Sudbury Model School

Transcript of the Drupal Guilds Presentation

Here is an idealized transcript of the recent Drupal Dojo session I did regarding the proposed Drupal Guilds, which you can watch here if you didn't catch it earlier:

Also, here are the slides I used during the presentation, which the headers generally refer to, if you want to follow along the text:

Medieval Guilds

My name is Aaron Winborn, and through the Drupal Dojo, I will now present some ideas I’ve had brewing around a concept for a Drupal Guild system for peer-review certifications. You might know me as a developer with Advomatic and contributor to Drupal for nearly five years. You probably don’t realize that I’ve also been involved with the Sudbury model of education for about twelve years, and am currently on the Board of Trustees for my daughter’s school.

First, let’s take a trip back through history.

Feudal Europe 2
Medieval Feudal Europe was not a fun place to live. Despite the image of knights and ladies held in the collective subconscious, everyone was a slave, or serf. All of Europe was parceled up into fiefdoms, where everyone worked to their death on the land. However, by the end of the early middle ages, a few barons came up with the idea of freeing their serfs and charging rent. When others realized they were making easily four times as much by doing this, within a century nearly all serfs had been freed.

The church moved from the center of town to the outskirts, to be replaced by the marketplace, where a new mercantile class sold their wares. Wanting a better life, a large number of them began to educate themselves.

Medieval Guilds 2
Medieval Guilds, deriving from an earlier system of pooling of gold and resources by craftspeople united by craft, quickly rose in prominence throughout Europe. They fostered professionalism with its system of apprenticeship, and the post of Guild Journeymen became the goal for nearly all freemen. This system even survived and thrived in early America, well into the nineteenth century.

Medieval Universities
In the early 11th century, a new type of guild arose, a guild of students, or ‘universitas’. These people met in their homes and churches, pooling together their resources to hire teachers to provide themselves with the best possible education. This system of education became so popular that it attracted the attention of the church and state, who formed competing guilds of teachers, who worked hard to attract paying students.

Modern Universities
Of course, we all know which system survived: by the twelfth century, there were over 100 established universities in Europe. Sanctioned by the state, it became a gatekeeper for the more lucrative professions, such as lawyers and medicine.

Modern Guilds 2
Some guilds have managed to exist into the twenty-first century, particularly in creative arts such as the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Writer’s Guild. Several other systems and organizations resemble modern guilds, such as the Bar Association and many unions.

Modern Guilds 3
I read this morning a paper by a professor at MIT that advocates a return to the medieval guild system, arguing that the twentieth century system of working for the company, with pensions and whatnot, is obsolete. In fact, the modern consultant in many ways resembles the old guild journey member, traveling between clients, working for multiple companies, and sharing their expertise and knowledge with other crafts people.

Professional Certifications
Many developers seek professional certifications, which fall into three categories: Corporate, Proprietary, and Professional. Corporate certifications exist within a single corporation, and are generally non-transferable, but might look good on a resume. Proprietary certifications, or product-specific certifications, are good for a specific software or hardware product, but are also not relevant outside that product. Professional certifications are more general, serving to increase the level of practice, and are generally industry-wide, such as the IEEE Certified Software Development Professional certification. Finally, there are some government mandated and overseen certifications, known as licensures.

Professional Certifications 2
There are hundreds of available software certifications, of dubious quality, most of which are given by the software manufacturer to anyone able to pay a buck and fool the test.

Professional Peer Review
Professional Peer Review is used in place of or to augment the value of testing. It is used in many professions, such as in Health Care, Accounting, Law, Engineering, Aviation, Forest Fire Management, and even Software Development. It has roots in Scholarly Peer Review, used in academia to determine whether an article is worthy of publication. Some criticisms of Peer Review are that it’s subject to gate keeping and elitism, it’s not designed to easily detect fraud, and can be a lengthy and expensive process.

Sudbury Model Schools
Based on the original Sudbury Valley School, Sudbury model schools are democratic, age-mixed, non-coercive environments for children. Part of the model involves certification; students are free to structure their days as they wish, but if they want to use certain equipment (such as a sewing machine, computers, or a dark lab), they must demonstrate proficiency and receive certification. In many of these schools, graduation is also a reflection of this process: students wishing to graduate will create a committee of peers and advisers, who will help guide the student through a portfolio creation, culminating in a defense of their thesis to the entire school body, who will vote on whether to award a diploma.

Free as in Drupal!

Open Guilds
My initial idea for creating the Drupal Guilds (as a subset of Open Guilds) came about during the development of the latest incarnation of Part of the initial discussions for that site included “learning tracks”, where users could flag their favorite lessons and sessions, forming “playlists” to be shared with others. I realized along the way that this could serve as an excellent form of certification.

For instance, a developer interested in learning how to present multimedia in Drupal could work through all the lessons in a specific track and come out the other end able to put their new-found knowledge to work. It would simply require people putting in the the time to oversee their education and award a certification. Considering that thousands of people already donate hundreds of thousands of hours to development and documentation, it simply requires a framework to funnel some of this expertise into an Open Source University.

Rather than a corporation coming along and offering a $500 certification test, we can create this system in a grassroots fashion, bootstrapping and certifying ourselves. Certifications would be free, with reputations as strong as the developers’ due diligence.

Open Guilds 2
The structure I propose involves allowing any person to join the Open Guilds as an Apprentice. Anyone may also join any individual Guild. Each Guild itself offers its own certifications, which are overseen by Journey Members and Masters, who, after presentations by the Apprentice and discussions, vote on whether to award a certification. The Masters of a Guild are likewise elected within that Guild.

Open Guilds 3
Finally, the creation of new guilds itself follows similar tenets: anyone may propose a new guild charter, which is determined by a majority of Vested Members of the Open Guilds. The proposed charter would state the title and purpose of the guild, as well as (perhaps) its form of governance, such as by democratic vote of all members, or the representative vote of its council of Masters.

Open Guilds 4
Vested Members would be members of the entire organization who have a vested stake (most likely determined by paying dues, and/or by the length of their membership and the frequency of their involvement). However determined, Vested Members would oversee the General Business of the Drupal Guilds and Open Guilds.

(Cross-posted at

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The Society for Venturism has chosen me as the recipient of its charity for this year, to hopefully offer me cryonic preservation when the time comes. And this month, Longecity, an excellent forum for the discussion of issues related to extending the lifespan of humans, has offered up a matching grant of up to a thousand dollars to help out! So help out! Please.