Learning is not for sale

“You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you could’ve got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

Matt Damon’s cheeky line from Good Will Hunting is hard to take seriously. Academia requires boundaries; the former cannot exist without the latter, or can it? “Education without boundaries” – it reeks of that hippy-dippy, new age strain of thought. Learning, true learning, can only take place in a rigid academic environment, right? Well, the truth is that there have been meaningful alternative edification methods in existence for centuries. Wherever there has been formal education, there has also been an accompanying array of alternate educational methods, rich with colourful characters and a host of interesting methods.

In fact, many of the grassroots movements still going strong today originated in the education revolution of the nineteen sixties and seventies. Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts is a product of this. It’s an institution without mandatory classes or study guides, and allows mixing of different age groups. It prohibits parental participation and instead runs like a democracy with student and teacher votes only. There are no tests, no transcripts, no grades. In the end, students and teachers usually wind up congregating in one room. Sudbury Valley is one of forty other schools around the globe that follow a similar loose knit model.

In this same thread, there have been documented cases of trained people holding free workshops and lectures in their basements. One example being in South Bronx, New York where Mark Frausenfelder reports that there is a free electrical engineering course being held by a single individual.

This trend has also sprung up in Canada. The Vancouver FreeSchool Project is a community effort to arrange meetings with facilitators in order to foster discussion and growth in an atypical fashion. Its goals and workshops speak for themselves, ranging from Graffiti History and Guerilla Public Art to Readings and Discussions on Sexuality.

All in all these notions of enlightenment are much different than what many people expect. They fly in the face of nearly every modern western notion of what higher education is: rigidly structured, graded and competitive, and even expensive. But can they be discounted because of their apparent oddness? Everyone will have their own opinion undoubtedly on such a contentious issue, but people must truly ponder in this case, is there more room on the margins? If so, maybe traditionalists should stop scoffing and start listening.

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