Oliver Lee, in a post about walking away from his tenure track professorship at Pitt:
Once upon a time, in a postwar America starved for middle managers who could file TPS reports, relying on the BA as an assurance of quality, proof of the ability to follow orders and complete tasks, made perfect sense. But in today’s world of service workers and coders and freelancers struggling to brand themselves, wasting four years sitting in classes like mine makes no economic sense for the country or for the students — particularly when they’re borrowing money to do so.
Every so often, we’re treated to an essay about how liberal arts majors can prepare students to make creative contributions to an employer’s bottom line. Do you know how else you can prepare to make these vague creative contributions, much more cheaply and efficiently? By sitting around in your parents’ basement and reading great works of literature. Yes, lectures and classroom discussions might help open your mind to new possibilities, but so will skillfully produced videos that are freely available on YouTube. Expert oversight is valuable — but how valuable is it really? I imagine most people wouldn’t fork over $50 an hour for the privilege, regardless of their respect for the stellar minds whose contributions to society can rather easily be accessed and understood for free.
Even with my propensity to imagine a new narrative for education, this is a push. I know that there is a huge potential value to a college education, both financially and intellectually. And there is huge potential in experiencing most of what comes with that, all that stuff that isn’t measured in the classroom. But as the owner of an 18 year-old who is eschewing the traditional college path for an interesting opportunity in New York City (she moves in next week…ugh), I wonder if and how she’ll continue to educate herself, whether her high school experience has set her up to “learn a living” so to speak through a rich combination of face to face experiences as well as “skillfully produced” YouTube videos and all that represents.
Unfortunately, my sense is the answer is no. My kids’ school is 100% vested in the college narrative. My sense is that if you don’t choose college, well, then, good luck with that. For my kid, I hope we’ve done a good enough job that she’ll take advantage of the myriad of ways that life in the city can offer powerful learning opportunities. But if she does, I don’t think it will have much to do with 12 years of school that prepared her for someone else’s curriculum.