It's Not A Gap Year! It's An Education.

Education is learning languages: the languages of words, music, math, art, chemistry, biology, etc.  Education is learning paradoxes … and oxymorons.  So let me highlight an oxymoron that is damaging our kids’ education:  Lifelong Learning and Gap Year. If we truly believe in Lifelong Learning, then we have to believe that Gap Years are not Gaps…and we have to use a different word.

Gap means: 1) a break or opening; breach; or 2) an empty space or interval, interruption in continuity.  That seems a bit inconsistent with the notion of Lifelong Learning, doesn’t it? Especially since most of our learning in life is experiential, not classroom-based.   What if we didn’t call it a “Gap Year” but called it an “Applied Discovery Year”? 

What if this was a year students saw worlds they only read about or hadn’t even imagined.  This could be a year of learning by doing, one of the best ways we humans learn - a year that challenges students at many levels.  Let’s face it, most of the kids who go right from high school to college haven’t had to be responsible for themselves or had the chance to explore areas of interest instead of what has been prescribed. 

The move from home’s safety net to the world is a major transition in a late teen’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual formation.  It’s a time of learning more from peers (and professors); evolving the values and morals of parents into one’s own; learning to handle emotions; and developing deeper systems-level thinking. This may be the first time we encounter different types of people, ideas, experiences, and cultures and can’t retreat into the world of familiarity in which we were raised.

The concept of an Applied Discovery Year is gaining momentum.  Thinking Beyond Borders provides students with opportunities to learn, work hard and improve the lives of others through robust curricular programs around the globe.  The Experience Institute provides an apprenticeship-based learning environment with innovative companies in business, technology, design and social innovation.  The Applied Discovery Year concept is becoming part of the college experience so students learn how, why and if the theory taught in the classroom applies in the real world.

The Applied Discovery Year gives students a much-needed chance to step back, gain perspective, and recharge their batteries after the non-stop treadmill and stress of the college-prep trajectory, focusing on something other than just themselves.  It’s also one of the first times in their lives they need to create their own plan instead of being told what to do.  Life, unlike K-12, isn’t a clear path with detailed instructions.  The Applied Discovery Year helps students transition from prescription to discovery.  I bet these kids will be able to deal the next transition from college to career better than most as well.

Just as our educational system is in need of transformation, K-16+, our language to describe education, its forms, types, curriculum, need to change as well.  It’s not a Gap Year; it’s an Applied Discovery Year – as is almost all of Lifelong Learning.  It’s Education, plain and simple… Education by doing and living.  So let’s stop calling it a Gap Year.  Will you join me?