Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why I'm Leaving The Best Bachelors Degree I Know

This fall, I'm not taking any more courses at the University of Waterloo, but haven't finished the degree, and I have to say that I'm absolutely delighted about it. I've come to believe that most of higher education is a racket, a system designed contrary to the overall well-being of myself and my peers, and I'm deciding to do something different. The curvature of my interaction over time with the university reflects my true learning these past 4 years quite well I think. 

I went from starting in Computer Science co-op at UW borrowing all the money for my fees, quickly switching into Knowledge Integration (the best bachelors degree I know, and also halved my costs and doubled my fun) and then slowly reducing my course load semester by semester, so that I could stop borrowing money and work part time to pay for school, until last year I was taking just one course per semester (each one a KI course).

There were so many factors involved in this gradual reduction: a slow discovery of the higher ed loan racket, a growing understanding of dwindling job prospects relative to a degree, growing thoughts a 9-5 job would never fulfill me anyways, disenchantment with most UW classwork and professors (outside of Knowledge Integration), and increasing enchantment with learning outside university walls, within an intentional household, as a web developer, through travel, and online learning and conversation.

These are some guiding words from Zendo56, the intentional household where I've lived these last few years. Click the image to see the rest of the steps of the 10 Step Neurotangle.
I thought about not enrolling multiple times, as I struggled to find the motivation, time, energy, or money to keep me "on the path".

I thought to myself, the best thing about the University is the community (especially and above all the Knowledge Integration one), but it's a damned expensive one. In these tricky economic times, is community not one thing that we can manage to have without paying for it? Well I will pay no longer... but stay to connected to the people I sure intend to.

Let me rant briefly:

The thing is, nobody is warning young people today about the higher education trap. And it kind of makes sense because it's a double bind. "Son, go to university and you'll end up back here in 4 years working at McDonalds paying off your $40000 debt, but don't go to University and you'll find yourself right off the bat in society's exploding lower class and never have a shot at working in any workplace that can provide you enough to buy a house and support a family."

To which the response would be "So dad, what the hell am I supposed to do?" But at least then, the question that needs to be asked, is being asked!

So young people desperately need to know what they're getting themselves into, either by going, or not by going to University or College, and we're doing a damn poor job of informing them.

So I'm done with it. I have my own chains ($15000 worth) of debt from my first two years at the University paying for it with OSAP to deal with now, and had to learn on my own that I didn't want to keep borrowing. It's a constant reminder of the system and it's capacity to entrap myself and others in its clutches.

This fall, I'm enrolling instead in a social experiment to provide young people with a different option. A learning institution brought up to speed with the 21st century, and the paradigm shift underway (You see, I think Knowledge Integration is a good start at this, but it's placement within the University of Waterloo severely constrains it's ability to innovate on the traditional University model). I'm sad and excited to share with the Knowledge Integration community this news that come November I'll no longer be around as much, and dearly miss my friends and fellow students there. Black Mountain, North Carolina is calling my name! They've started there a project called Black Mountain SOLE, a self-proclaimed self-organized learning environment for higher education. They offer no credentials, and charge no tuition (just pay for food and housing), and will fund many stu-people who pass through there on a pay-it-forward basis, which is how I'm going. They're building a place where self-directed people can come into a shared space to actualize their potential through being together. Black Mountain SOLE is taking a true stab at elevating the potential of higher education, within the context of society's shifting foundations. To show my support for the model, and to benefit from what they're doing,  I'm going with two other people, one from UW, and one from LA to work on the project that I began coding last year, Metamaps.

I'll draw a parallel between the choices I'm currently making in my life, and the choices we need to make as a society, and the human race. To some, my choices look "risky". In March this year I quit my job to work on Metamaps, and now, I'm leaving the University without my degree to work on Metamaps. Why?? Because Metamaps has a real (moon)shot at making the difference we need in the world by activating the potential of the internet to help us solve the complex problems we face in the world together, using the intelligence of everyone. And "why" is important! I didn't make those choices because I'm foolish, or lazy; I made them because the risk of not taking action (or taking the traditional path), outweighs the risk of taking action. We're at that point in history. We can't run from it. We, as a society, and as young people, have to make our way in the world in ways never before attempted, because the world has never been this way. Believe me, it has taken great courage on my part, and will demand the same of you if you choose to forge new pathways. But I feel good doing it because I know many people will, if not follow in my footsteps directly, use the same principles that I used for making choices, to make theirs and their difference in the world.

p.s. don't get me wrong for being point blank against university. If you've sorted out that being at University is how you really and truly want to pursue your calling, I respect that, and I want to add as a final note that I can't recommend any program more than I would recommend Knowledge Integration. If you want to know more specifically about why I think this truly is one of the worthwhile programs, comment and ask.

p.s.s. some of the metamaps team has profiles on the Black Mountain SOLE website where you can read further about our personal learning paths.

As an addon to this blog post here's some resources for further reading:

Matt Taibi of the Rolling Stone lays out the Student Debt scenario in the States, where it's even far worse than Canada, but closely related:

This one called 'Why Your College Degree Doesn't Mean S**t' talks about how getting a degree isn't something that will make you stand out anymore.
You want to do more than just “get some crappy job.” You want to truly make an impact, a real contribution… you want to give a piece of your best self. And you want to find someone who will pay you for it.

How about 'Should Higher Education Be Free?, posted just recently to the Harvard Business Review.
Since 1980, we've seen a 400% increase in the cost of higher education...
It tells how even Google is increasingly hiring people without a college education degree, based on the true initiative and smarts that person has shown, beyond what grades can tell.  It's a great read.

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