Our second Open Classroom was dedicated to the topic of alternative education, something we wanted to address in the context of Raimond Wouda’s current photo exhibition at The Wall.
We invited Bildung Academie to talk about their postgraduate programme, a programme which is aimed at personal and academic development through community involvement and which is self-consciously opposed to traditional forms of examination and in favour of allowing students the freedom to shape their own projects. It was an enriching talk, leading to an enlivened discussion at the end. Many of us were prompted to examine our own experiences in higher education, how the system helped us and whether it was all worth it. I was no exception.
I’m generally pretty interested in the way academia operates and the particular role it plays for those in their twenties. I did a degree in history. After finishing my undergraduate degree I pursued a masters, also in history. In terms of direct, work-related activity, it’s a subject I’ve done very little with. Perhaps for that reason, two years later I did another masters, this time in something that has kind of changed everything for me, but not because of the course per se. Rather, this second masters, in Urban Studies, made me realise I didn’t really need academia to do the things I wanted to do.
I carried on with academia because I wanted to write more. But as it happened I have been able to do more writing after the Urban Studies masters, and my writing has been better, mostly penning articles about architecture and urbanism for a few magazines. I also did the second masters, in particular, to be more active in politics and in community work. The Urban Studies course certainly put me on to that, with a very clear emphasis on putting ideas into practice through urban interventions (in two particular modules: Community Participation and Urban Practices). But I did much more afterwards, volunteering for the Green Party, Shelter and Citizens Advice in the year following the course.
I’m not going to pretend that all the studying I did wasn’t useful for my writing, and I know it had a hand in pushing me towards voluntary work and activism, as well as to a more coherent understanding of what I wanted to do in my life and what I was good at. But I can’t help but feel that the whole university experience was nowhere near sufficient enough to prepare me for these things. I had to figure a lot of things out on my own. And I probably would have figured them out a lot sooner if I had been encouraged to practise the ideas I was learning about in the academy in the real world. Besides the two solitary modules on the Urban Studies course, I did no such thing in my five years of further education.
As it turned out my sentiments were echoed by a significant section of the audience at the Open Classroom, specifically, those who had studied humanities (and notably, all the writers and researchers in the New Europeans team).
Stefan, in contrast, a graduate in design, hit the nail on the head when he said that it sounded like the Bildung programme was basically art school for humanities students. He observed that what we seemed to have missed was the freedom to do things on our own both without excessive judgment (exams, essays, grades) and with an occasional helping hand when our inexperience got in the way.
I can only speak for myself, but as a non-artist working on this present project, it’s really wonderful to have the freedom, finally, to come up with ideas and immediately act on them through concrete artistic interventions. Which is all to say, why can’t university be more like the New Europeans project? Hell, why can’t the whole world be like the New Europeans project?
Cover image: Marcus Spiske/Flickr