2007-01-03

The future of education?

I have the same mixed feelings as most of the folks who teach at private universities about the increasingly consumerist nature of the whole enterprise. We old folks often complain that paying students are encouraged to feel entitled to any number of things -- our time, a grade, a degree -- while the financial constraints often mean that we serve a fairly narrow social group (although like at most costly institutions, a minority of the people there pay full tuition). Interestingly, in discussing teaching with my colleagues from "the former countries of real socialism" (anyone remember that phrase?), many of them have the sense that high tuitions mean that the people paying them are more likely to be highly motivated than just passing through. For people in the teaching field, it often seems as though the goal is something not entirely realistic, providing knowledge and insight to people who really want it but do not really need it. I render this with a little bit of irony, but still hold to the belief that the best students will usually be the ones who have chosen what they are doing, for reasons of which they are aware.

For those reasons and a bunch of others, the Toronto-basedAnarchist U(niversity, no?) project looks very intriguing. It is not entirely new, having operated since Fall 2003. And it is not so big, with just three courses this term and not much more than five or so in other terms. Courses are free (there may be a charge for books and copies) and non-credit, and most of them are on political and social themes. Although it seems that course development and enrollment are e-mail and wiki-based, the classes themselves are nonvirtual, with people gathering in rooms at particular times.

Probably this sort of model is not likely to substitute for the kinds of institutions where most instructors and students find themselves now. But it looks like a mighty good way of making it possible for both teachers and students (broadly, rather than professionally, defined) to do a bit more of the stuff that attracted them to the world of knowledge in the first place.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately if one goes in to a job and lays out a degree from Anarchist University, no matter how good you were, you probably are not going to get the job.

'Proffessionalism' is thrown at us all so much and it really means some sort of credential, and the right clothes and maybe how to pull rank and recieve the act of pulling rank without commiting an act of violence in response.

Sadly an education in an academic institution doesn't mean anything real about quality except possibly in hard sciences and medicine, and even there I'm not so sure.

The trouble is that Anarchist University is probably closer to the real deal.

My dad like a lot of people said 'you knew so much about X Y or Z that you could teach a college class on it!' This is a man who went to West Point. He knows something about academic rigor. Still these days, it doesn't matter what you know, how you know it inside out, you can't teach X Y or Z without some kind of degree, usually a Masters, and trying to explain that to him was really hard. Then again if you are going to pay good money, you expect qualifications from an instructor, and if you are paying you did become a customer. Long ago, being a student cost money and quite a lot, there's always been class restrictions on education. I odn't like that much. It's up there with class restrictions on medical care.

Eric Gordy said...

Sadly, they don't give degrees. You bet I'd hire an Anarchy grad!

nisammusterija said...

don't know if it matters but...as a bosnian and a perennial yugoslav about to get a phd from an ivy league place (which i view as set of circumstances rather than an achievement), i can't remember a day (no, make that a second) when i did not utterly despise tuition as a concept and as a reality, and tuition for me means anything above 200 dollars a year, which i concede may be necessary to cover some administrative cost (but even that with a frowning face).

it's certainly never been a motivation or an incitement to do anything -- i resent every minute i had to spend thinking about money instead of reading and writing. i will not feel much pride in saying: "i paid off my student loans" in some 40 yrs either. there's nothing redeemable about it, unless you study management, which isn't a real skill anyway, as peak oil might show eventually. and i'm saying all this with a 4.10 GPA -- after 10 yrs, i know i was rushed through my education, which is a deeply alienating experience. but refugee beggars can't be choosers, right? especially if you can study what i'm interested in at only 5 schools in the us. and no, natural science it ain't.