Smaller is better
We spend a lot of time in this life trying to make things smaller, simpler, more nimble, more compact, and more accessible. Education is no different. Most of the information on the planet can be accessed on a computer; many petabytes of data at our fingertips…at all times, over a tablet. We can also interact with anyone on the planet in a few seconds. Online classes abound. Even some public school systems are learning the power of presenting material over long distances for homeschool support or even expatriate students overseas.
But beyond the instant social interaction and instant data, the challenge of how to process that data, and especially how to guide students towards making it useful for their lives, has not changed. The current educational regime is struggling to stay caught up with this paradigm; public and traditional private schools have a hard time making sure all that they do is not going to be drowned out by Minecraft or the latest Tweet or Instagram. Most of all, students need a mentor more than they need an “educator.”
With a maximum of 15 kids in a full-time class and Individualized Learning Plans for each student, a micro-school serves the purpose of making sure that kids are not lost in the shuffle of the “system.”
Homeschooling is a full-time job…
Many families over the last several years have begun turning to homeschooling. It is the ultimate in personal one-on-one attention, and it is the most rational way to coalesce a moral upbringing with educational goals. However, there is no doubt that the time investment is real and profound, and depending on cost-of-living where you are, not having a second income is becoming an increasing challenge.
And many parents see (legitimately) a severe amount of value in making sure their children are exposed to a variety of different types of people in their communities, and gather multiple adult role models and authority figures, because in the end…they do have to leave the nest. Sending your kids, every day to some sort of external educational institution forces that process, at least to a degree.
…and Homeschooling holds the key.
No matter what, though, the ultimate responsibility of educating children, preparing them for the world ahead, and making sure they are productive, engaged members of their community lies with the parents. Whether we are homeschooling, dropping them off at 8 and picking them up at 3 (privately or publicly), or sending them to a boarding school, the onus is on the parents to make sure that when they do leave that nest, they are prepared to function as adults.
So homeschooling (even in cooperation with other parents) keeps that responsibility exactly where it properly belongs, while making sure there are resources available that parents can tap into (up to and including even a full-time teacher) for ushering the student through their education. A micro-school gives parents the best of both worlds.
The Industrial Age is no longer
Well, some would argue that there is a future for industrialization…a Renaissance, if you will, filled with MakerSpaces, Uber, and the “shared economy.” There is likely some truth to that, but let’s just say that the Industrial Age no longer serves as an effective model for education.
A little more than 100 years ago, the United States took a path where students would be organized by age, stamped on the head and moved from grade to grade, year after year, until they were ready to be taken up by a higher education institution and prepared for their career in fill-in-the-blank, or they were hired by a local factory or institution. Kids were given the requisite knowledge to be “self-sufficient;” enough reading skills where they can find their way to things, read the local paper, and follow instructions of their employers; and enough math skills where they can do basic jobs with money and inventories, or — for those moving up the educational ladder — the skills to manage more complex analytical problems.
But this model is no longer serving us. The Industrial Age educational model is actually already behind us, whether we are ready to admit it or not. There is no going back to simply giving 17 or 18 year olds a diploma and knowing that there is someone who will take them on as an employee because they have the requisite skills.
Everyone is becoming painfully aware of this. What many people are missing is that the graduate stamp is not only inadequate at the high school diploma level, but it is growing increasingly useless at the college graduate level. The number of college graduates who are unemployed or underemployed is beginning to reach alarming rates. The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma in its lack of value, in and of itself, in guaranteeing a strong career.
This doesn’t mean, necessarily that we need to stop sending our kids to college, but it does beg the question: why are they going to college, if it’s not to get that great job? You can’t take the education away from them…that’s true. But no one is going to take away that debt either. If we are not confident in why they are taking on a mortgage for a piece of paper, then there is a problem.
A “STEM” without leaves, flowers, or roots…is probably dead.
There is no doubt that the best paying jobs of the 21st Century are and will continue to be (for a while) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related jobs. So, STEM is more than just a buzzword, it is the reality of an Information Age workforce. It is apparent, though, how limiting this is when things have to be continually added. “STEM-H”, for instance, just in case “Science” doesn’t properly cover all that is “Health” — which indeed it doesn’t. The human person and his/her well-being is more than just scientific, and the best doctors, nurses, etc, excel at attributes that are more social than scientific. You could simply say that the “H” stands for “human” and not be far off.
The latest craze is “STEAM,” where “Art” is added, as if it occurred to someone that if you spend too much time on science, math, and computers that you would probably end up neglecting the Arts.
Instinctively, all know this and welcome the addition, for a variety of common sense reasons. All of us know engineers who are musicians, doctors who are artists, nurses who enjoy theatre, etc, etc, so it seems rational that the Arts should not be neglected.
And there is a built in admission there, which points to two things that cannot be ignored about education: 1) that things that seem to have nothing to do with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math can greatly enhance one’s abilities in those areas, and 2) that a person — a complete young adult, human, person — is more than just their job, and that if a full seven hours a day is focused solely on the purpose of preparing them to be a good worker, then we are making the same basic mistake that we made 100 years ago.
Plus, it’s important to note that accountants, attorneys, and actuaries still make a fine living, as do many plumbers and electricians. These things are not going away any time soon, regardless of our technology level, which makes these professions even more stable in many ways than STEM-related ones.
Scientists are statesmen; accountants are artists
On that note, we live in a world where an ever increasing percentage of college graduates either through their interest or their ability end up pursuing completely different fields than they chose upon entering — or even finishing — college. So it stands to reason that preparing them for particular fields of study (yes, even “high paying tech fields”) is even more problematic in middle school or high school.
And that’s just the start. Frequent career changes are the norm, not the exception, for the modern workforce. Kids need versatility and critical thinking, and problem-solving ability, not because some particular job calls for it, but because they need this flexibility to do whatever job the market produces — a job, or an entrepreneurial idea, or a cause, that doesn’t even exist yet. College graduates — for that matter, high school graduates — need life skills, not job skills. That means creative, analytical, interpersonal, and communication skills. These skills are transferable to any career — blue-collar or white-collar — and are the best guarantees of success professionally and otherwise.
Not everyone learns the same way
This goes beyond auditory, visual, or tactile. It goes to interests, to social skills and experience, confidence level, how one handles success and failure. It goes to our background, what our parents do, what kind of neighborhood we live in, where we go to church, any number of things. In a nutshell, children are not future factory workers…doctors, or engineers. They are individuals, future mothers and fathers, neighbors, volunteer soccer coaches, parishioners and citizens.
So we all look at things differently. We solve problems differently. We take delight in different measures of success. With that in mind, the purpose of a complete education is to give students problems to solve, goals to complete, and he space and the incentive to solve them. An “educator” should not only impart knowledge, but help guide — mentor — a student through their studies by making sure they are using their knowledge to solve problems, not simply to regurgitate facts, or even develop “job skills.” Jobs, and the skills which are needed to perform them, change, but life skills, for the most part, do not.
Part of a community and not just a classroom
There are many innovations in classroom dynamics. We have flipped classrooms; we have lab schools. We have Montessoris and parochial schools, and parochial Montessoris. We have homeschool co-ops and one-room school houses. We have public charter schools and private charter schools.
One thing is for certain: we need more of all of these things. And we need more ideas and more variation in classrooms. More important than other variations, though, are those in which the focus is off the classroom, and off the teacher, and on the community, and the world at large. This accomplishes two things: first it gives the students exposure to, and appreciation for, real world issues, real world problems and solutions. Secondly, it gives students opportunities to communicate with and seek approval from other adults. It offers a variety of adults and leaders students can get to know outside of church, family, and school. Entrepreneurs, area leaders and volunteers all offer unique role models, positions in the community which can inspire students to improve and achieve, to accomplish and create.
Accomplishments, not grades
Grades only really serve one purpose in education: higher education. The higher up you go, the less important they become. There are few of us who, having finished with our education, have had to stare down a recruiter, and hope we don’t have to explain away a B in Biology, or a C in 300 level Economics.
What we have explained is what we have done; we have explicated what we have accomplished and how we accomplished it; we have detailed the qualities of our experiences, so far, and how they prepared us for the job ahead. This is unlikely to be any different for our children, for all intents and purposes. What a recruiter is testing is not simply their knowledge, though that is often part of it, but their communication ability, and agility in thinking through problems, and communicating the solutions.
What’s also important is that students, at almost any stage in their careers, prefer to do things that matter; things that actually have an effect on the real world. They prefer to do things that people can use outside of the classroom. They want to create with a purpose, and not simply to be evaluated and have their work tossed to the side.
Very few find a career, without first working a job.
But let’s not forget college. Many of us expect our kids to go to college, but they don’t always go, and if they do, they don’t finish. Do we want to wait until our kids are 18 before we begin thinking about what might happen if they choose a different path? Even if one completes a Bachelor’s, and is part of the unemployed or underemployed college-graduate crowd, what does one do if one ends up having to take on employment that doesn’t require a college degree? That can be a pretty hard pill to swallow, if indeed, the main purpose of going to college was to get that career which required a college degree.
However, what if before even entering college, students have already done work in, and studied, in depth, the field they wanted to pursue? What if they discovered things they could do that really didn’t require the degree, and the degree was meant to enhance that knowledge, make contacts, and dig deeper, instead of a quest for approval to one day find out what it is they might really get from their career? A career starts with a job, and it might even start with more than one, in different fields. Higher education will have more value if there is a purpose. Just like a business, there is more likely to be return, if there is a pre-visualized goal.
What if the bulk of your high school years were spent doing apprenticeships, internships, online college courses; experience with a professional, a mentor; a portfolio, under the tutelage of an artist; a white paper, with the support of a scientist; or a business plan, with the help of like-minded entrepreneurs? Then college becomes…a really great option, possibly an investment, but not a burden, and possibly not a necessity.
A Micro-School is an answer to the question: what does it mean to prepare the upcoming generation for life in the mid-twentieth century. We cannot continue to think that somehow preparing students for jobs of today is somehow better than preparing them for jobs of yesterday. Children and teens are, at all ages, individuals. They are people; all unique, and all deserving of a personal, individualized, action-oriented education. Yes, there are things to memorize, and there are rules to learn, math skills to master and science terms to try to remember; but if you give kids a reason for learn those things, they will have a much better track record of actually learning them.
We offer multi-age, project-oriented, student-driven classrooms where mentors help guide the student through their studies, instead of lecturing them and then expecting them to somehow glean the ability to learn from the book or their parents.
IndED gives students the space, and the encouragement to think through, discuss, debate, innovate, try, fail, try again, accomplish, and develop confidence in their ability to make it in the world. No, we can’t undo, or replace, in an hour and half, or a half day, or even a full school day, what the kids are learning and doing at home. Ultimately, education belongs in the home. What we can do, though, is help students reach their maximum potential, and seek to inspire them to want to continue to learn so that what parents are striving to teach them can sink in as well. We strive not to take the place of parents, but to support them. Not to educate students, but to inspire them to educate themselves.
Join us on this journey…your kids will thank you for it (Actually, they won’t. Kids are notoriously ungrateful, but they will think it…eventually.)