethos, they did it based on their own analysis of their own employees. They found that there was no relationship between job performance and GPA or college affiliation after the first few years on the job. In fact, Google’s senior vice president of people operations is on the record saying that grades are “worthless as a criteria for hiring.”[4]

Historically, colleges were used as a lazy man’s screen for talent. This was in part due to people confusing admission into and performance at college as markers for ambition, intelligence, and perseverance. College attainment has always been more associated with class privilege than intelligence and hard work. It is a rather recent phenomenon that a stellar high school academic record can place an underprivileged applicant into an elite college in place of a privileged applicant with a middling high school record. But children of the elite still have tremendous advantages in the ability to access such educational opportunities, even though studies have shown that they are the ones that benefit from them the least.[5]

With a somewhat democratized economy, where large institutions are more easily challenged and brought down by upstarts, the companies that want to continue to grow and thrive will need to move beyond the lazy man’s screen for talent, and begin to identify better indicators for future performance and success among job candidates. With organizations such as Tesla and Google leading the way, other companies will either adapt their hiring practices or lose the race for talent.

As Musk said, evidence of exceptional ability and a track record of exceptional achievement are far more important than degrees from certain colleges. And the best way to build exceptional ability and to acquire exceptional achievements is to lead a remarkable life, not to chase degrees. However, our schooling system discourages young people from leading remarkable lives. It encourages them to aim for perfection on a narrow range of academic measures based on a narrow and out of date curriculum, and to chase degrees.

If one is intent on playing the game everyone else is playing, they can take comfort in the fact that most companies still rely on lazy screens for hiring. But the world is changing, and young people should not be subjected to the same game everyone else is playing.[6] The focus on academic achievement and degree hunting will not only fail to be an advantage in tomorrow’s economy, it will put young people at a significant disadvantage. It will leave them ill-equipped to navigate the hiring process, and unprepared to prosper in their careers.

It is remarkably difficult to lead a remarkable life while also trying to excel in the oppressive and restrictive world of schooling. Not only does schooling take up at least 6-8 hours a day, 170-210 days a year for 13 years of one’s youth, but it also take up considerable mind space that alters the way they see the world and pursue opportunities. Schooling creates a dependency on authority figures to dictate to young people what is meaningful in life. It creates a shortsighted focus on short-term, finite projects, because those can be graded, whereas deep, meaningful projects that span months or years are beyond the scope of what schools can measure and asses. Schooling also trains students to look for the “right answer” as opposed to dancing in the beautiful space of uncertainty, while risking failure, that is so essential to deeper learning.

The best hope young people have to lead remarkable lives is to divorce themselves from the schooling apparatus and to instead engage in self-directed learning experiences. Only by being able to pursue learning according to one’s unique needs, goals, and interests can one take true ownership over their educational journey. In doing so, they will ultimately find or create opportunities that allow them to develop mastery over or expertise in fields that have personal meaning to their lives, and through the continued refinement and development of their skills and the application thereof for the benefit of society, they will build meaning and purpose within their lives.

People who lead remarkable lives do not need college degrees from top colleges to get their foot in the door or to thrive in life. But a strange irony arises for those who lead remarkable lives: they have a much easier time gaining admission into top colleges, and they have the mindset and skills that allow them to outperform their schooled peers once in college. However, they are also more likely to opt out of the employment game altogether, choosing instead to pursue an entrepreneurial existence.

 

1.     The clip we showed came from a 2014 Auto Bild interview.      

2.     Google Doesn’t Care Where You Went to College (CNN)

3.     Google Has Started Hiring More People Who Didn't Go To College (Business Insider)

4.     In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal (The New York Times)

5.     Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours (The New York Times)

6.     It is also a game where there are far more losers than winners.

Picture of Elon Musk: Wikipedia 

School Children Need Summer Camp, But Should Not Go

Now that the school year is winding down, many parents and their children are shifting their focus to a wide variety of camps to fill up the summer calendar. Some parents simply need daycare for their children when school is out. Others want their children to be able to finally relax and have fun around same-aged peers after a painful academic year. Other parents see summer camp as an opportunity to give children experiences that the schools do not provide, such as outdoor experiences. Many parents are eyeing up sports camps to give their children an edge on the athletic field. A growing faction of parents want the camps to provide their children with skills they deem valuable for the future, such as coding camps. And many parents see camps as opportunities for academic enrichment and training. We want to lay out some points of consideration for parents as they think through their options.[1]

The benefits of summer camp

Summer camps can be fun.  Climbing mountains, building go-carts, playing basketball, and creating art or music are experiences that can bring pleasure to one’s life. Further, being placed in a new environment allows young people the opportunity to meet others and begin building new relationships.

Summer camps can be vital recharging opportunities for young people who are enrolled in high pressure, coercive schools. Students who are academic overachievers or come from families who put a lot of pressure on them to excel face high levels of stress that lead to long-term chronic health issues, decreased intellectual vitality, and mental health challenges. Students who are academic underachievers often see schools as centers of torture. Summer camps can allow them to temporarily make a clean break from school so they can attempt to heal.

Summer camps can provide a release for young people who feel trapped in school. Traditional schools are authoritarian, hierarchical environments with restrictive rules and guidelines that strip students of autonomy. Students who have a high sense of autonomy respond to schools as if they were prisons.

Summer camps broaden young people’s horizons. In new environments, freed from the many restrictions of school, young people are more likely to dive into new experiences and to enjoy them, particularly without the assessment and grading that is associated with schooling.

Summer camps help get young people moving. In school, young people are mostly confined to a desk during the day. Occasional recess, physical education class, or after school activities cannot undo a sedentary lifestyle. Scaling rock faces, canoeing down rivers, swimming laps, and kicking around soccer balls are great ways to get children to do what they do naturally—move.

Summer camps can allow young people to build relationships with those who are younger and older than them. At school, young people are often segregated by age, and the only people they get to interact with who are not their age are authority figures. Because summer camps are often comprised of young people from a variety of age groups, as well as camp counselors, summer camps are good environments for young people to more appropriately develop their social skills.

Summer camps can provide enrichment experiences that allow young people to develop in ways that they are not able to at school, or they can position them for future success in school by giving them a head start. Additionally, select summer camp experiences may provide some resume bullets or essay fodder for those who plan to apply to highly competitive colleges and universities.

The downsides of summer camp

Summer camps limit opportunities for self-discovery. Summertime is often an escape from school, where young people can take the time necessary to focus on themselves, and to process their life experiences. However, young people cannot do so if they are being placed in camps that eat away the summer.

Human beings benefit tremendously from unstructured free play. Unstructured free play increases creativity, permits young people to seek out new learning experiences, improves problem solving, and improves mental health. The optimal amount of unstructured free play is unlimited unstructured free play. Summer camps infringe upon the opportunity for unlimited free play, and many camps are so regimented and structured that free play is not an option.

Summer camps continue to segregate young people from society. Students spend all year holed away in a school where they do not have the opportunity to regularly interact with people three or four years older or younger than them, much less with the rest of society. By placing young people in summer camps during the summer, they are still prevented from taking their rightful place in society and having the opportunity to interact with people of all ages.

Summer camps are often captive experiences that the young person cannot opt out of, or does not have the freedom or ability to restructure. This can inhibit their sense of autonomy in school- or prison-like ways.

Summer camps only run during the summer. Acknowledging the potential benefits of summer camp, they have a very short shelf life, and then young people are sent back to school.

A better alternative

The listed benefits of summer camp outpace the listed downsides of summer camp. However, the downsides are substantially heavier than the benefits. That is why young people should not be sent away to summer camp as some sort of medicine to offset the schooling experience, or as a supplement to schooling.

A temporary reprieve from the oppressive experiences of schooling is not sufficient for healing, nor does it allow young people to lead remarkable lives. A one- or two-month summer experience does not erase what happens during the schoolyear, and thinking of summer as a way to reset young people is a form of punting on the necessity of taking action to promote the health and welfare of children.

Young people need more than just an escape from school, or “better” enrichment activities than school offers; young people need to live lives of autonomy and freedom. Only when young people are freed from the burden of being subjected to schooling for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years of their lives will they have the opportunity to engage in and benefit from unlimited free play. And only when they have the opportunity to engage in unlimited free play will they also have the time to be with themselves to process, and to come to an understanding of themselves.

There are no shortcuts to leading a remarkable life. Free play and down time are not extracurricular activities. Being free from assessment, grading, and judgment some of the time does not undo the harm from being assessed, graded, and judged the rest of the time. Young people do not learn how to take control of their lives because they go to a summer camp, they learn how to take control of their lives when they are given the responsibility of making the decisions that are relevant to their lives. And that needs to be an all the time responsibility.

Summer camps can be beneficial, and worthwhile. But only as something that young people choose to engage in as a part of a broader self-directed lifestyle. Summer camps should be seen as learning experiences. But life is filled with learning experiences when one is not constrained to coercive schooling environments.

1.     We chose not to attempt to create an exhaustive list of benefits or downsides of summer camp. 

Does Self-Directed Learning Create an “It’s All About Me” Problem?

People often ask me what makes Abrome different than other schools. This allows me to turn virtually every conversation with someone I meet into a discussion of the merits of self-directed learning and Learner autonomy. Most people are unprepared to hear what I have to say because it is too far removed from a worldview shaped by society and 13 years in traditional schools. They instinctively reject Emancipated Learning because they were repeatedly told they needed to stay in school, buckle down, study, and go to college in order to get a good job. The notion that we live in a meritocratic society where schools are the great equalizer has become a cultural meme that has seeped its way into education, politics, philanthropy, and the home. I go into these conversations with an understanding that not everyone will agree with me; I am planting seeds for the future. 

Participation trophies, not autonomy

Recently, a retired gentleman in Georgia asked me what I did for a living, and I told him that I run an “alternative school” in Austin. He probed. I explained that Abrome is a self-directed learning space that supports young people so they can take control of their educational experiences, and thereby take control of their lives. He immediately rejected the concept. First, he questioned how someone could learn chemistry if not required to, and then he moved on to asking how one could ever be an employee if they were not trained to follow orders. Finally, he came out and said it: “Doesn’t this self-directed learning create an ‘it’s all about me’ problem?”

He unoriginally posited that the problem with millennials and, by extension, current day school children, is that they all got ‘participation trophies’ growing up, and therefore thought far more highly of themselves, their capabilities, and their perceived value than they should. He continued by arguing that this exaggerated belief in their self-worth (or economic worth) resulted in young people who focused more on themselves than the organizations they worked for. He called them entitled. And allowing them to have control over their educational experiences would only amplify that entitlement.

It is not narcissism, it is necessity

It is common for older generations to dismiss younger generations by pointing out their narcissistic tendencies. Many of the generations that are so disappointed by today’s youth were often viewed as selfish loafers and slackers when they were young. While it is true that millennials and school-aged children are more narcissistic than gray-haired people, that is a function of youth, not of generational change. Across generations, younger narcissists tend to mature into older people who are less full of themselves.[1]

While labeling younger people as narcissists is unfair, if any generation deserves to be more focused on themselves, it is the youngest generation. Economically, they are facing a far more dynamic, disruptive, and uncertain future than their predecessors. Futurist Thomas Frey predicts that 2 billion jobs will cease to exist by 2030, while Ray Kurzweil argues that computers will achieve human levels of intelligence by 2029 and technological singularity will happen by 2045.[2][3] When that happens, the needs of the economy will demand competencies and skills that cannot be filled by the modern day worker. In fact, this process has already started. As of 2013, 18 of 30 major world economies are already experiencing talent shortages, and half of recent American college grads are unemployed or underemployed.[4] It is less a question of which industries are going to be disrupted or replaced, and more of a question of when each industry will be disrupted or replaced, and who will survive.

Further, the institutions and systems that we and our forebears have created and perpetuated are actively undermining younger generations from being able to prepare themselves for this uncertain future, much less lead remarkable lives. Despite the impressive social and technological progress that has occurred over the past few generations, we are leaving the younger generations with tremendous liabilities that may come due on their watch, ecological environments on the brink of collapse, and a cost of living that is difficult to meet given personal needs and societal expectations (e.g., healthcare, housing, college tuition). However, of all the institutions and systems that disadvantage the younger generations, perhaps the one that undermines them the most is the schooling system.

Education should be all about me!

Education should be a liberating experience that allows people to lead remarkable lives so they can positively impact society and improve the human condition.[5] However, schooling does the opposite. Schooling currently trains young people to bow to authority and to know their place in the hierarchy of society, as the gentleman from Georgia believed it should. It tells young people to wait their turn, and to jump through the hoops that have been established or protected by the incumbents in the hopes that these youngsters will eventually get their shot at lording over future generations. And while this approach was morally unjustifiable in the past, it is now also practically unviable for the future. The status quo will be displaced.

To continue to push young people into a coercive, standardized, and still industrialized schooling system is to prepare them to fail. Young people are going to have to become lifelong learners to be able to continually adapt and evolve in a world where institutions have no loyalty to their workers. Schooling undermines the love of learning. The longer that children are subjected to the practices and structures of schooling, the more likely they are to avoid voluntary learning experiences.[6]  Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial competency are going to be vital to success moving forward, yet schools continue to shape a risk averse mindset in students through a demand for perfection on narrow and often meaningless academic  tasks, an intolerance for experimentation, and a constant push toward college degrees as validation of competence and intelligence.

For these reasons, education must be all about the young person. It is time to move beyond the argument that the purpose of education should be to benefit the nation or the economy. Education needs to stop being about the adults. It needs to focus on the children: their wellbeing and their future. To do anything less is to fail them. When today’s young people are rightfully given control of their education, their chances of leading remarkable lives increase dramatically.  And that benefits society.
 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020091/

2. http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030/

3. https://futurism.com/kurzweil-claims-that-the-singularity-will-happen-by-2045/

4. http://zhaolearning.com/2015/04/06/a-world-at-risk-an-imperative-for-a-paradigm-shift-to-cultivate-21st-century-learners1/

5. http://www.abrome.com/blog/emancipated-learning-vs-bells-whistles

6. There is ample research that highlights that people lose interest in learning something after they are praised, tested, or assessed in some way, even in activities they previously enjoyed. After years of assessments across various domains, it is unsurprising that many adults still experience school-associated anxiety, and that voracious reading is an anomaly amongst those who attended traditional school. 

The Private School Tuition Criticism

American society has been trained to believe that schools are necessary vehicles of education. Without school, it is believed, one would not learn to read, write, find a job, or stay employed. And if we accept that schools are necessary for success in life, then we are left to ask, how would people of lesser means ever compete in a capitalist society without the benefit of schooling? The misguided conclusion that comes through generations of people being subjected to a monopolized and compulsory schooling system is that we need schools, and that those schools must be publicly funded.

This morning, a critic of alternative education reminded me that Abrome charges tuition, and lots of it. This was meant to be a trump card that should somehow lead to the false conclusion that we (and other alternatives to traditional school) are undermining education in society.[1] More specifically, this critic wanted me to blindly accept that the current institution of public schooling was inherently good for society, and that the real problems are that we criticize coercive schooling too much, and “white, wealthy parents” refuse to leave their children in district public schools (meaning they refuse to invest their children into the system to try to make public schools better, as opposed to investing in education for their children).

I cannot accept that the current institution of public schooling is an inherently good thing for society. As I have pointed out in the past, traditional schooling hurts students, their families, and society. Traditional schooling is inherently bad because it introduces coercion and illegitimate authority into the lives of children, it harms the current and future happiness and health of children, and it undermines the learning process. The practices and structures of traditional schooling were put in place for a variety of reasons, the bulk of which were nefarious (e.g., producing compliant industrial workers and obedient soldiers, promoting nationalism, destroying marginalized or oppressed cultures, sorting students to determine which ones received resources and opportunities, preserving class privilege, entrenching racial hierarchies). When the effects and history of schooling are highlighted to alternative education critics, they tend to double down on the funding mechanism of alternative schools as their proof of the superiority of traditional, public schooling.

Attacking progressive schools for charging tuition is an unfortunate but common tactic of alternative education critics. Like public schools, progressive schools need to be able to pay the bills (e.g., a living wage for educators, rent, utilities). How can anyone take seriously a public school advocate who believes that private schools should not be charging tuition, while also not being publicly funded? Their argument is less about funding and more about existence; they simply do not want viable alternatives to exist.

The one point this critic made that had some merit is that tuition-charging private schools are not an option for all families. But this critic took that to mean that unless every child has access to the same options, then no alternative options should exist. We fully agree that tuition charging private schools are not universally available to all students, but a non-coercive public school option is not available to any, much less all students. We acknowledge that there are disparities in access to educational options according to socioeconomic status (and geography). But because those disparities manifest themselves in both public and private traditional schools, it is left to progressive educators and radical communities to create alternatives in the here and now.

Abrome greatly values diversity within our learning space. Diversity strengthens the learning environment by way of promoting tolerance and empathy, increasing creativity and innovation, and reducing bullying. And we consider socioeconomic considerations to be central to our diversity efforts. Therefore, our full-pay families subsidize the cost of attendance for our lower SES families. But while alternative school critics feign indignation over our sticker price, they also make clear that even a $1 tuition would be too much, because they believe that giving “white parents of means” an alternative to coercive schooling is the reason public schools are not working.

While economic barriers to self-directed learning environments are unfortunate, it is worth pointing out that there would be no need for tuition funded alternative education options such as Abrome if public schools were non-coercive.[2] In fact, there are plenty of alternative education advocates who believe in public education, just not coercive public education.[3] But the only thing these critics seem to take offense to more than school tuition is the notion of self-directed learning. Perhaps that is because a belief in the need for publicly funded, coercive, compulsory schooling requires a belief in the superiority of those who work within the institution of schooling over what they believe are ignorant and incompetent children.

For those alternative school critics who argue that cost of tuition is problematic, I encourage them to expand their understanding of cost. The current cost of coercive schooling is a society that is filled with unhappy children and intellectually dead adults. A society that is deferential to authority and disdainful of those abused by authority. A society unwilling to learn from the past, live in the moment, or prepare for a complicated future. There is a mental health cost to coercive schooling, and it is paid in part through youth depression and suicide. There is an opportunity cost to coercive schooling, where young people forfeit their childhood and their future in order to participate in a race to nowhere. There is a social welfare cost to coercive schooling, where low SES families and people of color are repeatedly told that they are inferior, and where affluent, white families are convinced that they have a cultural or genetic right to the advantages that society unjustly provides them.[4] When all the costs of coercive schooling are compared to the tuition costs of progressive schooling, it becomes clear that coercive schooling is the one that produces a deadweight loss to society.

One final note: we do not criticize coercive schooling too much, but we are working on it.

 

1.  Although we are not undermining education in society, we hope to undermine the status quo of coercive schooling.

2.  Even the poorest families can provide their children with self-directed learning environments via homeschooling, unschooling, and cooperatives.

3.  We believe in voluntary, community education; not government funded, monopolized, compulsory education.

4.  It is ironic that the people who recognize the privilege that rich white families have in society are unable to acknowledge that the institution of coercive schooling compounds that privilege.