Abrome Learners are set up for Success in College Admissions

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about opting out of school is that one cannot get into college without a diploma from an accredited high school. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, for the great majority of people, getting into college, especially a top college, is much easier for those who opt out of school than those who stay in school. While there are select private schools, very affluent public schools, and public magnet and charter schools that tend to send a lot of children to top colleges, these schools are few and far between. Further, they are typically filled with students who tend to come from families that colleges are eager to court (e.g., the very wealthy, politicians, celebrities), or they are filled with the type of students who have always performed exceptionally well on standardized tests and who are willing to work very hard to get top grades in lieu of deeper learning. However, even most of these children would be better off opting out of school if their goal is to gain admittance into highly selective colleges and universities.

Gone are the days when college admissions committees at the top schools (e.g., Harvard, Stanford) were looking for the well-rounded student with a 4.0 GPA, a 1600 SAT, who played three sports and served on student council. Today, the schools are looking for young people who first and foremost have an insatiable desire to identify, understand and solve questions and problems about the world around them. Stanford University uses the term “intellectual vitality” to describe such an orientation. These admissions committees are also looking for people who have superior academic skills, have demonstrated excellence in some manner (e.g., athletics, community organizing, entrepreneurship), and who add substantially to the class profile in terms of personality and diversity.

Students who test into public magnets, or win the lottery into top charter schools are positioned to present themselves as having superior academic skills, but their intense workload makes it extremely hard for them to demonstrate excellence outside of the classroom. Likewise, students who attend the top prep schools are often able to present themselves as having superior academic skills, and they often come from families that the schools are eager to court, but they also have limited time to demonstrate excellence outside of the classroom. In both cases, demonstrating high levels of intellectual vitality is difficult for students even from these “top” high schools. 

Learners at Abrome, however, are able to position themselves much better in the admissions process than their traditional schooled peers.  Without the pressure of earning top grades in a wide variety of subjects, Abrome Learners are able to engage in deep learning in the areas that matter most to them. This results in a much more meaningful understanding and appreciation for the areas they choose to investigate, allowing them to quickly demonstrate excellence in that area, and better prepare themselves for college and post-graduate work. At the same time, Abrome Learners are able to develop superior academic skills by focusing on maximizing literacy and numeracy without having to worry about a GPA.

By freeing themselves of the requirements of traditional schooling, including being assigned to a particular building for about seven hours a day, Abrome Learners have much more time to engage in activities that allow them to do remarkable work in areas they care about, such as creating beautiful works of art, conducting world-class research, or starting businesses or social movements. Most importantly, in the eyes of the admissions committees, because Abrome Learners have full agency over their education, and everything is of their own volition, they are able to clearly demonstrate heightened levels of intellectual vitality through the learning experiences they choose to engage in. This opportunity is one that escapes virtually all traditional schooled students.      

At Abrome, we have no desire to push kids onto a college pathway. However, for those who choose to make college a part of their learning pathways, there is no better place to position oneself for admission into the most selective colleges and universities than the Abrome learning community; even for those who would otherwise attend the top prep schools in the country.


Abrome Learning Doesn’t Stop During Summer – Abrome Learning Never Stops

It’s summertime! That means that over 50 million children are savoring three months of no school, free from the mandated learning that they were subjected to for the previous three months. While many children are celebrating three months without learning, at Abrome we are encouraging children to dive deeper into learning.

We want our Abrome Learners to live remarkable lives, and a remarkable life is contingent on continual learning. In order to master a craft, a profession or relationships with others, one must constantly seek out answers or solutions to the questions and problems that they face. However, in schools the message is clear – you don’t seek out answers or solutions to the questions and problems you face, you seek out answers or solutions to the questions and problems that teachers give you (based largely on curriculum requirements dictated by politicians or bureaucrats). Further, in schools you don’t seek out answers or solutions whenever you come across questions and problems you face in life, you seek out answers or solutions within a seven hour time frame, for five days a week, for 180 days a year, for thirteen years. Schools inhibit learning by trying to force young people to learn what schools want them to learn, and by limiting learning to select periods of time during a young person’s childhood.

At Abrome we are fans of the families who choose to pull their kids out of traditional schools so that their children can be freed from the coercive structures of school. However, we are also saddened to see so many families bringing those coercive structures of school into the home. For example, many parents believe they are doing their children a favor by forcing them to do worksheets each morning. Most do it for what they believe are good reasons, such as making sure they don’t fall behind their peers or making sure that they have a sufficient base in numeracy and literacy that they can build off of in later years. The problem with worksheets, or mandated readings, or other coercive traditional school structures that are brought into the home is that they undermine an inborn desire to learn. These coercive school structures that are brought into the home are convincing the young people that there is a time to learn, and that the learning that matters must be prescribed by others.

At Abrome we emphasize that learning happens at any time of the day or night, any day of the year, and well beyond childhood or adolescence. We also emphasize that learning need not conform to the desires of the adults in a child’s life, and that it can go far beyond the limited expectations that adults may have given the constrained educational freedoms they most likely experienced. For that reason we don’t demand that young people redirect their interest from fashion, Lego’s or sports in order for them to learn long division or how to write a five-paragraph essay. We understand that learning shouldn’t be something that one is forced to suffer through, but that it should be cultivated, always. And when we embrace and celebrate the learning that a Learner chooses to engage in, then learning happens all the time. That is why Abrome learning doesn’t stop during the summer; Abrome learning never stops.

Executive Functioning and Self-Discipline

Executive functioning has become a popular term to help parents and educators come to terms with their continual failure to get children to perform to standard levels of performance or proficiency, either their own defined standards or global standards, despite the highest per pupil spending in the world. With all this money pouring into education, and an ability to slot only so many children into ELL or Special Education buckets, or to diagnose only so many students with behavioral problems or ADHD, or to blame only so many moms and dads for poor parenting skills, it makes sense to lean on executive functioning as an excuse for our collective failure to try to fix or replace a flawed system.

“Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.”
~ National Center for Learning Disabilities

Sadly, it seems that much of the problem has nothing to do with children, or not in the way we want to believe, at least. While it is true that many kids are failing to meet (arbitrarily determined) grade based standards, educators, politicians and tax payers seem to want to gloss over the fact that not all children are born on the same day, meaning not all children in a given grade are the same age, nor do all children develop at the same rate (cognitively, emotionally or physically). When we treat children as though they should all be at the same place at the same time, and we ignore the oppressive institution that is schooling (e.g., full of barked orders, emotional abuse, soul crushing curricula, segregation from society), we set them up for failure on more than just tests. As neuropsychologist Penny Prather explains, having children attempt to perform tasks before they are developmentally ready for them may actually prevent the necessary skills from developing, making it look like the child has a deficit as opposed to the adults in the room pushing the notion of failure.      

Another example of blaming the child for the failures of the schooling system comes through talk of self-discipline within children. Alfie Kohn, fortunately, is a researcher and writer with a platform that he uses to help push back against the notion that self-discipline is the solution to our education problems, along with many other terribly destructive theories on how to make schooling successful (by which they mean less bad). In his essay “Why Self-Discipline Is Overrated: The (Troubling) Theory and Practice of Control from Within,” he tears apart this notion through three buckets of rejection: psychologicalphilosophical and political. I’ll only cover psychological, although I encourage others to read the entire essay (in the political bucket Kohn leans too heavily on the false left-right American political paradigm as he does in too many of his essays, but his argument is still solid).

In the psychological bucket Kohn highlights that high levels of self-discipline, while liked by teachers and many parents may actually be really bad for children and that a lack of discipline, or impulsivity, may actually be really good for children. Kohn argues persuasively that impulsivity can lead to greater joy in life and that self-discipline can take away that joy, as well as take away any motivation for learning other than avoiding the angst that comes with not having something done. However, he goes further to point out that even if kids internalize self-discipline (doing it because s/he “should”), it can still be more destructive than constructive, leading them to perform to external standards, but of little benefit to real learning or personal growth.

In the sidebar Kohn also references a popular Stanford experiment that allowed children to eat a marshmallow at any time they wanted to, or if they waited long enough to receive two marshmallows (a similar experiment was also presented at TED by Joachim de Posada in 2009). The argument that is pushed forth when people reference that experiment is that in the long run, those children who had the self-discipline to resist eating the marshmallow performed better at life (SAT scores, included). While this may be true (and yes, self-discipline most certainly does help employees in certain fields such as investment banking or the military), it is not certain that self-discipline is what ultimately leads to happiness or success. It may lead to better performance in schools where standards are set and self-disciplined children can neurotically do what it takes to make their teachers happy, but perhaps children who seek immediate satisfaction lead better lives in certain contexts. It is those individuals that one might assume may be the artists, the innovators, the entrepreneurs and the people who live in the now, instead of always deferring for a better tomorrow that never comes.

At Abrome we are not arrogant enough to believe that we have to coerce children into suppressing their impulses in order for them to put off joyful living in the present for some potential carrot in the future. We do not believe that children must think linearly or be able to sit in a chair for hours a day while they perfect their ability to repeat what an adult says or create the perfect cover page so that they prime the teacher for easy grading. We also do not believe that children with boundless energy or uncommon creativity need to be medicated in order to adhere to a standard curriculum. At Abrome we embrace the differences in each child, and we encourage them to learn in ways that are most beneficial to their needs and interests, based on their unique life contexts. If we believe that certain academic markers are necessary for them to succeed in life, it is our responsibility to help Abrome Learners come to that realization on their own, so that they can own it, and so that they can make the decision to engage in that particular type of learning. We put Learners first at Abrome, and that means we put their learning before our desire for control.

What does Abrome mean?

Abrome is a play on the term Borromean rings which are most commonly depicted as three interlocking rings; however, no two rings are interlocked. Borromean rings therefore form the simplest example of a Brunnian link.      

Borromean rings serve as a simple reminder of the beauty of how Learners can take their interests and turn them into deep learning experiences that enrich their lives.

As Learners engage with the world around them, purposefully investigating issues or topics that are relevant to their interests and needs, they will be able to find connections that lead to a deeper appreciation and understanding of their world, and be encouraged to continue to seek out new learning experiences that will benefit their lives. These benefits may come in many forms, and are not restricted to just academic and career success, although they will likely include them.

Likewise, Abrome is not focused solely on academic success. We believe that emotional and social growth are essential to creating a wonderful life. Abrome seeks to help ensure that Learners incorporate both of these elements into their lives in order to create a fuller life that cannot easily be pulled apart.