College puts a lot of constraints, a lot of limitations around what you can and can’t do. Some people, they want to stretch their arms, get out and create more, do more. – Mark Hagen, Saying No to College (which is the link attached…not some silly NY Times advertisement!)
Once upon a time, long, long ago when I was a small child, I was not such an “easy” student. I loved to learn, loved books, and was curious about a wide variety of disciplines – from art to literature to dance to science – but I couldn’t…wouldn’t…sit still. I needed to be physically mobile when I learned (I started dancing when I was 6) and couldn’t fathom sitting in rapt silence and attention while some teacher “lectured” a class on The Way Things Are (or they thought they were). The search for a school where I could learn, but not be constrained, was on.
I ended up in a visionary school for girls with only 11 classmates (one of whom was from Finland). I felt free. I felt heard. I felt like me. I began to discover the inner workings of my own brain, my own thoughts and feelings about what I was reading and learning, and developed what were the beginnings of a lifelong suspicion about tests, the kinds of tests that proclaim a definitive “opinion” about what a particular book or poem is about, which is distinctly different than asking a student to know when the War of 1812 took place, or needing to understand about air flowing over an airfoil when you are learning to fly.
Then when it came time to choose a college, I was in Hell. Everything was about lecture halls (I loved to write and discuss), tests, grades, huge student bodies, and total anonymity. And many of these were “famous” and “good” schools but I couldn’t see myself at any of them. And then along came a college that didn’t believe in any of that…you don’t see your grades unless you transfer, there are no “tests,” you read Euclid’s Elements instead of memorizing theorems by rote, and you read The Critique of Pure Reason and talk about it instead of sitting in a lecture Hall listening to someone tell you what the salient things are to know about Kant. And you read, and discuss, and write…and read, discuss and write some more.
I had found Heaven. A college full of people who had a hard time sitting still, who were square pegs who didn’t want to fit into round holes. My friends thought I was crazy to spend four years studying every discipline. How are you going to be able to support yourself? What are you going to do for a living? You must have a specialty, a discipline, …you must be like everyone else…you must be traditional. But I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. And I didn’t.
Way back then, when I was a small child and there were no computers, there was no Internet, I could not have imagined that there would be people, mass numbers of people, who would begin rejecting traditional education, finding new ways to educate themselves – online and otherwise – often to discover that the things about which they were passionate don’t need a traditional education in the first place.
But this is indeed where we are at. And we are there for a variety of reasons, some of them being economic, but the larger reason, the underlying cultural reason being that the world has changed technologically and those changes have given people the ability to take fashion their education into something that works for them.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not champion the demise of our great college campuses. I do not suggest a mass exodus of students, each of us learning online in loneliness.
What I do champion is a broader definition of education…and a broader acceptance of how each of learns. I live in a family of doctors and scientists and my husband and I were discussing the other day the fact that there is still a stigma that science/math training is more important to a successful and fulfilled life than having a knowledge (and some training in) the arts.
Gawd forbid anyone should grow up to be creative.
Or do things differently.
Gawd forbid one should ever want to drop out of…. Harvard!
Off With Their Head at once if they deign to reject the traditional and find the personal.
Thank you for reading, and have a perfectly revolutionary day.