– Guest Post by Whitney Muscato
In introduction:The last post was a survey of grown unschoolers and homeschoolers, plus Sudbury school graduates, on behalf of my younger sister Whitney. She is writing a research paper for a college class, and she chose to look at the pursued fields of work and study by adults who homeschooled. As promised, we wanted to share the findings, and invited Whitney to write this guest post.
The tricky thing, of course, is to draw conclusions from a relatively small and self-selecting sample. Still, I think it’s pretty interesting stuff. — Lindsey
I sent out a survey on social media, looking for grown homeschoolers, unschoolers, and Sudbury-type school graduates to answer a few questions about their higher education and career choices. I was particularly interested to find out how many people with alternative educations have gone into STEM fields (Science / Technology / Engineering / Mathematics), and how many have gone into the arts.
My sister was nice enough to post my survey here on this blog, and I would like to thank everyone who sent their info or sent the survey to others. Also, it is not too late, if you still want to participate. (See the survey here.)
Here is a taste of my findings so far (as slightly edited from my first draft of my research paper):
I received 143 responses, mostly from homeschoolers and unschoolers, but also a few from former Sudbury students. Many respondents did alternative education all of their schooling until college, but others started or ended their school careers in traditional school settings. Respondents averaged 10.4 years of alternative education per person. By necessity, this survey was self-selected rather than scientifically representative of all students of “alt-ed” programs.
Based on my small sample, people with alternative educations have a much higher rate of STEM jobs than do the traditionally schooled population.
According to government statistics, only 16% of high school seniors in the U.S. are interested in going into a STEM career, and only half of those who major in STEM fields actually work in those fields. “Risk ecologist” Robert N. Charette provides similar numbers, writing that from 5.5 to 8% of Americans work in STEM careers, depending on what is included in STEM. In contrast, 35% of the respondents to my survey of homeschoolers and unschoolers have or are pursuing STEM careers. One of the founders of Sudbury Valley School, Mimsy Sadofsky, claims that the SVS alumni also have a higher percentage in computer and mathematical fields than does society at large.
Considering the importance of parents’ interests and careers in creating a family culture, and therefore parents’ influence on their kids’ career aspirations, I asked about the careers of my respondents’ parents. The results were surprising: almost 60% of all of the respondents had at least one parent in a STEM field—impressive when compared to the fact that only 8% of Americans in general work in STEM fields.
I also found careers in the arts in far higher percentages compared to the general public. According to “Planet Money,” in 2012 only 10.2% of Americans had careers in the category called “leisure,” which includes all of the arts but also restaurants and hotels and other recreational/hospitality fields. A more focused (although slightly less up-to-date) statistic produced by a senior fellow of the Center forAmerican Progress, Scott Lilly, is that in 2009 there were approximately two million working artists in the U.S., which is about 1.3% of the total work force.
In contrast, my survey showed 49% of the respondents working in the arts! A formal study on the Sudbury Valley School’s alumni, reported by Daniel Greenberg in Legacy of Trust, reveals a similar number, with 41% of the school’s previous students pursuing careers in the arts.
While collecting data from the survey, I was struck by the wonderful mosaic of careers represented, including careers in the arts and in STEM fields, and all the other careers—law, education, skilled trades, business, and service jobs—which I lumped together as “Other.” About 54% of my respondents are in jobs that fall under this “Other” category.
But it was difficult at times to pigeonhole people and their careers. Adding together the STEM, Arts, and Other categories, I ended up with over 100%, because some people are involved in multiple careers at once, or their careers overlap multiple categories. An example is a young man who majored in software engineering and computer systems; he teaches computer graphics at an art institute as well as owns and codes for his own software company. It is impossible to put him into only one category; his education is obviously categorized as STEM, but his current two careers are a mix of STEM, art, and business (“Other”). Obviously, he could also be categorized as an entrepreneur.
I was interested, as I looked at the survey responses, to see how many self-employed homeschool graduates there were. So I went back through my data to see the percentage of entrepreneurs represented. In various data sets, entrepreneurs are defined as those who are self-employed, freelance, or business-starters; it turns out that many people in the arts are counted in the entrepreneur category, because they are freelance painters, dancers, furniture designers, and so forth. In my survey, about 33% of the respondents are self-employed or entrepreneurs. The Sudbury Valley School alumni survey mentioned earlier found that 42% of SVS graduates have become entrepreneurs (Greenberg 241). These are high percentages when compared to the general public. The Small Business and Entrepreneur Council claims that, in 2011, approximately 9.5% of the U.S. workforce was in the self-employed / entrepreneur category.
(Note that I couldn’t find an actual number or percentage of SVS graduates who work in STEM careers. The lack of an orange bar doesn’t represent zero SVS alumni in STEM, but rather a lack of firm quantitative data.)