Edupunk can be considered "DIY Ivy League", "Homeschooling for Graduate Students", "the University, Deconstructed" or simply "Adult Ed for Credit".  Its fans include homeschooled third-generation hippie teenagers, frustrated college dropouts and adult learners who don't fit in with the 'traditional' American college structure and want to take matters into their own hands, using Internet resources, for-profit, free and alternative universities, and various other resources, including good old books.

Generally, the movement is a solidly Blue State kind of thing, among people who otherwise would have been Ivy League/UC Berkeley (or Black Mountain/Goddard/Bard) students sometime ago, where getting a degree is less important than (let's face it) who you know and who your parents know, for creative and non-profit jobs, which takes the pressure off, for instance, trying to get into med or engineering school. As with the Maker Movement, it could change everything, or remain, at best, a hobby for the New Aristocracy.

Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with college education here in America,  though few can agree what needs to be done.

Useful U

 One party claims that too many people are being pushed into the liberal arts: instead of trying to teach semiotics to potential store managers at Wal★Mart, healthcare workers, and suchlike, we should be insisting instead on job and social skills, basic literacy and numeracy, and teachers who can coach students through the career-seeking process. In their eyes, college has become a two (or four, or six) year playground where learning takes a back seat to socializing, surfing the Web, drinking and getting laid with nary an eye towards eventual adulthood, even though they'll likely graduate from college with a crushing student loan debt, and no idea how to repay it.  In their view, college should be stripped of such inessentials as research facilities, teaching hospitals, football stadia and food courts in favor of a curriculum that covers such subjects as living arts, social skills, household management, physical fitness, and such details as covering your tattoos and not chewing gum while on a job interview.  Let's call this side Useful U.

    Most frustrated dropouts tend to gravitate towards this view. In their eyes, it doesn't mean a hill of beans whether they learn about Beowulf or their alma mater has a winning team, as long as they can prove that they're literate, collect the parchment, and go on to a future beyond flipping burgers and working on the loading dock. These people are most often interested in for-profit universities, distance learning, or schemes that keep them working towards their goals while keeping their jobs and taking care of children, or free-as-in-beer or low-cost colleges that will get you a sheepskin without putting a hole in your pocket.
    The downside, of course, is that the whole notion of professionalism tends to get scrapped in the single-minded race to a goal.  One of the ways that professional and working-class people differ is a certain respect for the facts -- for working-class people, facts outside their immediate experience tend to be slippery and shadowy (after all, who cares if Leonardo da Vinci was a member of the Illuminati, except that one story is dull and the other is kind of cool), while professional people are very careful to be correct even if the facts aren't of immediate utility. Being able to think and speak clearly, exercise critical thinking, and to put what you know into a larger background are not simply the prerogative of the wealthy, but skills necessary for anyone to make informed choices as a citizen.  Unfortunately, there's no quick way of imparting them, any more than a short program will yield listenable pop tunes.


Academy of Ludism

    Another party claims that college crushes creativity and insists on rigid social norms rather than allowing students to study as they will in a spirit of play.   In this view, hiking the Appalachian Trail, blogging about your love of French New Wave movies or finding new uses for dismembered telephones are just as valid activities as learning buzzwords and glad-handing future employers.   While this sounds like a romantic echo of the hippie Sixties and Seventies, it's this kind of learning that attracts the New Aristocracy and their children: after all, when Daddy's stock in that software company he started in his bedroom will pay the rent for the next few generations, why bother with Yale or Stanford? Sure, you might want to get a degree, somewhere down the road, but as long as the lectures, exercises, and readings are on the Web, there's no need to actually go to school to learn whatever you feel like.  If your tastes and talents bring you into something that needs a workshop or a lab, there's always the Hackerspace down the street, or a nice garage you can fix up with Daddy's money. Call this approach Ludic Academy.

    Educational romanticism has been around since before Rousseau, when Francois Rabelais wrote about the education of Gargantua, and probably St. Augustine had something to say about it, too.  Every one of them has contrasted the creativity and curiosity of children with the stodgy adults they became, and has spoken about how stultifying  education is, and how they wish they, themselves could be as creative and curious as a five-year-old.  A newer strain of educational romantics points out that most of the high-tech jobs of the present, such as video game designer or nanotechnology engineer, don't have college classes associated with them, and were developed by independent learners. "Who knows but that we may need sustainability engineers in years to come?" they ask.  This also has some resonance with the digerati: since passion for a subject is part and parcel of being a geek, the notion of getting college-like credit for Doing What You Love sounds great. 
    Unfortunately, trying to get a liberal education by reading randomly is (in my own experience) extremely frustrating, and even the free-est creative talents need discipline,  a knowledge of the forms and genres of their art, and a lot of practice to get anywhere. (Keith Richards comes most readily to mind here, though you can also talk about John Cage, Allen Ginsberg or Jackson Pollack.)  Then, too, teenagers have mighty peculiar ideas of what constitutes important culture: as much as they might insist that the "Twilight" series is a true classic and that learning Klingon is as relevant as learning Latin, there are benefits to reading (say) Lord Byron (or John Milton, or the King James Bible) they'd never get in Twilight, and while there are translations into Klingon of all manner of texts, the number and cultural importance of texts that can be translated from Latin into English is unquestionable. Unfortunately, it tends to take at least a few years of wasted effort before this sinks in.

Academic Utopians   

The last group are academic Utopians, who ask "What are the things an educated person should know?" While this would seem to be a simple question, it's in reality extremely difficult. Should one go strictly in historical sequence, beginning with the Chauvet caves and ending with Zižek? Or backwards, beginning with the headlines of the New York Times (or the local TV news) and tracing the stories backwards to the Big Bang? While it would be ideal to learn the various cultures that make up the world as we know it, it's difficult to pick and choose exactly whose culture and what can be taught in the limited stretch of four (or twelve or sixteen) years.  Should we teach the Western canon or a curriculum custom-tailored to the student's ancestry, sex, and/or sexual orientation? Should we teach cultures that look to be up-and-coming, or seek to understand the past?
Even such a simple subject as Western music is fraught with problems: if you really wanted to experience Gregorian chant, you'd have to sing them, yourself (meaning, you'd have to learn chant, Pythagorean music theory, and possibly, Latin), sonatas, you'd have to play them (meaning, learning piano/violin, at the very least), and ballet, at least some court dance (I never knew how much of Swan Lake was pitched to an audience who did at least some of these steps socially on a regular basis until I saw the Petipa choreography).  Somehow, I'd have to include guitar, American standards, jazz and musicals (from Floradora to Chorus Line and thence…) Heck, you have to understand Baroque Opera and postmodernism in order to understand some videos by Eurythmics! And about eurythmy
Athem. Utopian U. partisans tend to be older learners who wish they had had that classical education that they passed up to have a useful or ludic education  instead, or have information they think of as being invaluable (perfumes, wines, antiques) that they wish they'd had someone teach them back when. Or they have some organizing principle in mind, such as Christianity (as a culture), Africa or logic, and construct a curriculum that's centered on this basis. (Somehow I'm reminded of the Qabalistic maxim that if you look closely enough at anything, you'll eventually see everything….)

What all the groups have in common is that they all take the traditional components of American academics -- raw data, mentoring, discussion, evaluation and a diploma -- and remix them, often using electronic media. For instance, for a course in 19th century American literature, there's no reason to mandate the use of paper copies of the texts: it's just as simple to download them from Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.  Live social interaction, whether one-to-one (tutoring or mentoring) or as a group (discussion, general hanging out) can be done online with IM's, Twitter, videophone, and even more exotic media, such as Second Life. Computer-aided test grading is now pretty much old hat, but now, papers can be graded (and cheats exposed) long-distance. And so on…

A Burroughs-like interlude...

Hanni Willems makes sure her sandals are on tightly. She's running through Virtual Tangiers, on her way to her Creative Writing class with Bill Lee, her favorite teacher. She kisses old Fatima on the cheek, and runs through an obstacle course (down the alleyway, through the market, across the rooftops) designed to keep her in shape while she learns about Arab culture, the Beat Generation and self-defense…

Her sister is still in grade school. Nanny is singing "The Ninety and the Nine" to Violet in Virtual Storyland, based (loosely) on Edwardian England. She is learning from the Revised American PNEU curriculum for grades K-12. She knows about animal anatomy from watching Nanny (based on Beatrix Potter) dissect a chicken. Then they cooked and ate it. She'll stay there a few years, then transition to another school, perhaps in Japan's Virtual Harajuku for fashion design.

Her brother is in Medieval Space. A coder, he elected to learn Latin, the archaic language of the academy, to speak with his peers, who come from Africa and Asia, and to engage in the war of ideas that dominates his world. His curriculum has been based, in equal parts, in the Academic and Natural worlds, as delineated by Francois Rabelais and the Spanish Universities. He knows about semiotics, concrete math, and the latest programming languages, which Brother William teaches, when he's not out riding horses, fencing and designing video games.

Her boyfriend is from a conservative Afrocentrist family. As a budding historian, he's in Virtual Timbuktu…though he often stops by in Baroque Europe and Confucian China in his spare time. And so on...

About all that really loses out is college football, though I'm sure someone will come up with a good substitute.


The traditional end of schooling is the diploma: a certificate suitable for framing. What most people don't know is that a diploma was actually a symbol of beginning a career (with the equivalent of an iPad or Netbook), rather than an end of education.  In edupunk, the diploma is replaced by reputation in a community: the paper trail, the portfolio, the CV, and by participation in a community.  This is very much like re-inventing the guild system, and there's much to commend it, though it's certain that even this might become hidebound and obsolete in another generation.

In short, a developing field...More later...

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