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The Miseducation of America - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"While I was watching Ivory Tower, a documentary about the state of college in America that appears in select theaters this month (the movie also airs on CNN this fall), it occurred to me that of the many problems with higher education these days, not the least concerns the way we talk about it. "Efficiency," "art-history majors," "kids who graduate with $100,000 in debt," "the college bubble," the whole rhetoric of crisis and collapse: The public discourse is dominated by sound bites, one-liners, hearsay, horror stories, and a very great deal of misinformation.

Higher ed is not unique in this respect, of course, but it is particularly bad. College, as the movie points out, was always treated as a black box: 18-year-olds were inserted at one end, 22-year-olds came out the other, and as long as the system appeared to be working, no one bothered to inquire what happened in between. Americans, as a result, have very little understanding of what college is about—how it works, what it’s for, what larger social benefits it offers—and those employed in higher education have had very little practice in explaining it to them. The debate has been left to the politicians, the pundits, and increasingly, the hustlers and ideologues. Few who talk about college in public understand it, and few who understand it talk about it.

Ivory Tower, for the most part, is an honorable exception."



"Ivory Tower shows us why it’s so important that we get this right: that we think with facts, with respect to college costs and what they get you, not emotions. When we cherry pick the scariest stories and numbers, we do two things: We open the door to hucksters selling easy answers, and we forget what college is really for. Apocalypticism leads to messianism. Close behind the anxious parents whom we see on college tours at Wesleyan and NYU—variously blithe or glum adolescents in tow—come, like vultures to a kill, a pair of now-familiar figures: Peter Thiel and Sebastian Thrun."



"The truth is, there are powerful forces at work in our society that are actively hostile to the college ideal. That distrust critical thinking and deny the proposition that democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. That have no use for larger social purposes. That decline to recognize the worth of that which can’t be bought or sold. Above all, that reject the view that higher education is a basic human right.

The film recounts the history and recent fate of that idea: its origin among the philanthropists of the industrial age, figures like Peter Cooper, founder of his eponymous Union; its progressive unfolding through the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, the GI Bill of 1944, the postwar expansion of the University of California, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the federal student-loan and grant programs; and its deliberate destruction under Ronald Reagan and his ideological heirs.

Free, high-quality higher education (just like free, high-quality school, which we continue to at least pretend to endorse): that is what we used to believe in; that’s what many other countries still believe in; that is what we must believe in once again. The filmmakers undoubtedly knew what they were doing when they chose to show us the moment, during that seminar at Deep Springs, when the students are debating Hegel’s proposition that, as their professor puts it, "you need to have a common identity as citizens, because it creates the bonds of affection." Or in Delbanco’s words, "What kind of society do we want to be?" Cooper Union’s commencement speaker, that tumultuous spring of 2013, turns out to have been none other than Michael Bloomberg. "The debate you’re having really isn’t about whether education is free," we see him tell the students. "It’s really about who can and who is willing to pay for it."

On this the billionaire and I agree. In terms of the "can" (and it’s hard to believe the word could even pass his lips), the answer is clear. Not just the plutocrats, not just the upper class, but the upper middle class, as well. Everybody knows by now that the share of national income that accrues to the famous one percent has risen to about 23 percent, higher than at almost any time since 1928. But the share that accrues to the top 10 percent as a whole, which stayed around 33 percent from the 1950s through the 1970s, has risen to its highest level ever (or at least, since record-keeping started), more than 50 percent. In a $17-trillion economy, the difference represents a premium of nearly $3-trillion a year, about five times the federal deficit and more than enough for this and many other public purposes.

The problem of costs, to be sure, is not a one-way street. Higher education must indeed increase efficiency, but how? Institutions have been willing to spend on everything in recent years except the thing that matters most: instruction. Dorms, deans, sports, but not professors. Piglike presidential salaries, paid for by hiring adjuncts. Now, with MOOCs and other forms of online instruction, the talk is more of the same. My friends, they are coming for you. The professoriate no longer has the luxury of thinking that all this is someone else’s problem. If you want to save your skins, let alone ensure the future of the enterprise, you need to wake up and organize against the people who are organizing against you. The fact is that by focusing exclusively on monetary issues, the current conversation prevents us not only from remembering the higher objectives of an undergraduate education, but also from recognizing just how bad a job our institutions have been doing at fulfilling them. Colleges and universities have a lot to answer for; if they want to regain the support of the larger society, they need to prove that they are worthy of it.

Ivory Tower ends, in the manner of such films today, by referring us to a website. Under the rubric "Take Action," the site encourages us to sign a petition that calls on Congress to pass legislation, of the kind proposed by Elizabeth Warren (and just blocked by Senate Republicans), allowing individuals to refinance their student loans. That would certainly be a good thing, but we need to set our sights a great deal higher. If service workers can demand a $15 minimum wage, more than double the federal level, then those who care about higher education can insist on the elimination of tuition and fees at state institutions and their replacement by public funding furnished by taxes on the upper 10 percent. As with the minimum wage, the campaign can be conducted state by state, and it can and should involve a large coalition of interested groups: students, parents, and instructors, to start with. Total enrollment at American colleges and universities now stands at 20 million, on top of another million-plus on the faculty. That’s a formidable voting bloc, should it learn to exercise its power. Since the Occupy movement in 2011, it’s clear that the fight to reverse the tide of growing inequality has been joined. It’s time we joined it."
2014  williamderesiewicz  highered  highereducation  education  policy  politics  finance  money  studentloands  ivorytower  reform  faculty  solidarity  ows  occupywallstreet  inequality  purpose  canon  funding  publicfunding  mooc  moocs  unions  labor  deepspringscollege  colleges  universities  liberalarts  society  learning  criticalthinking  uncollege  dalestephens  peterthiel  sebastianthrun  peterschiff  efficiency  cooperunion  communitycolleges  debt  studentdebt  employment 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Hacking at Education: TED, Technology Entrepreneurship, Uncollege, and the Hole in the Wall
"I have questions about community support. I have questions about what happens when we dismantle public institutions like schools — questions about social justice, questions about community, questions about care. I have questions about the promise of a liberation via a “child-driven education,” questions about this particular brand of neo-liberalism, techno-humanitarianism, and techno-individualism."

"Now don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty that education institutions do — from K–12 onward — that doesn’t help learners at all. Cost. Curriculum. Control. Assessments. Standardization. Debt. Unemployment. Existential Malaise."

"So despite their claims to be liberatory — with the focus on “the learner” and “the child” — this hacking of education by Mitra and Stephens is politically regressive. It is however likely to be good business for the legions of tech entrepreneurs in the audience."
education  schools  schooling  ted  tedtalks  sugatamitra  holeinthewall  community  publicgood  dalastephens  uncollege  unschooling  deschooling  criticism  audreywatters  techno-humanitarianism  neoliberalism  liberation  criticalthinking  groupthinking  dalestephens  evgenymorozov  highereducation  highered  funding  sole  capitalism  coursera  salmankhan  khanacademy  daphnekoller  privilege  techno-individualism  individualism  libertarians  libertarianism  californianideology  niit  salkhan 
march 2013 by robertogreco

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