A few years ago, I was a 25-year-old homeschool grad without a bachelor’s degree. But I didn’t think I needed one either—after all, I worked in the editorial department of a Christian publishing company and loved it. All of a sudden, though, God gave me a thirst for something different. I wanted to be a writer, and God made it clear that getting a bachelor’s degree in English would be a step in the right direction.

A year later, I had my fully accredited degree in hand because I did something that any student can do: I took ownership of my education and didn’t conform to the university system that thousands of students adopt every year. Through a distance learning process called “credit by exam,” using CLEP, DANTES, and similar exams, I completed my degree with superior quality in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, I combined my education with a super internship that gave me hands-on experience while I was completing my degree.

The Definition of a True Education

While working on my degree, I found that education entails much more than reiterating the rantings of professors and conforming to their ideology just to get a good grade. Part of this revelation occurred when I realized that the first two years of college are usually nothing more than a review of high school. In fact, the concept of “high school” has existed for approximately a century. Yet, it’s one of those social institutions that seems like it’s existed since the dawn of creation (kind of like federal income tax).

Homeschooling parents are proficient at thinking outside the box, and statistics show that homeschooled grads are succeeding in the world. However, many families still educate their children the world’s way, with a grade-segregated, fact-emphasis approach. The fact that this philosophy of “schooling” stems from the social engineering of industrialist magnates in the early twentieth century, men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Sr., is well documented. Because the large corporations these men directed were in need of unskilled manual labor, they devised a system that would, in their words, allow “the control of human behavior.”

Decades later, we have an ingrained system of schooling that doesn’t teach children how to think but merely what to think. Incidentally, educators who pursued the philosophy of Rockefeller and Carnegie began to favor the use of textbooks at the inception of high school, departing from the age-old philosophy of teaching students with classics such as Isaac Newton’s Principia and the Bible.

Learning Like the Founding Fathers Did

In a similar light, you may have wondered how so many of the Founding Fathers were able to graduate from college so early in life. The reason? High school didn’t exist in the 1700s. Men like Thomas Jefferson were able to graduate from college in two years at age 18 because early on in their education they learned how to think. Jefferson, for instance, started studying classical languages before he was 10 years old; his education mainly comprised grammar, logic, and persuasive public speaking or “rhetoric.” Later on, he studied with master attorney George Wythe, who spent time mentoring the young Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t taught simply how to get good grades; rather, he learned how to develop his own ideas about life, society, and government.

Another aspect of the Founding Fathers’ education that differs from modern schooling is “module-based study.” Instead of scattering a student’s attention by requiring him to study five or six subjects at once, the student should focus on one subject at a time and move on to the next only when he masters what he’s currently studying. Now, this approach may be a little difficult to apply to a subject such as calculus (after all, only a few people can handle studying six hours of math a day), but it is highly effective when used in areas such as history, science, literature, and English composition.

The good news in all this is that today droves of families are changing their philosophies about education. They are adopting the mentor-based approach used by the Founding Fathers, and their kids are spending their school time being prepared for what I call “real world education.” There are currently hundreds of students around the country who are waking up to the reality that they can “own” their college education. Many are actually combining or even totally replacing their high school years with college studies and are earning their degrees by age 18. Their flexible study schedule gives them the opportunity to gain real world work experience as well, which sets them apart from their counterparts who have been chained to a classroom for the previous four or five years.

How to Abandon the System

There’s one question that nags thousands, if not millions, of high school and college students every year: What do I want to do with my life? Sadly, many of these young men and women graduate from college still asking themselves that question. Oddly enough, the average young person in the U.S. often earns a degree and begins looking for a job in a career field in which he has no experience—not even knowing if he’ll enjoy the job or not.

There’s a simple solution to this age-old dilemma: real life internships. These days, an internship is an easy way to find out if a student’s interest in a particular career will last through the initial aura of wanting the job and into the stark reality of what the job entails on a day-to-day basis. When a student works as an intern for three or four months, he or she is provided with a cost-effective means to thoroughly and objectively evaluate a particular job. As the individual observes both the glamour and the mundanity of the job, he or she is far better equipped to decide if a career in that field should be pursued.

Instead of conforming to a grade-segregated system that teaches children what to think but leaves them unprepared for real life, break out of the box. Give your children a leg up on life (or a huge head start) by preparing them for the real world through a study/work environment unlike the artificial scenario found on many of today’s college campuses. Your kids will be challenged to learn how to ponder the deeper issues of life, they will mature intellectually, and they’ll love you for giving them a shot at taking on the responsibilities of everyday adult life.

Copyright 2008, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Shawn Cohen is public relations manager at CollegePlus!, a coaching program that is helping hundreds of students get a fully accredited bachelor’s degree in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of acquiring a traditional education. Shawn enjoys wakeboarding, the Middle East, and serving with his family-integrated church.