05 October 2006

University 2020

Education supports society and society supports the dominant institution. At one point in Western history the dominant institution was the Church - today it is the Corporation. So what does that suggest about the change in education?

For the medieval church, education was simple - everyone was taught church doctrine. Between 1088 and 1150, universities at Bologna, Oxford, and Paris were established. Basically, a heretic is someone who does not accept the dogma of the church - an independent thinker. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Inquisition began almost exactly at this time - suddenly universities were encouraging thought and minds opened to new ideas were not so easily shut again. Soon, instead of education being subordinated to the church, the church was subordinated to education of radical thinkers like Dr. Martin Luther. Soon, new churches were being founded and minds were shaping churches just as churches had earlier shaped minds.

For the modern university, education is simple - prepare students for gainful employment. That is, subordinate education to the needs of today's dominant institution - the corporation. Within the last century, attendance at universities has exploded as jobs as knowledge workers and managers looked more promising than jobs in manufacturing and agriculture. The sixties probably saw the popularization of corporate heretics - people who began to reject the way that corporate policy and conformity polluted the environment and the soul. The nineties were even more interesting. The generation that questioned authority in the sixties were, perhaps unsurprisingly, questioning the corporate model in the nineties. New technologies like the Internet (which is actually a confluence of a myriad of technologies) and venture capital markets were merged with notions of social constructs - the idea processes and practices, organizations and groups were "just made up." Suddenly, start-ups proliferated as a growing number of minds were shaping new companies just as companies had earlier shaped minds.

This suggests that education will soon be transformed. Instead of preparing students to become employees, universities will prepare students to become entrepreneurs. Education will increasingly have less to do with "civilizing" students in the traditional sense of encouraging conformity and will, instead, point students towards conforming social constructs to their own potential, to harmonize with what it means to be human and what is required to sustain an ecosystem.

Successfully making this transformation will require a number of changes. Chief among them is making a more concerted effort to understand the individual and his or her potential. It will mean a customization of education unlike anything we've seen outside of the world of autodidacts. Increasingly, things like lectures will be "tuned into" over the Internet and certain professors will have millions of "students" in the same way that singers and actors have millions of fans. Those professors who are not wildly popular will have difficultly getting an audience to listen to their version of Shakespeare or logarithms. Instead, they will play brokers - helping students to put together a package of formal education and community / work experience that allows them to better understand their own potential for contribution and making a living. Instead of the big question about "what should I study or do or BE?" being incidental to the machinery of universities, it will become the central, organizing question.

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