'You just wasted a hundred and fifty grand on an education you could have gotten at the library for a buck fifty in late fees... How do you like THEM apples?!' - Will Hunting in 'Good Will Hunting.'
Everyone remembers that scene. It's one of the best scenes in the movie. And I think people like it because it rings true, and it's a good commentary on the idea that education has become a kind of cultural currency. The point, according to Will Hunting, is that knowledge is different than education, and sometimes knowledge is simultaneously cheaper and more valuable (having just made the guy look like an idiot in front of a beautiful woman).
And I agree. I've always had a problem with the idea of gatekeepers in the academy: bureaucratic forces that might prevent me from having access to the highest levels of inquiry. If the best minds in the world congregate in a small percentage of universities, and only a small percentage of students go to those universities, the result is that only a small percentage of students (typically the academically gifted, the social elite and the rich) have the privilege of learning from the best minds. The problem becomes more salient if you think a larger population of better-educated people is a good thing, because if it is, we're doing it wrong.
That said, open education programs like Academic Earth or OpenCourseWare are, to me, the clear next step in the evolution of both information and education. In a sometimes dismal capitalist system, these initiatives de-commodify one of our most valuable resources - knowledge and information distribution - for the the sake of inquisitive minds.
I don't imagine university boards are scrambling to shut them down, however, because I think it is clear educational standards and practices will remain unaffected, and they may even benefit from the collective curiosity, savvy and interest these programs seek to generate. Even if you can watch a physics lecture from MIT online, it's not the same as going there, working with other budding physicists, being in the lab, publishing work, making discoveries. And people will always pay for that (especially because most jobs require a degree).
But now, the poet (ahem) who is up at 3am with a sudden intellectual itch about string theory or super-cooled quantum computers or Taoist philosophy - that guy - doesn't even need to spend a buck fifty in late fees.
Perrin Carrell's poems, essays and reviews have appeared in 'PANK,' 'New Wave Vomit,' 'The Exquisite Corpse,' 'Contemporary Poetry Review' and many others. He's currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Columbia College Chicago, where he teaches writing classes. He is also the founder and director of the open-source poetry project, allwritethen.