Colleen Mascenik is a retired World Bank development economist, home-schooling mom, and now an innovator in self-directed learning for teens. Her new platform is called The Breakaway Learning Project.
I was very encouraged to discover Breakaway Learning; I see it as a missing piece of the puzzle for many families trying to map the self-directed education process from early childhood through their child's first professional/entrepreneurial endeavor. Many home-educated teens opt into school, either because they're hungry for a novel social scene or they see it as a reliable path to college admissions. Colleen and I envision a future when those needs can be met through other means.
In the first of hopefully many conversations, Colleen and I cover the following topics:
Wasted Teen Years: The Opportunity Cost of Cynicism
As a development economist, Colleen sought out broken markets, missed opportunities, and ways that livelihoods could be quickly improved. As a mother of 5 and homeschooler, she saw considerable value-wasting in the teenage years. Colleen encourages us to ponder (even though there's no reliable way to calculate) the immense opportunity cost for millions of teens languishing in environments that encourage subordination but not intrinsic motivation. What opportunities might exist, again, for millions of teens, if they were allowed to pursue their interests with the regular guidance of enthusiastic experts?
A New Approach To Self-Directed Learning For Teens
We'll discuss how Breakaway Learning enables self-directed teens to build and track their own learning plans from a variety of online resources. However, Breakaway goes an important step further, building a marketplace of local mentors who lead "learning clusters" around topics of shared interest, and creating a global chat marketplace in where teens can connect and learn from interesting people with diverse knowledge and experience.
Home-Educators and Unschoolers Are Looking For More Guidance
Colleen told me that "even in the pursuit of free expression and creativity, many homeschooling and 'unschooling' parents hesitate, looking always for signals of structure, schedule, progress and outputs. On Facebook homeschooling groups, it seems the most common question is "can anybody recommend a curriculum for my xx-year-old...?" And I think the reason that even really creative homeschoolers go back for high school is a very deeply ingrained respect for form leading up to college admissions."
Breakaway Learning encourages parents to explore, but the platform was built with parents' needs for formality in mind. It incorporates tracking and planning tools, so parents, institutions and school authorities can feel confident that this is safe, legitamite learning.
Unbundling and Unbranding
High schools direct students towards "successful" college admission. College is becoming increasingly irrelevant as both a signal of professional readiness and as a means of real education (in many fields). However, the 4-year undergraduate degree persists as a goal for schools and parents because it is bundled and branded as THE path to professional success. Because of this monopolization, colleges and universities are able to charge a premium for a bundle of courses that students could obtain on Udemy for $40 each. Colleen and I discuss - and this will be an ongoing discussion - how projects like Breakaway Learning can disrupt this status quo.
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