This comic is wonderful, but I’m troubled by its conclusion. I was following this until what began as a cogent criticism of schooling as a method of learning turned into a call for everyone to have the right to have the same unfortunate experience (and force everyone else to pay for it).
If it really is unproductive to cram for tests on information which will soon be forgotten, sit under the instruction of bureaucrats, and work for four years (often more) for a fancy piece of paper, subsidizing college is no solution. It’s one of the original problems (going back to the first G.I. Bill) and one of the reasons higher ed is as costly and unquestioned and the value of a bachelor’s degree as diluted as they are today.
We could take another lesson from this comic: we need alternatives. College serves a purpose, to be sure. It signals a basic level of intelligence and work ethic to employers. Maybe students also learn something if they don’t come to hate learning as an unpleasant duty or competition.
Fortunately, there are plenty of better ways to signal value (like actually creating it), and an infinite number of ways to learn without getting a degree. I’d recommend checking out the following:
- Praxis: Work and learn alongside entrepreneurs in dynamic businesses and startups (actual paid work, not internships — degrees entirely optional) while assembling a body of creative work, building real networks, and gaining proven mastery of topics like philosophy, economics, digital skills, and entrepreneurship (Yes, I’m biased. I did this one myself).
- UnCollege: Participants take a “gap year” (whether or not they plan to return to college) to travel and volunteer abroad, build hard and soft skills with peers and coaches, and intern at leading companies or organizations in the program’s HQ of San Francisco/Silicon Valley or around the world.
- Thiel Fellowship: If you have a good idea and you’re under 20, the Thiel Foundation may sponsor you to spend a year working on it and bringing it to life. This is a great organization, and it’s produced projects ranging from a venture fund focused on anti-aging technologies to the aforementioned UnCollege program.
- Enstitute: Get a paid apprenticeships and mentorship from founders and executives of innovative companies while completing an online curriculum and interacting with other participants, mentors, and thought leaders in entrepreneurship.
- DIY: Build something meaningful. Read classic works, available for free on Project Gutenberg. Learn how to code. Learn another language. Learn accounting. Learn about philosophy. Learn how to start a startup. Create your own credential. Audit college classes (or watch them online).
My point with all of this? We don’t have to keep doing the same things in education in the hope that the results will be different “next time.” We don’t have to accept the pittance of a degree in exchange for our ability to direct our own learning. We’re in a world where just about any information or experience is within reach of any of us with an internet connection, work ethic, curiosity, and some courage — can’t we act like it?
Let’s focus on making education free (as in “libre,” or freedom) before we start tackling how to make it “free” (as in gratis).