Saturday, 11 January 2014

Hackschooling - Revolutionary Thinking or Past System Forgot? What can be learnt?

Continuing my theme on the educational system, today I stumbled across this video: . It is of a 13 year old boy, Logan LaPlante, giving a TEDx talk on his home schooling experience. It's well worth the 11 minutes! It introduces his idea that anything can be hacked and tailored, so that the system itself is improved, using a "hacker mindset". He has hacked the educational system, created his own learning programme, and, at the age of 13, already seems to have learned infinitely more, important, life lessons than many people my own age (21) and much older. He already has a passion for learning, developed from his own interests, is an intern at a reputable company (BigTruck Brand), has a good life balance and has figured out that being happy is more important than being wealthy (something many people don't realise until it's too late). His industry experience has shown him the practical application of many of the skills learnt in school. How many of us questioned lessons in the past saying: "but why do we need to learn this? When will we ever use it in the real world!" I know I still ask that question regularly. Most of the educational lessons I've learnt gleefully and willingly, are those that I know will have a practical application in the future.

Debate - Past System Forgot?
TEDx talks are designed to "foster learning, inspiration and wonder -- and to provoke conversations that matter" [] , and Logan's talk certainly does this. A quick Google search on Hackschooling (Logan's educational system) produces several interesting links to debates, Facebook pages and articles. The first link [] brings you to a very interesting debate. I was initially sure that everyone would love Logan's idea ... how wrong I was. Mrt432 (username) states that the idea is actually a rehash of the system pre-American 2nd industrial revolution, where wealthy individuals preferentially homeschooled their children, and that this was only an option available to the wealthy. The ensuing debate is thoroughly interesting and eye opening. Unsurprisingly, most people are on Logan's side, and suggest that Mrt432 has missed the point of the talk. However, he has a point. 100-200 years ago, many more children were homeschooled. This is, in part, due to the underdeveloped educational system, but also because it gave the parents (or the governors) the opportunity to decide what was important for the child to learn, and could tailor these to the child (if the teacher was moderately open-minded). 

So is Logan's hackschooling idea actually a modern remodelling of the old system? It affords him the opportunity to learn in his own way, to his own timetable, about the things that matter to him, without the constrains and demands of the curriculum. It also allows him to get out and about in the real world; something that the children of the poorer classes in the 1800's knew too much about, and something that the majority of children in the modern educational system know far too little about. He has shown that it is possible to blend classroom style learning, and its core educational lessons, with a more practical based approach to produce a well rounded, happy and healthy individual. I appreciate that his particular form of homeschooling is almost impossible to emulate across the entire nation, but surely some lessons can be learnt?

Health or Wealth?
When asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?", Logan's response is simple: Happy. His hackschooling ethos revolves around the notion that being happy is more important than earning a high wage by passing exams and getting into top jobs. Our (and other country's) educational system has removed the "fun" parts of educational learning in favour of an exam driven, test passing curriculum. [Interesting video -]. In my opinion, this system produces children that are more concerned with their income and social status than their own personal happiness. The two, however, need not be mutually exclusive.

Watching "Secrets of the Body Clock" on the BBC [ - 34mins in] this week, showed a school where students enjoy learning, get high grades and seem to be "balanced, happy and healthy", despite following the national curriculum. The school's policy? Let the older students start at 11:30. Scientific research has shown that the reorganisation of the teenage brain means that this is actually the optimal time of day for them to start learning, and by changing the start of the working day to this time, the students are actual healthier and work better. This proves that a significant change from the "tried and tested" school norm can actually work to produce student that obtain high grades but are also healthy and happy. The school puts the students health before the mainstream teaching methods, and may actually produce students that obtain higher grades, and have a drive for learning, that isn't seen in most English schools.

My Experience
Logan's hackschooling system is tailored to his own interests. As such, he learns very fast and already converses as a level far beyond that expected for his age. He reads the current literature, something I was not taught to do until at university (18/19 years old), and forms his own opinions based on personal research, rather than regurgitating the opinions of others. I feel that this form of learning is invaluable! During my early school career I always enjoyed learning. I think this was, in part, due to the fact that I didn't know what my strengths were, or what I wanted to do post-education. By my GCSE years, I knew that science was my "thing". I therefore found learning in arts based lessons far less interesting. By A level I knew biology/zoology was the way for me, so my interest in physics and maths dwindled...though I did still enjoy them. During my gap year I discovered birding and wardening. I've developed this enjoyment over the last 2 years and now feel like it's my future. 

So now I know what I want to do and what makes me happy, where am I? Stuck completing my degree. I appreciate that this is important given the current system and job application process, but I'm starting to question how important it is. Through the people I've met, it seems that a degree is non essential. Practical experience, contacts and enthusiasm are the important things in this career line. And once you've started earning in that area and get some job history behind you, your educational achievements become, more or less, obsolete. I have been blighted by depression this academic year because I know what makes me happy but university commitments are preventing me doing it. Whenever I go birding, ringing or volunteering I feel guilty that I'm not doing uni work. This only serves to add to the depression and sap the enjoyment out of the only things that cheer me up a bit. I am seriously questioning the value of an education that makes me this unhappy. 

Logan knows what he wants to do. Ok, he may not have been exposed to other subjects that could have made him equally happy, but he's happy doing what he does, and he's good at it. I know that I'm happy birding, ringing and wardening, and through my experience am now quite good at it. The last year of my education is preventing me from doing this and sapping the fun out of life. What good is an education that teaches me that grades are more important than my own personal happiness and health?

Wealth = Happiness?
My final point is this. Does the education system teach us that wealth is happiness, and that you therefore can't be happy if you don't earn a "good" wage. All people should continuously aspire to be better, but I don't view having more money as making anyone better. My idea of a better person is someone that helps others, looks after themselves and their community, and can die knowing they've made a genuine difference to their own and someone else's (or many peoples) life. When I tell people that I want to go into wardening, most first responses are "That doesn't pay very well does it". I find it funny that this should be the first response. I can't deny that it isn't something I think about. I've grown up in the same society and educational system as those people. The first question should be "Does it make you happy?" or "Will it bring you job satisfaction?". I feel that I wont be considered successful if I'm not in some high powered, high earning position. This is a pressure that almost my entire generation will feel. Its silly. I know wardening makes me happy, what it pays shouldn't matter so long as I have a bed to sleep in and food to eat. Those basic needs are the important things in life, not whether I can afford the latest 3D TV, go on fancy holidays or brag that I earn more than my friends. Good physical and mental health are far more important than material possessions.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, it may be too late for me to change my mindset and definition of a successful person. The mere fact that I think Logan is successful helps prove this. I deem being invited to do a talk for any organisation a success, and doing so at 13 makes it all the more impressive. However what I should be impressed by, and what defines him as successful, is the fact that he is putting his health and happiness ahead of his want or need for money.

The lesson I've learned from Logan's talk: Don't get bogged down in making a living, make a life! 

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