Why America’s Higher Education Needs Reform
The Walnut Bowl

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:

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).

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