A Dark University

Builds Upon: Knowledge Monopolies: The University

Colleges are relied upon not because of their excellence, but because they guarantee a minimum level of incompetence.
All one would need to do better would be a minimal organization with the purpose of giving exactly enough guidance and no more. This minimal organization would be a system that could merely allow self study while offering internships and savvy advice. Thus one could study on their own with some protection from the classic pitfalls of working without feedback and a community.
Some basic traits of such a system?

No tuition. It’s hard to focus on the journey when the slightest delay or misstep can cost thousands of dollars.
Why/how would anyone help educate anyone else for free? For a dark state, it is an excellent opportunity to bring people under its influence.

No groveling for letter grades. For all this contrived urgency causes one to scramble for quick results. In a rush, one forgets: there is no knowledge in isolation, mere regurgitation has little relation to true understanding. A dark student is able to spend all their study time actually practicing instead of keeping a professor happy. They won’t develop the negative psychological associations a stressed out conventional student has with the material. Spending more time actually using the material or thinking of uses for it will come naturally.

No getting stuck in a single excruciating course that goes at its own pace.
An enlightened system must cater to the wandering nature of human curiosity and be indulgent of tangential learning: The present ‘results oriented’ system forgets: if there are many tangents from many sources, they eventually converge into a greater whole. Certainly, not all tangents end up converging. Not all inquiries are equally materially productive. But one curious person who studies without paying someone to coerce them is going to retain more knowledge and be much more likely to incorporate it as a daily part of their lives.

No micro-managing people. If people are curious they will come. If people give it a chance and aren’t so curious, they may very well become curious. Instead of using millions of dollars to manage tens of thousands of people on a massive campus, let them manage themselves.

No graduation. One need never stop their inquiries. The moment they’re knowledgeable enough to achieve their initial goals passes without ceremony.

Especially for beginners, a professor can be overkill. Someone with advanced knowledge in a subject is often unsuited to teaching down to neophytes. Cranky, unsympathetic, unenthusiastic professors who would rather be doing research are an essential part of the college introductory course experience. Why? Who needs to pay thousands of dollars for this? The meanest of amateurs is perhaps more qualified to introduce a subject than a professor.
Surely some professors might prefer the dark university if they spent time only with advanced students and were encouraged to focus on research and funding.

Or… forget professors. Rely on a network of professionals who actually work in their fields to give apprentice style training to dark students. Skip academia. Skip theory. At least until one has a foundation in the subject.
After all, why on earth should one begin with theory? What good can it do to read a treatise on sight before developing eyes?
Everything that a student is forced to study, that the student will never use, is forgotten. Therefore: why teach it in the first place?

One way we know whether a school has succeeded or failed is by watching how people behave after they’re done with school. The hallmark of our present way: one takes courses for as long as they have to get a piece of paper and no more. Once freed from this ordeal, they need never choose to pursue knowledge again. For learning was their trial by fire, not their lifestyle.


2 responses to “A Dark University

  1. A big part of what keeps universities alive is the parents. The older generation believes them to be valuable to getting their kids a place in the world (though increasingly you have to make your own). It’s a fire and forget attitude, the college takes over parental responsibility. It’s an extended day care for people still learning how to live just as much as a learning institution.

  2. I have to admit you’re on to something.

    A lot of parents just want a quick way of packing their kids out of the house while still being able to have a nice feeling of righteousness inside.

    They’re also just going through the motions of typical middle class anxiety.
    Colleges were for rich kids just a few generations ago.
    The fact that scarcity is what made a degree valuable utterly escapes them. They refuse to think and fail to understand basic market forces.

    And if you want to predict what the lower classes will do, a good bet is that they will soon try to copy whatever is just now coming in fashion with their social superiors.
    And once they’re copying it, rest assured their superiors will move on to the next thing.

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