Education and the Unaffiliated

Photo from State Library of New South Wales
Flickr Commons

In October 2012, the Pew Research Center reported that an increasing number of Americans consider themselves “unaffiliated” with regard to religion.  Interestingly, more than two-thirds of the unaffiliated believe in something–they do not consider themselves atheists or agnostics.  The significant increase in people who describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” is attributed in part to the politicization of religion.  I take this to mean that a significant number of people have gotten so annoyed with institutional religion that they have voted with their feet.  From now on they will take control of their own religious belief and practice, thank you very much.

Thinking about the Pew Report got me thinking about another significant institution in my life: School.  I realize that a majority of people will put up with the institutional approach to education, even if they don’t really like it.  But I’ve also met a lot very sensible homeschooling families over the years, and I know that there is a tipping point.  People get fed up and decide to do it themselves–especially when it starts to get easier to buy a curriculum, or take a course online. These days, a lot of people are annoyed with higher ed.

Most of us will acknowledge that there are a lot of resources, and a lot of smart professors, and some great experiences at college, but the system seems so clumsy and antiquated. We have dreams for our future, yet too often in their realization we have wrestle the system as well as ourselves.  We all want good value for our money, and we’re not so sure that America’s colleges and universities are giving us what we need. Or we want a good widget, but they only offer gadgets.  Not always, but often enough to make me wonder if we are approaching a kind of tipping point. Will people soon feel enough confidence in their own judgement of “what an educated person should know” that more of them will walk away from the institution and become “learned, but not degreed.”  Will people study on their own the way one reads for the bar without going to law school?

It’s something to imagine and consider. What would you study if you could design your own curriculum? How would you prepare yourself for a profession? Would you read? Would you get a job? What would give you the confidence to put yourself forward as a writer, economist, scientist, or engineer?  What would you choose if you didn’t choose School?