I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Blake Boles, author of The Art of Self-Directed Learning, at a local learning cooperative event. Boles is the director of Unschool Adventures and the founder of Zero Tuition College.
If you’re not familiar with Boles’s work, you have at least heard about people like him, people who believe that you don’t need college to be successful. In fact, many in the “alternative education” camp will suggest that attending college can make you unsuccessful, depending on your definition of success. Boles’s book offers a practical balance to this argument with entertaining stories throughout.
For those of you who are college’s staunchest defenders from the attacks of alternative education proponents (including homeschoolers, gap year takers, and hardline unschoolers), The Art of Self-Directed Learning offers valuable insight into a key advantage of alternative education: consent. Boles is not anti-college, he is anti-doing things for the sake of doing them and especially making other people do things without their consent (in this case parents and society as a whole pressuring teenagers to go to college). He proposes that the reason many of his students are successful (albeit in non-traditional ways) is because they have chosen the paths they’re on; they have been active participants in their education, thereby creating an inherent interest in the learning along the way, not just the outcome of a degree.
Contrast that with the vast majority of traditional students: over a million young people this year will enroll in college with little if any notion of why they are attending college other than the inevitable next step. This seemingly mandatory progression from a compulsory high school education can for some students further weaken their desire to learn, lessening the value of what is being taught in their classes. How can we add meaning to that which is mandatory? (A parallel: How can I get more enjoyment out of doing my taxes?)
Enter The Art of Self-Directed Learning. Far from a condemnation of college or higher education, it is a call – and an inspiring one – for students to take the reins of their education and provide themselves with the self-determination common in the most successful people, highly educated or not. Boles maintains that it is not a college degree that leads to achievement; neither is skipping college a guarantee of great things. Rather, the key difference between those who accomplish great things in life and those who do not is simply self-direction. And the key means of fostering self-direction in a young person is by encouraging self-directed learning.