Welcome to a new article series where I will be talking about my Unschooled Master of Theology in Biblical Studies degree. Nope. I’m not crazy. Well. Not really. Okay, maybe a little.….
Back in the early 90’s, when I was about to graduate high school, I made the decision to go into the military mostly because they were offering $30,000 for school if I signed up for four years. To make a long story short, I did my first enlistment, got out, and went the route everyone said was the route to take. I returned home and started taking classes at the local community college.
Fast forward ten years, and I emerge from academia with a Bachelor’s Degree in History from a regionally accredited school. The $30,000 was spent, and I immediately found another online school that offered a Master’s Program, with the plan to teach at the college level.
That, though, is where my story kind of came off the rails and, maybe inadvertently, let me to what I’m doing today.
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I quickly discovered, after only two semesters, I was not cut out for Grad School. Even taking classes completely online (I would never have finished my Associates, let alone a Bachelor’s if I had to go sit in a classroom every day), I still had no appetite for school politics, for the ridiculously high costs of tuition and books, I also had a nagging feeling deep inside that I was not doing what I WANTED to do. I wasn’t studying the subjects that really interested me. History was close, but, it still served as a poor stand-in.
Needless to say, shortly into my second semester, I quit.
That was back in 2010. Since then, I’ve ran my own business, written several novels (lifelong dream), and now live in near paradise and have recently semi-retired.
But, I still had questions. I still wanted to go on and pursue a Master’s degree, and, if the stars were giving out wishes, maybe even a PhD.
Over the last few years, I would often find myself at my laptop, late at night, pouring over graduate school websites – checking tuition rates, admission requirements, degree programs – all in a futile attempt to find a degree program and school that wouldn’t cost me a fortune and would fulfill my aspirations.
Sadly, in this day and age, none would do. Mostly because graduate school has such a high cost and takes so much time, but also because – quite frankly – I’m convinced that any degree started today will be worthless before it’s ever even conferred.
But, this last week or so, in my many sessions of aimless wandering about the internet, I stumbled onto an interesting trend.
Unschooling Grad School.
Silly Rabbit….Unschooling is For Kids!
I can hear your protests already. There’s no way to unschool an undergrad degree, let alone a Master’s or PhD, right? Even if you could, what good would it do you? It’s not like I can say, “Hey, I’ve read 100 books in subject xyz, I guess now you need to start calling me Dr.”
Well, yes and no.
The reality is, education is not so cut and dry anymore. In fact, many believe we are not only undergoing a revolution in how we educate and certify people, but a few say we are in a golden age of near free, self-directed education for all.
And why not?
Due to the tremendous technological advancements we’ve experienced in the last 10, 20, 30 years, it is literally impossible not to find an answer on the internet to just about any question you can come up with.
With the shift to major educational institutions posting their content on the web for free, it is a one stop shop. And, you don’t even need a credit card!
Check out this short video from Ken Robinson (education) talking at a TED Conference about the state of education today.
Here’s actually an example of someone who pushed the envelope on the traditional graduate degree and dissertation.
If we’re going to be really honest, when we look out at the horizon, it is more than conceivable, many jobs that exist today will simply not exist in 5, 10, or 15 years.
We’re not talking just laying off a few cashiers or fast food workers (though they will be the first to go). We’re also talking all Call Center workers around the world. Office workers (there goes my part time job), truck drivers, Uber drivers and taxi cab drivers, scores of jobs in the medical sector including your doctor (if you can even find one), and even lawyers will be an antiquated thing of the past.
So, what will we do, then? Robots will single handedly, happily, take over the means of production globally. And forever.
It’s only creativity that will remain a human endeavor.
There’s even a guy running for President in 2020, Andrew Yang, whose platform is centered on this very topic – and wants to provide everyone with a universal basic income to weather the coming AI and Robotics superstorm. Here’s an interview he did on his solution.
If all this doom and gloom be even half true, certainly anyone starting a degree today, and maybe someone just getting one, will quickly discover they just indebted themselves for a very expensive piece of paper that means nothing.
The degree inflation experienced in academia is no joke. I’ve seen in just in the few decades I’ve been involved. When I first started classes back in the late 90’s, I could have just about any adjunct job I wanted if I had a Master’s degree in that field. A quick scan of the job boards today show those same part time, no benefits jobs require nothing less than a PhD. When you add up what colleges pay adjunct professors, I literally make more in my office job and work half as much!
What’s Your Point?
The reality is stark. My Bachelor’s degree has been rather worthless since getting it. It did nothing for me when I was self employed, and the job I have today I got, not because I was a college graduate, but because I knew how to use a computer and could effectively manipulate data on a spreadsheet. None of which, by the way, did I learn in college.
In fact, if I were to run an ROI on my Bachelor’s degree, even with the US Government picking up the largest part of the financial tab, the cost of time and money (not to mention frustration) was still a waste. Opportunity cost alone would say I should have skipped military service and started college much earlier (or not at all).
The prospects now of going on to get a graduate degree is all but laughable (if it wasn’t so sad).
Yet, I love learning. Have always loved it. As a kid, when my peers were out swimming in pools and going to arcades, I was held up in my room reading or writing on my new word processor. Summers, I spent at the county library. I would either convince my mother to drop me off in the morning and pick me up again just before they closed, or I would get up with the sun and ride my bike the five miles to the library in the neighboring town.
I loved reading.
And, this thirst only grew as I got older. Everything I took on, I threw myself into it, wanting to learn everything there was to learn.
Wack-Jobs or Trail-Blazers?
I can still hear your protests, though. How could this possibly be legit if no one else is doing it, right?
Well, actually, I’ve discovered there are others doing it. Several, In fact.
Let’s start with Scott Young. He operates a development blog on the internet and decided one day that he was going to complete an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from MIT. But, rather than enrolling in their expensive program, he chose instead to take advantage of the MOOCS they post online that anyone can take for free. He also completed a year long challenge, where he and a friend learned foreign languages my immersion, spending 3 months in each country and not speaking English for the entire year.
Another trailblazer is Blake Boles. He originally was pursuing a graduate degree at Berkeley, when he discovered the work of Gatto, which sent him on an alternative route in education. He now runs adventure trips for teens and promotes unschooling as educational alternatives.
Third in the list is an organization called the Open Masters program, where a cohort of learners is formed and they help each other pursue their educational goals, culminating in an “honorary” Master’s degree.
Fourth was a joint project between a couple who decided they wanted to pursue PhDs Do-It-Yourself style. They created the DIY PhD to pursue advanced “degrees” in Art and Living Cosmologies (I’m not really sure what that is, either). But, they were the first examples I found of projects placed behind subscription gateways – meaning their educational pursuits are funded (or at least partially funded) through crowdsourcing. To gain access to their research, you have to become a member of their Patreon pages. A program designed in such a way, not only allows them to pursue their educational objectives, but it also potentially provides funds to open doors that would otherwise be unavailable. Right now, Sarita’s page has 28 members donating a total of $200 a month. This kind of informal stipend can go a long way, allowing her to attend conferences, possibly pay for publishing fees in academic journals, or travel expenses. It could also be a huge support, if she wanted to use that money to pay her expenses so she could study full time.
I then stumbled onto an article written by Bardia Pourvakil simply titled, 100 Courses, 100 Books, 175 Essays, 1 Year. After graduating college, he found himself unprepared for life in the world. His undergraduate education had woefully lacked the real world tools and teaching necessary to equip him for the life of an entrepreneur. So, he sat down and made a plan.
He would spend the next year, taking courses, reading books, and reading essays from the top tier schools and individuals available online. Places like Harvard and MIT. Books on architecture and environmental science, and reading all the works of Paul Graham. All of this to better equip himself for a life as an entrepreneur. No degrees. No tuition costs (maybe the price of books). Just learning to grow as an individual and be properly equipped for the real world.
Then I discovered Sophie Christophy about two weeks ago while searching degree programs online. Her site and project were the impetus that showed me I could actually do what I really wanted to do, what I’ve always wanted to do – learn for the sake of learning, with minimal cost, at my own pace, with self-curated content. Her Unschooled Master of Arts program was a true inspiration.
You see, for the longest time (as we are indoctrinated as such) I was unable to distinguish my educational pursuits from my true research pursuits. The difference of course: my educational goals were things like – get a Master’s degree, get a PhD, go to Seminary. These goals, fine by themselves, were actually only a means to an end. They were not the actual goals in and of themselves.
Rather, I wanted the PhD or the Seminary education so I could pursue my REAL goals – my research goals. For the longest time, I’ve had questions in the back of my head that I carry around with me. They are philosophical and theological and scientific questions that often haunt me, nagging at me, tugging at me from the periphery, begging to be pondered, to be dissected – ultimately answered.
I discovered rather quickly in my undergraduate education, these questions were never handled or rarely touched upon in a formal setting. I constantly found myself studying information I had no genuine interest in, and struggled between what I wanted to learn and what I needed to learn.
But, Sophie, despite having a part-time job and a family and outreach responsibilities in her community, wanted to pursue a Master’s degree. Like many, though, due to the above mentioned obligations, driving an hour to class each week, shelling out thousands in tuition costs – none of it really made sense. Yet, as an advocate for self-directed learning, she realized that she, too, could forge her own path, at a fraction of the cost of a formal degree, and also cut through the one-size-fits-all nature of formal education and zero in on what she truly wanted to learn.
Most of my educational goals were designed to enable me to teach at first a public high school, and then at a community college. But, even those aspirations were ill sighted. I learned way too late into my Bachelor’s degree, that I didn’t really want to teach kids. I had no real passion to be a teacher. Instead, I wanted to explore those same, nagging questions that followed me from a distance. I just wanted the academic job to provide the funding so I could pursue my own research (which, come to find out, as a teacher, you don’t have time for actual research – especially not your own).
Fast forward to a week ago, as I’m sitting at my computer, looking at Sophie’s website – it dawns on me, this is the solution to my problem.
Unschooling my degree.
My “U” Degree Plan
So, here is the plan. The predecessor to this was my Study Plans page that I’ve had up on my website for a few years already. It listed study plans that modeled a ThM degree and several graduate level certificates in areas I found interest in. These were, in and of themselves, fine. But, over the last year, I’ve found myself pulled in too many directions, not certain where I should focus next. There was so much I wanted to learn, so many areas of human knowledge still to be explored, I ended up doing very little.
But, as I grappled with the examples above, I discovered there was a way to combine all of my interests into one seminal focus that would achieve both my educational and research goals simultaneously. That would be Unschooling two degrees: a theology degree and a doctorate.
Again, you might be asking, “What’s the point?” I mean, if you can’t actually “use” a degree in the real world, what use is it? An Unschooled Grad Degree can’t necessarily land me a job at a big company. It certainly won’t qualify me to teach at a community college or university.
These are all correct conclusions. What’s fascinating is, when I really dug into those goals, I discovered I wouldn’t use a “legit” degree anyway. I don’t WANT to teach at a college. I don’t WANT a job at a company where I’m working 50-60-80 hours a week for pennies on the dollar. There’s a high probability that even with such a degree, I couldn’t land one of those jobs even if I wanted to.
My goals – my true goals – are to be a human being, to live a hermitic lifestyle close to nature in isolation from the world. My educational goals – to explore the questions I’ve had my entire life and maybe, just maybe, stumble onto some answers. All of these can be accomplished with an Unschooled Degree, maybe even better than I could in an established program.
So, I adjusted my ThM study plan and created an uThM Study Plan that incorporates a robust self-curated curriculum of resources from across the web. This is organized into 10 “courses” or “seminars” and consists of more than 300 books, videos, and audio resources, 300 articles in relevant fields, culminating ultimately in 10 course projects, 30+ writing assignments, 135 discussion posts, and a research journal, where I’ll synthesize my learning on an ongoing basis.
I’ve also created a Learning Metrics page, where I will log my progress over time based on certain objective data points.
All (or most) of my output will be posted on my Patreon page, which I will utilize for crowd source funding for the purchase of books, supplies, travel and living expenses as needed during my research. Social media and other platforms will be used such as Twitter, Facebook, Metacritic, Goodreads, Amazon Reviews, Quora, etc.
Where in the World do you Find the Time?
It is true, when you step back and look at it, there is great enormity and scope to this undertaking; it is quite ambitious. But, I’ve never shied from a challenge, and innate passion and creativity has a way of intrinsically fueling my endeavor far beyond where even I could imagine.
I’m also uniquely positioned to afford vast amounts of free time that I can devote to this undertaking. First, I have recently become semi-retired. I work 30 hours a week, 3 days a week, in a setting with quite a bit of down time. Likewise, I’m on the verge now of soon being able to cut my work time required even more (maybe even down to 1 or 2 days a week). Within the next year, I may indeed move out of my house and onto Eden property. If this is done, my house will, hopefully, be sold and I can use the funds generated to self-support my research and living expenses for the next 20 years, at which time, social security will kick in, and well…..
Regardless of any future move, I also have aspirations to cultivate a few cottage industries in line with my developing hermitic lifestyle. I would like to explore wood carving, cement sculpting, bonsai propagation, and, of course, writing both fiction and non-fiction, all of which can now be sold online and even still in person at shops and meets.
This has all been possible because of a single book called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez. It was a gift from a family member when I was in my early 20’s and deeply in debt and heading head-long into financial ruin. But, after reading and re-reading this text, after countless letters back and forth with the author, and a decade or more of trial and error, I stumbled onto the perfect combination of timing and lifestyle choices to where I now have little to no need for gainful employment to support myself.
It is truly a wonderful feeling.
Jumping in with Both Feet
So, I’m off to the races as they say. I don’t really know where this project will lead, nor do I have the faintest idea where I will ultimately end up. But, I can say with some level of certainty, I’m excited about the future.
Consider me, as of now, officially enrolled in my very own Unschooled Master of Theology in Biblical Studies.
Until I turn in my first assignment….
I set up a Patreon page so others can join in and support my work as I pursue this Unschooled Master of Theology in Biblical Studies degree, similar to traditional graduate students and professors seeking grant money from individuals and organizations.
Your support and encouragement mean the world to me, and I’ve set up several options so everyone can afford to participate.
Even just a few dollars a month can go a long way, allowing me to buy books and other learning materials, partially funding travel and other necessary expenses during the journey.
Thanks in advance.