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Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Vision for a School

Having just lost my teaching job because I didn't have a PhD has made we wonder about what's going on in higher education. Education in America has become a money machine, and I don't think it is necessarily worth the investment.

There are many kinds of schools, many kinds of students, and many different things to learn, but my ideal school is almost diametrically opposed to what currently exists in the mainstream.

While my idea of a school would be highly selective, the selection process would be qualitative and based on interviews and in-person evaluations conducted by the staff and students rather than by exam. Current students would have input into which new students are selected.

My ideal school is not structured at all. Students could come and go whenever they feel like it, and stay for as many years as they wish - as long as the "community" feels they are learning and contributing in some way. There are no grades or degrees, but lazy and disruptive students would be asked to leave by the head Guru. Classrooms are essentially meeting rooms to be used by whoever needs them. It would almost be like a large family (or even a cult) as faculty and students study together, research together, and live on "campus" together. But time spent alone in solitude will be available for anyone who desires it.

If you put a lot of smart people in one place, and give them an inspiring environment to thrive in, wonderful things will happen. My school would be situated in some beautiful part of the country (such as in the Rocky mountains or on a beach), and have a great library and great facilities (such as grand pianos, fast computers, and fantastic food). It could even be situated on a private cruise ship.

The key will be be allow specialists to aggregate in their little micro-communities, but also encourage inter-disciplinary encounters between different areas of study. Bio-scientists will have the opportunity to mingle with poets and computer programmers. Field trips would be spontaneous, and to anywhere in the world. Want to learn Italian? Go to Italy.

When you think about it, this kind of school would not be outrageously expensive to run. There is no need for school administrators, a rigid curriculum, government accreditation or advertising. The curriculum would be whatever people feel like talking about or learning that day. By definition it would stay current and relevant.

The word "Think Tank" comes to mind. I don't like that term because it implies that you lock a bunch of brainiacs into a small hot room and expect them to be ejected within 48 hours with a solution to a problem such as global warming. Learning, education, and ideas need more time and fertile ground to grow in. It needs a unique mixture of individuals, diverse talents, and an infusion of charisma, inspiration, and energy. A school is a society of intelligent people who are willing to learn form others and make discoveries, nothing more.

Of course, if there were such a school, I would like to be a student or teach there. But I can't find it anywhere.


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