Sunday, March 07, 2010

Public Discourse: What Will Replace Behemoth State University? by Robert C. Koons, March 02, 2010
New technological developments and pressing national needs suggest that the future of higher education may be one friendlier to the classical tradition of liberal education.

Technological advances, ironically enabled by the modern research university, may make its eventual displacement possible. The great texts that make up the ancient canon and well crafted lectures and introductions to those texts are now freely available on-line as an academic open source (Babbit’s book, available on Google Books, is just one example). Social media and teleconferencing make possible the spontaneous formation of international communities of scholarly amateurs (in the original sense of the word), in and through which the heritage of the West can still find its outlet. All that is needed is for scholars committed to the true republic of letters to join together to provide some formal quality control to the process. This model would provide students from modest backgrounds who aspire to a classical education a low-cost credential by examination (modeled on the final examination schools of Oxford and Cambridge), as an alternative to the residential four-year college.

It seems to me that such long-distance learning is only possible for the many if there is cheap energy. Also, a great books approach is not sufficient for an Aristotelian liberal education, which should have a Socratic component. Can Socratic questioning be done online? Yes, but it is time-intensive -- what sort of teacher would be able to do that for free, or very low wages? Besides that, socratic questioning is not effective with large class sizes. Education needs to be relocalized precisely for the teacher-student relationship to be fostered. (Do businesses accept the accreditation of long-distance education programs?)

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