In the good old days of genuine knowledge seeking/enlightenment, education was mostly about inquisitive learning, free thinking and essential tinkering.
It also used to be the exclusive domain of those convulsively driven by thirst for knowledge. It was after the renaissance (at least in the modern West, long after the intellectual tradition of the East was literally extinguished; Egypt, Greece, etc.) Europe embarked on the project of establishing institutions of higher learning (to further its budding thinking and tinkering.) At the time, the project was not thoroughly free and had to maneuver the rigidly established metaphysical ideologies of the power that be. In those days for example, the Catholic Church was so powerful it could easily purge and punish anyone it deemed heretic. Those who were forced to perish (from Europe) settled in places like Australia, North and South America, etc. In the last three centuries however, the whole system/process of formal education (mass education) accelerated and delivered results that immensely benefited humanity. The rest, as the saying goes, is history!
After the industrial revolution, formal education was systematically introduced in collective life, by the states, the private sector and charitable/religious organizations to (mainly) produce and reproduce mental and physical workers for rapid industrialization, particularly in the western world. Industry in turn gave impetus to protracted knowledge production within the framework of the established order. Soon and not surprisingly, all nation states on earth adopted a perpetual scheme of compulsory enrolment of youth in the various institutions of learning, higher or lower. Thereafter, education or the whole process of transmitting knowledge became more structured and unwieldy. In other words, education increasingly became an endeavour that was geared to more rote learning and less thinking, as it was objectively subordinated to the operating needs of industrial or industrially oriented societies, (mostly dictated by the logic of capital.) Indoctrination is probably the word that readily comes to mind. Formal education today is as bureaucratized as the military and the civil services.
Among the shortcomings of formal education, we believe, the following stands out: the globally established system of education tends to weed out those restless souls whose mental calibre and psychosocial disposition are/were unsuited to the normative diktat of the power that be. As a result, individuals of extreme mold have been dropping out from the whole educational process in droves. See Hutchinson’s article on page 50. In some countries (mostly the rich) a scheme of ‘special education’ was introduced to alleviate the problem. Nevertheless, like many other topics that concern the behaviour of various population (not necessarily human), formal education, we believe, comes under what is technically called Gaussian distribution. That is; the majority might tolerate structured education, which was labelled the ‘great equalizer’, but the extreme dwellers at both ends of the social spectrum suffer the unsolicited imposition.
At this point (may be) it might be wise to ask our characteristic stupid question. What is knowledge? We don’t know about the professorial/learned colleagues’ definition of it, but as for us, knowledge is essentially (not conclusively) a process of gathering, collating, analyzing and selectively absorbing (useful/useless) information, and repeating the whole process through a more cognitively elevated sift. This progressively employed iteration is what we call knowledge. Assuming this proposition of ours holds some water, a good portion of so-called knowledge can be had with only the help of ICT (Information Communication Technology.) Advances in the field have already opened up a whole new venue for the acquisition of knowledge, critically facilitated by the personal computer and the Internet! Like all disruptive new technologies, the formidable ICT is now threatening the very existence of brick and mortar supported institutions of higher learning. To add insult to injury, these same institutions seem to be quite determined to price themselves out of the knowledge market. See Kendzior’s article next column.
When information can be had at the speed of light and on ones fingertips, all at a negligible cost, the old archaic system of imparting knowledge is bound to face problems. Knowledge discovery (laboratories, etc) and knowledge retention (libraries, etc) used to form the main pillars of the old institutions of higher learning, besides the mostly boring knowledge lecturing. But as the processing of information becomes swift and its depository cheap, knowledge (according to our definition) will be available even to those whose processing power and retention capacity might not be up to ‘standard.’As we said earlier, these particular dwellers are found at one end of the distribution spectrum, while Steve Jobs, (Apple) Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Mark Zuckerberg (facebook) who are all bona fide college drop-outs, probably occupy the other end of the distribution curve.
Times are-a-changing and institutions of higher learning must drastically change their ways, if they still want to remain relevant in the scheme of things knowledge. For example, there are now solid courses offered for free by progressive professors based inside global institutions of repute (edx.org, coursera.org). About a year ago a circuit analysis course at MIT garnered a class of over 50,000+ across the world! Whether the old ivy covered relics like it or not, this is going to be the future of knowledge impartation and we embrace it whole heartedly! One blessing from such development; rote learning (that passed as enlightenment) which turned off many a bright student (Einstein, et al) will become a thing of the past. Like the struggling print industry of today, (newspapers, books, etc) the future of formal education is not bright at all! Here is what a contrarian investor/financial analyst has to say about education, though unfairly biased (we think) against the humanities. “Education has been transformed into political indoctrination in many ways. The Internet is the best thing since the invention of moveable type. Rather than mis-allocating years of time and huge amounts of money to go off to college where they will just chase the opposite sex and drink, and where the quality of the professors is uncertain and the courses are in subjects that will clutter up their minds - gender studies, political science, English, and the like - people who really want to can get an education from the Internet.” Doug Casey. Good Day!