A retired American scientific glassblower, I started on my career journey at a California community college after I graduated from high school. On a whim I signed up for a glass class, the teacher was a ceramicist and designer who wanted to experiment with glass. We built the equipment, made the glass and learned together about how to play with this fascinating material. I soon left college to learn more about glass. It never occurred to me to go to Alfred University like my teacher had, I sought out working glassblowers and made myself useful. Eventually I ended up in Silicon Valley making high intensity lamps and LASERs. I have worked with researchers, engineers and artists and no one ever asked if I had a college degree.
In the History of the Open University Lord Perry of Walton, OU’s first Vice Chancellor is quoted on his motivation to take the job of creating the open University in 1969:
“It wasn’t that I had any deep-seated urge to mitigate the miseries of the depressed adult; it was that I was persuaded that the standard of teaching in conventional universities was pretty deplorable. It suddenly struck me that if you could use the media and devise course materials that would work for students all by themselves, then inevitably you were bound to affect – for good – the standard of teaching in conventional universities. I believed that to be so important that it overrode almost everything else.”
Returning to a California community college during the Great Recession, I found that little had changed regarding the “standard of teaching.” Mitigating the “miseries” of workers was not even on the agenda. Protecting the institution during a time of budget cuts along with the jobs of the faculty and staff were the highest priorities. Despite the fact adult learners make up nearly two thirds of California’s two million community college students, there are no programs to support these taxpayers needing to retrain during capitalism’s down cycles. Night and distance students fare even worse with financial aid offices, libraries, advisors and technical support staff all working bankers hours.
I managed to graduate even after falling into the “Community College Trap” and am now designing my online Individualized Studies Bachelor’s degree in the College of Individualized Studies at Metro State University. As a distance student, I’m finding the same structural problems at the University as the community colleges. Open matters to me because I’ve learned to use other institutions, social media and the world wide web to gather the resources I need to learn what I choose. I intend to create an Open Heutagogy anyone with an data connection can use to gather free and open resources to create their own learning program. I think as the world economy continues to limp along and higher education divides into training for the masses and private education for the children of the elites, self directed learning will help the working class and those left behind learn what they need to build diverse, sustainable and cooperative local economies. While the elites will still run the Universities and reproduce the managerial class to run the global economic and military empires, openness will help the rest of us survive, and perhaps learn to flourish.