When Policies Get in the Way of Progress (or) Experience vs. Pedigree

Two weeks ago I receive an email from a department chair at a local university asking if I’d be interested in teaching a Web Design course this Fall. I was grateful for being considered. It was a humbling thing, especially considering that I didn’t study design in school, and I didn’t finish college. Affirmation like that is a rare thing.

But wait — can a college dropout be an adjunct professor at a university? Apparently not at this particular one, as I was informed after letting them know of my lack of degree. The exchange brought up a myriad of questions for me about higher education and who should be in the classroom.

What is the end game of a college education? Exploration? Finding yourself? Idyllic learning? Certain future employment? When you plunk down your $100,000+ (in the case of the college in question) for four years of higher education, what should you own in the end that you didn’t at the beginning? And what can you get there that can’t be had elsewhere?

[The] object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men.

Du Bois, in addition to having a truly amazing name, has a noteworthy point. I’m immensely thankful for the men and women who have taught me to be a man, to take responsibility, to be good at what I do and gracious when I do it. It’s been a valuable education and a gift, and I am indebted. 

But I can’t help thinking if I’m willing to show up, work hard, and pay someone to teach me to be a carpenter, I should emerge as at least some approximation of a carpenter. If I don’t, then that educational process has failed me (or I have no business attempting to build things). If I can’t swing a hammer, I got hoodwinked.

There ain’t no rules around here, we’re trying to accomplish something.

Thomas A. Edison

In an emerging field like web design, where so few professionals even remotely know what they’re doing, we need experienced professionals teaching our students and preparing them to do actual work in the marketplace. There are hundreds of talented, thought-provoking, able designers who should be imparting wisdom to people long before I wield a syllabus. If colleges are deadwed to prioritizing instructor pedigree over the ability to give students the best possible education in new fields, are they prioritizing the wrong things at the expense of the student? 

I suppose this is the way of the world—every good system needs gatekeepers and guardrails—but if the policies that create the system for education potentially hamper education and don’t tap into the community for experienced, capable instructors, how is that success for the student?