everything is a commercial. we advertise our memories
we leave our shit on silver platters and THEN we buy whatever’s left
(empty life? ? fine?)
These days I can’t help but turn on Unwound’s magnum opus Leaves Turn Inside You at every chance I get. It’s serving as the textured background for just about all my web reading these last weeks, and it gets me all fired up when I read ’bout the end of this, the beginning of that, the emergence of the new education market, for-profit, leverage, synergize, and on and on and on, but the guitar barrels through it all like an off-the-rail train—it refuses it, it knows everything is a commercial and we are selling our soul. It hits you like only music can, shoots straight to the veins, an anti-opiate for the mind to jack out of all the maneuvering, grandstanding, planning, and public pillage.
.And while reading the recent series of articles in Today’s Campus (thank you, Barry Dahl) about the business of EDUPUNKS, Edupreneurs, Eduneers, and Edubadgeres I marvel at how quickly the narrative of change in higher education is sucked into the seemingly irrefutable and naturalized logic of business innovation. The entreprenuer as savior of education (a myth Bill Fitzgerald so beautifully deconstructs here) becomes the all-too-apparent solution, and what gets left out through these articles is anything resembling a thought about teaching, sharing, and learning. It’s all about business, markets, possibilities, and vast returns for the sharp young edupreneur— I mean look at the video Bill Fitzgerald’s links to in his post, it’s insane—it’s about a shallowly glamorized culture of capital, and as David Harvey notes here, capital’s goal remains re-inventing and innovating so that we really don’t stop and think about the increasingly vast inequalities in the accumulation of wealth and power. At the same time, it grafts on a hero narrative around the private sector’s financial innovation which in many ways might be part and parcel of the financial crisis we have yet to truly recover from.
And and and, where are all the teachers and professors in the discussion? Where’s the space and shape of teaching and learning as we move forward. The discussion of EDUPUNKS—re-coined “Change Exploiters” (WTF?)—gives way to the next article in the series talking about EDUBANKERS, and new and innovative ways to finance your way through college—sounds like capital simply re-inventing itself in what it hopes becomes a market abandoned by public support and monies. I mean, what do you do with the innovative business SafeStart that basically provides students with an “interest free” line of credit to pay off their loans during the years immediately after graduation when they can’t afford the payments. They are sure to note SafeStart isn’t “insurance,” but that’s purely semantics, that is exactly what it is—a product you purchase to protect against the likelihood you can’t afford the education you have been encouraged to finance. A parasitic market on a market—it’s exactly what Tom Woodward, Brian Lamb, and I predicted in our Uncanny Learning session for NMC last October, which featured John Titan—an education insurance salesman for EduSafe from the future who has come back from the future to encourage us all to buy education insurance.
Talking at length with Brian Lamb last night (my edtech guru), the whole transformation of higher ed from an egalatarian mission to a privilege, along with which comes the price tag, is exactly the issue which Downes nailed in his newsletter yesterday (he’s been on serious fire lately) in three off-the-cuff sentences:
In the 1970s universities were much more egalitarian than they are today. More and more, you have to be the child of rich parents to be admitted and to pay tuition. This results in the student body, as a whole, appearing to have a greater sense of entitlement.
Fact is, we seem to allow the banks, business folk, and financial innovators to help us avoid the real issue of hyper-inflated costs by pointing us to shadow education banking, insurance, and further debt-inducing alternatives that simply serve to fuel the perpetual motion machine that is capital. Now while Anya considers getting her “Skin in the Game” with the for-profit start-ups—where art thou world free of partisanship?—I can’t help but hold on to this quote by Tony Hirst, which I was reminded of by the Today’s Campus article on Change Exploiters—and for me is the vision we need to be working against within our public spaces, and one which the articles in this business rag all seem to ignore:
The disaster that happens when democracy is for sale is nothing when compared to what will happen when learning is for sale.
I’m not sure public education can withstand what’s coming, but it’s high-time we start trying to work through these issues as the market “innovations” get ready to sell us our future. To steal from Brian Lamb, higher ed needs to communicate openly and directly with the public, it needs to make the case for its relevance, and it needs to re-invest in people, possibilities, and reaffirm its role as a responsible leader in the world of ideas with some distance and protection from the market whims of capital. The people need to demand and protect this from the forces of profit that will answer to nothing else but bottom lines. Perhaps it does call for a not-so-secret revolution, but I’d love to hear a bit more clamoring out loud amongst those in higher education who seem to be sitting around playing the fiddle while Rome burns. What’s more, I’d love to seem some ideas and organization from people other than the business leaders—cause it’s that kind of “leadership” that is always in service to the dollar that scares me more than anything.