There’s talk these days about college educations being too expensive—and by “too expensive,” some experts have said it’s simply not worth the money. I’m not currently working in the field I studied, but I don’t regret college at all. In part, I suppose, because it’s been paid for.
Of the many things I remember from my years in school, these two stick out:
- “You don’t know how to think until you know how to write” (from Freshman orientation)
- “There is more than just one way to learn a thing” (from an honors seminar on epistemology)
Those two points served me very well as I moved from career to career, and I think they can be expanded upon to form their own field of study. With a substantial portion of all human knowledge instantly available to us on our handbrains¹ it can be argued that the acquisition of such knowledge needs to be cheaper than a one-year service plan.
On the down side, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Per Sturgeon’s Law², “90% of everything is crap.” A formal education might be the best defense against inadvertently filling one’s head with digitally disseminated falsehood, folklore, and folderol.
The current model for formal education involves front-loading our brains with material delivered by professionals whose authority we’re not truly invited to question. They may teach “question everything,” but they never really support us questioning whether their class is worth our money.
That’s why I think that the class we all need, and which should likely be the first class taught to the rising generation, would teach the following skills:
- How to gather information online
- How to evaluate that information’s validity
- How to make a decision based on the available information
Simply put, it is learning how to learn, and learning how to act on what we’ve learned. I imagine the class running for about three months, and presenting increasingly complicated problems for students to solve using online resources.
It may seem a little silly, and even a little too basic, because it’s an extension of what most of us already do. But as more and more information becomes quickly available to us, this process will inevitably become the dominant mode for learning things. Doing it sloppily will be disastrous.
Obviously the things learned from online research will need to be supplemented with practical experience, but there are manifold paths open to us once we’ve figured out that first bit. It may be that autodidacts³ of the future will move directly into medical school, skipping the undergrad and pre-med programs on their way to becoming doctors.
Or maybe the doctors of the future will go to school for bedside manner and periodic maintenance of the surgeon-bots and all their super-precise robot friends who never forget to wash their hands⁴.
¹Have you ever had a professor quote to you from their own book, which you were required to buy as part of the class? I’ve always aspired to that level of grift.
²What we call “Sturgeon’s Law” was called “Sturgeon’s Revelation” by Sturgeon, and he never got around to condensing it into six words of pith.
³A fancy word for “folks who are self-taught.” Useful, but pretty much everybody I know has taught themselves a great many interesting things, so at some level the word “autodidact” simply means “human.”
⁴Still a problem among modern surgeons. It’s the surgeon equivalent of using your turn signal when driving.