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Edupunks Lay Groundwork for Success of the Self-Educated


Credit University of Mary Washington technologist, Jim Groom,  for the great word “edupunk”, which occurred to him while he was sitting in a bar in Brooklyn a couple of years ago.  What a great place to reflect on individualized, self-driven learning, and what a great word to describe it.  Of course, just latching on to the phrase diminishes it somewhat.  Like this punk koan in the Urban Dictionary  suggests, just repeating the term makes it less so:

A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk? So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. So he kicks over the garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’, and I say ‘No that’s trendy!

At the risk of seeming trendy, the  Utne Reader’s recent look at more organic, perhaps even Bohemian “radical self-educators” bears serious examination, even as serious examination is exactly what edupunks eschew.

Edupunks, quite simply, are “Ordinary people … taking education into their own hands using web-2.0 tools. “

“People are forgoing conventional tools and using new devices like wikis, blogs, and open-source textbooks to learn what they want to learn.

“What we’re doing as edupunks is taking the ethos of the punk era and applying it to education,” says Steve Wheeler, a lecturer in education and information technology at the U.K.’s University of Plymouth. “We’re bypassing the educational systems that have been put in place by the corporations and institutions.”

Informal learning is where it’s at – because informal learning opportunities are everywhere now.  So many students are pursuing their own informal learning online that institutions in several countries have created a new accreditation system for self-acquired knowledge – Accreditation of Prior and Experiential Learning

Lest you think that this is just some fringe movement, practiced solely by homeschoolers and urban Web 2.0 Netmonkeys, this break from what self-educator Brian Frank, of London, Otario calls the “tyranny of credentials,” was examined  this week by Business Week, as well. 

In Higher Education is Overrated. Skills Arent  Harvard blogger (Harvard!) Michael Shrage comments on the “mythical belief that higher education invariably leads to higher employment and better jobs. It doesn’t. Foolish New York Times stories notwithstanding, education is a misleading-to-malignant proxy for economic productivity or performance. Knowledge may be power, but “knowledge from college is neither predictor nor guarantor of success. Growing numbers of informed observers increasingly describe a higher education “bubble” that makes a college and/or university education a subprime investment for too many attendees. “

He admits he doesn’t know how much weight to give that argument, but he points out what he says is “painfully clear” to a lot of employers: “ serious gaps between elite educational credentials and actual individual competence.”

Eduzealots – the cultural antithesis of edupunks —  have done us all a disservice, says, Shrage, championing “book smarts” over “street smarts” despite obvious evidence  to the contrary — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few successful college drop outs.

 “Pundits and policy-makers jabber about the need to educate people to compete in knowledge-intensive industries,” writes Shrage, when “What really matters are skills. The grievously undervalued human capital issue here isn’t quality education in school but quality of skills in markets.”

Edupunks would agree, and further, could even tell you where you could educate yourself about informal, self-directed learning and other topics…

…just to get you started.

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