"Experts don’t only come with Ph.Ds and reside in academic buildings. You can find experts to become your mentors and teachers outside the collegiate setting."
Yes and no. Of course there are experts outside the university and of course not all experts have PhDs. But if you are looking for expertise in certain areas, particularly some of the core areas offered by a liberal arts education, then someone with the training typical of a university PhD is very good choice of expert. The degree gave them a systematic overview of a deep field of knowledge. As an UnCollege student of life, you have chosen to forgo that systematic, theoretical training. Or maybe you haven't, but even an expert in one thing won't be an expert in everything. So if you want to read Thoreau, you still can. And you can learn much in doing so. You can learn even more if you read the editor's "expert" introduction. And still more if you discuss the text with other smart, curious, engaged people. Start a non-ivory-tower reading circle. But the PhD expert on American literature will
- be able to talk about Thoreau in context
- have systematically been confronted with objections to his or her own common sense and have learned to consider and formulate them.
- and will have been forced to consider things he or she did not think of.
That expertise can not be so easily dismissed.
You don't need to be a PhD in literature, or even get a BA in literature. But if you have enough "education" - in the broadest, even uncredentialed sense - to know that Thoreau is worth reading, then you can also realize that inviting a PhD into your consideration of something like Walden, having a PhD with you in your non-ivory-tower circle, can improve your understanding of it - and hence of those life issues it addresses. You don't have to meet that PhD at college, but that doesn't mean you should never meet one.
And just because you might befriend that PhD expert and chat about Thoreau over coffee - consider the same kinds of thing you might if that person was a plumber. Would you ask your friend the plumber to fix your sink for free? Invite that Thoreau expert into your reading circle and seriously consider paying him or her to attend and offer insights.