Welcome to Hacking Education!

Chelsea Avirett

Chelsea Avirett

Hacking gets a bad rap, especially when our credit cards have been cancelled because of the latest ‘data breach’. But hacking isn’t always negative. Hackerspaces are one example of how the concept has been recuperated — they are spaces where anyone can ‘hack’ everyday objects and transform them into something previously unimagined. These hackers sidestep established systems and entrenched habits of thought. Hacking education asks students to be inquisitive and curious about the world, preparing them to shape their world rather than consume it. Such skills are necessary if young adults are to successfully navigate an emerging creative and knowledge-based economy.

Today’s young adults face extreme economic challenges. Increasingly, an associates or a college degree is required to find a well-paying job, yet statistics suggest that half the college students who graduated last year are currently underemployed — and many of that number are unemployed. Their long-term prospects are better than if they lacked a college degree, but even a good job will leave many with student debt loads that will delay the usual middle-class rites of passage: buying a car, buying a home, and having children. 36% of recent college graduates will be unable to move from their parent’s house because of their high debt/income ratio. While these college graduates do make more money than most who do not go to college, their higher earnings pretty much go towards … paying their accumulated college debt.

This is a reality I understand well. I’ve spent the last seven years earning a Ph.D., preparing (and being prepared by my mentors) for a job that no longer exists. When faced with the long odds of finding a job, I decided to start my own business. As I watch other academics struggle with uncertain futures, I wonder why I feel (a measure of!) comfort with my decision — even with the high failure rate of new businesses. I feel confident becoming an entrepreneur because I watched my father spend two decades building a successful freelance business — in a field, he likes to say, that did not exist when he went to (and dropped out of) college. My dad essentially hacked his career.

I’ve taught middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students. As an educator, I know the positive impact schools have on student success, but I also know how often my college students would talk about conversations they had recently had with their parents and how that helped them think about something we discussed in class. And research shows that parent’s engagement with student’s schoolwork positively and meaningfully affects educational performance. When these efforts are combined with a concrete plan for developing specific critical thinking and problem-solving skills, young adults have both the confidence and the skill set to be successful — whether they choose to continue their education or to find/create a meaningful job that doesn’t require an advanced degree.

This blog explores ways parents and young adults can hack education. I’ll examine what strategies parents can use to foster these necessary critical thinking skills, creativity, and curiosity. I’ll do this in two ways. First, I’ll suggest concrete activities that incorporate critical and creative thinking skills into your everyday life as well as review new enrichment resources (both locally and online/book resources) that facilitate these skills. Second, I’ll interview successful local business leaders and entrepreneurs, learning what strategies they used to hack their own education and careers.

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Chelsea Avirett

About Chelsea Avirett

Chelsea is the founder of Spyglass Tutoring, a Humanities enrichment tutoring service located in Rockland, ME. She has taught English literature to middle school and college students and is also certified (in the state of Georgia) to teach gifted education. She also holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She and her husband moved to Midcoast Maine in 2013 and love the excitement and vibrancy of the area’s creative economy.