Matt is an eager learner who devours content like it is root beer (his favorite). A voracious reader, he is a young man with eclectic and unusual interests...we call him the Renaissance Man around the house. He is the keeper of arcane knowledge that always ends up being fascinating when he shares it, can drop quotes both famous and obscure at just the right moment to illustrate some principle, is a lover of art and his phone is filled to the brim with images of famous works, modern paintings, beautifully photographed city and landscapes, and more. He also is the most self-directed young man you will ever meet, who sets goals and works with great diligence until he achieves them. He attained the highest rank in Civil Air Patrol, something only 2500 kids in the history of the program have ever done. He designed and built his own customized 3D printer after learning autoCAD at 13, he has designed a couple of pieces of jewelry and replaced some complex plastic pieces by creating the design himself from broken parts. At 16 he researched and installed an entire 16 camera security setup at our store by himself. He is reading Solzhenitsyn for fun and has had a college reading level since 8th grade.
What do you do with a kid like this?
You trust him.
When he tells you that college doesn't feel right for him, and he has decided he would like a career in tech where certifications and ability matter far more than a degree, you trust him. When he tries to find the words to explain that he has grown so used to deep learning on his own, and how much he feels enriched by the opportunity to have input and not have to jump through hoops learning things he is not interested in, you listen. When he tells you that he can't imagine not being self-employed, and that he wants to create a life of meaning and not feel tied to the norm, you listen.
He's earned our trust, he has proven himself handily, so we trust him.
My husband and I sat down, and discussed what would be appropriate, then we sat down with Matt and began to plan out what "Uncollege" might look like for him. We offered him the following opportunity:
1) We will treat this time like college. You will have 4-5 years to learn as much as you possibly can, and we will pay for that learning, for projects stemming from that learning, and for your room and board.
2) We will see results, or the deal is off. Results means certifications earned at a reasonable pace for the computer field. It means project based learning that has a point that we can see a direct result of new learning from. It means growing skills in other areas as well, such as preparation for business ownership, so accounting courses, marketing, etc.
3) We want to see a broad range of learning, not just tech...that means we support ongoing efforts to expose yourself to great literature, art, and other pursuits, just as you would at college. We want him to develop into a well rounded man.
4) We want to continue to see volunteer efforts either on an individual basis, or in a larger setting. In time we want to see him pursue unpaid internships and other opportunities which will provide real life learning as he comes closer to figuring out the exact arena in tech he wants to enter.
5) We want to see a true daily schedule which you will adhere to, and you will study at least 4 or 5 "courses" a semester.
6) We expect adult behavior, adult responsibility, and full participation in the family. He is expected to act like a man, to handle his own finances as opportunities grow, to handle his own laundry, cooking when no one is home (and once in awhile for the family), to share in outdoor work, and more. This is really a non-issue as he always has been a mature acting kid and never would consider otherwise, but we wanted it confirmed that it was expected.
7) We emphasized that he would never have an opportunity like this again to immerse himself in learning of his choice, and we expected him to appreciate it and what it takes to support that effort. We wanted him to "Go Big or Go Home" and that we expected great things of him.
This being clear and agreed upon by all three of us, he and I set about creating a "freshman year". This was not mine to suggest, this was his to lay out and I would be his "Accountability Partner" and we would touch base once a week to see where he was in his pursuits.
Oh my, when he really grabbed hold of the fact he could study anything he wanted, order any course he wanted that was reasonably priced, order any textbook that made sense...he found it quite easy to create a years worth of learning!
First of all, we divided his learning into specific content areas, "Professional Development" which would include any and all tech related courses and studies, "Personal Development" which would include literature and arts, and feed his love of history. Finally, we had a classification for "Business Development" in which we dumped math courses as well as economics, and will eventually include things like business law, accounting, etc.
For Professional Development, we already had a strong program in mind, as Matt studied with ITProTV.com in his senior year, and earned two professional certifications as an industry recognized Certified Computer Repair Technician. This program is really the backbone of our confidence in moving forward in this way with him. This web site offers solid video training and tons of resources for just about every major computer industry certification available, including Apple, COMP-TIA, Windows, Amazon, Linux, and more. This is the real deal and their materials did a phenomenal job in training him well to pass the independent certification tests.
Matt then explained he needed to learn more Calculus, so he needed not only a regular Calculus course (He had Pre-Calc in high school), but Lamda Calculus (for programming) as well. Off I went to research, and we are using Thinkwell video courses for Calculus and he is independently working his way through a Lamda Calculus textbook we found on Amazon.
I asked and he agreed to work on a personal finance course with his siblings that we just never got around to during his high school years, so we added that in. He also wanted to study the history of the Middle East with us, which we are covering this year, so he will join in for that.
We already knew he had one large item we had taken for granted was happening and was also part of his UnFreshman year...and that was working toward obtaining his pilot's license. Through Civil Air Patrol he has the opportunity to get top notch training at a discounted rate, and so that became part of his learning this year as well, and is not a lightweight subject, either.
Thinking we might be done, I started typing up a list of his courses, but like the Ginsu Knife commercials of the past, "But wait, there's more!" After hearing me assign our other kids 3-4 novels of their choice for the year to read, he gave me sad puppy dog eyes and asked if that meant him, too, a and how could I turn him down? So I told him to pick something of substance and yes, he could have it. He selected Jung, Dostoevsky, and a book about White House Chiefs of Staff as his "lightweight" book. Then, I should have known better, The Great Courses catalog arrived, and he salivated, and I gave in as he selected an International Economics course along with a Statistics course.
Finally, he came to us with his first project, as he wants to create an 8-bit computer and teach himself circuitry with it. (Sounds like I might know what he is talking about when I say that so comfortably, right? Uh...no...hahaha!)
And like that...we had created an Unfreshman year of self-directed, deeply enriching learning, much of which will eventually (hopefully!) lead to a career. Frankly, he could go out right now and be a computer technician and earn solid money...but he wants more, he wants to dive in, to finally learn everything he wants to about topics he is interested in!
Now, this may not sound all that "Blue Collar-ish", as I recognize Matt is a different learner who is rejecting the notion of college to pursue learning the old fashioned (And thank goodness, affordable!) way. But I am convinced there are many kids out there like him who really can't easily fit into the mold, but are bright, interested in particular topics, and for whom an "uncollege" experience could just as easily be crafted. It takes creativity, trust (Big Time), research for the right tools and materials, and an investment.
How could you do this for a more traditional trades oriented youth? Let's brainstorm this for a moment. There are a vast number of basic trades and careers available for distance learning. Check out our link here for more options but Stratford Career Institute offers courses I know are solid, as does Penn Foster. For a possible auto mechanic you can set up a free internship with a local body shop, boat engine repair, or mechanic to expose to a range of careers. You can find a Quickbooks course to teach basic accounting, you can find inexpensive marketing and social media marketing courses to have your learner take. This is also a time when they can learn "soft skills"...purchase books to be read and have discussions about sales techniques, job interviewing, etc. Have them job shadow several community members if they have no clue what they want to do, and see what might be of interest. Take a hobby and see what can be built as a career out of skills that are aligned. Look at courses offered from places mentioned above like Udemy, etc. which offer more than tech courses.
Encourage business ownership with small ideas...house cleaning, window washing, and more...and look on Amazon for books that teach the business skills for those particular businesses and create an uncollege year around business learning. There are ways to learn just about anything if you think outside the box! Often even a youth headed for trades would benefit from a year of maturing beyond 18 at home as they dip their toe in the pool of plumbing, electrical, drywall or more but self-study a few related skills in "how to be a good employee", "How to ask for a raise", and more.
In creating a post-high school "uncollege" plan for your child, here are things I highly recommend:
1) Agree before on expectations...expectations for learning, expectations for living in your home as an adult, and expectations around financing the learning.
2) Set a budget (recognize as you do that if you do this right, and you see real progress and are pleased with the results, you have saved yourself an ENORMOUS amount of money versus college, so if your child is serious and can be trusted, be willing to spend a reasonable amount...learning for careers doesn't come free in any setting.)
3) Build in accountability, if not with you, with an online school, an outside family friend, or whatever works best for you and your learner.
4) As the parent, you will still have to "work it". You will have to help find resources, help find internships, and help find opportunities. You aren't done homeschooling yet, though it will look different and the teaching may not come from you at all.
5) Agree ahead of time on consequences for failing to live up to expectations. Will they be expected to get full time employment if they don't hold up their end? Move out? Go to college where they are held more firmly accountable and don't have as much freedom to do as they wish? Make sure all are clear on what happens if things fall apart...and then enforce them.
I know this has been an incredibly lengthy post, but I have received so many questions I wanted to do it justice. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask! Our email is linked above, or you can find us on our Facebook page at Blue Collar Homeschool.