I, too, routinely tell students that they don't need to come to classes, and that they don't need to take courses, and that universities aren't warehouses of information. "You've got to think for yourselves" is what I keep emphasizing to them, while reminding them that thanks to the internet they have access to all the information they possibly need, and more. "So, why do you think we have classes?" is a question I often ask students, who perhaps view that as some kind of a trick question.
But, there is always a thought in the back of my head that neither the students nor the folks at the university would care for such a message. The faculty and administrators of the university, any university, aggressively market higher education and their own respective institutions and they will not have any soft spot for me and my views on the overselling--not even mere selling--of higher education.
Even more is the worry that students, too, might not prefer to hear my bottom-line that they are individuals who need to think for themselves. It shifts the responsibility, a burden, on to them. It is a lot easier, perhaps, to simply do whatever one is told to do, especially where there is no genuine interest, than to take ownership for what they want to learn. I don't blame them--the system has trained them well, as much as the system in which I grew up trained us really, really well.
Though in a different context, this essay notes parenthetically:
Socrates challenged such thinking in his day, and it did not end happily.This, too, I often joke with students. I tell them following Socrates means that one of these days I might be given the option of exile or death (though, given that I have already been exiled, a cup of tasty hemlock is no longer an option? Haha!)
In this essay titled "The courage to be ignorant," which sounds like the title of my autobiography if I were to ever write one, there is practically nothing for me to disagree, even though it is in a context of art, music, and architecture:
classes consist in the delivery of scholarly knowledge that only serves to exacerbate the distance that the students feel from the material itself. Instead of learning how to look at an artwork or listen to a piece of music, students learn how to categorize them: this is early Renaissance, this is Impressionist....
The two skills don't have to be mutually exclusive, but on a practical level, they most often are — and I would rather that my students begin by gaining the confidence to analyze and respond to a work and only then delve into the historical and scholarly background according to their interest. We live in a time where there's no shortage of access to facts, but college may be their one chance to develop a real understanding of how art and music work.