“The structure of [many of the top] professions, with their steep educational barriers, seems to assure that no outsider has anything to offer. The autodidact, the talented amateur, have been so thoroughly excluded that the possibility of their existence—in large numbers— has been virtually forgotten. Within its fortress of “expertise”, the middle class imagines it is the sole repository of useful information —even information about the lives of those who dwell outside the moats. …”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class

the agenda

Circa 20 years ago having a Bachelor’s degree from university would guarantee you a relatively secure and well-paying job. As of 10 (or so) years ago the prerequisite was more in the line of a Masters degree, and these days, there are countless PhD graduates out there in the privileged Western world who have given years of their lives to concerted study only to find themselves with an official piece of paper, a mountain of student debt and and only a long string of temporary academic contracts to live out the rest of their days on (if that).

Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson points out that there were no public education systems before the 19th century – they all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism; there was an implicit established hierarchy where the top subjects were the ones most likely to get you a good job. In his 2006 Ted Talk he pointed out that in the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating higher education programs than since the beginning of history. Which means, alas and increasingly: degrees are no longer really worth anything. And yet there are few other models people can follow to educate themselves outside of this system, and, almost more importantly, to receive equivalent accreditation with which to help them follow life pursuits in a professional capacity.

The goal behind this conversation is going to be to take a look at what education actually has to offer us these days, (besides the ego fluffing inevitably brought on by ‘having (a) degree(s)’) Is higher education really bringing society as a whole further, or is it just hitting the snooze button on engagement with ‘real life’ while padding the trust funds (and sometimes even bigger egos) of academic bigwigs.

(with special thanks to Kate for suggesting this month’s discussion topic!)

recommended reading, listening, and other cultural output

(I’m avoiding linking to Amazon for a reason, write to me if you need a list of independent bookshops or other resources!)
(Also, I’m aware that my reading list is Very W.E.I.R.D (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) (though I would argue on the ‘R’ front) 🙂 This to say, ANY suggestions that exceed my own little bubble here are More than welcome!

  • Do Schools Kill Creativity | Sir Ken Robinson | Ted talk
  • Changing education paradigms | Sir Ken Robinson | Ted talk
  • DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education | Chelsea Green | a book about the future of higher education and the communities of visionaries who are tackling the enormous challenges of cost, access, and quality in higher ed, using new technologies to bring us a revolution in higher learning that is affordable, accessible, and learner-centered.
  • Dont Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything | Kio Stark | a book interviewing public figures including journalists, artists, entrepeneurs etc who have ‘made it’ professionally without the benefit of higher education.
  • The School of Life | Alain de Botton | a school (in Berlin amongst other cities!) providing emotional and philosophical education, pretty overpriced and hipster-addled but nonetheless an admirable undertaking
  • Revisionist History | Malcolm Gladwell | podcast (season 6 episodes 2 & 3) look at American university rankings and endowments.
  • Advice to Little Girls | Mark Twain | book (okay, strictly speaking this has little to do with higher education, but it’s a Wonderful book of an educational nature. Humour me.)
  • Fear of Falling: the Inner Life of the Middle Class | Barbara Ehrenreich
    (also amazing, though not directly about education: Nickeled and Dimed on (not) getting by in America and Bait and Switch: the Futile Pursuit of the American Dream) Including both these books because I think we can’t look at higher education without addressing class (aka the peopl who can’t afford it)
  • The Death of the Moth and other Essays (Virginia Woolf) |  the essay/letter “Middlebrow”| also about the relationship between education/non-education and class (and I love Virginia Woolf so have to include it)
  • Thousands of scientists publish a paper every five days | article | about the problem of and what it means that scientists are publishing papers every five days.

collected thoughts and tidbits from the evening's discussion (both related and random)...

potential definitions of self-esteem:

  • determination of individual values
  • belief in abilities |confidence in the result of an activity: “ i can do”
  • conscious/unconscious beliefs about yourself
  • when the challenge meets the skills

self-esteem as opposed to value:

  • value is not the same as confidence, in that value is permanent
  • self-esteem and context (is self-esteem context-dependent?)

self-esteem in life vs. self-esteem in job (the latter does not presuppose the former)

  • fundamental self-esteem vs. confidence due to a specific skill
  • assuming skill in one area counts for everything in life
  • the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ phenomena
  • would we have self-esteem if we were alone on the Earth?
  • self-esteem is good for socialising

self-esteem vs. doubt

  • fear of rejection is connected to self-esteem
  • are doubt and self-esteem related?
  • doubt- leads to innovation – opens you up to self-reflection
  • doubt opens up to questioning (therefore not that bad)
  • doubt is healthy UNLESS IT INHIBITS action
  • doubt/ bad self-esteem can also be “good” for society (that is, for the people in power in a society – those with bad self-esteem are easily manipulated)

not directly related to self-esteem but a fascinating notion nonetheless 🙂

  • I and you =  an encounter
  • I and it = an experience (digital ‘encounters’ with people fall into THIS category)


  • To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent.
  • To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening.


  • reasons we follow passively (instead of trusting ourselves) in democracy – the majority tends to have ‘right’ on their side. Except do they?
  • why we tend to appease the boss – because s/he pays your rent
  • people decide what is normal and what is abnormal and persecute those that don’t fit.

SOCRATES’ LOGIC ON TRUTH (might be helpful for us in understanding and evaluating our own selves)

  • look around for statements that make common sense
  • try to find an exception in this statement
  • if an exception is found, then your statement is false or imprecise
  • nuance the original statement so it’s more accurate
  • try to find exceptions until you can’t any more
  • TO WIT: the truth lies in statements that are impossible to disprove


  • 3 main areas of inadequacy
  • bodily inadequacy
  • the inadequacy of being judged and disapproved of
  • intellectual inadequacy

(according to Montaigne having a mind is not helpful because:)

  • it makes for awkward relations with our bodies – we process outer stimulii with our minds that don’t jive with our bodies.
  • having brains leads us to feel arrogant and to want to impose our views on others
  • intellectual – the painful sense that we aren’t as clever as we should be.
  • Trying to think of yourself as a good person – or encouraging children to think that way – dramatically raises the stakes of every action taken, as each one gets taken as evidence for or against that belief.

continuing the conversation...