Dale J. Stephens, a 19 years old entrepreneur and unschooler, wants to revolutionize higher education!
“I have never let school interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain
After initially following the curriculum in a traditional school setting, Dale began unschooling in 6th grade. As an unschooler he lived in France, started a photography business, worked as a campaign photographer, spent a summer at UCLA, and worked at a venture-backed education technology startup, Zinch.
Last fall, after finishing ‘high school’ in his own unschooling way, he followed the societally-accepted path and enrolled in college. After his frustrations with college compounded recently, he realized how little he appreciated the opportunities to learn from life that he had whilst unschooling. So he decided to revolutionize higher education by bringing some of the ideas of unschooling to college.
Inspired by his bold idea, we decided to ask him few questions that we hope will inspire kids, parents and educators to rethink the value of their way of schooling for them and their kids and consider other options that may be brought over to enhance the opportunities and empower the kids in being the authentic selves they’re born with!
Q: How did you decide to become an unschooler? Who, or what prompted you to leave the traditional school setting?
I was frustrated with my traditional school experience and hadn’t learnt anything in 5th grade. I learned nothing from daily dittos and test focused lessons. I told my parents that another means of education was necessary if I were to continue to learn.
Q: What is your favorite book, or movie? Any favorite character? What do you like about them?
I still adore the Mrs. Frizzle books for she’s a model teacher. When I was in school I always wished my teachers took us on field trips everyday like she did with her class. Her experiential learning projects inspired me to take my education beyond the classroom.
Q: Many people are unsure what unschooling is and they think it is nothing but kids let on the loose. Can you describe a typical day as an unschooler?
For me there was no typical day as an unschooler. On some days I had scheduled classes and activities — saxophone lessons or a college class — but the rest of my time was spent learning in all kinds of ways.
I would generally arise about 7am and learn until about 3pm in the afternoon. Learning consisted of group study, individual study, online learning, mentorship, service learning . . . basically I learned from everything I did.
Q: What help did your parents provide during your unschooling experience?
Guidance, mentorship, financial support, and chauffeur services!
Q: You bring a unique perspective to learning as you’ve tried what may be considered the two ends of the education spectrum — went to a traditional school institution and followed the alternative unschooling form. In your experience, what is the biggest advantage of one over the other? What would you point out as the biggest disadvantage of each?
The biggest advantage of school is also its largest disadvantage: you don’t get to choose who you work with.
The biggest advantage of unschooling is that you are forced to be creative and innovative. The biggest disadvantage is that you don’t have a ready-made academic community.
Q: What kind of support did you get from other people as an unschooler? Who helped you the most?
I worked with many friends and mentors. Aside from my parents, the most influential person I worked with was Diane Kallas who worked with me for many years to improve my writing.
Q: Your UnCollege project was borne out of disillusion after attending Hendrix college for several months. What was the key experience that made you think you’re not getting the value you expected from a traditional college setting?
Talking with graduating seniors who haven’t the faintest idea what they are going to do with their lives. They know how to pursue their passions in the classroom, but not in the real world. The pivotal experience was coming to understand through talking with my friend Rebecca that this problem was not isolated to Hendrix but was rather systemic.
Q: What is your advice to homeschoolers or unschoolers interested in attending traditional University rather than an alternative like UnCollege?
If you’ve never learned in a classroom setting, you should try it out. Classroom learning teaches things like how to follow directions, work in groups, and meet deadlines. It’s a useful experience to have. However, I will caution you that you’re likely to be frustrated by the overall lack of interest on the part of most other students.
Q: Starting a project like UnCollege requires lots of time and energy. Do you find time for your friends? What is your favorite activity with them?
Amazing I do find time for friends. My favourite activity is talking. Maybe I like the sound of my own voice too much, but I never tire of intellectual conversations.
Q: What would you like to change in the world and specifically in your local community? How can you contribute to make that happen?
I would like to change the notion that success is defined by a college degree. To accomplish this I’m creating a project-based learning methodology, working to implement UnCollege programs at existing colleges and universities, and defining a new metric based upon competency and reputation, not certification.
(I’m not answering the second part because I’m not sure where to call my local community right now)
Q: Your message for the parents of kids who are concerned if their kids are getting a chance to learn valuable skills at school that will be useful in their future is?
School teaches things like how to follow directions, meet deadlines, and work in assigned groups. If you want to follow a traditional path, those are awesome skills. If you want to rock the world, you need to be creative and innovative: school doesn’t teach that. In fact, average creativity in the US has been declining since 1990 while IQ continues to rise. That’s cause for alarm.
Q: What would you like to say to kids that may be struggling in the current schooling system or feel they can’t start working on their dreams until they finish school and/or graduate from University?
Stop what you’re doing and start doing what you love. Live by the words of Mark Suster, an awesome venture capitalist: JFDI. JFDI = just effin’ do it! There is no time but now, and you should use your age to your advantage. Keep in mind the opportunity cost of going to class– what else could you be doing with your time.
If the answer is ‘more than what I’m currently doing,’ don’t waste your time. Live your life.
Q: We know your life has turned into a roller coaster ride in the past month with interviews, numerous calls, etc. What are your next plans?
I can tell you more specifics in about two weeks. There are a few big things in the works that aren’t public quite yet!
Meeting Dale and learning about UnCollege made us wish to unlearn some of our own inhibitions and go boldly to implement World4Children’s vision!
We wish Dale good luck with UnCollege and any new ideas he may dream about in the future and hope to hear great news all along!