When I was 16 I was a sophomore in college and I couldn’t believe how inefficient the whole thing was. I loved many of my classes, especially philosophy. I loved my job, which I worked probably 30 hours a week while taking 15 or 20 credits a semester. The problem was that everything I learned of any value was stuff I taught myself because I wanted to, or because I was working.
My job taught me so much that is of value to me today. It gave me confidence. I learned from classes sometimes as well, but it had nothing to do with making the grade. I did what I needed to get A’s and B’s, and then if I was interested, I also learned stuff from the texts, teachers, or in class discussions. Learning was not necessary to make it through college. Sometimes it happened, but only for those who wanted it. Meanwhile not learning on the job was impossible. If I wanted to keep my job, it happened.
In addition to my job, I put my savings into a bank-owned house and flipped it with a few guys. I learned a lot and made some decent money. I thought it would cover the next semester’s tuition, maybe a new car, maybe a summer trip to Peru I had planned. Then I was hit with capital gains taxes I was not prepared for. Tuition and parking fees on campus also went up significantly. So did the cost of textbooks. (Luckily, I discovered two ways to get a decent grade. You could buy the text and read it, or you could show up to class. Doing both was redundant. I attended the classes I enjoyed and never bought the texts, and I avoided the boring classes, opting to read the texts instead. I saved a few bucks and many hours.)
Between the taxes and the cost of school, I was frustrated. I felt hemmed in. It seemed doing the normal thing – getting financial aid, doing class but not working – was rewarded, even though the costs were borne in part by those who took no part in it. I didn’t live on campus, for example, but I had to pay all kinds of fees and higher tuition to subsidize those that made campus life a big part of their experience. Meanwhile, going above and beyond was punished. Work hard to earn extra? Pay extra in taxes. Study enough on your own to test out of a class? Pay tuition anyway or don’t get credit.
All I wanted was knowledge – of myself and of several fields of study – and some kind of proof that I’m a reasonably competent guy to show employers. I barely got these, yet I paid for innumerable add-ons and frills that I had no interest in.
I used to walk around downtown Kalamazoo and dream about renovating one of the old buildings and turning it into a real college. A place where you learn what you want to learn. Where you only pay for what you want. Where you learn by doing as much as by thinking. Where theories were tested and applied right then and there.
Today, the frustration I felt with college is widely known and shared. I was in the middle of a growing bubble – one that has reached a fever pitch. Everyone knows it’s too expensive. Everyone knows graduates are barely equipped to do what they want to do. Most haven’t been able to try enough stuff out to even know what they want.
Online education shows great promise. If it’s knowledge you want, it’s out there. In fact, so much is out there that it can be overwhelming. Where to start? What to study? It’s also worrisome to people that they have a hard time proving their knowledge without some kind of certification. And online learning itself is great for theoretical knowledge, but the things we need to succeed in life are primarily learned through practice.
What’s needed is a combination of the best online content, compiled and structured to challenge and expand the mind while showing how it applies in real life, and on the ground experience at businesses that create value. Imagine working through interdisciplinary online courses – readings, videos, podcasts – until you really grasp the topic. Imagine being tested not with multiple choice quizzes or essays, but in conversation with experts in the field through an oral exam. Imagine working full-time with entrepreneurs and small business owners, and seeing and being a part of every aspect of business.
That’s why we launched Praxis. The name says it all. According to Wikipedia:
“Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas.”
Praxis is here because college isn’t enough. Praxis is here because a growing number of smart, driven young people want more than the factory schooling approach. They want more than internships where they do menial tasks. They want more than debt. They want to build human capital, gain confidence, knowledge, experience, and a network. They want to discover what they want to do by trying it out. They don’t want to pay for a bunch of frills they don’t need. They want to take ownership of their education and life.
It takes courage the break the mold. Thankfully, this is a courageous generation, not content to follow prescribed road-maps and insistent on creating their own path to success. Praxis is for them.