This is going to a long, somewhat circuitous post, but if you hang in to the end, it will wind around to open education.
A thought occurred to me yesterday: If kids who did well on tests like me would have had a vocational ed track option in school when I grew up, I could have saved a lot of people a considerable amount of time, money, and aggravation.
What do I mean by that? Well, when I went to school, I was a “high achiever.” (I wasn’t particularly smart, but I did very well on tests.) That marked me for a certain college and career track, which I dutifully followed for the next 40 years or so, pursuing the American dream of success.
Growing up, I always enjoyed woodworking and other manual arts type projects with my dad. I also took a few shop classes that I really liked. But never did I consider that kind of work as anything but a hobby. In the worldview that I’d been brought around to accepting, successful people run companies; they don’t work as carpenters or farmers.
I went along with that line of thinking for many years, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, until one day I decided it really wasn’t what I wanted to keep doing. Now I spend a fair amount of my time doing construction, growing food, and pursuing other activities that fall outside of white collar work. A very good day for me now is one during which I spend little time at my desk. (I do still have a desk, and I do still do “office work.” It’s somewhat of a financial necessity, though I’m still working on that puzzle.)
I love my now very changed life, but I can’t help wondering how life might be different if I’d seriously considered these options at a younger age.
I have a friend whose very intelligent and successful young son recently left college to WWOOF on an organic farm. I have another friend who is doing work overseas on rural land reform issues. Others I know are deeply engaged in social justice work in the field.
Setting out on these courses as a young person opens up a world of possible lives that don’t involve working at a desk in corporate America. Ruling these types of choices out leads to different choices.
What does this have to do with “open”?
Well, in my expanded view of what “open” means, I think it has a lot to do with personal agency and choice. It has to do with less “compulsory” or even strong pushes in one direction or another.
Who are we to indoctrinate kids with what success means? Maybe we should focus more on what my friend monika calls “that thing that we can’t not do.”