Free Education.


Here‘s an interesting idea for a “proletarian university”:

‘What about a self-organised ‘proletarian university’ that runs one night a week in cheap spaces? Given enough willing lecturers, academics could offer one 2-hour lecture of their choice (or in a more co-ordinated way?) once every three or six months. These could be lectures with the aim of introducing people, including beginners, to topics and thinkers of interest. Participants would go away with some ideas, maybe reading lists, to help with further study. Proletarian university could start with an open-ended syllabus entitled ‘Proletarian Philosophy’. Who knows after that?

People could pay a small fee depending on the cost of the space etc. People on benefits come for free. Those with jobs pay in full. Students get concessions. Lecturers get paid something.’

Why not just go for a free university? I mean if it’s only one lecture every once in a while, what reasonable person would not do it for free? When I went to the university during the Soviet times, I was paid a stipend to go, everyone was, that is, government paid students to go to school. The quality of education was superb as well, even in provincial universities. I’m still not sure what to make of this strange Western idea that the more you pay for your education, the better it supposedly is.

The problem I think is clearly that of the institutional nature of education – people don’t go to school to get education, they go to get a diploma (in most cases, of course), if I could be pessimistic for a moment. If one were truly looking for education, one could easily do so by reading books, finding online lectures, and so on. Although we think of “self-taught” as a compliment, I think that anyone who is educated in some subject area is to a certain extent a “self-taught” person.

Maybe this is just an end-of-semester mood, but every time I see another group of students take their final test and leave, I wonder if they have learned anything from my class. Of course they learned something, but did it have anything to do with philosophy?

13 thoughts on “Free Education.

  1. I would do this. But knowledge has no cash value unless it’s credentialed. Easy enough to see why the credential looms central and the knowledge gets crowded to the margin.

  2. In, Argentina, “public” university means free university. The University of Buenos Aires, for instance, is completely free of charge (well, except for graduate studies), and it’s an excellent university, in terms of the quality of education it provides. In fact, at least in terms of social sciences and humanities, the more you pay for your education, the poorer it is. Yet, there are some caveats:
    – because of the socio-economic conditions, even with a free university only a very small percentage of the population attends. Since there are no stipends, attending college means not spending that time working, something that not many people can afford. Also, finishing high0school is not a given.
    – the precariousness of funding presents problems for faculty (low salaries) and students (lack of resources for equipment, libraries, strikes,etc.).

    However, and without romanticizing poverty, it could be argued that those same caveats provide a type of education that not many other places count with; an education based in self-discipline, patience, perseverance, and an encounter with people with the most diverse backgrounds imaginable. And above all, the understanding of education as a fundamental right.

  3. So essentially you pay a gazillion dollars to get a decent credential and maybe along the way, since the school probably has decent profs, some decent education? I think it would be fine with me, if I wasn’t teaching something like philosophy which is hard to sell, even if I constantly say stuff like “This is good for you, you might learn to think a little better, could be even useful in life”…

    Not to bring it all back to the damn communists/anarchists, but I was always impressed by people like Kropotkin and others who thought that educating people was essential for any sort of revolutionary change of consciousness. It sounded more arrogant when Lenin and others said it, but the message was clear: without education, people do not realize that they need a social change, that things can and must be better and so forth.

    I wonder if the thorough “credentialization” of education is just a logical step of capitalist ideology – if people learn their trade and ask no questions, it’s easy to oppress them. Think about today – banks fuck people over with fees, credit cards raise rates, unemployment everywhere, people lose their houses and yet there’s almost no public outrage – how does one explain it? I just don’t get it.

  4. Thanks, Daniel. I was reading something about early European universities and I learned that it was not uncommon for students to beg for food (in addition to shameless drinking and fornication, how things changed since then!) – just a note…

    I think with a stronger governmental support, it’s not difficult to imagine a system of public universities that provide free education and even a system of scholarships or basic support. In most cases in the US, you can go to a public school for a fraction of what you would pay at a private school. There’s of course a matter of “credentials” as Carl points out, but you could imagine that instead of giving tax-cuts to the rich or going to wars, even US government could invest more money into education and make it free (like a “public option” in current health care debates).

    If I’m not mistaken, you can still go to state universities for free in Russia and most of European states, but yes no stipend.

  5. Have you looked into the unschooling movement in the US?

    What we need to work on most is a culture of education, where we value self improvement, knowledge, and skill. Right now too many in the US put a premium on being “folksy”.

  6. I believe that this is exactly how the New School was founded.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_School#Founding

    Courses were originally given out of a Brownstone once a week for each discipline. I may have been misled, as the Wikipedia does not make mention of it, but I was informed that what is now known as “The New School for General Studies” was Originally a night school funded by the Iron Workers Union of America.

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