The Touristification of Education

The Touristification of Education


I’m currently reading Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb (probably the most relevant book of the year), and there was a particular concept that caught my attention: the idea of “touristification”. Taleb explains:

Touristification castrates systems and organisms that like uncertainty by sucking randomness out of them to the last drop—while providing them with the illusion of benefit. […] This is my term for an aspect of modern life that treats humans as washing machines, with simplified mechanical responses_and a detailed user’s manual. It is the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness from things, trying to make matters highly predictable in their smallest details. All that for the sake of comfort, convenience, and efficiency.

This, I believe, is the biggest challenge for any institution that aims to be a responsible alternative to the broken traditional educational system: how NOT to create a “touristified” educational experience.

We all face the same pressure to “touristify” our lives and remove volatility and chaos from everything. It’s how modernity tries to function: by being safe and predictable. We mistakenly think that value delivery for an experience means removing all uncertainty and stress, and we don’t realize that by doing that we also remove all possibility of learning by assuming responsibility of one’s choices.

Sure, you don’t want to learn life lessons from a microwave or a train that is too volatile and unreliable. Some things in society should be predictable. But the path to develop maturity and self-reliance is anything but predictable, which is why universities and big companies are terrible at it and only foster dependency and powerlessness, with their super-structured 4-year degrees and their 8 hour, 5 day workweek. The things that matter, the things entrepreneurs and strong-spirited people are made of, one can only develop these things in volatile environments, not in educational tourism agencies.

It’s important to clarify that you can go through this maturity and self-reliant process alone (it’s how I did it), but it’s harder and the chances of failure are higher (I know I failed more than was necessary). Another option is to join a community that will support you and pick you up when, not if, you stumble.

Selling broccoli, not candy


To borrow another term from Taleb, it is paramount for new educational alternatives to have “skin in the game” for the success of their participants. They need to risk something. Otherwise, it’s not real. There’s no potential loss for the institutions, therefore no effort. That’s why they don’t care when you go into the real world and experience real pain without any real preparation. They give you your piece of paper and say good luck, then reality hits you square in your unprepared face.

Lifelong learning and curiosity, two key attitudes behind maturity and self-reliance, only come after one reaches what Charles Hayes calls a “critical mass of knowledge”, a sort of tipping point in learning after which the activity is self-fulfilling. But that’s a path that people can’t be pushed into, there’s no one path towards a critical mass of knowledge. There’s no pre-packaged body of knowledge that can inspire one to become a lifelong learner in a passive way. There’s no degree you can acquire or job acceptance that gives it to you. It’s a process that you have to discover for yourself. It’s chaotic by nature.

It’s easier to create a “touristified” experience and not be responsible for how participants behave. After all, how can anyone complain if one delivers a predictable, streamlined experience that begins and ends the same for everyone? One would be off the hook. Once participants leave, one can blame them for their future shortcomings because “they didn’t work hard enough”, and take credit for their successes because “they learned at my institution.”

But that’s why one shouldn’t do it. Because one shouldn’t follow the cowardice of traditional institutions, where they disconnect themselves from the process and results of their people by making things too safe for themselves. One should always speak out of love, tough love, with the participants. One should always remind them that both their successes and failures are up to them AND us. We’re in it together.

The challenge is to have the right balance of structure and volatility where people can go through the pain and growth of entrepreneurship as a lifestyle and mindset, without being completely isolated to the point where they could fail too hard to ever get back up.

The challenge is to sell broccoli, not candy. If you want to learn and grow in a healthy way, you should start paying attention to the nutrition facts label of the more traditional institutions. We’ve had too much sugar in education already.

A case for a “flâneurial” education

If the tourist is the traveler that wants things to be clear, safe and predictable, then his opposite would be the “flâneur”: he who strolls aimlessly, open to randomness and volatility in the journey as he moves forward. What we need is institutions that can provide a “flâneurial” education.

What should you expect in a “flâneurial” education, you ask?

You should expect uncertainty, unknowns, and a sense of adventure.

You should expect to assume responsibility for the consequences of your actions and inactions.

You should expect the availability of resources and support, but not directions of when or how to use them (unless you ask).

You should expect to stay attached to reality and listen to opposing views, in order to look for the truth and achieve a better outcome.

You should expect to feel sad and lost sometimes, because that’s feedback. It’s your mind reorganizing to know how to do things better next time.

You should expect to feel thrills and emotions that you never felt before when solving real problems. You’ll discover an inner creativity and resourcefulness that only wakes up when dealing with real problems.

You should expect to always have someone willing to listen and help you work through your problems.

You should expect to feel fulfilled, to experience spiritual growth, and to develop strength and discipline.

You should expect to feel like your life matters, and embrace how necessary you are to make other people’s lives better.

You should expect to meet the people that come for the broccoli and the unmatchable rewards of a courageous and uncertain life.

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