We’re all moocs now

by Carl Dyke

I am excited to discover a startling technology that will change how we teach, learn, and even think! This technology efficiently stores the accumulated knowledge of our most expert minds. It is easy to access with skills a child can master; combines visual, auditory, tactile, and even olfactory stimuli to activate any learning style; can be enhanced with images, charts, graphs, and other media; and can be shared by one or many at times of their own choosing.

Yes, believe it or not this technology makes the entire treasury of human knowledge available to everyone at virtually no cost! Just a small fee to compensate the material and intellectual labor of its producers; or with sufficient public demand and institutional support, no cost to end-users at all. And because of its low cost and ease of access, this technology encourages new knowledge and new knowers at a historically unprecedented rate and intensity.

Perhaps best of all, this technology is many times more efficient than lecture for information transfer. It will therefore allow us to ‘flip’ our classrooms, liberating teachers and students from the drudgery of rote learning, moving content acquisition to home self-study, and freeing up class time for discussion and reflective integration.

This revolutionary technology is called ‘books’.

What’s my point? We’ve been in the technological new regime for over 500 years. Mass information storage and availability has not been the issue for a very long while, although the new digital media are tremendous conveniences. My point is that it’s downright bizarre we’re still treating lecture like a respectable teaching strategy and flailing about trendy new alternatives to it. My point is that as long as we treat oral transmission as the teaching / learning default, we are culturally pre-literate. My point is that it’s long, long past time we could be doing much, much better. Click through to the links for more on how to notice and think our way out of this trap, thanks to the physicists.

My point, finally, is that the problem with moocs is not that they overthrow the great traditions of teaching and learning. The problem with moocs is that yet again, they don’t.

Where all the windmills at?

Where all the windmills at?

Well, any cultural system that so clearly works against its own manifest opportunities and interests for so long must be accomplishing something else(s) important. Any thoughts about what?


25 Comments to “We’re all moocs now”

  1. I had a feeling about where you were going with that…

    Steve Jobs had a good quote:

    “I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.”

    He went on to say that unions were the problem. Oh well.

    I have only two issues with books:

    1. I often have a bunch of further questions that I can’t ask of a book. And often, these questions have to do with issues the author does not follow up on in later works. It would be awesome if we had the sorts of public discussions that used to take place between authors and their detractors. More often the author either retreats into silence or pens a quick “letter to the editor” in response to a review (obviously, there are exceptions to that).

    2. I’d argue that availability is still a problem. I really cannot afford to read all of the academic literature I would like to read. The books are hella expensive, and JSTOR access is beyond the reach of most individuals.

  2. Oh yeah, no doubt. Books are imperfect just as you say. They’re also in some ways possibly preferable to digital media. All sorts of distinctions can be made. The larger point is the one Jobs addressed, superficially, which is a knowledge system that functions a lot better for functions other than knowledge.

    Really what I’m arguing is that books could have fixed the mass knowledge problem, but didn’t. (Or rather did, but in some limited ways we keep finding problematic.) The new technologies are in effect the same fix that didn’t work before, fine tools dressed up as bells and whistles. So unless what we’ve got is actually what we want, we should probably do a better job of understanding what didn’t work about books before throwing lots of eggs into the moocs-etc. for-or-against baskets. There’s a lot of that around, I’m afraid.

  3. “Really what I’m arguing is that books could have fixed the mass knowledge problem, but didn’t. (Or rather did, but in some limited ways we keep finding problematic.) The new technologies are in effect the same fix that didn’t work before.”

    On this we completely agree.

  4. That must be because we’re smart. And smell nice.

  5. Even olfactory stimuli are important.

  6. Seriously though, how did anyone ever get the idea that lectures are the essence of education, and that packaging them in a new gizmo that takes the prof out of the equation would therefore be a fine substitute for the real thing? Anyone? Bueller?

    At school and all over the web I hear colleagues up in arms, as though this is a ludicrous caricature of higher education. Since locally this is folks who will talk nonstop at five students for an hour, perhaps they think this because they waited more than five seconds before they answered their own question once. Or even worse, as if our professional expertise to mush students through the grim deathmarch of their infinite ignorance, or to grade them accurately for their failings, are obvious values-added.

    Yup, it’s a complete mystery why a nation with more college graduates than ever before has turned on higher education. Must be The Man trying to bring critical thinking down. There’s no other possible explanation.

  7. I have not figured out why lectures are so bad. I had amazing classes from famous lecturers in college and it is a whole skill, to give them and to listen to them. Amazing to see someone’s mind work like that. No, having them write it out and distribute it and have us talk to each other instead would not have been better — they wrote it out and published it, sure, but that was a different medium, not like seeing it live.

  8. Hi, Z. I think you should click through to the links – they’re the intertext that fills out my bloggy sketch. Or check the years of research showing that most people don’t learn very well from lectures. Or the hallway buzz from all our colleagues about how students have ‘failed’ to learn from their lectures. Or perhaps our own experiences of seeing things we’ve clearly said bizarrely garbled and/or promptly forgotten.

    Then there’s Clay Shirky’s sensible observation that in the thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S., most lecturers are not world class. Some of them may even be not so good, which means it might make sense to go get mooced instead, if lecture is the thing.

    Well, but like you, I got a lot from great lecturers in college. For example I remember Rod McGrew, skeletal arms protruding from ill-fitting suit jacket, boney fingers grasping at the air as if coaxing the truth itself into the room, the drool of passion barely retained by generous lower lip, pouring his heart into inspiring lecture after lecture on Russian intellectual history. I sat right in front and I was the only student in the class who had any freaking idea what he was talking about. I don’t say this because it made me proud, but because it made me confused and sad and angry.

    But all it takes to reproduce this disfunction is one every so often, the one who learns from or despite the lecture, who goes on to become a teacher and lectures in turn, because it worked for us although it didn’t work for anyone else.

  9. “My point is that as long as we treat oral transmission as the teaching / learning default, we are culturally pre-literate.”

    Nice line. The thing that strikes me most about this sort of discussion of MOOCs is how parochial it is, blinkered by the assumption that learning is something that involves kids in a classroom. Where I see MOOCs as particularly valuable is as lifelong learning tools, to which people who want the knowledge but don’t need the credentials can turn to find out what people like Scott Page (the Coursera mook on model-thinking) are talking about. I’d like to see a discussion that begins with toddlers and continues through retirees, trying to work out which models work best for different ages on different paths.

  10. It would be interesting, too, to see how Joi Ito’s thinking affects this topic: http://boingboing.net/2013/03/11/principles-for-21st-century-li.html

  11. About two months ago I watched my first and only Webinar. The presenter’s voice was projected through the speakers of my computer, while my screen displayed a Powerpoint slideshow accompanying the talk. At-home viewers typed in questions on their keypads, for a few of which the presenter offered a short verbal response. Once the scheduled time interval expired, no more questions were answered. I found this format really boring: within five minutes I was multi-tasking, going off to the bathroom, etc. The format “affords” attention deficit. Truth be told I doubt I’d have wanted to read the presenter’s text either, the rudimentary content of which was embellished by redundancies and off-the-cuff remarks that could have add more personal experiences in illustrating the banal generalities of the formal outline but that seemed mostly to be verbal filler. While the Webinars are archived and viewable on-demand on the internet, there is presumably some advantage of holding the “live” event at a prescheduled time as an impetus for getting widespread audience actually to tune in and expose themselves to the content — kind of like scheduled class periods for listening to lectures at school. Evidently in some places groups of people gather in the same room to watch the show, though I don’t know if they immediately discuss with one other what they’ve just heard.

    Prescheduled blog-based discussions of books I’ve not found particularly satisfying either. The format seems to be for each chapter to be assigned to someone who leads the discussion, which almost always means writing up a personal elaboration on the text and posting it. So now I’m reading not only the chapter but someone’s essay on the chapter. Discussion then focuses more on the essay and its writer’s POV than on the original text. I’m sure the person writing the post learns a lot from this exercise.

    Sheesh, what a Debbie Downer I am.

  12. “The format ‘affords’ attention deficit.” Nice. Moocs seem to me like the distillation of everything most disfunctional about traditional education, including most notably the passivity of the students and monologic narcissism of the teachers; this is what seems so clueless and irresponsible about the outcry against them from the defenders of traditional education. It’s been hilarious and infuriating to watch the flailing against the suggestion that moocs might force ordinary academics to improve their pedagogy, as though the fact moocs are lectures makes this obviously nonsensical. Well chums, as Shirky points out moocs have all the advantages for becoming the best possible lectures once the kinks get ironed out. So if we don’t want to be displaced by them we’d bloody well better have something notably more pedagogically satisfying than lecture to offer.

    Except maybe not, because books already made that argument possible 500 years ago, and videos more recently. Which does tend to suggest a market for the human touch, even if we turn out just to be wire mommies. Well anyhoo, in principle moocs have the merit of bringing star power to the masses that had been hidden behind the ivy, so at least everyone has access to a dilute simulacrum of Z’s cherished experience. But as JohnM suggests, they’re most likely to work pedagogically for the usual suspects, the tiny minority of highly motivated, disciplined, and dispositionally exotic who already have access to elite educations and are likely to use moocs as JohnM says, for lifelong learning. Which is, frankly, awesome, although we also use books for that. For everyone else it’s yet another mode of the impression management of democratic access (or its reality, such as it is). And perhaps, like the TEDs, a charismatic experience from the online megachurch of the Academy, a chance to be touched and maybe even transformed by the awesome genius of our high priests.

  13. I’m also interested in Shirky’s point about ‘unbundling’, which seems right on and especially chilling to those of us trying to make a traditional living in a traditional academy. A lot of the added cost of the package, as is relentlessly but cluelessly pointed out, is stuff like student services that doesn’t seem essential to the education / credentialization projects. Well, that stuff is essential to the getting marginal students in the door and keeping them project. And those are the hands that feed us. But since those students are also most likely to be price sensitive, plus dubious about the actual value of the core commodity and unsympathetic with the cost structures of large, complex institutions, there’s reason for concern about the elasticity of the model. As Shirky notes,

    In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

    If what we do is just a loose collection of thises and thats, unbundling actually looks like a great idea, and a market for credential aggregators appears. As my current experience with gen ed reform suggests, this is not a challenge some of us can even conceive yet. But it has to be met with a much better story, and practice, of college as a linked, embedded, wholistic experience, one in which the arrangement of the parts is every bit as important as the parts themselves. A concept album, not a collection of singles.

  14. I’ve spent some time with faculty in various disciplines trying to convince them of the value of alternative pedagogies, and the power of the lecture resides in its role as universal default. No one will ever question what you’re doing, or how well you’re doing it, if you’re standing at the front of a room talking to a crowd of students. Every alternative, however, necessarily demands resources and practices that are “non-standard” in comparison, and therefore threatened at every turn. So part of this is about risk aversion (among faculty AND among students), but part about the genuine difficulty of working through those alternatives and getting the workloads and class sizes to line up across a department. More intensive, inquiry-style approaches are known to work, but departments at most places have enrollment targets and other ways of parceling out the workload, and it wouldn’t do to hand one person a class of 30 when the rest are doing 300. So these kinds of changes are unlikely to happen unless you have a directive from the top that provides resources, leadership from a chair, who believes in the engagement benefits, and then cooperation from faculty, who will need the pedagogical background, training, and practice to make their inquiry intensive classes as effective as “conventional” lecture based ones. It can be done, but it requires significant amounts of alignment and community building to pull off.

  15. You’re right Dave, and when I’m feeling less tired and frustrated I feel much more sympathetic to those considerations. But we’re supposed to be Team Critical Thinking, and we’ve got massively funded institutions as much at our disposal as can ever reasonably be expected. Yet we can’t even figure out how to get our own tools to work for much more than the rote perpetuation of corporate privilege, and turn into squawking messes when we’re challenged to try. Feh.

    Why are large class sizes attractive? Lots of reasons, but since we’re both responsible people let’s start with the fact that if lecture’s the default there’s very little real advantage in having small ones. As soon as books came along lecture became obsolete as a means of information transfer for all but very large groups. How did we not notice this? How did we not learn to pay off in ways that make it seem worth keeping the classes small?

    Btw, who’s always saying these are dynamical systems that can’t be explained by actor intentions? Me. Sure enough we’re just another case study.

  16. I think these practices make better sense if we remember that the historical origin of the lecture lay in the scarcity and expense of books in the medieval university. So the book is not the opposite of lecture, but one of its causes. From what I understand, a course in the medieval university would be organized around a book, chained to a lectern, to be read out by a master to an assembled crowd. This was the most economical way to convey a body of organized knowledge to a group of novices. (note the importance of economics and efficiency for the instructional scene sketched out here).


    The interesting question is that even when books became cheap enough for students to purchase rather than just listen to, both masters and novices preferred lectures to solitary reading. The presence of the class as a component in the instruction, as part of a peer process, doesn’t seem to get theorized until Dewey and Vygotsky (at least in my understanding). The necessity of interaction in education would dictate smaller classes. But those constructivist views of instruction are denied by institutional forces like testing and grading as well as functionalist and economic views of schooling as forces for credentialing and stratification. And there are documented differences between disciplines about the constructed nature of their knowledge which influence their openness to constructivist approaches to teaching, but these may not matter as much as entrenched practices in the universities.

    I think we may be trying to teach critical thinking, but organizing ourselves collectively around particular solutions to these problems is at least as hard, if not harder, than thinking critically about our problems. Academic cultures are much more likely to reward contrarianism or social loafing than concerted problem-solving. But we seem to have reached a moment where outsiders are perfectly willing to dictate to academic cultures their own preferred “solutions” in the form of MOOCs, corporatized higher ed, etc.

  17. Yeah, for sure. But this way of deploying history gets us begged questions and just-so stories if we’re not careful. Theorization is one thing, but the pre-Socratics were constructivists, little good it does us now. Socrates, albeit a jerk and an essentialist, was at least pedagogically dialogic. The Erasmian conversation, Montaigne, Pascal, the whole story Toulmin tells in Cosmopolis, then James, Dewey, Montessori, Vygotsky, Bakhtin, feminism, Freire, Said, postcolonialism. Not all fringe radical traditions either, although none of them since Erasmus and Montaigne in play for hegemony. Alternatives have always been amply available, in intellectual terms at least. How to teach for various purposes has a historically rich and diverse database.

    Testing and grading, even credentialization, are straw men. We’re both constructivists, we both test, grade, and credential. The questions are what, how, why, who.

    But it turns out Dewey himself lectured. Huh? Well, demonstrating how to create and present a well-formed thought, something blah something. No good reason really, which means the embedding of the authority-centered habitus and its associated pedagogy is that thorough. Patriarchy? Capitalism? Empire? Logos? What do we do with all the dogmatic feminists? All the folks who managed to turn constructivist critical traditions like Marxism, postcolonialism, deconstruction into authoritarian algorithms?

    I keep saying, we keep saying, JohnM’s Boing Boing link says as though it’s obvious, that the essential 21st century disposition is flexibility. Maybe when that starts to actually be true, or rather starts to actually be true for more than a small, high investment, K-selective elite minority who are already getting the education we’re talking about in schools exquisitely tuned for the purpose over centuries of practice, we will start training, selecting, and rewarding teachers accordingly. Until then, the strategies of narrow specialization and low investment, r-selective reproduction will be the ‘successful’ defaults for the masses and their surly pedantic schoolers.

    Does it make sense to teach elite skills and dispositions to way more people than can end up elite? We don’t need some nefarious Big Other to see how in systemic terms that would be the kind of wasteful luxury that can only be afforded by ridiculously wealthy societies, which in the postwar the U.S. was and now isn’t again. So I don’t think the inertia we’re ultimately talking about, and the persistence of distributive strategies and effects by diverse and constantly changing means (when has our educational system not been in the midst of urgent reform?) is actually that surprising. In real life when I’m not blog-ranting or sucked into a gen ed ‘reform’ I just sort of keep plugging and trying to make a little space for a better story. But it’s probably worth trying to disrupt the dynamic at a larger scale, so I actually like that moocs are stealing our old thunder and forcing at least some of us to think about what we do, and what we’re for – even if this turns out to be yet another change that keeps things the same.

  18. Well, Erasmus once wrote that he didn’t think that Latin could be taught without the rod and the whipping of schoolboys. There’s plenty of evidence in Grafton and Jardine that Humanist education seemed irrelevant to the bored noblemen-in-training who were forced to wait on their tutors for lessons in rhetoric. For that matter, every attempt at Rousseauean pedagogy in real life (a la Emile) was a catastrophe, and so forth and so on. Pedagogy always contains the seeds of its own destruction, largely through its unreflective reproduction either by teachers or students.

    FWIW, on the authoritarian moment in every conceivable pedagogy, I think it’s a mistake, e.g., to classify Fordyce the conduct-book writer with Wollsonecraft, who may very well have had her “authoritarian” moments (invoking masculine Reason etc.), but who nonetheless tried to work towards female autonomy and emancipation. One pedagogue is working on behalf of certain entrenched interests of money and property, the other is working (she believed) against those interests, though incompletely and perhaps in ways that could be counter-productive for other announced goals. I wouldn’t pretend that terms like “hegemonic/counter-hegemonic” would completely describe the Fordyce/Wollstonecraft relationship, but it certainly seems relevant to me. (knowing that Gramsci is your own area)

    On the issue of “elite skills,” I think the point is that there are no such things as elite skills in school, once we get past social practices like falconry or ballroom dancing. Given that “the majority of high-achieving kids from low-income backgrounds fail to apply to any selective colleges,” we can’t assume that the kids going into the educational system come pre-sorted into high- and low-achieving bins, only that the richer and more educationally savvy kids will appear, as if by magic, in the elite institutions. So I would be wary of deciding beforehand who gets MOOC-style mass education and who gets the real, elite experience. As everyone has already noted, it’s not as if Bill Gates’s or Tom Friedman’s kids, whatever they write, will ever rely on these systems.

    I do agree that we could all use a big shock now and then to become aware of where our real commitments lie, but too many shocks, or repeated shocks from different directions, do nothing but shake apart existing institutions and scramble their prevailing norms and values into incoherence. (This is something that Richard Elmore has written about very convincingly in the realm of K-12 accountability). My concern is that this latest version of Academic Tulipomania could lead to very bad outcomes for virtually everyone in public higher education, students and faculty alike.

  19. As usual we’re agreeing pretty thoroughly. Gramsci was explicitly anti-Rousseauian and thought you had to do quite a lot of disciplining and what Freire called banking before you could get to responsible free reflection. And maybe in this he was ironically counter-productive like Wollstonecraft, or maybe he was a swing of a pendulum. You and I might agree more with Wineburg, that it’s a constant developmental dialectic of asking, learning, reflecting we’re looking for.

    I can also see how all these shocks produce a bunker mentality that’s deeply counterproductive to reflection and growth. I don’t give my team a pass on that, though, at least not when I’m being a team player. (When I think of them as a strange alien tribe, they can get away with all kinds of crap.) We’ve brought a lot of this on ourselves, dang it, and we can’t put out the fires until we stop throwing our beakers of gasoline on ’em.

    And again, because they’re just the lecture/book model in a snappy new form, I don’t think moocs are going to work as education for anyone but the usual few which, for entertainment and continuing ed purposes, may well include the Gates and Friedman kids. I guess why they don’t work for anyone else will be just as subject to ideology as the prior forms.

  20. Agree with most of what Carl and Dave have been saying. I do think, thought, that reducing MOOCs to a snappy new form of the lecture/book model or a badly constructed Webinar could be a major mistake. The one MOOC I have tried, Scott Page’s Coursera course on model thinking was (1) available in 15-minute segments that I could repeat as often as I liked, (2) accompanied by a need piece of interactive software that I allowed me to play with the models Scott was talking about, tweaking parameters to see what would happen, and (3) the quizzes were short and inserted in the middle of lectures, to check understanding on the fly. I never took a lecture course with these features.

  21. @JohnM, there’s a lot of confusion between MOOCs and conventionally sized online classes in the cheerleaders’ accounts, but the features you’re describing are just as possible in online environments as in the massively scaled experiences of the MOOC. The difference is that peer grading and those interactive practice/assessment sessions would be all that you would have as evidence of students’ completion of the content, or “understanding.” The most exciting part of the whole enterprise is the possibility of assessing people by mastery rather than the say-so of the lecturer. This is also the most daunting problem in a course of 50,000.

    @Carl, I think the inequality side of this picture is the most important context. It’s not just a matter of one set of professionals getting thrown out of a position to be replaced by another. It’s more like a deeply ideological decision to define public education as far down to vocational “training” as possible, without any promise that those coming out of the new system or its definitions will be able to do something with that so-called training. A nationwide set of MOOCs that everyone takes, and no one learns from, will be just as expensive as whatever we’re doing now; that’s why it’s a mistake to label the status quo a “luxury.” It’s just that formerly public moneys will be getting captured by for-profits for formerly-public services.

  22. Dave, I take your point about ideology. But we’ve made the space for that ideology and continue to do so. It’s not everyone else’s fault. It’s not all shadowy, nefarious forces. We too did this, and continue to do this, and now promise to do it some more in defense of more of this. It’s this moment of self-reflection that’s been missing in every single thing (with you and Tim Burke as the usual exceptions) I’ve read by every academic talking about moocs, even the ones who like moocs (for all the wrong reasons, because they think that’s what good education looks like).

    To be blunt, the moocalypse would bother me a whole lot more if I thought what we’re doing now was decisively better than the nightmare scenario the defenders of the academy envision. I think the promise of public education has already pretty much evaporated into an elaborate system of extraction, rent-seeking, and privilege maintenance. I think all that public money is already being captured by various playahs, led by employers who enjoy the availability of a labor pool marginally disciplined at their own expense; bloated administrations and the education-industrial complex, sure; but not least faculties who draw salary from poor suckers they despise and can’t be bothered or are too chickenshit or are simply too mindlessly inertial to figure out how to teach in anything but the ‘safe’ and mutually humiliating class-reproducing ways. Or worse, who buy into all the old classist ideology of natural distinction that justifies the curve and other horrors of self-fulfilling prophecy.

    “Let all the evils that lurk in the mud hatch out,” as Claudius remarked from his throne. Cue Caligula, but we’re far from the glory days of the Republic, if there ever were any. Dave, we’re part of a hideously expensive system that is not even close to worth it, except perhaps as a works program. It’s not just the other parts – administration, student services, sports – that aren’t worth it, it’s our part too. Arguably, the growth of those other parts has been directly enabled, if not caused, by our part not being worth it by itself.

    If moocs can offload and delegitimate the worst parts of what we do, so be it and good riddance. If they evolve into a really good version of what we mostly do badly, that would be awesome. Probably they’ll end up squeezing some marginal players in the current system and otherwise settle in as another mode of hegemonic delivery. In any case, we academics should be figuring out how to pay off better, not defending the indefensible. We need to be so obviously, so decisively, so indispensably different and better than the moocs that they’re irrelevant to us, or tools for better purposes. The fact that what moocs are is a threat to us is, in a word, pathetic.

    Btw for the record, as usual I am taking an extreme position here for rhetorical effect, to create a contrast we can think with and to decenter the assumptions that may be part of the problem; and also because as usual you’re taking good care of the measured, sensible space in the conversational dynamic.

  23. Well, this is going far afield, but my experience of Bush/Gore or the invasion of Iraq suggests that there are times when a particular ideology can have an enormous destructive impact on lots and lots of folks innocent and otherwise, no matter how compromised the status quo. FWIW, I think this is one of those moments, like suddenly de-institutionalizing mental patients and creating a new homeless population in this country.

    I don’t think that misguided public policy brings on “just desserts,” because I don’t think these enemies of higher ed care one way or the other about functioning or dysfunctional institutions: the rentiers are just looking for the bucks to extract, and the ideologues are busy dismantling stuff that inconveniences them. So, no, I don’t think Ken Cuccinelli or whoever would be impressed by my teaching evaluations, or would stop what he was doing because I demonstrated really impressive gains in my classes. I’m dealing with folks here in my state who are simply committed to dismantling public education, full stop.

    At one level, “we” are in agreement, because we (meaning me and you and those still interested in the conversation) do what we have to do, here and elsewhere, because that’s what we are here to do. But I absolutely disagree with the notion that “we” brought it on ourselves (because I didn’t teach Creationism? because instructional funds are tempting targets for hedge fund investors?), because ideological scapegoating of academics or social workers or teachers or union workers is not a “response to abuses,” but simply part of the agenda.

  24. Fair enough Dave, but I don’t accept the premise that we’re victims and therefore I don’t accept the defense that we can’t be blamed because Bad Men. Ideology isn’t something only the other guys have. And that’s about as far as we can get with the finger-pointing mode of the analysis. Outside that mode, I’m an interested participant-observer of a fascinating social-evolutionary dynamic with lots of moving parts at various scales and rates, which is a very different conversation and a much more demanding one.

  25. Hmm, we seem to have written our way into disagreement about this. In brief, here are my positions, and then I’ll shut up.

    1) I don’t think blame is the right way to go about changing behavior, in any part of the educational system, either students or faculty, but the political discussion of education is conducted almost entirely in terms of blame. It is certainly possible to talk about education as a “fascinating social-evolutionary dynamic” but someone getting repeatedly, systematically, and perhaps unfairly blamed is less likely to adopt that framework. If we’re hoping to see some self-reflection or change in behavior, the internal, self-directed critique, based on institutional norms and expectations, needs to kick in.

    2) No one here, as far as I can tell, is claiming exemption from either ideology or self-interest, or claiming some kind of Victim Badge that renders everything they do Innocent and Invulnerable to Critique. But the ideology is driving the policy discussion, the same way it does with things like high-stakes testing and charter schools. The policy is completely caught up with the politics that keep hammering away at the institutions year after year. I don’t think you can separate the ideology from the politics from the policy from the institutional complexities of implementation, because that’s the whole game right there. it’s not a self-enclosed system, or one that allows you to safely distinguish between the attitudes and practices of the educators from those they supposedly “serve.” But the definition of the “public” and the definition of “service” is completely up for grabs at this point in time in our politics.

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