Geoffrey Bodkin’s (2014) essay, ‘What I Learned at Cambridge’ has got me thinking about how to deliver a sound tertiary education. The problem with modern universities, on the whole, is that they have become promoters of political correctness, rather than places of higher learning. In the words of Bodkin, “… it is easier, cheaper, and more politically correct to line up masses of students to sit in rows, silently listening to a lecturer, regurgitating course notes, than it is to teach students how to think and how to defend what they think” (Bodkin, 2014).
I am wondering if it would be feasible to develop networks of passionate custodians of knowledge, who do not necessarily possess state-mandated certifications, but who do possess personal libraries. What if young people were directed to connect with these passionate people, and inspired to become discipline learners, under the mentorship and discipleship of this network of knowledge custodians?
In this learning format, students are not made to work their way through pre-determined courses, but are encouraged to develop an area of passion, and be guided to become an expert in the passion that they have determined. Along with this development of expertise, the mentees should also be given the knowledge of how to market the expertise as it is being developed – the development of entrepreneurial skills.
I envision something like the following:
Passionate owners of personal libraries (mentors) are encouraged to make themselves available through a local network. They identify their areas of expertise, passion, and knowledge domains, and the flavour of their library.
Young people are encouraged to commence a journey of becoming a disciplined expert in an area that they are highly motivated to learn about. The young people are initially introduced to one of the library owners, and a fee for service rate is established.
The mentors then begin by framing a question that points the mentees in a direction of inquiry. There are no prescribed lectures to attend, however, the mentee is able to ask any question of the mentor, access books that might be relevant, access knowledge from the internet, or talk to any of the other mentors in the network. One week later, the mentee returns to the mentor with a written paper on the things that have been discovered. The mentor then requires the mentee to verbally defend the information gathered, and then gives feedback on the defense. The next focus question is given to the mentee, and the mentee progressively builds on his/her knowledge until they become an expert in the specific area of interest that they have been pursuing. This is done on a week by week basis (mentor and mentee meeting for an hour each week, and mentees being able to gather and learn with as many others as they would like during the rest of the week).
Mentees pay a fee each time they attend a formal session with the mentor, and this will do two things: one, keep the mentor on his/her toes so that the sessions are interesting enough for the mentee to want to come back to them, and two, ensure that the mentee values the learning that they are accumulating. When schooling is paid for by the public purse, the students often do not value the opportunity that they are given. When the acquisition of knowledge is costly, then it is much more valued.
Rather than receiving a state-certified graduation certificate, at the end of the process the mentee can be given a statement of their expertise, endorsed by the mentor who has spent the most time with the mentee: “NAME is a person of sound learning and good character, and has mastered the knowledge associated with AREA OF LEARNING” [A variant on the endorsement given upon graduation from Cambridge University (Bodkin, 2014)]. The personal reputation of the mentor is at stake. If a mentee subsequently proves to be less than an expert in the area studied, then subsequent mentees will not choose to work with that particular mentor.
Mentors and mentess could be linked by internet connection, could have personal sessions in the mentor’s home/workplace (wherever their personal library is located). This would mean that there is no need for the real estate and infra-structure costs associated with existing universities. Some fields of study may need to continue in the research universities, in such fields as engineering and medicine, but many areas of study do not need such costly institutions. Students need to be given the liberty to pursue their passion, not be required to regurgitate the lecture notes of a tenured professor.
Jobs will continue to require standardized certification as entry requirements. However, jobs come and go. Such an idea is not about training young people for jobs, it is about enabling them to become experts in something, and then marketing that expertise in a way that will enable them to earn a living as an entrepreneur on the cutting edge of whatever it is that they are passionate about.
There is much more that could be written about this idea, and I would be very interested in engaging in discussion with others who have concerns about the influence that modern universities have upon the morals and dumbed-down thinking of our young people.
Bodkin, G. (2014). What I Learned at Cambridge. Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences. Accessed: Sat 08/11/2014 16:14, from: http://westernconservatory.com/search/node/Cambridge