Rory Stewart (see previous post) draws a provocative contrast between the “inert and disappointing” politics of the present day and the “vibrantly, destructively inventive” politics of the Tudor age; but, as a conservative, shouldn't he disapprove of the latter? Shouldn’t he stand up for institutions that have stood the test of time?

Well, yes, he should and, no doubt, he does. But what about institutions which are not tested – whether by time or anything else – but which instead owe their position to circumstances that protect them from legitimate challenge?

Consider the example of academia. In the information age, the sharing of knowledge should be getting cheaper not more expensive – so why the rising cost of a university education? For all their radical pretensions, our institutions of higher learning are among the most hidebound that we have – essentially unchanged in a hundred years.

But a revolution is underway. Wired magazine reports from Stanford University:

  • “Last fall, the university in the heart of Silicon Valley did something it had never done before: It opened up three classes… to anyone with a web connection. Lectures and assignments—the same ones administered in the regular on-campus class—would be posted and auto-graded online each week. Midterms and finals would have strict deadlines. Stanford wouldn’t issue course credit to the non-matriculated students. But at the end of the term, students who completed a course would be awarded an official Statement of Accomplishment.”

160,000 people have signed up, two-thirds of them from outside the United States:

  • “There are students in 190 countries… More than 100 volunteers have signed up to translate the lectures into 44 languages, including Bengali. In Iran, where YouTube is blocked, one student cloned the class website and—with the professors’ permission—began reposting the video files for 1,000 students.”

How’s that for changing the world?