Ray Bradbury is one of my heroes. He’s one of the few public individuals I would love to meet. (Unfortunately, he has his heart set on Bo Derek…can’t say as I blame him). Today, in the New York Times, I heard Mr. Bradbury say he doesn’t believe in colleges or universities. He believes in libraries!
He summarized my feelings exactly. As college tuition rises, and access to a higher education is either out of reach or subsidized by the taxpayer, libraries all over the country are in danger of being shut down due to eroding tax bases. Ray Bradbury explained how he “graduated from the library.” His curriculum: going to the library three days a week and reading everything. There are no stats for how many people are currently following the Bradbury curriculum, but there’s plenty of history of very important people who did so. College was out of reach. People like Bradbury wanted to learn. So they did so at the public library.
Indeed, every semester I ask my students why they are sitting in my class listening to me ramble on about stuff that, really, only I think is interesting. “To get an education?” No! To get three points added to their transcript. Their goal is to get credentialed, not to get an education. If they wanted an education, they would be better off following the Bradbury Curriculum. It would certainly be cheaper.
And that’s the weakness of the Bradbury Curriculum. Try to put on your resume that you’ve read every book in your public library. So what. We really are not interested in your “knowledge” your “drive” your “curiosity” or your “potential.” We want to know that you have the self discipline and the conformity to get through a pre-established routine in which you learn what other people think is important. Then you have a piece of paper that clearly states that you conformed to institutional norms to such a degree that you earned the credential that you were working toward. What you know is irrelevant.
And for this, this piece of paper, you will pay as much at least $25,000!
It’s true that there are some invaluable resources in public colleges and universities. There you have access to experts in their fields, hands on resources and practice that you cannot get in the library, and the ability to create networks within your career. If you are lucky, as I was, you’ll encounter professors who may open different perspectives and worldviews that you might not have had access to otherwise. But for your money, learning is not necessarily the function of a college or university. Today an “education” is synonymous with a degree, a piece of paper that legitimizes your credentials. And without this piece of paper, your access to life chances are limited.
After completing my graduate work I was encouraged by many of my professors to continue on into post-graduate work. Part of me wanted to do it, but only part of me. The other part of me was hesitant. I remember the hoops I had to jump through, with the help of my Committee Chair, Dr. Laurel Graham, to get my masters thesis approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). This was a board, consisting of a handful of scholars (none of whom were sociologists, by the way), whose job it was to decide what constituted “legitimate” knowledge. If my work conformed to their ideas of real science, then I would have no problems pursuing my academic ends; if, however, my ideas were too innovative, to different, or did not fall under the assumptions of legitimate knowledge then I was stuck. I learned that colleges and universities do not encourage thinking and learning, they restrict it, regiment it, shape it into a prescribed, institutional definition of knowledge. I decided that I would rather pursue independent scholarship–The Bradbury Curriculum.
I have plenty of time to reflect, in in some ways regret, this decision. Not having the piece of paper that declares that I have conformed enough to merit a doctorate degree has certainly limited my prospects for employment in higher education. This, in turn, has limited my ability to do independent scholarship. Tremendous social forces are at work to delegitimize independent thought. And to gain access to legitimate knowledge institutions, one must pay–and pay more now than ever.
Will contemporary Bradburys be able to compete in a world that associates the possession of a piece of parchment with “education?” How can we incorporate the Bradbury Curriculum into a legitimized educational standing?
Photo of Mr. Bradbury: New York Times Ethan Pines