A year and a half after I graduated from Stanford, I started a search fund to look for a company to buy. Although I was industry agnostic, I kept finding myself focusing on companies that touched the academic space for children, such as curriculum providers, charter management organizations, and tutoring services. This made sense, I had already centered most of my non-work efforts around children throughout my career. I coached baseball, basketball, and football teams; I led an effort to help clothe children in Kosovo; I mentored children in multiple countries; I organized college fairs for West Point and Stanford; and I was on the board of a child bereavement non-profit. I realized that any future professional success would most likely have to be tied to my long-running desire to help children.
However, the more I dove into the companies that were operating in the space, the more I became frustrated at their inability to actually help children. Even the thought of running my own charter schools seemed destined to cause more harm to children than good. I quickly came to the conclusion that virtually the entire education industry was being operated for the benefit of adults at the expense of children. This realization led me to authors such as John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, and a broader homeschooling and unschooling movement. I was faced with a dilemma: do I keep looking for an education company to buy that would undoubtedly harm children, or do I throw myself into promoting options where I couldn’t make much money but where I could actually help children? It wasn’t much of a dilemma; in late 2010, I packed up and moved from New York to Austin to try to grow the homeschooling movement.
While working to liberate children from traditional schooling, I found that I was lacking two credentials that vocal critics of homeschooling, unschooling, and other forms of liberated learning grabbed onto: I did not have teaching experience and I did not have an education degree. So I chose to work as a teacher for Bronze Doors Academy (now Skybridge Academy) for two years, and then I went to the Harvard Graduate School of Education for a master’s in education degree (Ed.M.).
At Harvard I began to work on a new platform for education that would allow all children to lead remarkable lives. It was intended to be a community of self-directed learners that would benefit from a broader network of learners and mentors online. It avoided the worst aspects of traditional schooling (e.g., curriculum, testing, grading, homework), but it also failed to provide parents with what they saw as some of the benefits of traditional schooling (e.g., a place for their kids to go during the day, a ready network of peers to interact with, social validation from friends and family). Time and time again, parents would agree with me as to why they should opt out of traditional schooling, and how their children would be far better off outside of a traditional school environment, yet far more often than not they would still opt to keep their children in school. It was apparent that most parents, as much as they loved their children, just could not take the risk that their children might fail outside of a school environment, whereas if their kids failed in the school environment, at least they would not be entirely responsible for the failure.
While I was unable to recruit many families to join my virtual community of emancipated learners, I was able to keep the lights on by providing college admissions services. Over the past decade I have been helping people apply to college and grad school, and I have gotten nearly 50% of my clients into Harvard and/or Stanford, and 75% of my clients into schools ranked in the top ten. Because of a combination of my success rates plus the time I invest into each college admissions candidate (which takes away the time I can work on emancipated learning), I charge a significantly higher price for college admissions consulting ($25,000 during senior year) than I do on an annual consulting basis to help children lead remarkable lives ($6,500/yr). And I would be flummoxed if I was not willing to accept that most parents (although they will not admit it) would eagerly put their children through hell during their primary and secondary years if they could assure that their children would gain admission into Harvard or Stanford.
My goal is not just to get a bunch of kids into Harvard and Stanford. College admissions consulting is a great lifestyle business (it is fun, it is easy to do really well, and it is seasonal), but it does not fundamentally undermine the injustices of our society that are rooted in and reinforced by traditional schooling. In order for me to be able to emancipate children from the tyranny of the status quo, and in order for those emancipated learners to go on to take down the tyranny of the status quo and improve society for all, I recognize that I cannot at this point separate the two–parents need a sure bet that their children are going to be able to lead remarkable lives and gain admission into top colleges and universities, although the latter does not in any way validate or lead to the former. A virtual community is not sufficient at this moment in time, so keep your eyes open for exciting new developments from Abrome in the near future.
UPDATE: We have launched a school to address the dilemma of parents being much more willing to pay for college admissions than for helping young people lead remarkable lives.