I can only imagine that the greatest supporters of this idea [EDUPUNK] are those conservatives who wish to tear down public education.
Now they have useful idiots carrying their water.
I’ve always been an idiot, but I never thought I’d become a “useful idiot,” but it looks like that may be proving to be the case. The above comment on one of the now many, many articles about EDUPUNK has been stinging me for months—and yesterday when I read this article by Glenn Harlan Reyonolds in the Washington Examiner, it seemed that the above comment was absolutely right. Here is a bit from Reynolds’ article that gives you a sense of his vision for Higher Ed:
It may actually make them [students] more economically productive by teaching them skills valued in the workplace: Computer programming, nursing or engineering, say. (Religious and women’s studies, not so much.)
Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn’t necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is “rigorous.”)
Not only does Reynolds want to gut the education system to become a feeding lot for employers and this nebulous vision of productivity and “economic value” (whatever the hell that means) —but he comes up with that lame ass excuse for a good education, “rigor,” as a means to save liberal arts from the neo-liberal imposed gas chamber. I love how the dismissal of women’s studies, religious studies, and by extension philosophy, english, art history, fine arts, music, theater, and on and on, brings into sharp focus what the neo-liberal vision of an unregulated, free market education might look like: service training for the new de-humanized economy (The Wire, anyone?). What we are seeing is the gentrification of higher ed as an impulse to razing public education though the liberatory rhetoric of innovation and efficiency—only to have the process devoured by the wolves of the free market. And this next quote is the kicker from Reynolds—-and another reason why I can’t read DIY U:
My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.
Reynolds understands the “edpunks” as the useful idiots who very well may help bring the public education system down, and that’s all part and parcel of the framing of EDUPUNKS as the romanticized destroyer—or necessary idiots—who pave the way for the eduprenuers, the ultimate heroes of Kamenetz story. It’s a tough narrative for me to swallow, and I don’t need to read the book to follow it’s arc. But when organizations like NCAT get framed as a solution in terms of efficiency at warehousing their services like box stores, you know the solutions aren’t going to end well.
Part of the beauty of a term or idea like EDUPUNK is that it’s protean, and you can’t control its meaning and interpretation—and I think that’s important and necessary. At the same time, I think a personal intervention is in order (at least for my own head) because an EDUPUNK that devastates public education in service to the unregulated promise of free markets and capital is possibly the worst vision one can imagine. Reynolds compares higher education to the housing bubble, but ironically it was the neo-liberal/libertarian push for the lack of regulations on lending, hedge funds, and shadow banking that led us into the global economic mess we’ve been straddled with for the last two years. I have no faith in the free market, and I think I can say that with a certain amount of confidence these days.
And if student loans are the next bubble to burst, how will the privatization of higher ed (and by extension its transformation into service training) help? The public education system in the US (both higher ed and K12) have been steadily dismantled over the last two decades, and just look at the tuition increases in California’s state system at a whopping 43% (the former gem of high quality public education on the cheap) and it quickly becomes apparent the that education as a subsidized public service is what is really under attack. The average tuition for a public college or university is debilitating for most families, not to mention those with less, and this is a deeply entrenched problem. But I’m afraid the rhetoric behind privatizing education, i.e., efficiency, reduced costs, and curricular freedom, will ultimately accelerate the decline of higher ed into a series of feeding lots for the private sector job market—-which is the worst possible scenario in my mind.
All this does not change the fact that the cost of higher ed has gone insane in the US, but rather than positing the entrepreneur, corporation, or free market enthusiast as savior—we need to recognize that their has to be a third space. There has to be a way for people to organize and share freely and openly through a series of trust networks that aren’t necessarily mediated by institutions. But given so many of the demands of accreditation, and the current expectations for the system as it currently operates, given the choice between grief (a public, subsidized higher ed option) and nothing (the rise of privatized workforce factories), I’ll take grief every time. But all the while continuing to work towards the idea that there can and will be another way outside of this debilitating binary we are working through right now.
Anyone who works within higher education understands it’s not a process of efficiency, and the push for clearly definable outcomes through assessments is voodoo metrics at best. What’s more, technology as some cost cutting measure for teaching and learning is one of the most ridiculous arguments ever, the way universities and colleges have saved on teaching and learning over the last twenty years is part-time, benefit-free labor. And that is the direction these online, privatized universities have taken (think Phoenix U) and will continue to take in the near future, and that actually frames the bigger issue of this whole discussion, to what degree is the dream vision of DIY U a means of further gutting the salaries, rights, and benefits of educational professionals? We’ve gotten rid of the high paying, unionized blue collar jobs over the last three decades, and I can’t help but think that the public professional jobs that have some of those same benefits are next on the chopping block. What we have is an economy disinvesting its own workforce from the bottom up in the name of efficiency, cost cutting measures, and productivity—but in the end we’re all just fodder for profit-driven system that depends up the exploitation of the many for the wealth of the few. Last I checked that’s really not what EDUPUNK was all about, but I don’t write books, so you’re gonna have to take my word on this. I’m not really a useful idiot. I’m not…I’m not….