The Future of Education Lies Outside of Academia
Radical Ideas on Harnessing Collective Intelligence
I’m really excited to finally have concretized the initial stages of idea that has been developing. A lot of you have been watching me try to navigate unknown areas for years as what you might think of as a displaced academic. Recently, I reframed this idea into the concept of a NeoAcademic and started the podcast on it. I’ve been trying to think about what this idea wants to be, and I may be wrong, but I at least have a place to start.
I found The Santa Fe Institute’s Seminar on Collective Intelligence and decided to try and collect my thoughts around NeoAcademia and apply to attend. I also decided to submit a proposal for a “Radical Idea” - which doesn’t seem to radical to me because I’m living it, but at scale it certainly is.
Here it is:
Radical Idea: The Future of Education Lies Outside of Academia
A few months ago I started a podcasting project, NeoAcademia, exploring the idea that the academic architecture of the 21st century is decentralizing, especially with regard to the dissemination of knowledge and, to a lesser extent, with the creation of knowledge in nontechnical fields. I estimate that the decentralization of academia has the potential to diversify and improve human knowledge by harnessing a broader sample of collective human intelligence. Peter Turchin’s analysis on the overproduction of elites provoked my interest when I mourned the loss of my own potential to contribute to the prescribed base of human knowledge upon leaving academia. The academic system is implicated in an array of crises ranging from epistemological priorities, mistrust, adjunct overflow, affordability, and replication of results, not to mention the looming implications of AI. These crises coupled with an increasing call for the democratization of knowledge beg the question of the future structure and stability of the current academic system and a general question as to the location, maintenance, and growth of human knowledge.
From Plato’s academy to the for-profit universitys churning out nurses and dental assistants, the functions of “higher education” can be broken down into three broad pillars: 1) creation, 2) maintenance, 3) and dissemination of knowledge. In essence, institutions of higher learning are places where teachers can meet with students who wish to pursue learning for variable reasons ranging from realizing lofty intellectual ideals to research investigations to vocational training. If this is true, we could build the argument that higher learning is now taking place on YouTube, TikTok, and Substack just as often as it is in lecture halls. It is only in the last century, that degree-granting has become a popular mode of accreditation, but to what end? According to Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Higher Education, degrees are acquired to signal for competence, increase lifetime earnings, and increase social mobility. Degree-granting can be placed under pillar (3), but this use of the university might outstrip the function of the university at some point in the near future, given the sharply rising cost of degree acquisition.
Clark Kerr’s 1963 classic The Uses of The University opens with the idea of a ‘Multiversity’ that is a “whole series of communities and activities held together by a common name”. I argue that the concept of the Multiversity as a physical entity may have reached its limit, but as a network, it can extend far beyond the quad. The university does a great many things (arguably too many) including fulfilling Plato’s edict that educational institutions should develop future leaders. This ideal is an overreach, as it is too vast a goal for a single institution to take on. The development of leaders should not be shaped by one siloed institution, even one that has many functions. This ideal is too easily corrupted and not representative of the democratic population that institutions of learning intend to serve. One way to mitigate this problem is to reimagine academia as a distributed network of learning.
Many of the people that we learn from on a daily basis aren’t academics in the traditional sense, but they contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge on a regular basis. However, it isn’t until these individuals’ ideas are evaluated by “professional academics” that the knowledge they create is granted epistemological admission to the formal repertoire of accepted knowledge, (i.e., peer review). This system is not reflective of the diverse cradle of human creativity and learning. In Season 1 of my podcast NeoAcademia, I took an exploratory cross-section of the people, institutions, and mediums that are shifting in our landscape of learning. I spoke with TikTok teachers, formal educators, online course creators, writers, traditional academics, non-traditional publishers, podcasters, tech CEOs, venture capitalists, YouTubers, and independent scholars - all of whom are committed to innovation, teaching, learning, and furthering human knowledge across a wide array of disciplines and mediums - individuals I refer to as neoacademics.
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