Kyle Baxter:

Here’s what I think universities should do: they should be laboratories where students experiment, learn and build things. There should be two parts. First, students should receive a diverse, basic education in arts, sciences, and humanities to provide them with a firm understanding of the world (humanities), how to interpret it and test it (sciences), how to think (humanities again), and a sense of what’s beautiful and meaningful (arts). This liberal education will form the foundation for the second part.

After they receive their foundational education, every student will have to choose something to build. It will have to be ambitious in scope and push the boundaries of whatever field it’s in. It will be the project they work on for the time they’re there. For some students, this could be a novel, or an ambitious painting; research on an under-studied psychological condition, or a business.

The reality of the world is that you most likely will not end up doing whatever you majored in. However, the University system is still structured as if it is the be all and end all of knowledge acquisition. The job they serve is literally knowledge acquisition.

This job was valid 500 years ago when education was a luxury, and few people even acquired any knowledge outside of their basic daily tasks. Today acquiring knowledge is merely the baseline.

Today, you set yourself apart by your ability to process what you learn and regurgitate it in creative conclusions. In school, you’re capable of contributing just as much as you consume.

But in college, we spend all our time in mind numbing lectures and then cramming to regurgitate it all onto the test. There’s no creativity, there’s no application. Just listen, regurgitate and repeat.

Kyle’s new university sounds like a dream. This is how some fields, like medicine are taught. My wife is a counselor, and about 1/3 of her Master’s degree was spent doing practicum while being supervised by a doctoral student. She was actually doing something, and realizing if she loved it or not.

Let’s rethink the job that college serves: teaching critical thinking and how to apply of what we learn.