Did Leonardo Di Vinci have a Ph.D.? No. Nor did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin have any advanced degrees. The fathers or our country lived at a time when if a citizen went to school at all, one only went through elementary school learning to read, write and do basic arithmetic as well as ethics. At the time Leonardo was alive and working, knowledge was acquired in an individual way. Before the industrial revolution when assembly line schools came about across the world, education was largely individual or built around the classics and mentors. Before that time scholarship outside institutional education was the norm. It has now become the exception but the tide is beginning to turn. Many more people everyday are opting for the freedom and intellectual independence afforded them by becoming an independent scholar.
Early practices of pursuing knowledge were based on individual interest and passion for a field of study. This is returning today. The university system arose throughout the nineteenth century. The pursuit of knowledge was essentially unionized locking out those who were not part of the university system. But private or freelance scholars have persisted outside the walls of the university because they have a passion for what they do. They have a love for their subject that transcends the limits of the traditional university. There are astronomers, futures study specialists, biologists, photographers documenting the entire world and so many other areas of study going on that it is hard to comprehend it all. The problem of being inside academia versus working outside academia has always been an issue. However, in the 1970’s independent scholarship began to build its own house. Now independent scholars are becoming more accepted as they publish their work and make real contributions to a variety of fields. If you want to pursue this further you might want to read “The Intellectuals and the Powers from 1972, Men of ideas by Lewis Coser from 1965 and Independent scholarship by Gross and Gross which is presently in print.
The fact is many books written in the non-fiction market in America were written by someone who could rightly be called an independent scholar. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Change, Lifelong Learning as well as other journals are paying much more attention to the phenomenon of independent scholarship. The number of people pursuing serious intellectual work outside of the university is very, very hard to pin down. There is something like 100,000 people who are in and out of the academe, many Ph.D.’s who will work out of the academe. Estimates for those numbers go upwards of 10,000. Membership in independent scholarship organizations has grown and now numbers just under 2000.
Among the issues that led to this growth has been a desire to return to the real intellectual exploration that characterized the founding fathers. 250 years ago education looked nothing like it does today. While there were schools the majority of Americans did not attend them. Some did attend them but rarely did anyone achieve anything beyond a basic elementary education in school. The father of our country George Washington had what amounts to an elementary education. Yet his intellectual growth and intellect made him a giant. Most education at that time revolved around the classics and mentorship. One most often learned by doing something worthwhile in the presence of a mentor.
Other pressures leading to the growth in independent scholarship has been the downturn in available jobs in higher education. Many people who achieved advanced degrees could not find work in their field but they still found joy in doing work in their discipline. There were other professors who became dissatisfied with the political nature of the academe just as many parents have become dissatisfied with the character of the public school today opting for home school. Many of these people began to think of themselves as truly independent. And, they began to organize.
The National Coalition of Independent Scholars is one such organization. The goals of the NCIS are as follows:
The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS) was formed in January 1989 to facilitate the work of independent scholars.
NCIS objectives are to:
•Bring independent scholars together to share scholarly interests and expertise
•Improve access to research libraries for independent scholars
•Offer independent scholars information and advice about grants and fellowships and about publishing.
•Encourage foundations and institutes to open competitions to independent scholars and to include them on review committees
•Hold conferences and workshops of interest to independent scholars and to the public
•Offer grants-in-aid to NCIS members and small grants to affiliates
•Serve as administrator for members applying for grants
•Encourage information exchange through publications and electronic communication
•Aid organizations of independent scholars by collecting and sharing organization experience and by publicizing their work
•Provide information for the creation of local organizations of independent scholars
The movement is growing. There is no reason why any intellectually interested child or adult should not become an independent learner. Up until this century there was very little organized schooling and some would argue that average citizen was much better educated.