Interview with Dale Stephens

Share with us your views on designing the future and get access to witness INK Live and INK Conference. Presenting to you the third interview of the conversation series with INK Fellows 2012. Everyone around us does not believe in school setting. For someone like Dale Stephens, INK Fellow, 2012 unschooling taught him much more than school education.

His views and opinions are way different than everyone else and he is trying to change our stereotyped perspectives by his movement called ‘UnCollege‘. Read this interesting interview and get inspired.

Q. What encouraged you to start a movement that aims to change the pre-conceived notion that going to college is the only path to success? Tell us how UnCollege came into existence?

A: I started UnCollege as a freshman at Hendrix College, a private liberal arts college in Arkansas. I had grand ideas of what the college experience was supposed to be like — dedicated professors, interested students, plenty of different ideas roaming around. For the most part, I was pretty disappointed.

As I became more disillusioned with the lack of motivation around me, I began to question why I was paying money to sit inside a classroom when most learning happens outside of the classroom. I started UnCollege to share with others the problems I was facing at school. My background as an unschooler gave me a broader frame of reference for what learning can be. Because I had been unschooling myself since the fifth grade, I had developed all sorts of different systems to build different kinds of learning into my schedule.

Q. An ‘elementary school dropout’ – self described. Today, you are an entrepreneur, speaker, and author. All of 20 and you have already come so long. When you decided to opt out of school and then college, didn’t you ever fear about your future?

A: My parents and I met a few other unschoolers before I dropped out of the fifth grade. Partially because of their success, I felt more sure of my own path as an unschooler. It also helped that my parents were very supportive of what I wanted to try.

During my first day of unschooling, I felt like I learned more in the first four hours than I had during all of the fifth grade. After that, I think, I wasn’t as scared.

Q. As a child what was your aim in life? How did you proceed towards achieving the same?

A: I really loved learning — my goal was simply to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Since I started unschooling I’ve developed different systems to keep myself learning and to track my progress. For example, I keep a learning journal where I write down what I want to learn. Then I set specific metrics to hit so I can look back at that day and it becomes black or white whether or not I’ve achieved my goals.

Q. You are amongst the original 24 recipients of the Thiel Fellowship. Tell us more about this program. What initiated you to apply for this program? How helpful has it been?

A: It’s been incredibly helpful. When I applied for the program, I had just started UnCollege. I was initially rejected, but after UnCollege started picking up and the fellowship’s organizers saw the work I had done, they called me back for another interview.

Being a Thiel Fellow is fantastic, not only because of the reassurance that I’ll be able to financially support myself during the two years of the program, but also because it has helped connect me to a great community of friends and mentors. Resources like these make all the difference.

Q. What is the Motto of UnCollege?

A: UnCollege seeks to make people aware that they can self-direct their education. “Are you going to college?” should be the question we ask high school graduates, not “Where are you going to college?”

We want students to actively take control of their education as opposed to passively sitting their way through it. This means that they need to figure out how they learn best, not how their parents thinks they should learn or how their friends are learning, and so forth. For some people, this might mean going to college. And that’s okay — college students can be hackademics, too. But for most people, college doesn’t teach skills that the workplace demands, the most important of which is creativity.

Q. Your first book ‘Hacking Your Education’ is due in 2013. It would be great if you share with us few details about the book and also tell us how well do you think will your book be accepted by everyone.

A: I’m really hoping that someone will denounce my book. I think it would create a great discussion on the costs and benefits of the different approaches to education.

But in general I think it will be well-received. It’s not so radical as Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society was that it can’t be accepted by the public. Rather, Hacking Your Education is a book about how to think out of the box and design your own education. There’s a heavy emphasis on doing things to learn instead of just thinking about them. At the end of each chapter is a takeaway tip that readers can immediately act on to supplement their learning.

Q. What would be your message to those children who are struggling to think that they can’t make it big because of the current school setting. According to you, which is the biggest flaw of school setting?

A; A big problem is the attitude that some of my peers have towards school. Learning became a byproduct of an otherwise uninhibited four years of partying — a lot of people were going to class hungover, after a long night of partying. It just didn’t seem to be a place particularly conducive to learning.

Also, the values they teach in school aren’t ones that we can hold if we want to be successful in the twenty-first century. If we want to create great things, we can’t foster competition over collaboration, conformity over independence, regurgitation over learning and theory over application.

Q. Stepping outside the tradition of schooling is a big decision. How supportive were your family members and friends when you decided to do so?

A: My family was very supportive, but my friends had mixed reactions.

Leaving Hendrix, I heard a lot of things along the lines of, “I’m sorry to see you go,” as if my reasoning for dropping out of college was inadequate, or that I was making the wrong decision.

My friends in San Francisco, however, were full of congratulations. “What are your next steps?” they would ask. I think in the Bay Area there’s a lot more acceptance for people like me who like to color outside the lines.

Q. Since you must be always caught up with UnCollege activities, do you get enough time to hang around with your friends? What is your favourite pass time?

A: I spend a lot of time with friends. As an unschooler you learn how to make friends with people who learn with you. You build your own communities, since the communities that exist at school are not forced upon you.

Being extremely extroverted, I love hosting salons when I’m at home in San Francisco, where people come together to discuss ideas and help each other learn. And as I’m traveling, I’m always meeting awesome people and making new friends.

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