In January 2011, a week before returning back to my college in Southern California for my fourth semester, after 15 years spent in structured educational systems, I decided to take a semester off from college. At the time I had been dealing with various conflicting emotions and feelings regarding my higher education experience, and had been discussing this “feeling” of mine with various friends who attended both large and small, public and private schools. While I had at first thought that I there was something “wrong” with me for feeling this way, I found that my friends and peers were having similar thoughts and questions. However, to question the attendance of higher education, or to even consider taking time off, transferring, or “dropping out” unfortunately continues to be seen as a taboo, and deters people from openly speaking about this with peers, parents, and teachers. My decision to take a “gap semester” came at the forefront of an explosion of programs, headlines, and known individuals who were also questioning the existing system. Of course I recognize the value of an entity that provides a space for people to gather to share knowledge and gain expertise, but there are so many parts of the system that don’t make sense. Whether it be the astronomical cost and resulting burden of student debt, exponential increase in bachelor-degree holders and resulting drop in value, archaic structure of teaching and learning, lack of a focus on skills and knowledge needed for the 21st century, or too little support and guidance, it seems as if we are collectively coming to a common understanding that things need to change.
Looking around, I didn’t see many resources out there to help guide young people looking to discover their passion, or learn/work/live in a different way that may not be on the conventional track. So I decided that in addition to designing my own syllabus for the semester, I wanted to spend time talking with people who had found or created their own solutions, and having them tell me the story of their path. This didn’t simply mean asking practical questions regarding which colleges or learning programs they attended, or what open-source education resources they utilized for a self-designed learning plan. I wanted to get to a deeper layer, because I believe that the college/education debate is centered around a larger question. It’s a question of how we tap, unleash, and leverage human potential. If we are at a point of tremendous change, technologically, environmentally, socially, politically…. how do we learn to adapt? How do we live meaningful lives but still “survive” in tough economic times? I believe that the dominant narrative and norm for the process in which we come to be who we are, for the most part, causes a lot of inner turmoil for the majority of people who don’t fit into the perfect box we have described as being a successful person. So my questions to the people I interview are also along the lines of: How had they come to learn what they had known, informally and formally? How did they discover their passion and align it with a career? How did they manage to live in a way that was meaningful, while also making a reasonable income to sustain themselves? How did they overcome challenges and stick to what they value and find important? What do they hope for the future?
My 3 main goals in this project are:
- To connect the confused to the inspired. Storytelling is one of the oldest arts used to inspire people, and I believe that by sharing stories of people who have overcome similar challenges, young people will find new solutions and ideas to apply to their own paths.
- To help make other ways of learning, living, and working more visible and accepted. The truth is that the old way of doing things is broken. In order to adapt to changes, we need diversity. We need to move away from the “one-size-fits-all” mentality that we have have been operating under.
- To get a broader picture of what is further needed to facilitate the development of new ways of being. I see myself as a “journey(w0)man” for the learning movement, in which by traveling and talking with many different kinds of people, I am helping to build the ecosystem and connect people to one another.
I am working on compiling these stories into a resource, whether it be a book, online platform, etc. I am also conducting a series of Eduventures (check out the 2012 journey!) in which I film and profile people and pathways, as well as emerging programs and projects that could give ideas how we educate people for the future. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!