Thursday, May 8, 2014

Against Academia - Education is (usually) free

Recently I got into another dust up over academia, this time at What's Wrong With the World. It didn't go terribly well - I don't get along with the crowd there, and that's putting it diplomatically. No surprise there, I have a grating personality, and Malcolm recently gave a rundown of some of the blowup.

That's not my concern with this post. Instead, I want to explain my position on academia - by that I mean, the university system as well as the social and intellectual culture both within it and surrounding it.

Put short, my view is: burn it to the ground. And by that I mean: I would like almost the entirety of the modern university system destroyed, and replaced. Yes, there is still a place for formal education, and certainly for testing and verification - but both of those things should be provided by systems other than what we have right now. Beyond that, I encourage a health skepticism of academics in general. I think the primary value of an educated person lies in their ability to provide arguments and explanations through which they can educate and possibly convince others of the superiority of their models and their claims, and beyond that their value is in putting them to work to perform a given task. The decision of whether or not to have faith in an academic or formal authority figure with regards to science, history or much anything else is a willful one. No one should not be compelled to take Stephen Hawking's word about physics as truth based solely on his his academic credentials or accomplishments.

Now I say this as someone who has dealt with academia as a student. I picked up a 4 year degree, I've taken courses and passed them - like many people here. But over the years, I've just seen far too many reasons to regard the entire edifice upon which the modern university rests as rotten to the point where the best solution is not 'try to reform it' but 'fight against it'.

I have many reasons to believe this. Right now, I'm only going to list one.

Modern technology has made the university in large part obsolete when it comes to education. Not entirely obsolete - if you'd like to learn, say... how to safely remove a spleen from a living organism, a university is your best bet for a cadaver, since those are otherwise hard to come by unless you are more resourceful than I care to contemplate. But if you're hoping to study literature, psychology, education, economics, history, or most of the other most popular degrees on offer, you've got alternatives. Namely, you can acquire the books - typically on a nice, convenient, portable tablet PC or eBook reader - and study at your leisure. You don't even need to bother a librarian anymore - you can simply get all the books you need online, often for free (legitimately even), and if not, then typically for vastly cheaper than even a single college course usually costs.

'But Crude, what about having an instructor? Some people learn better by having someone give them examples or give a lecture!' you say? Fantastic: there are alternatives available. For free or, again, far cheaper than it would be to get a degree. If you wish merely to educate yourself, there are a tremendous number of opportunities available to you now, all without having to step foot on a campus - in fact, without having to step foot outside of your home. Video lectures, books, audio books... education is more readily available now than ever before.

This example doesn't suffice to blow academia out of the water as a necessary part of modern society. But on its own, it does suffice to weaken it tremendously. For anyone who simply wishes to learn something that requires little more than reading and studying quite a lot, the appeal of the modern university versus simply acquiring the books and studying on your own is practically nil. If you wish to learn about literature, history, even computer programming, you're far better off spending $1000 dollars on books and supplies than $25000 on a degree in addition to (overpriced) books and supplies for the mere ultimate privilege of having yourself tested by a professor's TA.

9 comments:

Gyan said...

I am sympathetic to the main idea but the university does not merely exist to teach students/
The university is one of the State institutions and it is charged with maintaining bodies of scholars ("the schools" of this and that, such as Chicago school of economists) organized by a certain coherence of intellectual pursuit, both in the goals and the methods.

Your problem, in various dust-ups, if I am say, is that you carry individualism to extreme limits and thus neglect the social and institutional factors.

Thus, at W4, Lydia was concerned that philosophy should remain a going concern in America.

Crude said...

I am sympathetic to the main idea but the university does not merely exist to teach students/

I only gave one real example here, which was concerned precisely with a line of advertisement that targets students.

The university is one of the State institutions and it is charged with maintaining bodies of scholars ("the schools" of this and that, such as Chicago school of economists) organized by a certain coherence of intellectual pursuit, both in the goals and the methods.

And aren't those economists doing a bang-up job. The political scientists too.

Really, I understand what you are saying - but it is not only an ideal, but it is one which our modern university system does a marvelous job of corrupting. I'm not sure yet, but you may have given me yet another reason to oppose academia.

Your problem, in various dust-ups, if I am say, is that you carry individualism to extreme limits and thus neglect the social and institutional factors.

In my defense - the societies and institutions I have disdain of are tremendously rotten, and are parasitic on the individuals, who they in no small part contribute to the warping of.

I'll defend the Church, because the Church is an institution I am bound to, even if I fall short of my duties there too. I'll defend the state, up to a point. But I suggest it's possible for the university system to outlive its usefulness, even on the terms you outline. In fact, I do more than suggest.

Thus, at W4, Lydia was concerned that philosophy should remain a going concern in America.

Let's leave Lydia out of this, since I think her concerns with me are largely personal. Tony gave a fantastic reply to me, but were I still conversing with him I'd say A) that considering Thomas Aquinas college is ranked one of the least-friendly schools to LGBT people, he should be very hesitant to quote those endorsements of its curriculum - without capitulation, they will not last - and B) the existence of some tiny idyllic Catholic college formed with the ideals of Aristotilean learning in mind cannot justify the existence of academia as a whole. If anything the existence of such a school and schools like it only further justify torching academia at large: if Tony values /that/ kind of education, he should recognize that the large Ivy and public universities stand in their way.

Regardless, my focus was on the education of students. Tell me why someone from a poor family should dive 30k into debt - unshakeable debt, if they went with the right kind of student loan - for a degree in literature, or history, or anything else that provided education that could have been largely gained by spending 1000 dollars on books and reading at one's leisure?

RD Miksa said...

Dear Crude,

A question: Do you think that the current combination of...

1) the internet exposing, in many ways, the corruption, propaganda, and political correctness of universities and colleges, combined with...

2) the extreme cost of a university education, attached to...

3) the realization that (as you said), an informal education is essentially free in our age and a formal one is easily obtainable online, finally mixed with...

4) the greater and greater acceptance that online degrees are receiving...

...will lead to the eroding and eventual collapse of at least the "Humanities" Section of the university?

I think that it likely will. Indeed, given that even some professors are now recommending that people avoid taking advanced degrees at a university due to the prohibitive costs and the lack of career prospects at the end, I think the age of the "physically-attend" university, at least for the "Humanities" programs, will be over in a generation.

At the same time, I find that this debate is very much like the debate over Home-Schooling. As more and more people realize just how bad public schooling is, more people move to home-schooling as an option. This is not to say that all public schools are bad, or that you should not necessarily send your children to one, but rather that, as the realization hits that many such schools are indeed rotten, then home-schooling looks more and more positive. At the same time, both the individuals in favor of public schooling and universities use the same sorts of arguments: the need for socialization, interaction with others of your age, a formal instructor, etc. And yet, just as those arguments are countered by home-schoolers, so too can they be similarly countered when put forth in favor of universities.

Do you see the same sort of connection there?

Take care,

RD Miksa
www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

Crude said...

RD,

...will lead to the eroding and eventual collapse of at least the "Humanities" Section of the university?

Last I read, talk about the decline of the humanities was pretty common. I can't attest as to how serious the situation is right now - most of what I read indicates 'it's pretty bad' - but I would surmise that's also partly a result of people coming to believe that a humanities degree typically won't be of much use in the job market. That would mean that 3 is hardly a factor - if anything I get the impression that people not only see a humanities degree as far less desirable, but likewise don't have a positive view of 'humanities' itself.

Do you see the same sort of connection there?

I think there is some, though I think one of the biggest 'pushes' for public schooling and university education is often left unargued: 'It is there that many people think they can use the culture to change people politically and socially into what they desire.' The left dominates the university system culturally, so of course getting a degree - even a useless degree - is cherished.

RD Miksa said...

Dear Crude,

You said:

I think there is some, though I think one of the biggest 'pushes' for public schooling and university education is often left unargued: 'It is there that many people think they can use the culture to change people politically and socially into what they desire.' The left dominates the university system culturally, so of course getting a degree - even a useless degree - is cherished.

I think that you make a very good point here, and I think that this is one of the things that the internet and alternate news media has begun to expose. This, in turn, is yet another reason why I see the increase in both home-schooling and away from universities.

Take care,

RD Miksa

Goldenrush Apple said...

One can "follow" a given class, say art history or a sociology class, if the instructor puts the syllabus online. They may even have the books listed for the given course. One can go as far to email the instructor and ask questions about the topic ... maybe go as far and visit during office hours. Though, I'm not sure how'd they feel about a non-student coming in. If I were an instructor and someone came in wanting to learn I would be both very surprised and flattered.

Goldenrush Apple said...

Also, is anyone aware of sociologist Darren Sherkat's (internet) melt down towards fellow sociologist Mark Regnerus' peer-reviewed study about questionable results of same-sex parenting?

Crude said...

Golden,

I recall it. And of course, Sherkat's meltdown and ranting was actually taken as evidence that Regnerus had to be wrong, because otherwise why would Sherkat be so upset?

Goldenrush Apple said...

I checked out his personal blog ... Holy Mother of Spaghetti Monster. It's obvious the man thinks he's entitled to such actions, and it's obvious he does not like religion just the way he talks about it, the people who are involved in it, and his research interests definitely leads one to suspect he has some fetish with the issue - which, ironically, focuses on the negative aspects of it. It's self-fulling.

To make it even more distasteful Sherkat lives in the same state that I do. But then my state, IL, has two (three, even) a*ses: Chicago (where I am), Springfield, and now Carbondale (just because Sherkat is there). The head, belly button and a*s if you will.