I was trying to rent a van from UNC facilities, for the Nomadic conference in October. No problem, but they require each driver to take a 75 minutes class on van driving safety and state policies. Even though I drove a 15 passenger van for thousands of miles and hours, there is no waiver. Even though I can probably read the state policies myself, in just a few minutes, I'd have to go and listen to someone about them in person. Can you test me on policies? No. This whole thing irritated me somewhat, because it does sound like a waste of my time. There has to be a better way of ensuring safety and compliance than making everyone, regardless of experience, and of how we prefer to learn.
So, I was irritated until I realized that this is exactly what we make our students to do, only a lot more. No matter how much they already know and are able to do, there is no practical way for them to test out of a class. Even though some of them are like me; they prefer to read information quickly and try to apply it right away – we still want all to come to classroom and listen to our ramblings, our posturing, and our stories. The time spent in the holy union of buttocks with chairs is still the main measure of someone's education. We are just so used to this that the absurdity of the situation is hard to notice.
How long can we sit out in our narcissistic castles of education? In the age of Google Book and Google Scholar, the Wikipedia and the on-line research databases, we still measure education in credits – seat time, really, – and we insist on being paid for it on per-credit basis; and we want more and more, when information became so cheap it is really free. Whatever miniscule accountability measures we adopt are all on top of the seat-time machinery, not instead of it. I just don't think this is going to hold much longer.
We will probably rent the van from a private vendor, even though it is slightly more expensive. At least, they don't require me to learn what I already know, and to hear a lecture where a brief reading will do. Sooner or later, our students will make the same choice. Someone will force the legal changes undermining our monopoly on education. Someone will figure out a way of determining how much people already know, and how they can demonstrate their competency. Finally, someone will also figure out how to put control over learning into learner's hands, so they can chose how they want to learn, as long as learning takes place.
I am not sure when this is going to happen, and who will figure out all these things. I want to be one of them, for sure, not to watch our common ship slowly sink into oblivion. There should be a better way to teach and learn.