Tyler Cowen has interviewed Peterson on a variety of topics. Education is one of them. Peterson's started an online education project and Cowen quizzed him on it.
I can tell you the problems that we’re trying to solve. The first problem we ran into was that — because the original idea was to build an online university — but as soon as we started thinking about that deeply, we thought, “Well, that’s like building a horseless carriage.” Because when cars first came out, that’s how people conceptualized them, but they weren’t horseless carriages. They were something else. Right?
And whatever you do online to educate people isn’t going to be a university because you don’t know what a university is. And it isn’t obvious that it can be duplicated in the virtual world. One of the things we immediately ran into was the problem of, “Okay, well, what does the university do?” And the answer to that was, “Well, we don’t know.”
You might say, “University educates people and accredits people.” It’s not that obvious that it educates people. It is obvious that it accredits and that the accreditation has some value, and it might be that the primary goal of university is, in fact, accreditation.
But universities give young people a four-year, socially sanctioned identity that they can adopt while they’re experimenting and trying to mature. That’s a big function. Universities give students, young people something to do when they leave home first while they grow up. Right? Universities give people a chance to reconstitute their peer network and emerge as different people.
Universities give people a chance to contend with the great thought of the past — that would be the educational element. To find mentors, to become disciplined, to work towards a single goal. And almost none of that has to do with content provision. Because you might think, how do you duplicate a university online? Well, you take lectures and you put them online, and you deliver multiple-choice questions. It’s like, yeah, but that’s one-fiftieth of what a university is doing.
So we’ve just scrapped that idea, and what we’re trying to do instead is to figure out, how can you teach people to write in a manner that’s scalable? That’s a big problem because teaching people to write is very, very difficult, and it’s very labor intensive and expensive. So that’s one problem we’d really like to crack. How can you teach people to speak? And can you do that in a scalable manner as well?
Then we’re trying to figure out how we could bring content to the largest number of people in the most efficient manner possible, so one of the projects that we’re working on right now is, we’d like to do an introductory overview. We’re going to start by concentrating on humanities courses.
Our vision at the moment is that we’re going to make a history humanities timeline, something like that. Maybe that might encompass somewhere between 50 and 100 topics. We start 10,000 years ago, and move forward up to the present time. And we’re going to commission contests, to have people generate three- to five-minute videos for all 500 topics, and that would give people a walk through the entire course of Western civilization.
The people that we’re aiming at — my target market — would be intelligent, working-class people. That’s the target market. That’s the right level of focus, as far as I’m concerned.
On personal tutors:
COWEN: Will the role of personal tutors go up or down in your vision?
PETERSON: Oh, I think it’ll go up.
COWEN: It’ll go up?
PETERSON: I think so. One of the things that we want to do is accredit people for serving as tutors because part of the process of getting educated in our online system will be educating other people. So we want to give people credit for doing things like grading and for peer assessment. What we envision is that your power as an operator in the online education system will increase in proportion to the amount of the material that you’ve mastered.
We want to make people responsible for the education of others as rapidly as possible. Now, that happens in the universities too, right? It’s slightly slower. Once you’re an undergraduate, you’re a graduate student, and then you’re immediately involved in teaching. We’d like to speed that process along.