Gap Years and Supplemental Opportunities for Education

I need to start this post with a disclaimer. I've been a student in "traditional" school systems the majority of my life. Pre-school, Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior High (some call it Middle School), High School, Master's degree, and almost (ha..) finished with my PhD in Engineering Education.

Lately I've been listening to Blake Bole's Real Education Podcast and as someone who's gone through a lot of formal schooling, Blake's interviews are really challenging me to rethink portions of the way we educate. Here's how Blake describes his show...

What does it mean to get a “real education”—one that prepares you for the most important parts of life, instead of just academic achievement? In this podcast, I interview the founders of innovative camps, schools, learning centers, and other educational alternatives, as well as authors, parents, and young adults. Topics include self-directed learning, leadership, 21st-century skills, entrepreneurship, college, unschooling, school reform, motivation, and parenting.

I won't do all of the nuances justice but the premise of the podcast is talking about forms of education that aren't conducted in traditional school settings.

One example of a non-traditional educational opportunity is a gap year. In short, a gap year is an intentional period of time away from traditional schooling to learn about yourself, a possible career or, well, anything really. I tried to do something like this during/after my sophomore year in college, but my parents "convinced" me otherwise. (Rightfully so as I had a pretty terrible plan.) But I still wonder how having that experience would have changed me, and listening to Blake's podcast has really made me think about the value of supplemental, non-traditional education in the personal and professional development of students.

Now, do I think we should get rid of schools and formal schooling altogether? Of course not! I think formal schooling has it's place and is extremely appropriate for many, many students. I think students gathering in a common place with their peers as well as students having trained educators to lead them in their learning is important. That being said, I've known many students and friends (including myself at one point) who would have benefited greatly from taking an extended period of time to explore the "important parts of life, instead of just academic achievement." I can't tell you the number of students who come up to me and say... 'I'm about to take the next step, but I have no idea what I'm going to do with my life. What should I do?' Could a well intentioned gap year help these students figure out possible paths before they finish their formal education and/or are faced with a decision that must be made? I think it could.

At this point, I have a lot more reading and research to do on the potential benefits of gap years and other forms of supplemental education. I have a lot of questions that I want to answer before I make any firm decisions. I must admit though, the subject has piqued my interest.