Not another course, please!

Courses are convenient. For any school, college or university, they are a good way to allocate time and resources. They can be fit into calendars, planned for and measured against set criteria. Therefore, the educational institutions really are the houses of courses!

This was the framework I operate within, and if truth be told, resent. I see this as a case of inverted priorities: moving away from what the learners need or want, but rather what is the most economical, the mode of engagement being the same, and the most convenient. One could also argue that there is no real alternative: education in the formal sense must start and stop at some defined points and 'courses' are the most acceptable organising principle for these. There are no viable alternatives, the argument runs. 

I disagree. As we have started delinking formal education from sitting in the classrooms, the rationale for 'courses' has grown weaker. The resource framework was hanging together by its fingertips, as the whole engagement model became improbable. Of course, the institutions and the regulators couldn't let go the foundational assumptions and tried to fit in the 'courses', with its attendant hours and learning outcomes, to the chaos of the pandemic. Now that we are embrancing a 'new normal' though, it is best to start by acknowledging that we may need to have a new, rather than normal, conversation.

That new conversation, in my mind, should be centred around experience. One of the key issues I have with courses is that they signify that we learn at specific moments within specific settings, and not as we live. The course industry of course claims that there should be something called lifelong learning but they define as being as lifetime shopper at the course supermarket. But learning doesn't have to be at a classroom, at a college or for a certificate. We do learn all the time as we live, and courses, and their packaged variety, lifelong learning, undermine the learning life that we should all live.

One would argue experiences have their limitations. One-off things may give us wrong ideas. It's like having one bad ice cream and concluding that all ice creams are bad. But that definition mixes up events and experiences: An experience is when we understood the events and have reflected on them. And who said that we shouldn't have an open mind when we go out to the world seeking experiences? In fact, we are much more likely to have an open mind while facing the world than sitting in a classroom. Once we open our mind, and are ready to have conversations about our lives and our ideas, every event in our life represents a learning moment. They enrich us, even when they are terrible and extract a price physically or psychologically. Closing of our minds to these possibilities is a terrible mistake and this is what the courses does.

I see courses as a remnant of the general expansion of the state (and empire in it) dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That is when industrial technology, financial capital and educational instruction came together to form the holy trinity of modern state. The middle classes were recognised as partners in state-making and were offered a licensing of sorts through large scale educational enterprise. Courses, defined, certified and tamed, are the tools of compliance. 

But that world is now collapsing. Finance capital, strengthening itself with every crisis, has now unleashed the ultimate legitimacy crisis of the consumer economy: People around the world are questioning how they live. Environmental crisis, the general crisis of faith, breakdown of norms - all these are challenging the structures we live by. The convenient arrangements that the British empire created to sustain its hegemony once the formal empire was over - the festering partitions and the arms trade sustained by that, footloose professional elite, global architecture of tax evasion and offshore heavens - are now coming to their logical, if somewhat gory, end. Courses are part of this same architecture of domination; the whole formal education industry is.

Therefore, not another course, please! It is time to recognise the knowledge of everyday, the expertise of the streets. It is time to understand the decency of humility, the ethic of our usual human existence. At this point in human history, when physical labour plays an increasingly insignificant part in the lives of those who manage to go to college, the division between vita contemplativa and vita activa is meaningless. In fact, if anything, it is time to bring vita activa in the middle of all our education. Courses - its false assumptions, outdated structures and corrupting incentives- restrict the possibilities. We must move beyond them to rethink the education models for our time.



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