"The whole structure of education
is shifting beneath our feet."
-- Sir Ken Robinson
In a 2007 TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson delivered this quote about the shifting structure of education, but I'm not sure that many people then (or now) appreciate the magnitude of this shift. He made this comment in the context of a point he was making about how college degrees are less valuable now than they used to be, and how they will be even less valuable in the future as the population grows and as more people gain access to education through rapidly-developing online portals. In short, his view is that given the "shifting structure of education", we have not just the opportunity, but the imperative, to rethink how we are educating our children.
It doesn't take much effort, especially for those of us with school-age children, to notice that the educational system in the United States is indeed experiencing some significant shaking, and I don't believe anyone would say that the resulting changes over the past few decades have been positive. Effective improvements may come in time (I hope), but in the meantime, many of us are looking for better alternatives for our kids right now -- we don't have years or decades to wait. So, a growing number of parents are making a similar choice -- to educate our children at home.
"Home schooling" was not a concept I ever heard about when I was growing up. When I became aware of it in my early adulthood, it was something only extremely religious families did. Now, as the recently-released National Center for Education Statistics survey reports, almost two million kids are educated at home, and this doesn't include the rapidly-growing number of K-12 students enrolled full-time in online schools (many of which are publicly funded). When you include all "off-line" and online home-educated students, the number is closer to five million and projected to reach at least seven million (8-10% of all K-12 students) by 2016.
This is not just a small shift -- this is a tectonic shift. So why are so many American families making this choice? It's not primarily for religious reasons anymore. According to the same NCES report mentioned above, 91 percent of home schooling parents report that they are doing so based on their concern about the environment of schools -- a higher percentage than those who cite "religion" as their primary reason. Other non-religious reasons parents driving parents to this decision were "a dissatisfaction with academic instruction" and "a desire to provide a nontraditional approach to child’s education."
Secular home schooling is becoming main stream. And this trend toward more flexible, personalized education doesn't end when students graduate from high school. According to research organization Ambient Insight, as of 2012 there were at least 15 million American higher education students taking at one or more of their courses online. So where will this lead us?
The short answer is that nobody really knows, but certainly all aspects of education and career-preparation will be impacted. Recently I've noticed that local organizations have moved quickly to accommodate the homeschooling community in my city of Portland -- age-based and interest-based classes, activities, and co-ops have grown from a handful three years ago (when I first started home schooling my sons) to so many that I can't keep track of them anymore. And we're not limited to activities within driving distance, either -- secular core curriculum and enrichment options available online are too numerous to list.
We don't need a crystal ball to predict that students who grow up learning outside of a traditional classroom, who are accustomed to making more choices about how, when, and where they learn, who value experience and hands-on learning, will bring different expectations and skills to their college or professional training, and then to the workforce. This is a fantastic example of how true change happens -- from the bottom up, individual by individual, and the possibilities are truly exciting to contemplate. Are you ready for the change?