Free Range Education

Education is presently a contract between teachers and parents; it should be between learners and teachers. And like all contracts, they should be entered into voluntarily, with full knowledge of the choices available.

As eighteen year old with A levels I decided not to go to university. I have not analysed my reasons until recently. At the time the decision seemed obvious, natural and instinctive. The idea of  reading and writing to order is anathema to the free spirit. I loathe the academic approach: the language and the whole, if-it’s-dull-it-must-be-worthy ethic. Any reference to one’s own life or any humour is frowned upon because serious academic study must never be enjoyable. Of course, research is valuable and universities play an important role in helping others make decisions. But for the average student, I wonder if it is merely an endurance test- a preparation for enduring life in the professions, much in the same way as running across fields with a ton of kit on his back, prepares a man for life in the army.

Instead we should have free-range education: we cluck around literary pastures and peck at whichever morsels of knowledge take our fancy. Rather than ploughing my way through a prescribed reading list, by not attending university I was free to chose; I could start or finish any book precisely when I chose. I was able to read for enjoyment and that is the most instructive kind of reading of all.

Consider the buffet lunch. People rarely complain about the absence of waiters. Diners can take as much or as little as they like. They can try out different foods and sit precisely where they want and converse with whoever they wish.  Teachers are the waiters in the era of buffet education.

We really need to re-think the university, especially those teaching arts.A university lecture, on average, cost the sudent £50 a time, and he can read it all on Wikipedia for free. Only art forms which are past their heyday get studied.  The really creative people have moved on. They are teaching themselves because an ounce of self-discipline is worth a pound of discipline and an artists prefers autonomy to the constraints of a course or curriculum. More importantly, Open Source Education is a pillar of civic society and a powerful bastion against the possible despots. The state will always call the tune and use teachers to propagate their agenda. This may not be overt and its influence may seem benign but who is to know what awaits us if a tyrannical regime should take power? Financial rewards may have to come from the state but this may not always be the case. In fact, they would be better to come from industry. If say, engineering companies see a potential shortfall of talent in a few years time, they could put up some more reward money for the relevant examinations. This will make organised education far more responsive to the needs of the workplace.

What is it about CVs? For a start, why such appalling grammar? Every sentence should have a subject so a CV with ‘Attended Oxford University’  should be binned immediately. Why the reverse chronology? A story should always start  at the beginning unless you are Martin Amis. The OSE era is the era of the multi-media CV. This  can give an instant picture of a student’s abilities as well as character. There will be a much greater variety of achievement and knowledge as students follow their natural curiosity, often into cul-de-sacs and sometimes getting obsessed with one speciality.

This is a time for experiment. Conventional wisdom tells us a degree gets you a well paid job. The government needs to test the effectiveness of universities so it should secretly give degrees to the long-term unemployed and see how they fare in the workplace.

I have tried to put these ideas into practice as a guitar teacher. In a way, I am writing myself out of a job but since I have more than one it doesn’t really matter. In fact, it is this plurality which allows me to think more courageously and become intellectually active. Here are some aspects of my working practices which should apply to all education.


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