Is e-learning about to replace universities?


In 2019, freelance writer Allen Farrington wrote an insightful article, asking a question many have avoided. Does the acceptance of Cancel Culture signal the irreparable decline of universities?

He begins by discussing a short documentary on the Bret Weinstein case at Evergreen State College in Washington State in 2017. Weinstein, along with his wife Heather Heying, was kicked off campus by angry students because he spoke out against racial exclusion policies. Both were biology professors with fairly liberal views.

No matter how closely you followed the debacle back then, nothing replaces this fascinating behind-the-scenes look. Evergreen academics can be seen obediently and repeatedly submitting to ideological manipulations, and on several occasions terrified senior professors offer blatantly hypocritical professions of faith in the hope of escaping the vengeful fury of their tormentors. students with stupid slogans. The barely contained thirst for violence as a means of an end is palpable.

Allen Farrington, “After academia” at Keel (May 9, 2019)

Farrington sums it up:

Advocates of “education”, who most often have an interest in the current racketeering prescribed by the modern definition, like to pretend that they are part of a system supporting the classical definition. At Evergreen this was obviously wrong – critical thinking was subordinate to dogma and Bret Weinstein was kicked out of his job for having the temerity to defend it. The university was designed to provide academics with a secure redoubt in which to conduct their studies, which would be partially funded by allowing volunteer students to take a thing or two while being nearby. It was a very sane proposition in the 1300s, but looks like a fantasy today. There are no safe spaces for academics, and students can mimic proximity to academics for the cost of an Internet connection. Volunteer students can earn 20 or 30 separate (classically defined) undergraduate degrees from MIT OpenCourseWare alone. But many just want a piece of paper that says they’re a sufficiently socialized member of society, endorsed by the cultural elite.

Allen Farrington, “After academia” at Keel (May 9, 2019)

Very well. Billions of dollars in endowments, generous government funding and a huge social cachet combine to make universities very powerful. But are they essential?

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who will speak at COSM 2021 on November 10, doesn’t seem to think so. Along the way, Farrington unpacks his approach:

Peter Thiel has given a single scathing critique of the insanity of this system. He wonders if higher education, as an economic exchange, is more of an investment: the student defers the gratuity to reap higher rewards in the future, or the student enjoys a four-year celebration. as a consumer good. Thiel says he originally saw higher education as consumption disguised as an investment, but now sees it as an even crazier combination of concepts: as insurance against failure in life in general, and as a sort of Veblen good, the price of which is not competitive in order to confer status on those who can afford it. This produces a ridiculous situation in which insurance is desirable, not because something disastrous is being prudently insured, but because disaster would be the shame of not taking out insurance in the first place. It is indeed a Ponzi scheme. No wonder Thiel calls college administrators subprime mortgage brokers. They get a discount on selling pieces of paper that are only as valuable as we all claim to be.

Allen Farrington, “After academia” at Keel (May 9, 2019)

There is a lot to think about here but, in essence, Farrington argues, shouting at Thiel, that the current purpose of the university is to provide, at enormous cost, a piece of paper that supposedly provides access to high society graduates: “Higher education has become a transfer of wealth from the future incomes of the aspiring lower and middle classes to a metastasized administrative parasite, who finances the permanence of the cultural elite by exerting influence over anyone who is stupid enough to disagree, he thinks the illness is “terminal.”

But what to do? Here, Farrington turns to Peter Thiel again:

Apart from maybe doctors and engineers, we need to stop pretending that the pieces of paper that diplomas are printed on have value so that no one can be tricked into buying them in the first place. Initiatives like the Thiel Scholarship, which awards $ 100,000 each to 20 of the most gifted students to do something more constructive than higher education, are a good start, but by design they won’t be to scale. . Austen Allred’s Lambda School is a promising next step, and I encourage all readers to familiarize themselves with it. The arXiv is a world-class effort to use the power of the internet to maintain a classic education system while touring the academic world, just like Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera, and many more. But we do not need to empty all our hopes in a techno-utopianism. The biggest change is likely to come from corporate employers, which can have a huge impact in two ways.

Allen Farrington, “After academia” at Keel (May 9, 2019)

Farrington offers two additional ideas: He encourages companies to fund more research directly. (“It’s no mystery that some of the greatest science of the twentieth century was funded by AT&T at Bell Labs and Xerox at Xerox PARC. He there were no administrators forcing them to write twenty-page reports explaining why Unix would advance social justice. ”)

Second, he suggests, companies might stop rewarding expensive pieces of paper. He considers that these trends are already starting in 2019: “In 2015, Ernst & Young announced that it would no longer take diplomas or even high school certifications into account when considering applications. “In 2021, it’s off to a good start:” No university degree? More employers than ever don’t care ”(October 12, 2021)

Recently, the classic and commentator Victor Davis Hanson observed that “universities make themselves not only hated and unsavory, but ultimately irrelevant and replaceable”:

Few of today’s awake twenties will get a rigorous education in language, logic and inductive methods with a shared knowledge of literature, history, science and mathematics. At a much lower cost, they would likely find better online courses in these now sclerotic subjects than in the courses they have gone into the hock to fund.

Victor Davis Hanson, “Ground Zero of Woke” at Independent institute (October 25, 2021)

It is also true that, historically, alternative systems appear in such circumstances.

You can also read: The best venture capitalist to tackle big, corrupt universities. Peter Thiel: Online education is great for learning, but unfortunately learning has almost nothing to do with the so-called education system. Thiel’s third contrary idea: Never bet against the human spirit as a source of new ideas. This includes education reform.


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