Part X: The structural foundations for a FPU

In the following we would like to name those aspects that should be abolished entirely from the modern educational machinery. It is summarized by the following set of proposals which elucidate what new forms of teaching and learning could be introduced in a FPU.

Abolition of

Proposal

Exams

Effectuation of a system that fosters/guides free knowledge and self-directed learning. Free choice of performance in front of the community.

Grades

Non quantitative judgment but qualitative advices by facilitators and students on how to proceed.

Degrees

Certification of attendance and productivity, eventually only with qualitative not quantitative assessment if necessary.

Admission requirements

Everyone is allowed to participate.

Huge tuition fees for being allowed to submit oneself to a ‘via crucis’ with the prospect of a degree.

No, or as low as possible, admission costs. The FPU student does not pay for a degree but, if at all, for a chance of self-development.

References

A tutor who needs second hand judgment and isn’t able to recognize the skills of a student should quit the job.

Traditional student-teachers-professor pyramidal hierarchies

No ‘pyramids’ of ‘teachers’ or ‘professors’ exist. Only ‘facilitators’ and students that interchange their roles by exchanging knowledge.

Organized team work

Spontaneous and flexible cooperation among individuals.

Curriculum

Facilitator’s freedom to structure any kind of syllabus they desire.

Student’s freedom to refuse it and re-structure it accordingly to one’s own skills.

Race, gender, age or physical criteria

If selection rules must be applied, then, as far as possible, without age, gender, or handicap disclosure.

Physical separation of department buildings and offices

All students and instructors of all disciplines should share the same campus structures (classrooms, office buildings, refectory, etc.)

First of all, the elimination of exams from a new college and university educational system is of paramount importance. Exams have always been a mean of submission, fear and even political power, not a tool which fosters real learning. Because real learning is not made of a repetition of concepts regurgitated in an academic course. Real learning can only happen through self-acquirement of notions, the deeper understanding through direct experience, the enfoldment of the spirit in learning, instead of the repression of creativity by reiterating a litany to an instructor who looks at the student from above and menaces retaliation with a bad grade. The compulsion with grading has its roots in the obsession for an enumerative knowledge where everything must be quantified. Because of this obsession for the quantitative assessment of things we have lost our innate ability not only to appreciate the qualitative aspects of the individual, but also became unable to see the strengths of people (and this has led to the US ‘No Child Left Behind’ law, which is now under severe criticism for this reason, among others). In some sense we might say that in schools and universities there has never been real learning.

Moreover, grading inhibits the trial and error method which is extremely important in a process of discovery, since it enhances the fear of failure, while failure itself should be honored as the master in learning. As Churchill used to say “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. Grades are mere etiquettes which represent the most extreme form of reductionism since they are supposed to describe what we know and what we can in few numbers or letters. While the best knowledge and best skills are not imposed but are self-acquired through a passionate fearless learning by doing things while following one’s own inner need for knowledge and curiosity. It is about learning and doing research as long the student or researcher discovers where the strengths are, and once found, go for it. Grading is a form of, not so subtle, degradation. The reasons why things like passion, creativity, initiative, or curiosity are not considered is that there is no way to quantify them and, as a reflection, they are considered of less importance.

In present educational systems students pay for a degree, not for an education. They are so focused on acquiring the degree, possibly with high grades, that there is virtually no time left to follow someone’s own innate interests. In a FPU there won’t be exams, grades and certificates, but a regulated system which certifies that a student has attended the school for a specific time, did produce and present some research or intellectual work, and submitted it to a commission (e.g. peer-reviewed papers, a thesis, a dissertation, presentations, talks, a book, realizing experiments in a laboratory, and so forth), with a ‘passed’ or ‘put on hold’ evaluation. What we need are not reformations of the actual primitive examinations, grading and degrees systems, but an upgrade of the system itself.

Another aspects that vitiates present academia are admission requirements. We always tend to elaborate an analytic formula or imagine a concept which (usually in a quantitative manner) tries to assess who is ‘admissible’, and who is not. Again, tests and grades are distributed and which are supposed to determine who is the ‘right one’ for attending the courses, and who is not. But truth is that there is no such selection rule that is capable to measure skills which result from an inner fire for perfection and aspiration for knowledge and action. All these selection criteria have too often shown to obtain just the opposite of what they were designed for: the de-selection of those who later turned out to be the most gifted ones, but were not recognized by a society which itself did not live up to the call of its time.

A FPU should be tuition free for all, or at least be as cheap as possible. In the standard financial college and university paradigms students have to pay huge fees in order to be allowed to attend, being drilled, submit themselves to an authoritarian and stressful academic path, with the aim to obtain finally that piece of paper, a certification. In a FPU fees must be kept as low as possible, ideally it should be completely free, and the aim is not a certification but the self-development on a self-directed learning base.

Also references in form of letters of presentation should be banned altogether. The point is that these are a mean of perpetuation of the system. Not the best students, but the most servile and adapted ones are facilitated in obtaining references form their tutor. Those who have developed a more critical sense, and might not be docile workers who please the hierarchy or less skilled with political games, will find themselves more isolated having more difficulties in finding one, two, or even three professors willing to write something in their favor. This is again another absurd custom that is only useful for molding obedient soldiers, not independent thinkers. Therefore, in a FPU there should be nothing such an admission requirement or need for references and letters of presentation. In case the number of students must be limited exclusively because of logistic or financial reasons, then the ‘first come, first served’ rule should be applied. It is simple as that.

Then we have to entirely reconsider the relationship between the teacher or professor to the student. The idea of an adult that is at the top of a pyramidal hierarchy that knows better what is good or bad for a young learner must finally be surpassed. Nothing can be taught really. One can only guide or help someone else to find out the truth and knowledge by and in him/her-self. Learning must no longer be a systemized machinery of notions and stuff imparted by someone who is supposed to know, but an activity which arises by a free choice of the student who will teach him/her-self. Teachers and professors must learn to forget this character and become facilitators who follow students in their learning path, only if requested, and should take advantage of the possibility to learn themselves. Facilitators should learn too by their activity and accept also that the rules might be exchanged: the student can equally well teach the facilitator. Everyone should be allowed to become a facilitator, for example by proposing a course, even first year students, if they feel to have a sufficient preparation and skills. The basic idea should be that once new knowledge and skills are learned, they should be transmitted as soon as possible, without the necessity to wait until promotions and academic titles. The strict division based on an authority who knows and has power over a class of students that have to absorb, has to be abolished once and for all.

In a FPU teamwork will remain an essential ingredient of interaction between every individual. Of course being an effective group member is a necessary skill that young people have to develop to confront with the challenges and working environments of the new world. But the question is no longer if, but how these skills have to be developed and set into place? For example, despite what we like to believe, in most of present research centers there is no real and true teamwork at all. In a certain sense it is a modern myth. What is called ‘teamwork’ today is the distribution of tasks inside a larger project area. It is the result, not of a real team, but of a collection of individuals who are ordered to work together on a common goal. First of all, this serially lining up of working labor is usually forced upon people who could neither chose their working or study collaborators, which frequently leads to a lack of inner psychological accord, nor could they express a preference for the activity they have to focus on. Most times the goal needs an execution of an enormous set of complex tasks which necessarily assigns to each individual a different one. This leads to a fictitious teamwork, because while a whole group of people work to achieve a common goal, rarely they truly work together on the same task. What is even worse, is that the execution of these tasks is set under pressure of deadlines and strict controls. The result is that finally everyone works without freedom to express a real inner potential, not rarely conflicts brake out among the members because of the clash of characters, and de facto everyone has to do a job alone (the managerial mindset sometimes deludes itself in believing that this state of affairs can be remedied by calling for permanent and endless group meetings, but it doesn’t work). Conceiving teamwork as a sort of military activity, which aims only at the interests of the collective without taking into account also those of the individual is an extremely limited form of cooperation. A true teamwork, as it should be in a FPU, is an allowance of an educational self-organization, it must rise from a spontaneous congregation of people, each with their own talents and abilities, which is not dictated from a director or an authority. Students should be left free with whom to work and study with. There should be no a priori fixed task appointed by someone else, but a free choice of the student to pursue the common goal which emerges by choosing their own task, as far as possible in friendship with someone else. Only in this context we can begin to speak about real collaboration and spontaneous teamwork.

About curricula the following might be said. There are essentially two schools of thought about the subject. The first one, i.e. the traditional point of view, is that there is a basic set of knowledge that everyone should and must learn, willingly or not, because, this is the belief, the inexpert mind of a novel student can’t know what really should have priority. For example, in physics, every student with no exception, is supposed to learn about the principles of mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and so forth. The opposite point of view affirms that this is nowadays an anachronistic model of teaching since, due to the explosion of disciplines and discoveries of the last centuries, the so called ‘general knowledge’ is no longer possible and, at any rate, if someone wants to acquire an intellectual expertise in some subject the internet is such a powerful knowledge tool that nobody really needs to follow a preordered academic curriculum. In a FPU this apparent dilemma is reconciled again taking the freedom of the soul as the guiding principle. In a FPU there should be the freedom of the facilitator to express some line of thought and content organizing it in a more or less articulate syllabus and course structure, but on the other side there should be also the freedom of the student to accept it, or eventually reject it partially or entirely, focusing the attention towards other directions if the class isn’t considered satisfying or interesting. This saves both perspectives, a school can offer a full fledged academic path, yet everyone is free to chose according to the choice of the inner being.

In a FPU there should be no admission rules for students altogether. However, due to technical or financial reasons a selection and admission of some sort might nevertheless be necessary (e.g. facilitators, and the technical stuff which is responsible for the didactical and technical maintenance of the institution, might be required to show their ability and preparation). Modern schools and societies advanced in the recognition of human rights, have realized the importance of preventing sex, race, physical and age discrimination. However, fact is that it is considered completely natural to ask for gender, ethnic origin, age or disability in an application for an admission as undergraduate or a position at college. This opens the doors not only to a willed and controlled discrimination during a selection process but, even if these information are supposed to be used for proper purposes, it still can influence a commission that has to judge one’s skills. Of course, during an interview the physical aspects can hardly be concealed, but a FPU should do its utmost to disclose them as late as possible during the selection process (for example to accept only CV without photographs and physical data of the candidate).

Also the architectonic disposition of modern colleges speaks volumes about the lack of an interdisciplinary mindset. Every department has its building. The architectonic compartmentalization is a reflection of the cultural compartmentalization. This division may have practical advantages, but there is an unnoticed drawback in this. Philosophers of science rarely share their time with scientist outside seminars for the simple reason that they are physically separated. The same can be said of physicians and biologists, or artists and scientists, etc. But a real culturally dynamic environment should not have these artificial segmentations. We should recall how the great philosophers and natural scientists of ancient Greece considered it a perfectly natural fact that artists, philosophers, scientists, etc. had to talk, interact and exchange their knowledge and experience among each others. In a FPU the office of a physicist should be just near that of an artist, or philosopher, or a biologist. The interaction between very different people and academic backgrounds can ignite such a diversity of ideas and new forms of collaboration that are actually rendered less probable by this physical separation.

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Part VIII: What a Free Progress University might be good for

createBut the question at this point is what can be done now as a first step towards this vision? After the author’s personal disappointing experiences in several study and working environments, a vision came into being: something which conceives of a learning center at higher education levels and which gives people the possibility to self express themselves, practice self-learning and grow by means of an intellectual and intuitive learning process that the standard educational paradigm does not consider, and even openly discourage. A place where they can free-style their path to knowledge, study what their inner being suggests in complete autonomy, and not what the faculty imposes. A place where all can pursue their own research lines and even exercise intuitive approaches which in nowadays institutions are strictly forbidden.

But is a FPU good only for seers and artists, but not for engineers working in an industry or managers? According to Tony Wagner, an Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, there are seven survival skills as defined by business leaders in their own words: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, curiosity and imagination. Each of these can be addressed easily in a free progress perspective considering that present institution (indirectly or even directly influenced by the business world), while advocating it, do however not allow these skills to develop individually and grow freely. because, if problems are imposed without the allowance for individual question solving, it is then quite obvious that students lack of critical thinking. And how can you learn to lead by influence and not by authority if the environment you were grown up is essentially an authoritarian system? Moroever, it is useless to call for adaptability to change when the schools, we have been drilled in, obey themselves a century old order without questioning it. Why should someone who has never, or scarcely been allowed to take initiative at his/her own risk and responsibility, suddenly become a self-directed and creative individual? Where from should passionate communication skills come from when any passion was killed long ago by the very same who now ask for it? How can information processing become effective when you have been raised in a place where it has always been pre-processed for you? No wonder that a research by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, [1] which used survey responses and standardized assessment measures, reveals that 45% of students attending US higher education institutions don’t learn anything in their first two years and demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills as critical thinking and complex reasoning. No wonder that a research and book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, [27] which used survey responses and standardized assessment measures, reveals that 45% of students attending US higher education institutions don’t learn anything in their first two years and demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills as critical thinking and complex reasoning. And it is now wonder either, that Arum and Roksa, were criticized for their understanding of what at all ‘learning’ means. This was to expect in a society that slowly but steadily begins to understand that the ‘reduction ad numerum’ of human’s cognitive activity is untenable. Finally, as to the seventh point, that on curiosity and imagination, it comments itself.

Therefore, there are good reasons to believe that a FPU is not just for eccentric humanist who crave for more freedoms, but it might well prepare future business leaders even much better than any traditional institution which tries to imbue skills by a mechanical compulsion into young brains.

Bibliography

[1] R. A. a. J. Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, University of Chicago Press, 2011.