Why did we launch Keenston?

My name is Sasha and I’ve sat in a lot of classes in my life! After high school, I spent six years earning my first degree (5 years at a Russian University and 1 year as an exchange student at an American college) then I took a break and worked in Moscow eventually deciding to spend another 2 years to earn my Master’s degree in the US. I’ve spent 18 years on formal education and certainly I’ve learned a ton. However, I’ve also realized that there are many flaws in the conventional educational system. Very often, education is conflated with indoctrination and educators mold a person into another conforming worker rather than into an independent, unique, inquisitive and creative thinker. This is not right. 

I studied at a regular high school and all kinds of students were brought together into groups of 25-30 people. Despite their different mental faculties, everyone was given the same material and there was always a disparity in how quickly students picked up the material: the slower students were not treated differently at all. That made these students hate their life in high school. For those students who were coping with the material, the whole purpose of the school was to turn them into efficient test takers who could then use their test results to enter universities and make their school proud. However, nobody gave a damn about what the individual student was interested in. Most kids were competing for what their parents and teachers thought was the right fit for the students. 

I was a rather efficient test taker and I got a full ride at a university, the university that looked like the right fit for me. Soon I realized that the university experience was merely a continuation of my high school experience with more specialized classes and exams. Perhaps, it was because of my country’s complicated past: the university system was not helping the students become individuals, it seemed like the system was manufacturing new obedient factory workers. Most professors were cowards who did whatever the administrators were telling them to do. There was only one teacher who stood out in the crowd: he was my literature professor. He was not a conformist and he always said what he thought, that’s why he was not liked by lots of his colleagues. I’d say that he was the only professor in all 5 years of my studying at that university who was truly enlightening his students. 

In 2010, I went to the US as an exchange student to study at a liberal arts college in a progressive state for one year. The experience was different from that at my Russian university: it was okay to say controversial things in classes and the professors could have very different perspectives. We had all kinds of guest speakers who could have their own opinions. It didn’t seem like the professors depended on the administrators too much and I didn’t see any particular agenda that was dominating the college. It felt rather free.

Six years later, when I started my Master’s program in the US in another progressive state, to my dismay, things were different. The professors were teaching their materials effectively and the students had really high IQs but there was clearly a problem with excessive administration and 99% of the students (at least verbally) had the same views on most societal topics. On top of that, I found such concepts as safe spaces and trigger warnings appalling and contradictory to the idea of challenging your views and stepping out of your comfort zone while attending a college. Political correctness was through the roof and groupthink was taking the reins. Strangely, the atmosphere was even more suffocating than that in my post-soviet university. Something had changed in the American higher education. People who had views different from the accepted agenda were afraid to even slightly criticize the vociferous ideologues for fear of being branded a bigot, which they were not at all. It felt rather totalitarian. 

We’re building Keenston to change the perception of how people can be educated, connect those who want to enlighten and be enlightened, help people understand their potential, build their critical thinking skills, be heterodox thinkers, become creators but not copiers and understand the complex world by connecting with people from different cultures. We are going to be an English-speaking site for people who truly care about enlightenment and who want to make education better throughout the world. We will strive to make Keenston as objective as possible; so we will not use echochamber-creating algorithms but give the user as much freedom as possible. We want to foster flexible educational approaches, promote courageous educators, cherish diversity of thought and cultivate nuanced thinking!

 

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Comments (4)
    • Your life trajectory is very inspiring.  Thanks for sharing with us.  And thanks for trying to make this site a place for us to get together and share our experiences freely.

      By the way, I was very curious to know more about what made the difference between your literature professor and the others.  If you can tell us more about it, that would be nice.

       

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      • Thanks a lot Mauricio! 

        That teacher had his own opinion and he didn't depend on the administration. One could call him rather eccentric. He was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about literature. He never sounded scripted. He almost lived in the world of literature, it was truly his vocation and thus he inspired me to read many books I'd never heard of before. He would challenge us in every class and the material he gave us was very enlightening, never too theoretical or one-sided.. Most of the other teachers were boring, too predictable and their material was too theoretical: I could've gotten all of it just by reading some papers. For most of them, it was just a job: clock in, read the lecture, please the administration and clock out. Definitely not a vocation.. 

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      • Hello Sasha
        Really nice to read your thoughts. And I didn't know that you took part in a college student exchange program...
        I had three different literature professors at college, which I entered at the age of 13 and got my degree at 18 1/2 years.
        For the last two years our professor was challenging us. One of his tricks was to bring up a question. After that he waited for a moment looking for raised hands - and then said: First of all you, followed by the name of the student, then you right afterwards, you're the third to response, and so on.
        So the first student started. At the end of his or her answer, our professor gave the word to the next student without interfering or saying something. And the tricky point was: while you listened to what the students before you had to say, you sort of had to constantly revise your own answer so as not to repeat what was said before. Or to put the focus on another detail, or challenge one of your students' argument.

        I have to say: this made an interesting and really challenging discussion and teached you how to think fast and better listen to arguments.

        He had been a professor for didactings at university too, teaching how to become a teacher. And had studied the piano. And was not afraid of shouting out in class if he wanted to emphasize something.
        I still remember one of those exclames:
        "... and not always potatoes for breakfast!!!" when we discussed a book which discribed a period in European history when the farmers were in war because of their new religious beliefs. The title was: "Goetz von Berlichingen" written by Goethe. The man had been a knight in the years around 1480, led the farmers in this war. Most people who had read the book can remember at least one sentence: "He can lick my arse!" At the time when Goethe brought this theater peace to the theatre in 1774, this was outrageous...

        It is a pitty, I agree, when teachers don't think outside the box. This might have to do with the fact that there are too many main stream oppinions and too little people not really capable or willing to think outside their box.

        Personally, I don't think that the invention of all the new technologies have really changed things to the better - or not yet. Too many blogs are a rude exchange and frighten away decent thinking people from taking part in such discussions...

        But when we think back to the events in history after the invention of mass printing of books by Gutenberg: many shit storms had happened back then, leavelets hung everywhere with crude and unsettling ideas whatsoever - and nobody could really control that...

        What would society be nowadays had books not been printed and allowed everyone to learn to read and write on their own. OK, this has been ages before and does not help to improve anything in teaching nowadays, right?

        What I try to say: in society's, some changes, backslashes, troubles as a reaction to developments take their time. It's quite often, that there are waves, or sort of a pendulum swinging to one side, then again back again. So it will take time till the people learn to handle the social platforms, avoid being part of a mob, checking the meaningfulness of an online statement, and make their own minds up whenever someone comes up with claims or strange thoughts which cannot be or become true...

        So, we should teach our children in class more about how to check out and handle information - is it trustworthy, helpful or the opposite of it, what lies behind the message or between the lines etc.

        Let us not forget: The new technologies brought about a real change too! You can search the internet far and wide and find good information about whatever you are interested in...

        On the other hand: There are tons of misunderstandings and worse things floating around the globe, and it's hard to tell apart and know which is which for many people nowadays.

        Many get confused and focus on one "brand" / belief / side etc... In my view we should rather open up our minds and listen to different opinions so as to make up our own minds about things. We may still keep some of our basic beliefs and principls. Which does not mean that we should stick to every bit of it for the rest of our lives but should adapt constantly and ask ourselves if one particular topic can still be seen as we did in the past or should be revised, for good reasons...

        The only constant thing in life is that it is constantly changing - even much faster nowadays than it used to, that's right.

        But even so, let us not forget about what our ancestors went through in terms of changes. You only have to go back in time to see that.
        And therefore we should not fuss about petty things but see the big picture and think of ways to form the future instead of lamenting about now or before...

        I hope I was not coming across as too much of a preacher writing down these lines...

        Thinking for yourself is essential! So you are invited to do so when reading my post:)

        Very Kindly,

        Urs

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        • Hi Urs!

          Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!:) 

          Your literature professor had a really nice approach to teach the students. It seemed like he cared a lot about his students and wanted them to become critical thinkers. 

          I agree with your point that every coin has two sides. The same argument could be made about fire: when our ancestors discovered fire, it allowed them to cook food but also burn settlements of their enemies. And most subsequent discoveries like the wheel, print, steam or internal combustion engines brought about positive and negative aspects to life.

          The current state of technology allows us to do many amazing things like connecting with people from all over the world, learning without going to school and so on. But it also makes us more tribal, lazy and angry. 

          What's different about this most recent change however is that for the first time in history a small group of rather smart people is able to control the minds of millions using machine learning algorithms all for the sake of feeding this insatiable beast that is the advertising industry. The ads business model requires that users spend as much time on websites as possible. ML algorithms drive users into echo chambers by offering content to the users that suits their views but doesn't challenge them. There's a really good documentary on Netflix "The Social Dilemma" that describes the problem beautifully. 

          Another problem is that modern technology is very efficient at providing people with dopamine kicks. Using fire, reading books or printing pamphlets and driving cars requires at least some effort, but watching mindlessly endless videos on Tiktok doesn't.. It seems like people are "amusing themselves to death" as Neil Postman put it once. For the first time in history, people are overwhelmed with so much entertainment that it makes them content in the short run, but makes their life meaningless in the long run..

          I really hope that this will change and we'll start realizing that this way of life leads to nowhere. Perhaps, small platforms like Keenston will be uniting groups of people around some distinct meaningful goals and the influence of large platforms that use ads business models will gradually wane...

          Sasha

           

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