Future, Present, & Past:
Speculative~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Education wants to be free
Zero Tuition College strikes me as an idea whose time may have come. It is an envisioned online community of self-directed college-age students, designed to be not just a supplement to but potentially a replacement for university education.
I am a strong advocate of "alternatives" to accepted educational channels, though I would like to see them become less alternative. My intuition (and that's all it is, not a well-thought-out position) is that the devil's-bargain by which higher-ed has sold itself to what passes for "capitalism" these days is one of the main symptoms and causes (both) of the malaise that stymies social revolution (or even reform) in the west. Without implicating anyone else in my half-baked radicalism, I commend, as a partial liberation from the gatekeepers of education, Salman Khan's Khan Academy. The ZT College, brainchild of Blake Boles, may be the next step.
As an anarcho-autodidact who makes his living slumming in the margins of public education (and volunteering at a very different school), I spend a lot of time thinking about how to apply the principles of free- or un-schooling (which work astoundingly well for pre-college age students), to students in an ordinary public-school setting; and also wondering how this approach applies to college and post-college education. This is more or less the haphazard road I pursued. I educated myself, if that is the word, by following my nose; by always chasing down the interesting-sounding references, always tracing the trail back to primary texts, and by giving myself permission to ask irresponsible-sounding questions. I did audit a number of classes (and even paid for some), because the truth about philosophy is that you can't do it all by yourself all the time (Socrates spent his time in the city). But I had the good fortune to be advised early on (by a professor who gave me straight A's) to steer clear of the academy. "It's a world in which dull dogs tend to rule," he sighed. He may have just been being nice with the A's, I suppose, but I think he guessed that it would have ruined my soul. I probably would have turned into one of those self-congratulatory PC professors or one of those self-congratulatory anti-PC professors.
Not that my soul is especially beautiful. I feel twinges of jealousy of friends whose careers are beginning to rise; I feel insinuations of smugness over reports of people with doctorates who can't find jobs. And I am of course hampered to some degree by a dearth of letters after my name, and sometimes blame myself. All (perhaps) pretty venial, but unbecoming nonetheless.
On the other hand I have no college debt, no craving for tenure, and no departmental politics to deal with. I have work that is as rewarding as it gets and no illusions that I am trapped in it when the inevitable frustrations arise.
All of this not-very-interesting autobiographical material is just by way of accounting for my own interest in Boles' proposal. After all, given the widespread dismay over rising tuition (in my state of Washington some tuition costs have risen as much as 28% in two years), and the terrifying lack of job security, or even job prospects, for people with (advanced!) degrees, what exactly is the attraction of a university education?
I am assuming here that one really is aiming to acquire skills, breadth, learning, proficiency, exposure to ideas, experience, accomplishment. Since the university will not guarantee one a future income, and increasingly seems not even to make one more likely to be hired, all practical or mercenary motives seem moot.
Since I am not an aberrantly intelligent observer, I can't be the only person to ask these questions. In fact, the projects of Boles and Khan and others make it all the more likely that in the future (assuming we have a livable planet), the lack of letters after one's name may become more and more irrelevant to one's career(s). Note, though, that the whole point of ZT College is to have a community of fellow-learners with whom to share ideas and support. Self-directed learning (and I truly believe there is no other kind) is still, irreducibly, a conversation. One learns for oneself, but one learns with others. Perhaps philosophy most of all.
ZT College is currently having a (very modest) fundraising campaign in order to get off the ground. For $25 you can be a co-founder.