The Virtual Open University
Synopsis: The concept of the Shadow is a generalization and extension of the practice of forming a “shadow government” in a parliamentary system.
Western Civilization will soon face an existential crisis and may partially or completely collapse. The absolute limiting factor for the onset of the Discontinuity will be the failure of the modern welfare state due to demographic implosion, which will occur within a generation at most. Other factors may speed up the course of events, but there are too many variables to permit a precise prediction of the trajectory of the coming crisis.
To simplify the discussion, I have divided the Shadow up into seven overlapping functions:
|2.||Education (primary, secondary, and post-secondary)|
|3.||The media and mass communications|
|4.||Manufacturing and commerce|
Shadows of each of these functions are already under construction within the distributed non-hierarchical networks now forming among people who are concerned about what lies ahead. I propose a systematic examination of the Shadow in hopes of making it more of a conscious enterprise, and thereby accelerating the trend.
Regular readers are familiar with the range of topics covered by Fjordman in his essays. The link on our sidebar to the “Fjordman Files” leads to articles on Multiculturalism, Islamization, politics, history, archaeology, optics, population genetics, beer, chocolate, climate, astronomy, cosmology, and many other topics. Fjordman’s breadth of knowledge is nothing short of phenomenal.
One of Fjordman’s intentions in digesting and summarizing so much material about Western Civilization is to provide what he calls a “virtual Lindisfarne” — a compendium of general knowledge that can become part of a repository of all that is good and useful and beautiful within our culture. When the lights begin to wink out across the West, we will need the equivalent of the ancient monastic communities to nurture the seeds of a successor civilization. The virtual Lindisfarne may be digital, printed, or hand-copied — depending on how far we fall from our current state — but above all it will require a network of educated people with the expertise and the tools to pass on their knowledge and skills.
One of the reasons that we are facing a Discontinuity is that the educational systems in all Western countries have been systematically degraded since early in the 20th century. The deterioration accelerated after 1975, when the “sixty-eighters” came online in our major cultural institutions. Most children grow up and graduate from today’s universities without obtaining an education that would compare favorably with that of a high school graduate in 1920.
When I was a teenager in the 1960s, modern educational fads had already infected American school systems. Yet Civics was still taught in my junior high school, as was history — real history, not multicultural and gender-normed history. We all had to study a foreign language and read Shakespeare.
A generation earlier, before Dewey and the Progressives had had their way with American education, Latin was part of the standard curriculum in my father’s public high school. Every student who graduated was expected to read Chaucer in Middle English, to learn ancient and modern history, and to be competent in geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and the experimental sciences.
Virtually no remnant of this pedagogical excellence remains in our public school systems. Youngsters who manage to become educated nowadays either attend private schools, or are homeschooled, or follow their own interests and educate themselves in their young adulthood. This last group is well-represented among Gates of Vienna readers — young people often send me emails with comments or questions, and to ask for suggestions for further reading.
So we know that the raw material for a Shadow educational system exists. The problem will be how to organize it and harness it so that it can help transmit the best of Western Civilization to those who survive the Discontinuity.
Fjordman’s work could serve as a valuable survey course covering the most important achievements of Western Civilization. At one point he jocularly referred to his collected writings as “European Accomplishments: The First 40,000 Years”.
His writings form an archival resource that could be used as a curriculum in an alternative educational system. Other such resources exist, and some of the best are designed to be used by parents with their homeschooled children.
Back in the early 1990s, when the future Baron was six or seven, we bought a big three-volume set called “The Volume Library”, which was designed to be a general reference work and source of course material for homeschoolers. It covered history, literature, geography, and the sciences at the high-school level. Its maps — especially the historical maps — were particularly excellent, and I still use that volume as a reference.
Later on in his homeschooling career, the fB used the Calvert Curriculum, which is one of the best and most well-known homeschooling curricula. It is often used by State Department employees overseas to educate their children when local alternatives are unavailable or inadequate. It has no political agenda, and its content resembles what the public schools used to teach back before they were ruined by progressive fads. It’s expensive, but worth it.
Many other homeschooling resources are available, and the homeschooling sites (the Headmistress runs one of the best) can help point the way to them. The big question is: how can all this material be leveraged for use when the existing system ceases to function?
One of the books in The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder features the establishment of a schoolhouse in a small farming settlement on the American frontier. When the population grew large enough, the farmers met and decided to set up a school for their children. The men passed the hat to collect enough money to hire a schoolmarm and the necessary basic materials, and then they pooled their resources and built the schoolhouse themselves. The children taught in schoolhouses like this one — both boys and girls — were expected to reach an eighth-grade level of proficiency before leaving to work full-time on the farm.
Does anyone believe that the quality of their education was lower than that received by those $15,000-per-year baggy-pants self-esteem factories that are turned out by our schools today?
How well do you think those eighth-grade farm boys would compare with the average high school graduate ca. 2010?
So we can assume that a combination of the homeschool and prairie-school model could carry our Shadow educational system through high school level. But what about university level?
The existing public education system is irremediably broken, right up through grad schools. With few exceptions, the corruption engendered by federal money has penetrated to every level, and even most private institutions are at least partially infected. The accreditation and credentialing regime — both for instructors and institutions — guarantees that no meaningful change can come from within, because no one who could possibly effect real change is allowed to become part of the system.
Yet it’s obvious to anyone who has read Fjordman’s works or those of other talented and well-informed writers on the web that the credentialing and accrediting scam is absolute nonsense. The most brilliant and valuable minds are generally not officially qualified to educate young people.
So we need to think about a new concept, a means of higher education that does an end run around the existing system, with no connection whatsoever to any accredited this or credentialed that. We don’t really need all that meaningless bumf — it’s just a way of slotting compliant drones into the existing system, which is on the verge of falling apart anyway.
That’s what got me thinking about the Virtual Open University.
If I were younger and smarter, I might be able to actually design a structure for it.* But even as it is, I can surmise some of the characteristics that would be needed by an effective replacement for our post-secondary educational system.
First of all, we wouldn’t have any of the “no grades” nonsense. There would need to be a workable system for evaluating the progress of participants and assigning their scores. This is one of the highest hurdles involved, because it is so easy to cheat and game the existing systems — the VOU would have to address this issue.
Fjordman’s works provide a valuable outline of the content needed, but how could that content be imparted to students in a measurable way outside of a traditional university setting?
Who would design course materials? How would instructors be found?
And what about the experimental sciences? How would they be handled?
And the biggest question of all: Who will pay for all this?
It could all be done a lot cheaper than it is now — one assumes a student could get a better education from the VOU than can be had at the most prestigious Ivy League edifice, and at a small fraction of the price — but it would still cost money. Servers, software (much of which already exists, thank goodness), site administrators, course writers, graders, etc. — there would be a lot of infrastructure involved.
But if it could be done properly — if there were a way to impart a real education for a change — eventually the VOU would be greatly in demand, and would develop its own prestige, so that a lack of accreditation under the existing regime would be moot. A “Virtual Open University certificate” would become a coveted sign of accomplishment, much as a summa cum laude from William and Mary or Harvard used to be, back when we actually educated our young people.
All of the above is pure speculation. I don’t know enough to be able to begin to design an alternative educational system, nor whether there are enough people of the right caliber available to make it work.
But I know we need it. And we may need an actual face-to-face version of the new University. If we’re going to plan, we should plan on how to do the same thing with nothing but teachers and books and blackboards and pencils and paper. And maybe electric lights, if we’re still lucky enough to have them.
I’m not trying to design the thing itself. I’m trying to stir up thought and conversation about it, so that one day people with minds that are younger and wiser than my own might be able to grab the idea and run with it.
So let’s hear from all interested parties — join the conversation.
It’s virtual. It’s open. And it’s universal.
* Yes, I’m aware that there are many online educational institutions, of varying quality. But is far as I know, there is none that comes anywhere near the Fjordman standard of erudition.
Previous posts about the Shadow:
|2011||Mar||15||The Shadow Knows, Part One: The Discontinuity|
|16||The Shadow Knows, Part Two: Additional Economic Background|
|17||The Shadow Knows, Part Three: Survival Plus|
|19||The Shadow Knows, Part Four: Civil Administration|