Creating parallel / alternative institutions of higher education

Few existing institutions of higher education have sufficiently integral worldviews or evolutionary capacity to teach the knowledge and competencies urgently needed to co-create a sustainable civilization out of our era of rapidly emerging consequences and opportunities. To be certified to offer degrees in the existing system, institutions of higher education must align themselves with the worldviews and requisites of that system. To generate thorough transformation, we need educational institutions that can see far and evolve quickly in response to changing circumstances. To a certain extent we have this in the blizzard of workshops, seminars, leadership programs, and so on that swirls around us. But these lack the coherence associated with degrees in higher education. Can we have both coherence and responsive evolution? I suggest we can.

The needed coherence can be provided by one or more pattern languages articulating the design requirements (“patterns”, as per Christopher Alexander) for a new civilization and the interdependencies of those design requirements. If such a pattern language were adequate, most transformational workshops and seminars would fit somewhere in it, revealing the larger context within which those workshops and seminars made sense, as well as the other realms of knowledge and competency with which those workshops and seminars were intimately related.

In other words, the “classes” in a pattern-language-guided institution of higher educational would be provided by the workshops — which would be independently run by the educational innovators who already run them rather than by an educational bureaucracy. The “curriculum” would be derived from the functional relationships built into the pattern language. One’s “major” would involve taking workshops and seminars dealing with the pattern(s) one is interested in, as well as studying introductions to the materials covered in adjacent patterns (i.e., patterns which are supported by one’s pattern, or vice versa) as well as materials describing those supportive dependencies. The materials covering the interdependencies would be collaboratively created by experts in the two adjacent patterns. One’s “minor” would be a similar study of whatever other cluster of patterns one chose. FInally the “general education requirements” would involves studying materials dealing with the overall worldview and underlying character and dynamics of the entire pattern language (i.e., the vision of the new civilization one is co-creating by studying or teaching something in that pattern language).

Competing visions of the new civilization could present themselves via different pattern languages and the “institutions” associated with those pattern languages. Any given seminar could be part of numerous pattern languages / curricula, with minimal or no paperwork and bureaucracy involved, as such an institution would not provide the seminars and workshops, per se, but rather offer organized access to them.

The overall educational “institution” would be a small staff that stewarded the overall pattern language and promoted its value to seminar presenters, potential student populations, and organizations that might value people who are trained in the knowledge and competencies represented by a particular pattern language — and perhaps provide networking, communities of practice, and job opportunities for graduates. Any “degrees” that were offered would be named in such a way that they did not require legitimization by existing educational oversight authorities, but communicated their value by association with the pattern language’s particular curriculum requirements. The market for transformational knowledge and competency would rule the rise and fall of transformational pattern language curricula and alternative institutions of higher learning.

Such parallel / alternative higher educational institutions could be formed through conversations among workshop leaders, pattern language experts, educational reformers, and transformational funders and social venture entrepreneurs.

This approach reflects a process of evolution in the field of higher education, already underway, in which we can discern the developmental trajectory described in Peggy Holman’s ENGAGING EMERGENCE. The world of workshops and online education is in the process of (a) compassionately disrupting higher education, (b) generating a field of highly differentiated learning and training opportunities, which can now (c) come together within the wisdom-nurturing coherence of pattern languages.

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