Self learning beats a “degrading” educational system

TED features a MOOC project this week

Shimon Schocken and Noam Nisan developed a curriculum for their students to build a computer, piece by piece. When they put the course online — giving away the tools, simulators, chip specifications and other building blocks — they were surprised that thousands jumped at the opportunity to learn, working independently as well as organizing their own classes in the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). A call to forget about grades and tap into the self-motivation to learn.

What is a MOOC?

I love it when education experts like Simon Schocken say that autodidactism (self-teaching) is what all learning is ultimately about. When my family withdrew me from college at age 16 my formal education ended, but I developed methods of self-directed learning that have brought plenty of knowledge, skills and a huge bonus: I have a love for acquiring and sharing useful information that only grows year by year. According to Schocken, I apparently failed to be “degraded” by the grading system of formal education and did not learn to value grades more than knowledge.

There are down sides to self-education though. For one, the educated seem to take “as given” certain ways of looking at the world which aren’t actually true, but are somehow supposed to be better ways of looking at things than nature provides. I didn’t know those models and they didn’t interest me: why would I want to spend precious years of life exploring the way some people want life to be, instead of going out into life and learning what the real world is? Well, educated people kept trying to make me see why, and finally they did make me understand this: if you want to be paid on the scale educated pay each other (which is very comfortable by most standards); if you want the information and new skills you share with people capable of monetizing them to be acknowledged as originating from you instead of them; and if you want to be invited to educated peoples’ homes and parties, then you better accept their world view over G-d’s, and make sure that every educated person knows you do.

Secondly, because I wasn’t trained to use the same data, language, or information, points that “educated people” are accustomed to use, early on I had quite a lot of trouble making myself understood to people with massive formal education backgrounds. I needed to learn quite a bit in order to understand them too. But, learning how to communicate with these types is tough. They tend to flock together and exclude outsiders, so it’s not easy to get close enough to learn the terms and expressions they use without becoming a higher learning student in a formal academic environment. Can be done, not so easy; necessary skill if you’re going to be effective as a community advocate (like I am), though.

Given the good and the bad of what I’ve gotten to know about the world since age 16, I can honestly say that the natural world seems 10,000 times better to me than any academic version of it could ever be.

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