Abrome

Talking about and experiencing the benefits of free play

Professor Peter Gray argues that society can free children from coercive schooling through learning centers that will maximize their ability to educate themselves without depriving them of the rightful joys of childhood. We agree. Abrome is a self-directed learning community that opened last year to provide families with a real alternative to age-segregated, standards-based schooling. 

We created a space where unlimited free play is an essential component of our learning model. We did this primarily because it is the humane thing to do, but also because it is the best way to prepare for a lifetime of meaning, as well as academic, professional, and personal success. 

Far too many adults believe that in lieu of free play, the process of learning needs to be directed by adults. Unfortunately for young people, less free time and more mandated learning results in increased anxiety and depression, delayed emotional and social development, inhibited executive functioning skills, and diminished intellectual vitality. 

Play is a fundamental component of learning. Unlimited free play allows all people (young children, adolescents, and adults) to engage in the deepest and most meaningful forms of learning, maximizing their creativity, and igniting intellectual passion.

We invite all families to explore free play with us this month through weekly free play events, a book group discussion, and a series of talks, all of which are free and open to the public. 

April 16th23rd, or 30th: ‘Free Play and Food Trucks’ at Laura’s Library 

April 26th: the Smart Schooling Book Group will discuss Peter Gray’s book Free to Learn

Working with Clearview Sudbury School and Westbank Library, Abrome is bringing Peter Gray to Austin for three events

·       April 25th: ‘What is Self-Directed Education’ at Abrome 

·       April 26th: ‘Play Deficit Disorder’ at Laura’s Library

·       April 27th: ‘The Biology of Education’ at Clearview Sudbury

Getting into Harvard and Stanford: How to Earn Admission Into Elite Colleges

Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome was invited to the Laura Bush Community Library to speak about how to gain admission into elite colleges and universities. This video is shared courtesy of the library.

Getting into elite colleges such as Harvard or Stanford is not as simple as a perfect homeschool transcript, a 1600 SAT score, and lots of volunteer activities. 

Antonio Buehler, a Harvard and Stanford graduate, outlines the three dimensions that ivy league schools focus on most.

Antonio Buehler founded Abrome to fundamentally change the way the world views education. He wants society to reject the notion that education should be a standardized product in which children are expected to be passive recipients of instruction that is chosen and delivered by adults. Antonio wants learners to be able to direct their own education so they can live rich, fulfilling lives. He believes that by providing learners with the opportunity to take full ownership of their education, Abrome will help save millions of lives, and in the process change the world.

Antonio earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and an Ed.M. from Harvard University.

Place and Time. Time and Place.

Dmitry Shostakovich, 1950.

Dmitry Shostakovich, 1950.

If you have been reading our monthly newsletters you know that we lead a monthly book group discussion focused on education. I am a member of another book group, and this month that group reviewed The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. It was an enjoyable read that became more interesting and much more insightful toward the end of the book. A historical fiction novel based on Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's life, the book has received praise for begging one to consider who art belongs to. However, the book also challenges one to consider the value of an individual's life, the tradeoffs between cowardice and courage, and the external factors that shape those questions. As one reader pointed out, and I agree with, place and time were critical considerations in evaluating these themes, particularly against the backdrop of a totalitarian regime.

Shostakovich (the character in the novel as opposed to the real-life composer) was tortured by the choices he made in life. Having to constantly appeal to and bow down before power, he was prohibited from expressing himself as an artist (or as a human being), but his self-admitted cowardice and self-interested maneuvering ultimately allowed him to become a powerful member of the apparatus that almost purged him, providing him relative security but leaving him a shell of the person he could have been. Had he been true to his art, and himself, he would have been killed. That did not matter though, as he became dead in the soul long before his life expired.

Place and Time

It was hard for me to consider these issues without applying them to the situations we face in today's world. We are fortunate not to experience the type of tyranny that Shostakovich lived under, yet I would argue that many people end up in the same situation that he ended up—broken; having felt that his life was a disappointment and without meaning. Why is it that in spite of the relative freedoms that we have that so many fail to seize the opportunities that come with historically liberal personal freedoms as well as being a part of the largest economy in the world? Why is it that in spite of the relative freedoms that we have that so few leverage that freedom to find meaning within their lives?

The place and time we are born into are out of our control. One of my personal frustrations with the human race is that it often ascribes so much value, or so little value, based on the place from where someone comes. Two people born five miles apart on separate sides of the Rio Grande or the DMZ are sentenced to very different rights and life experiences through no fault of their own. Based on place, people are led to believe that others are enemies, or that others are coming to take something that is theirs by virtue of where they were born.

The time at which someone is born also impacts the course of one’s life. Most vividly, being black in 2018 is very different than being black would have been in 1963 or 1836. The disparities in rights and privileges conferred upon white men versus women, Jewish, Hispanic, Japanese, non-heterosexual, or members of other historically marginalized or oppressed groups have fluctuated over time, with the present day being better than times past for most non-dominant groups. Aside from basic human and civil rights, time can dictate if a generation gets sent off to war, graduates into a recession, or is able to participate in a transformative shift in the economy. [1]

Time and Place

While place and time are largely out of our control, I consider time and place to be more easily brought under our control, at least within the context of the place and time we are subjected to (e.g., the United States in 2018). When I speak of time and place I speak of how we choose to spend our time to include our voluntary participation in organizations. Shostakovich could have made time and place decisions that would have prevented him from being untrue to his art, and that would have defied the communist party. Although that would have led to a premature death. Bill Gates could have made time and place decisions that would have allowed him to graduate from Harvard and take a job with IBM, perhaps allowing him to someday rise to a senior executive position that would have also left him anonymous and scores of billions of dollars less wealthy. As you can see, time and place decisions cannot easily displace the place and time we are born into, but they can substantially alter the course of our lives.

Place and time includes into which family one is born. The resources of the family one is born into has a bigger impact on long-term academic and economic outcomes than the grades one gets in school.[2] And for most people, time and place decisions are mostly out of their control until their late teens or early twenties. Time and place decisions for young people are made primarily by their parents or the state. Perhaps the most significant of the time and place decisions made for young people is where they will be educated for over 15,000 hours of their youth (not including time spent on commuting, homework, studying, and extracurricular activities). It is this decision that is often so tragic, as it can have such an outsized impact on the quality and direction of one’s life both present and future.

Time and place decisions for children become time and place restrictions. Those restrictions then define to a large degree what a young person’s relationship with their education becomes, as well as the degree to which they feel that they have control over their lives. When a young person is told that they are to attend a traditional school for seven hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years of their life, they are told that they are unable to pursue their own learning interests. They are told that their life is to be put on hold because someone else decided that school was a better use of their time. Which would not necessarily be a bad thing (from a utilitarian perspective) if schooling helped children more than it hurts them. Unfortunately, not only does schooling take them away from their interests, it also takes them away from their community, it undermines an inborne love of learning, it misleads them into believing that what is learned at school is more important than what is learned outside of school, it conditions them to focus more on test scores than learning, and it conditions them to appeal to authority.

Traditional schooling is not the cause of unfulfilled lives short on meaning, but it often a primary contributing factor. When one is told that their worth is tied to grades within a standardized system that everyone else is subjected to, and thereby their worth is tied to a comparison to peers along a very narrow set of measures, they are unlikely to recognize how their unique interests, skills, and life experiences can allow them to lead a remarkable life irrespective of the game everyone else is playing.[3] When one is told that they must conform to an institution that treats them as ignorant and withholds basic rights from them, for their own good, of course, they become much less likely to challenge unjust institutions in the future. It is not hard to imagine that the person who suffers under a dictatorial boss, or a society that suffers under a tyrannical regime, is much less likely to opt out if they were forced to accept their place in school when they were young.

Choices that matter

It is unfortunate that we are born into a place and time that dictates to such a large degree the circumstances and quality of our lives. It is fortunate that for those of us in the United States that this place and time is a lot more forgiving than a lot of other places and times, although not by any means perfect. It is unfortunate that time and place decisions that hold a disproportionate influence over our adult lives are made for us when we are young. It is fortunate that for those of us who are parents that we have the opportunity to make time and place decisions about education that leave young people in control of their lives, that honor their individuality, and that preserve their inborne love of learning. In decades past, the notion of trusting young people to engage in self-directed learning through a space like Abrome, or through unschooling was illegal or seen as irresponsible. Fortunately, although it is still not the social norm, self-directed learning is understood by a growing segment of the population to be more humane and lead to better outcomes than traditional schooling.  

 

1. Through his bestselling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the understanding that timing is important when considering the successes of the wealthiest business people of all time. He focused on the opportunities available in the post-Civil War industrial age, and in the personal computer and internet age starting in the mid-1970s. He drove this point home by highlighting that Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Bill Joy, Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, and Andy Bechtolsheim were all born in a three year span of one another.

2. Some examples: Parental Income Has Outsized Influence on Children’s Economic Future, Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong, A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor

3. The ranking of human beings in school, at work, and by economic measures not only guides people’s conception of their self-worth, but also the worth of others. This can lead to an elevation of people who may have done nothing more than to be born into privilege, and it can lead to a lack of empathy for those who are classified as less than according to narrow measures.

 

Abrome Parents Share Thoughts on Abrome

This summer we sat down with Abrome parents to ask them about their families' experiences at Abrome. We hope these videos can provide you with some insight on Emancipated Learning.

What changes have you seen in your Learner?

What do you like / dislike the most about Abrome?

How has your home life changed since starting at Abrome?

How has your Learner benefited the most from Abrome?

What would you like to see Abrome do in the future?

How has your philosophy of education changed since enrolling at Abrome

Tell a story about how Abrome has impacted your Learner

What else would you like to say about Abrome?

If we want students to think for themselves, let them.

Last week, a group of Ivy League scholars published an open letter urging college bound students to "Think for Yourself."

Unfortunately for most students, thinking for oneself is really difficult because most students, especially the ones who manage to get into the Ivy League, have spent their academic years doing the opposite of thinking for themselves--they have allowed themselves to be shaped by others, seeking to perform perfectly as charged by adults. They have been rewarded for neither questioning the dominant narratives in society nor questioning authority.

The letter, however, seems to focus more on the debate over whether schools should be safe spaces for all, or if people with oppressive agendas (e.g., promoting racism, fascism, patriarchy) should be shut down in order to maintain that safe space. Or as The Atlantic puts it, should schools focus on "seeking truth" or "advancing social justice."

Contrary to what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues, we do not need to make binary tradeoffs between the two. As the professors allude to, the truth is the antidote to bigotry. However, debate does not mean entertaining absurdity. Universities should not subject themselves to debates over the virtues of slavery anymore than they should subject themselves to debates over a flat earth theory.

Truth seekers do not fear debate. In fact, they venture into territory where most people refuse to go because it is uncomfortable, and without easy answers. They look backward to learn from the past, but look forward to build a better future. They stand in stark opposition to those who see an earlier era as the ideal, where women, people of color, or LGBTQ folk "knew their place."

Those students who have been convinced to stay in line, follow a prescribed path, and to repeat what their teachers (or parents, preachers, or politicians) laid out as truth are the ones most likely to fall for bigoted ideologies that actively prevent truth from bubbling up in favor of maintaining a status quo that benefits the privileged.

It is the students who have not been beaten down with curriculum, standards, demands for conformity, and prescribed academic tracks that are the most likely to question. And for those who were able to engage in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences in a self-directed manner, they are the most likely to question in an intelligent manner that will inoculate them from embracing simplistic (and often bigoted) explanations for the challenges we face in society.

So students, please, question everything. Challenge yourselves, each other, and your professors. Professors, challenge your students. Take on controversial topics. And parents, do not merely hope that your children will think for themselves once they get into college. Educate yourself on the benefits of self-directed learning, and investigate learning environments such as Abrome, as well as unschooling.

We do not have to subject students to oppressive ideologies that have no place in an intellectual setting in order for students to think for themselves. We simply need to allow them to think for themselves.

 

Summer break is awesome, if the school is dreadful

We are two weeks into our four-week summer break. While this has been an opportunity for the Learning Coaches to catch up on work that needs to get done, we already miss the Learners! Fortunately, the Learners come back in two weeks!

The Abrome Twitter account (@AbromeEd) follows dozens of teachers and administrators that by most measures could be considered progressive. They warn against the harmful effects of homework, testing, and standardized curriculum. They often recognize that school practices perpetuate inequities and promote authoritarianism and injustice. These teachers are by and large decent people who care about children. Yet, over the summer, they celebrate being away from young people. And it baffles me.

Not too long ago I read a blog post, perhaps by James Altucher or Seth Godin, that talked about an experience the author had. While writing on his laptop at some beach one evening, two inebriated vacationers walked by, and as inebriated people are sometimes apt to do, one of them decided to share her thoughts with the other loudly enough for all to hear. She said something to the effect of, "can you believe he can't get off his computer even while he's on vacation!?" His response, though he did not share it with the vacationers, was something to the effect of, "can you believe they work 50 weeks a year just to get away for two weeks of vacation?"

We recognize the value of down time, and we celebrate the learning that can come from new experiences in new settings. Vacations can be amazing, but they should not be an escape from a miserable daily existence. No one should have to live a miserable daily existence, especially children. But for far too many students and teachers, school is that miserable daily existence. And for that reason, they find any break from school to be the highlight of school. 

At Abrome, we removed the practices and structures of schooling that make it miserable for so many. When Learners have the opportunity to drive their own educational experiences, without being dragged down by homework, testing, grades, and mandatory curriculum, they come to see Abrome not as a place to avoid, but as a place they want to be at. 

Our Abrome Learners do not need summer camp to recharge or recuperate, although we encourage Learners and their families to take time off whenever they need it for camps or vacation. We also endeavor to be available for our Learners as often as possible, which is why we have extended our academic year to 210 days. We feel extremely fortunate that our Learners want to be at Abrome, and that our Learning Coaches cannot wait for the Learners to return. It would serve as a huge red flag for us if our Learners and Learning Coaches were more excited about time away from Abrome than time at Abrome.