Archive for Uncollege

Homeschool Class: College Credit Without Debt

Homeschool Class: College Credit Without Debt
A homeschool and budget-friendly approach to higher education — how to start and step-by-step support.

The cost of higher education has rendered the decision to take the traditional university approach highly dubious. Without significant scholarship or grant assistance, the benefits of a college degree often no longer justify the expense — in many cases decades of debt with no guarantee of a job or profession with which to pay it back.

There are alternative approaches to the acquisition of a degree from an accredited college, often involving online classes or independent study and taking exams. There are a couple of serious disadvantages to this approach:

Most students are not comfortable working in isolation and need some social and academic support. Homeschoolers may be better prepared than most for independent study, but success in college work is a lot to ask of a student working alone.
Much of the value of the college experience is found outside the classroom — the atmosphere of intellectual discussion and exchange among students, tutors, mentors with different fields of expertise. For many, the dormitory, quad, common room provided a larger proportion of meaningful education than did the classroom.

The College-Study Class

The purpose of such a class would be to provide support and guidance for students taking or intending to take MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and studying for credit-by-exam tests such as CLEP, DSST, Trinity College London and others. The College-Study class would help guide students in taking classes and tests and would also provide peer support from fellow students and tutoring/mentoring from experienced academics.


Traditional regular classroom meetings (with broadcast and remote participation) for informal round-table academic discussion, combined with an online dorm-style commons for 24/7 exchanges, both realtime and postings. An extensive online library of resources is provided and augmented in response to needs as they arise. Suggested meeting time: Thursday evenings at Excellence In Education in Monrovia CA and broadcast with remote participation.

Subjects covered

The freshman and sophomore years consist largely of foundational generic classes required for most majors. We would expect to cover English, Math and survey classes initially though students taking a variety of subjects would certainly benefit from cross-discipline support as well.

Intended student attendees

A wide age range. My kids started college work at 10 years old and many homeschoolers (certainly most of those who’ve been in my classes at Excellence In Education) would be ready for college work long before graduating high school.

If there are interested older students, 20 and up, they would have their own meetings and forums and not necessarily mix with younger students.

Is higher education worthwhile?

The short answer is: Yes, absolutely! But it is important to understand that by “higher education” we do not mean a few years at university, a degree and then leave school never to think about those things again. A degree is just an officially sanctioned symbol; real education is so much more and it is FREE!. Classes and lectures from the greatest universities in the world are now a mouseclick away. Vast troves of history, culture, languages, arts, sciences, technology, law, commerce and religion are now universally available to anyone ready to delve into them. It’s almost criminal, certainly neglectful, one might even say irresponsible to ignore these educational opportunities that are far greater than any that have ever existed in the history of humanity.

Whether we seek official recognition for our study or not (and why not after all), this unheard of access to the ever-expanding wealth of human knowledge is just too good to pass up. Learning for the sake of learning is dreadfully undervalued in our society and culture.

The value of education for the homeschooler, unschooler and out-of-the-loop learner

As one who majored in fine arts and languages while engaging voluntarily in independent (often dormitory) study in math, logic and computer programming, and then later went on to teach computer science for many years, I appreciate the academic potentials of dormschooling probably more than most. I often found myself instigating unofficial learning forums at college — play reading, puzzle solving, music making and many other subjects less easily defined. This was truly joyful education and stood in sharp contrast to the drudgery of classwork and the onerous hours of sanctioned official study. I must admit to spending far more time on the former than the latter, on multiple occasions seeing the sun rise rather unexpectedly while engrossed in some intriguing knotty problem.

The goal of the College-Study class

With the traditional college experience becoming far less accessible than it has been in past decades, an alternative approach is indicated. This class will provide students with something approaching the real college experience — not just the classrooms — and will also support students in the acquisition of exam and degree credit as comfortably and economically as possible. We would like this generation of students, including our kids, not to miss out on the wonderful positive aspects of the college experience.

For more information contact us:
323 432 7128

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The great Homeschooler correspondence — The letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett

This is one of the greatest examples of homeschooling correspondence in history — the communication and courtship of two of the most brilliant wordsmiths of the 19th century.

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning

This Librivox audio recording of the work is incomplete and thus not yet in the Librivox catalog but it is beautifully done and all the important parts of the correspondence are covered.

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett (later Browning) were two of the greatest homeschoolers, unschoolers, autodidacts in history and their correspondence is a monument to philology. As they had both taught themselves French, Latin and Greek before age 15 are were very widely read, their letters do contain a wealth of rather recondite references, but translations are handled well in the audiobook version.

Audio files:

Browning Letters 1


Browning Letters 2


Browning Letters 3


Browning Letters 4


Browning Letters 5


Browning Letters 6


Browning Letters 7


Browning Letters 8


Browning Letters 9


Browning Letters 10

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Stephen Fry on Dormschooling

Fry shares some wonderful insights into spontaneous emergent education.

Stephen Fry on dormschooling

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The Chaos by G. Nolst Trenité

The following verse, entitled “The Chaos” (by G. Nolst Trenité), is a compendium of all that is peculiar about English orthography. English is an immensely eclectic tongue, a fact that is responsible both for its vast expressive resources as well as utterly inscrutable spelling and pronunciation.

The challenge is to read the following poem using correct pronunciation, or (far harder) to take it down from dictation, spelled correctly. Give it a try.

Read by K. Titchenell for the College Prep English class. Note: there is one known mistake in the following.  Can you find more?

Audio file:
The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.

Tear in eye your hair you’ll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,

Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,

Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.

From “desire”: desirable–admirable from “admire.”
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.

Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,

One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,

Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;

Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which does not even rime with “sparky.”

Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.

And your pronunciation’s O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.

Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,

Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,

We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,

Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.

Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rime with “shirk it” and “beyond it.”

But it is not hard to tell,
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rime with hammer.

Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.

River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rime with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.

Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won’t, want, grand, and grant.

Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.

Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.

Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.

Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rime with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.

Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,

Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.

Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.

Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

Never guess–it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.

Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,

Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,

Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,

Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation–think of psyche–!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,

Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing “groats” and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?

Finally: which rimes with “enough”
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?

Hiccough has the sound of “cup.”
My advice is–give it up!

Note: The Chaos is written in British English and in a few cases the British pronunciation and spelling may be confusing. Here are some specific examples:

Word Pronunciation
bade bad
gaol jail
Reading redding
Pall Mall pell mell
Ralph rafe
lieutenants leftenants

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An Internationally Recognized Professional Diploma for the minimal cost of an examination? Yes!

Abacus Educational Services is arranging for fully accredited examinations to be offered in Southern California and will be helping applicants prepare for them here and elsewhere.

Uncollegians, homeschoolers and other varieties of autodidact have learnt that getting an education is free! It is only obtaining an officially sanctioned diploma which costs — and indeed, that cost is immense.

What if it were possible to turn that freely accessible higher education into an internationally recognized degree simply by taking an exam? Well, it is possible up to a point.

Trinity College London ( has for many years been offering credit by examination in over sixty countries through its international examination board, including nine levels of certificate programs for primary and secondary students, and three professional diplomas corresponding to undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate university degrees.  These are fully accredited in Great Britain and widely recognized and accepted around the world.  Typically, local teachers and schools may thus prepare their students to earn internationally recognized distinction through examinations administered by visiting Trinity College Examiners. The examinations are face-to-face and rigorous and the applicants upon whom those professional diplomas are conferred, as Associates, Licentiates and Fellows of Trinity College London, may proudly place ATCL, LTCL or FTCL after their names.

It seems inevitable that institutions like Trinity College London will proliferate and eventually provide generally accessible official recognition to those students who prefer to study outside the loop.  Abacus Educational Services has been offering English Writing, Music Theory and Speech Classes to homeschoolers and uncollegians for over ten years and is now specifically helping students to prepare for the Trinity College Exams.

The advantages of the Trinity College Academic model

  • Applicants need only pay a reasonable fee for the examination.
  • Preparation for the exam need not take place within any specific institution.
  • Exams are open to all, regardless of background and geography, provided that enough applicants are prepared to sit the exam in a specific subject and location to justify a visit by the examiner(s).
  • Diplomas are highly rigorous and thus fully accredited in Great Britain and recognized worldwide.
  • A Trinity College grade level certificate is a significant and unusual mark of distinction on a college application.

The downside of the Trinity College Exam

  • Trinity College is an arts college and their curricula cover largely the performing arts including music and theater. However, they do also have a wide range of programs in English language communications skills.
  • Trinity college diplomas, though highly regarded internationally, tend to be evaluated unpredictably bu US institutions as there are no uniform admissions policies in the US.

Our immediate goal:

To help uncollegians and other out-of-loop learners in Southern California and online to prepare for the exam in English Communications, Music Theory and Theater subjects and to host the exams here.  Abacus Educational Services has many resources including online classes and online tutoring to assist applicants prepare to take these examinations with confidence here or elsewhere.  If you may be interested in participating or learning more, please join our contact list.

Longer term goals:

  • To encourage programs similar in structure to those of Trinity college but with wider ranging curricula.
  • To help establish US recognition of such degrees and of credit by examination in general.
  • To encourage life-long study and alternative approaches to education.

Parties interested in participating or learning more, please join our contact list.

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Uncollege mission draft


1. To change the notion that university is the only path to success.

2. To prepare people for success in an ever changing world in which it is [virtually] impossible  for educational intuitions to be relevant.

We believe that:

• We pay too much for university and learn too little.[!]
[Every text book takes up to three years to come out.  Our world is moving too fast  for that process to provide current coverage. ]
• You can get an amazing education anywhere—but to get it you’ll have to break some rules and piss off some people.[!]
• University is not inherently bad, but university isn’t the only path to success.
• You must get an excellent education to survive in a world where 50% of the population is under 30.
• [Subjects taught in ]Traditional universities are often contrived, theoretical, and irrelevant [and are generally better at enforcing compliance and conformity than teaching scholarship or critical thinking].
• Education must help narrow the opportunity gap.
• You can contribute to society without necessarily having a university degree—becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or smoking pot in your parents’ basement are not the only options.
[The technical and communications skills needed in business and society are not covered particularly well in college and may easily be acquired elsewhere.]
• University lacks academic rigor.  [This is far too broad a generalization. Rigor as defined by academia exists only in academia — peer reviewed journals etc.  I would leave this one out. ]

[University makes students slog, wait in line, demonstrate fealty, and jump through pointless hoops on cue but this experience does not teach them critical thinking and problem solving skills. (Frequently bypassing these requirements does teach these skills.)]
• The skills required to succeed in today’s global economy are not taught in school.
• If you want to gain these skills, you must hack your education. [And here’s how!]

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Mission of uncollege — suggestions

On 10/8/2011 7:44 AM, Priscilla Sanstead wrote:

What is our mission? What are our values?

These values may not be universally shared, but I hope everyone will give them due consideration:

  1. We should spread the word that excellent education is now available to anyone dedicated enough to seek it out.
  2. We should help create and collect resources and establish support communities to aid those who want an education to acquire it outside of sanctioned academia.
  3. We should help to promote learning and the value of education (particularly in the US where it is fashionable in popular culture to subject erudition to mockery and ridicule).
  4. We should call into question the value of traditional university education, particularly when it is out-of-date, entirely theoretical, contrived, and irrelevant.
  5. We should, where appropriate, attempt to discredit traditional degrees whose value is increasingly questionable in an environment in which the use of cyber-pseudepigraphy — thesis and dissertation sales and custom ghostwriting — are reducing the conferred degrees to an expensive commodity of no educational significance (a fact assiduously ignored by academia).
  6. We should help the world to recognize the fact that higher education is not only not worth the price, but it is largely for sale — and is therefore one more rift forming between rich and poor.

Of these points, I think that number three is the most important.  An appreciation not only of science and technology but of languages, cultures, philosophy, history and the arts is sorely needed in our fractious society.

I fully expect the suggestion that traditional degrees be discredited to be disputed and, indeed, it should probably not be among the stated intentions of uncollege. On the other hand, it is an elephant in the room that universities are trying hard not to see and I’m not sure we should assist them in their efforts to appear oblivious of the ubiquity of cyber-pseudoepigraphic practices. This is indeed a significant factor in higher education that should be subjected to some scrutiny and should be considered by students trying to determine the best way to acquire an education — students who, whether or not they engage in such practices, will very probably be competing against those who do.

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Education can work better outside the classroom

This blogging thread ( was initially a teacher’s response to a list of student criticisms which then received a response from Dale Stevens, one of the leading voices of the movement and a 19-year-old college drop-out who speaks and writes far better than do most high school teachers, one of whose speeches to a university audience has been posted in our classroom.

Please read the postings. How many SAT grammar and style errors does the teacher make?

I could not resist adding a comment of my own:

This is an interesting discussion with many excellent points made, but to the homeschooler/unschooler, repairing or improving the existing system really seems rather pointless.

Dale’s response it spot on, particularly his contention that everyone involved is responsible for the education that takes place, and that alternative approaches to education may well marginalize the traditional teacher and classroom.

Those who have seen education at its best cannot but despair of ever achieving anything remotely comparable in a traditional classroom. The Learning/Time quotient in a truly benign educational setting is orders of magnitude greater than the best levels encountered in public school and is achieved without the onerous hours of confinement, drudgery, busywork, waiting in line, and the “being mocked for being smart” that characterize every day of school.

It is not at all uncommon for homeschoolers to start taking college classes at age 9 or 10 (if they see college as having any value to them) and to test out of highschool requirements as soon as they reach the age limit (passing The California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) is the legal equivalent of a high school diploma and homeschoolers routinely breeze through it — often despite unfamiliarity with standardized testing.) My daughter celebrated her high school and community college graduations simultaneously at 16.

This extremely effective learning process is certainly not to be found universally in homeschooling environments, but drudgery and mediocrity do definitely seem to be all but obligatory in public school education and it would be very difficult to do worse with an alternative approach.

It must be clearly understood, however, that many of the shortcomings of education stem from the constraints within which the teacher must function. Even a superb teacher cannot accomplish much under these conditions and most teachers remain utterly oblivious of what could be achieved were these constraints lifted.

The mass production classroom system is destined to provide only minimal value and to do so at enormous expense in money, time, misery inflicted and in the lingering damage to poor young minds that might, given a tiny fraction of those resources, have blossomed and developed in amazing and unexpected ways. The unexpected is virtually extirpated by public schooling.

As Dale points out, there is an immense field of alternative approaches to education that will permit the aspiring learner to bypass the plodding quotidian regimentation of public school. My preference is the small 4-8 student mixed-level collaborative homeschooling semi-virtual environment but there are many other scenarios that may be equally effective.

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