Cap and Diploma

In today’s world it is conventional wisdom that a college education is necessary to excel as a professional.

Times are said to have changed, and without proper schooling one is doomed to a life of either hard labor or low-paying pencil pushing. And if you’re planning on paying for an education there is no escaping the fact that college costs are rising.

Besides the hefty price tag, traditional schooling is consuming, socially and mentally, forcing a particular lifestyle upon the student. Further, the relationship between the educator and the educated maintains a certain depravity, as a professor holds a figurative gun to the student’s head (any false moves may lead to a career crippling F). But is there an alternative?

In a recent editorial featured in the New York Times (April 23, 2008) Thomas Sowell attributes the high cost of college to two reasons: “People will pay what the colleges charge, and colleges have little incentive to reduce tuition.” He explains that unlike most markets, where lowering prices attracts business, in the academic world the government is ready to step in to pick up the slack.

A university would loose millions per year in government money if they lowered tuition. Considering the position that today’s young people are placed, where the arduous task of completing a degree is coupled with unfair prices and a dire necessity, which will affect the rest of their life, it is fair to say that they have us by the proverbial balls.

In an article which I recently compiled I attempt to imagine the direction of coming educational paradigms. It quickly becomes obvious how the talent of great minds may be ignored due to lack of proper credentials. Our current scholastic system bespeaks the Tory elitism representative of Western culture.

Perhaps the stereotypical role of an experimental, bohemian college student is effected by the sharp contrast of the academic organization. While it is clear that the classroom is continuing to evolve, it will be necessary for the vintage activist spirit of the student to lend guidance to new educational trends that shifts to a liberal method of intellectual maturation.

So where is the classroom going? I can say with a great deal of confidence that virtual technology will play a leading role in the future of education. Already most colleges and universities offer distance learning programs (online classes).

Some colleges, such as the University of Phoenix offer completely virtual degrees. Hybrid courses, in which physical meetings compose only a third of the course time, are also becoming popular. This model moves the educator from the head of the classroom, handing knowledge down, to a guiding medium. This new role forces a teacher to not merely present knowledge, but to be sympathetic in facilitating its acquisition.

Despite the advantages of a virtual classroom, the heavy price still lingers overhead. In overcoming this obstacle towards an open, intellectually progressive society we must embrace the idea of autodidactism.

Being self-educated sounds harder than it is. Some of the most important figures in history have been non-traditionally educated (including Socrates, Benjamin Franklin, Alan Watts, and Mark Twain). It means having a choice in subject matter, moving at your own pace, and it’s free. Its relevance towards the shifting educational paradigm can be attributed to the dawn of the information age, coupled with the open content movement.

Considering resources available today, it has never been easier to be self taught. Wikipedia alone serves as an ocean of open knowledge. Various colleges, including MIT, offer ‘open-courseware,’ which include lectures, videos, and notes for entire courses for free. EBooks, language courses, podcasts, and dictionaries have all become openly available in a spectrum wide enough to cover anyone’s interests.

Even aspiring musicians can learn basics of instruments, theory, and entire songs through online tablatures, sheet music, and video lessons. Rather than growing around current structures, we should move to evolve the system to fit our needs and goals.

Anthony is a writer, philosopher, and web developer.
He blogs at http://philosophy-explained.com

Philosophy Explained: A Contemporary quest for wisdom

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