Cupids Health

How to get a year of Stanford education for $150

When I was thirteen years old, my educational future was looking a little dim. I was expelled from two high schools in one year, and more than one person told me I should “really read J.D. Salinger’s book
Catcher in the Rye
.” Apparently I reminded them of the protagonist (not a real compliment, if you remember what a mess Holden Caulfield was making of his life, getting kicked out of school and all).

Although I had been an intellectual nerd in grammar school, I hated high school, and actively avoided doing any homework. Indeed, I actively threw away several years of education whilst desperately trying to fit in with a bunch of local bullies, smoking cigarettes, and stepping over sleeping junkies at the local city park. A priest at the first school that expelled me predicted, to a friend of mine, that Kenrick’s life was not going to end up well. And then the second expulsion a few months later seemed to support that dire prophesy.

Well, a half century has passed, and the prophesy failed. On the contrary, I am still amazed at how things turned out. Perhaps the most amazing thing is how much I have grown to love school. I barely got through high school, and was later on probation at the local community college, but then something clicked, and I basically never left. Besides landing me one of the best jobs in the world – as a professor at a great university — my lifelong delight in education has continued to make my life better and better with each passing decade.

The luxury of learning

This last year, my continuing education has been so much pure fun that I actually feel rather guilty. While still earning my own salary teaching and doing research with a group of enthusiastic and even brilliant students and young colleagues, I have also been secretly going back to college myself.

In fact, during the last year, I have had the pleasure of sitting in on courses from professors at Stanford, Columbia, Duke, and Oxford. I have also had the pleasure of being educated by professors at Yale, University of Chicago, Colgate, University of Queensland, University of Waterloo, and Harvard Law.

Original picture I made from publicly available photo of Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky, comparative neuroscientist at Stanford University, and an engaging lecturer

Source: Original picture I made from publicly available photo of Sapolsky

The thing I really feel guilty about is how little my year of first-class education cost. The official price tag of a year at Stanford is $74,574; University of Chicago is $74,648, Duke is $77,029, Columbia is $79,752, Harvard Law is $104,550.

So, I feel like it’s a pretty good deal that I managed to get all this premium education for $149.50!

Too good to be true? Or better than fiction?

Well, I did not actually do any commuting, and only set my foot down at one top-flight university (
Arizona State
, where I am employed). I got this cut-rate deal on a year of top-notch education by doing it “remotely,” you might even say “doubly remotely.” I signed up for an annual deal on audible books, which offered a number of so-called “
Great Courses
” from something called the
Teaching Company
. In addition, I also bought the audio versions of a number of nonfiction books I had wanted to read for a while, but had never gotten around to. The official deal was for one title a month, but you could buy as many as you wanted at once, since you own them once you purchase them, and can then listen at your own pace. The deal is frequently sweetened with 2 for 1 sales, and the offerings there are often excellent, so I was able to get 19 courses / books for my $150.

I just calculated the number of hours of virtual “class time” I got from the deal and it came out to 411 hours. A typical college student takes 15 hours of classes per week for 15 weeks, but if you consider the time spent on monthly exams, the total class time for a year comes in at a little less than 400 hours. So, I probably got as much lecture time as a typical university student (assuming he or she never missed classes). And since I re-listened to many parts of the many of the audio lectures, I probably spend well over 500 hours listening to lectures. Besides that advantage, I got to hear the clean, well-edited, idealized versions of each great professor’s lecture materials and ideas (I will project a little here, and guess that most professors’ real-life lectures involve some wasted time spent going back over points missed, answering questions about things students didn’t quite understand, or making announcements about what’s going to be on the upcoming quiz).

Educational Goal: Rediscovering Human Nature

My main goal this year was to learn as much as I could about human history and prehistory for a book I’ve been working on with my son Dave, to be published early in 2022 by APA Books. Our book’s title will be: “
How to Solve Modern Problems with a Stone-Age Brain: Human Evolution and the Seven Fundamental Motives.
” Each chapter opens up with a discussion of what anthropologists, historians, and evolutionary biologists have learned about how different “fundamental human motives” (e.g., protecting ourselves from the bad guys, making and keeping friends, gaining status, finding mates, keeping mates, and caring for family members) are satisfied in traditional human societies. Our book’s structure is organized around our remodeled pyramid of human needs, which I’ve talked about
, and in a couple of earlier books (Kenrick, 2010; Kenrick and Griskevicius, 2013).

Education Essential Reads

After reviewing what we know about solving each of the goals in traditional societies, Dave and I talk about the special problems meeting those goals in the modern world, where our ancestral mechanisms are often miscalibrated, or worse yet, actively parasitized by technologies designed to exploit those motives for profit. In the last portion of each chapter, we offer some advice from research conducted by social, evolutionary, and positive psychologists. The brief pitch is that the book will be Charles Darwin meets Abraham Maslow and Dale Carnegie.

One might think that after decades of teaching and researching evolutionary psychology and social psychology, I’d know as much as I needed to write such a book. But no such luck. It’s a truism that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. But that’s good news, not bad. A few great things about being a member of this species are: 1) we have brains that love to gather information, 2) we have invented languages to easily pass on that information to others, and 3) we then created technologies to make the storage and transmission of that information to totally new levels. Audio-books are the latest step in this cultural evolution, actually using new technology to connect with our traditionally preferred way of getting information: Our brains are designed to be much better at taking in spoken conversation than at reading. And unlike campfire conversation, audio-books and lectures let you replay the parts you didn’t catch while you were out peeing on the bushes, or otherwise distracted.

Is listening to an audio lecture really the same as a college education?

Simply, put: No. Even though I spent as many hours listening to lectures as an actual university student, and I got to choose from a diverse array of lectures from the world’s top intellectuals at many different universities, I am not going to recommend to my 17-year-old son that he simply skip university, and instead spend four years picking and choosing his own learning materials, as I have been doing. Here are four reasons why:

1. Perhaps the biggest downside of doubly distant learning is that it involves absolutely no contact with the other brilliant students and professors at all these elite universities. It ain’t just what you know, it’s who you know, and as I just noted, we learn more from conversation than from reading.

2. It’s also important to take examinations, to ensure enough self-discipline so you actually learn all that important material. To reach proficiency with the information, you need to take notes, and then go over those notes. If you’re one of those top-flight honors students, you are also writing term papers, which are preparing you for an actual professional life, developing your abilities to integrate information and develop your own ideas and perspectives.

3. To accomplish number 2 – demonstrating proficiency with the material — one is supposed to put in not the mere 390 hours of class contact time, but also double or triple that number of hours in outside class reading and study time.

4. Besides providing tools to think critically and understand yourself and your world, an actual college degree really does make an economic difference in your life: According to one
review of the evidence
it increases your income from $37,024 annually (for high school graduates) to $ 60,996 (for college graduates). It also opens 57 percent more job opportunities, and is now a prerequisite for 2 out of every 3 jobs.

Audio lectures versus books versus e-textbooks

Audio lectures sometimes include supplementary notes, but it’s not having the textbook. So whenever possible, I also bought a copy of the hardcover book (sometimes I bought a used copy online, sometimes I bought new because I like the feel of a crisp new book, and what’s $20 or $30 compared to the cost of a single college text, which can cost ten times that).

For example, after listening to Robert Sapolsky’s brilliant lecture series, titled: “
Biology and Human Behavior: The neurological origins of individuality
,” which comes with one of the better pdfs, including supplementary notes on the chapters, suggested readings, and even discussion questions for each chapter, I nevertheless wanted more information. So I went online and ordered a copy of his 2017 book “
Behave: The biology of humans at our best and worst.
” The brand new hardcover book set me back all of $21.18, and it goes into a lot more detail.

I’ll talk a little more about Sapolsky’s inspiring and broad-ranging approach in the next post, where I’ll briefly summarize my reading list, make some recommendations, and share some of what I learned, and didn’t, during my year of moonlighted continuing education.

Of course, even great hardcover books don’t have the pedagogy of an actual course, and they don’t have the built-in testing (I really love modern e-textbooks, and the one I use for my
social psychology textbook
includes review questions every few pages, occasional videos that include mini-lectures from prominent researchers all around the world, and lots of active-learning exercises).

A couple of other advantages of audio auto-didacticism

There are two other advantages of educating, or re-educating, yourself with audio lectures and audio books. First, I often read a few pages of an actual book in bed, and promptly fall asleep after a few pages. To be honest, I frequently have read up to page 50 of an exciting new book, and then moved it into the massive unread pile in my bedroom, until such day as I decide to take a pile back to the local used bookseller, and replenish the pile. On the contrary, I almost always finish audiobooks, which I can “read” while on my feet doing other things, and I usually don’t start more than one at a time. Speaking of doing other things, I have found that audio lectures and books have completely transformed otherwise unpleasant daily tasks, such as washing the dishes or driving around town, into truly desirable activities. Our kitchen has never been so clean as it has during this last year, and my wife likes the way I am smiling rather than mumbling unhappily while I do the housework. She may even like the part where I am wearing sound-proof headphones, and not idly ranting about the latest crazy events in the daily news.

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