Friday, November 25, 2005

"A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard"

This article argues that universities are obsolete.
Herman Melville said that "a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard." Melville didn't need college to write "Moby Dick." He needed to read and spend time in the world. Before sailing out on a whaler in 1841, he had already worked on his uncle's farm and as a cabin boy on a ship to England. Peter Drucker urged high-school graduates to do likewise: Work for at least five years. If they went on to college, it would be as grown-ups. You wonder whether colleges, stripped of their education function, wouldn't find other lives as spas, professional-sports franchises or perhaps lightly supervised halfway houses for post-adolescents. The infrastructure is already in place.
Putting aside the intellectual class' obsession with things passing and thus bringing the great moment of cosmic progression to a thundering conclusion (yawn), I do think there's something to this. The potential of the podcast has not yet been fully tapped. Imagine what frontier colleges could have done with them! I would love to be able to get lectures from iTunes on the subjects I'm curious about and I'm not about to cough up fat tuition cheques either. This is better:
the professors could let non-students download their lectures and charge them royalties, just like the Black Eyed Peas. Ordinary folks already buy courses on tape or CD. For example, The Teaching Company is now selling a virtual major in American history -- 84 lectures on 42 audiotapes -- at the bargain price of $109.95. It covers everything from "before Columbus" to Bill Clinton, and the lecturers are top-drawer. Some of them teach at Columbia University, where a single history course runs you $3,207.
Interesting times... I imagine there are a goodly number of grown ups working in grown up situations who would like to do this kind of thing. Oh, and Drucker's advice is fantabulous. I went to university right out of high school and didn't have a clue what I was doing. All I knew was that virtually all of my high school teachers had told me - both one to one and to whole classes of us - that we were pretty much doomed if we did not go to university. We'd be working as quick order cooks or worse our whole lives. We were never given Drucker's advice, ever. Kids, your teachers do not always know best. Some things really do have to be learned first hand. At the very least they need to be heard from those you know and trust, or seen up close so that you can see the sweat, blood and tears.

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