On becoming an educated person in this day and age
This applies mostly to the arts and humanities. The U.S. is still has two of the best scientific/technical schools in the world (CalTech and MIT) and a host of world class departments in other universities.
Trouble is, most of the high schools aren't teaching science and math well enough to prepare American kids for them.
And, even for kids who aren't going to become scientists and engineers, the laymen's courses in science don't impart enough knowledge of how science and math work to enable them to make rational decisions on public policy issues concerning science and statistics.
The arts and humanities have abandoned a historical/great books curriculum and are almost entirely devoted to indoctrination.
Even at the high school, and God help us, increasingly at the grade school level, a great many teaching positions are essentially make-work welfare.
Vo-tech at the secondary level shows encouraging progress, and for post-secondary ed there seems to be a move towards schools that teach stuff that might actually get you a job. This results in the decline of males enrolled in college that is such a matter of concern to the colleges.
It hasn't struck them that nobody's buying what they have to sell, because it's worthless.*
Now I'd like to direct your attention to Victor Davis Hanson's article, "Humanities Move Off Campus" here: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson121008.html
Dr. Hanson is writing about how the free market reacted to decline of learning on campus. A number of companies have used audio/video tech to record lessons and lecture series for sale or rental.
He mentions some others, but I'd like to recommend the two I use.
please find, The Great Courses.
The first one I got was "Argumentation: the Study of Effective Reasoning," with Professor David Zarefsky - glorious! Twenty-four half-hour lectures on how logic and rhetoric are applied to analyzing and constructing arguments. With lots of historical references.
Next I sweated through, "Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers," with Professor Edward Burger.
That was tough for me, I'm not a math person, but well worth it.
It's about the history of the concept of number, number theory for non-mathematics people.
You probably know about cardinal and ordinal numbers. Did you know there are at least five kinds of numbers? (What the hell are p-adic numbers?) Did you know that infinity comes in an infinite number of sizes?
Now I'm going through, "Machiavelli in Context," with Professor William Cook. On the stack I've got a 12-lecture course in Game Theory, and "Jewish Intellectual History: 16th through 20th Centuries."
You can find: anatomy, art history, world history, chaos theory, string theory, anthropology, biology, literature...
The cost per course is proabaly less than the cost of the damn books for an equivalent college course. And, they have periodic sales where they slash prices to the bone, in what I believe is basically a loss leader strategy.
Now go here: http://smartflix.com/
I've commented that our intellectuals have become alienated from the skills that make a civilization work - here's the cure.
Want to know how to repair guns? Shoot them?
Music lessons, drawing lessons, woodworking, kayaking, welding... It's all there, for a reasonble rental.
Right now I'm going through the companion DVDs to the book "Attack Proof." I didn't have to buy an expensive DVD to check out whether it was useful or not (it is - definitely) nor do I have to own a DVD whose material I can absorb in one or two go-throughs. (I prefer to own The Great Courses.)
So this is by way of an unsolicited product endorsement. I don't have any professional connection with either of these - and you can bet that if I did I'd be too proud to keep it secret.
Dr. Hanson mentions other companies such as Knowledge Products, and Rosetta Stone (languages), but I haven't bought any of their stuff - yet.
Not to gush too much, but this may ensure that our civilization doesn't have to decay just because our educational institutions are failing us.
What's missing from the great courses, is interaction with a teacher and other students.
But with any initiative at all, one could form a book club/discussion group to view and discuss them, and perhaps real teachers could make themselves available online?
After all, "God will not do everything for us, in order not to deprive us of free will or that share of glory which is ours by right."**
*I'd like to point out that I live a few blocks away from one of the nations small but highly-regarded universities that seems to buck the trend. It's 1) a teaching university, if you sign up with a teacher, teaching is what he or she is supposed to do. And 2) they've got a set of good practical courses (including a really fine music department!) that actually relate to what you might actually need to know for a job.
**Machiavelli, "The Prince," last line.