Thursday, November 04, 2010

Quote of the Day

George Leef:
In other words, what we need in education is the free market’s discovery process to find ways of improving upon or replacing our current, highly inefficient institutions.

1 comment:

Glen S. McGhee said...

We need to thank George Leef for taking the time to read and critique all those books that there is never enough time for!

His review of "DIY U : Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education," Anya Kamenetz (March 2010) is most welcome.

Kamenetz is right to target accreditation: “Accreditation and assessment, the source of the ‘sheepskin effect’ is proving the toughest nut to crack.”

But given the production values that have taken over the soul of higher education today, it is unlikely that innovation can crack it. However well meaning it may be, “Don’t show us where you’ve taken courses, but instead show us evidence that you’ve learned something that would be useful here,” is bureaucratically and institutionally impossible for masses of students.

"Notice what is absent in this vision of the future of higher education," Leef says, "It involves no government subsidies, regulations, or even institutions."

But if this is true, then Kamenetz can dismissed as an ideologue, and her commentary as ideologically motivated and, even, as utopian.

Afterall, WGU would not survive long in a world without federal subsidies and regulations. It is, and seeks to be, an institution. Markets are also institutions, as are the credential markets. Exclude them, and you have no context whatsoever for considering higher education.

Let me close by matching Kamenetz's (and Leef's implicit) utopian-based critique with one of my own.

The idea that schools and colleges “alienate students from their own curiosity and ability by ‘teaching the need to be taught’ ” (Illich, Deschooling Society) is important in quite
another way that is rarely acknowledged, but central to modern life: it is hierarchical, and it establishes hierarchy as the governing principle of all our bureaucratic institutions, including the educational ones (Veysey).

The key goal of our educational system is to convince students that they "need to be taught" by its teachers and institutions; and to the extent to which access to jobs is governed by credential possession, this is, and will remain, true.

But, in the process, we must realize what we have done: In the words of Henry Thoreau, “The mass of men serve the state... not as men mainly, but as machines... . In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they have put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.”

Sadly, this is exactly what modern education is so successful at: manufacturing wooden men, hollow men and women, alienated from their own curiosity and ability, mere cogs in the machine, where "there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense."