Open source education chimes with so many current cultural and technological trends.
The New Renaissance Man
There is a feeling that specialisation has reached its zenith and that the Adam Smith era is coming to an end. There is nowhere else to go but to enjoy the pendulum swingback. As we become more entrepreneurial in our outlook, we prefer generalism over specialism. Now is the time to imagine a different working life where we have a plurality of jobs and hobbies and activities which are a combination of both.
It is something I have embraced all my working life and I encourage others to do the same. Sooner or later, this portfolio career, as some call it, will be a necessity so the education system needs to change radically if it is to prepare us for such a life. Non-specialisation makes us more prepared for the changeful century ahead. It also makes us more rounded and ultimately happier individuals. More importantly, as any banker will tell you, you don’t put your eggs in one basket, you spread your investments and this makes life more, not less secure.
Growth of the Creative Industries
I need to get back to my work as a Jazz musician and why I believe such careers are models of how future work will be done. In a way Jazz is a Cinderella genre. The audience is miniscule compared to that of Pop and Rock. America speaks English so we prefer our American music to be vocal whereas on the Continent they seem to be just as happy with the instrumental version. Though it has been with us for a century, British people still see it as something from another time and another place. Jazz has suffered from the extraordinary success of Pop and Rock even though the standard of Jazz played here is of the highest quality.
Jazz receives very little in the way of public funding. It is not ethnic so does not address diversity agendas and it is not establishment music so does not get the huge subsidies enjoyed by orchestras, opera and dance companies. I am not complaining about his (although I must confess I have done in the past). I now see it as a strength because the Jazz musician has to use all his mental resources to develop a career in this climate. As someone once told me: ‘You have to make your own career ladder’. The prototype career Jazz musician was Humphrey Lyttleton though I am sure there were others before him, he was the first I noticed and I found myself subconsciously following his model. He was a trumpeter/cartoonist/broadcaster. I’ve spoken to Rock musicians who see taking a second job as an admission of failure but this is wrong in so many ways. The creative careers is about the various strands enhancing each other. Did Lyttleton’s cartoon activities interfere with his trumpet practice? Of course not. His trumpet playing made him a better cartoonist, his cartoon work made him a better broadcaster, his broadcasting made him a better trumpeter. In non-creative careers become a specialist, in the creative career, become a generalist. Creative careers need not always be comprising creative endeavours as is the case with Lyttleton. They can be a combination of both as is the case Art Theman, a surgeon and a tenor saxophone player. There are so many examples how Jazz musicians juggle their working lives as they are driven by a passion for the music. One thing they rarely do is stop playing.
Those in freelance careers is that they hate paying for services and this is because a little bit of computer knowledge allows us to build websites, design logos, establish networks, blog, write, record and keep accounts, Many consumers refuse to pay for anything over the internet. Cloud computing services are mainly funded by advertising and are likely to remain so. As a rule of thumb, if it has an ad, don’t pay for it. The ad-free lifestyle is becoming the preserve of the wealthy.
Open source is, by its very nature, free. The teachers are unpaid amateurs – they do it for the love of it. There is an understandable wariness of amateurism because it might be well… amateurish. Don’t worry, the Darwinian world of the internet allows the very best teachers to rise to the top. I am amazed at the quality of unpaid scholarship that goes into Wikipedia, and at the amount of time these highly qualified individuals give. Unpaid mentoring is a growing factor in education and careers and it is something that can be expanded. When the founders of the welfare state declared that education should be free for all, open source education brings this to a glorious realisation beyond their wildest dreams: free to learners and free to taxpayers.
The days of the advertising jingle are numbered as people want real hits. Most old songs come to the attention of a younger audience through advertising. This is a pity but the demand of authenticity is an encouraging cultural trend and it is summed up by two common phrases: ‘keep it real’ and ‘cut the crap’. Open education encourages a direct line to the great thinkers.
We want our young people to become readers. Ask any reader what proportion of his reading is primary (literature) and what is secondary (literary criticism) and the you will find that it is about 10:1. They may read introductions, magazine articles and even footnotes but most of the time is spent actually reading the text. Not so with students. For them, the prime motive is to create literary criticism in the form of essays and this can be done without even reading the prescribed text.
As a boy in the early 1970s, I worked as a petrol pump attendant. I must have been one of the last of that occupation because it was just prior to the introduction of self-service petrol stations. What I noticed was that no-one complained, in fact they seemed to like serving themselves. ‘Help yourself’ is regarded as a polite thing to say. I soon became aware that this was a trend that would transform retailing of goods and services. At first it was groceries and banking, but with the internet we started booking tickets and getting health checks and diagnoses.. Unlike the specialisation pendulum, this one still has a lot of momentum and it is starting to make inroads into knowledge transfer, the most notable example being Wikipedia. Open-source education is about bringing this trend into that £64 billion a year industry we call the education system. People are used to it and most importantly, they appreciate the cost benefits (let’s not lose sight of that £64 billion figure).