When I’m not reading English diplomatic…

…I’m reading the articles below, which have come across my news feeds and which seem to be fairly important, to me anyway.

  1. A serious debate over Kevin Carey’s The End of College, which book I haven’t read, nor do I intend to, really. First, I don’t have the time, and second, if I’m reading the right summaries of it the content is nothing I haven’t heard before, and I’m not buying it. Third, here’s why: a) my higher educational experience has ranged from community college to elite private university to liberal arts college/university to federal military academy; b) my students and former fellow students have ranged from retraining mill workers and first-generation college students to coulda-been Harvard “stars” and prepsters; c) my teaching and service experience has given me a 50-yard-line seat on the kind of higher ed “progress” hyped by the “University of Everywhere.”  And based on my own experience (forget about Udacity’s spectacular collapse at San Jose State) I simply do not believe the hype that surrounds this online, tech-savvy education buzz. Don’t get me wrong, some of the last decade’s innovations are excellent, and some innovations really do help students. But my own conclusion after about a decade in this profession is that, The End of College notwithstanding, there is no real substitute for face-to-face instruction, and unless your online courses somehow provide for video conferencing, or at least web chat conferencing, or at least SOME kind of personalized attention from teacher to student (old-fashioned words in themselves)–unless your product provides for at least one of these things, you’re not really selling education in the sense of students developing their capacity for critical thought.

And that’s not to touch the socio-economics and racial aspects of education, which Watters and Goldrick-Rab go after pointedly, and for which they have received a lot of criticism (mostly unfairly, I think). Heck, white-boy Dan couldn’t afford a computer till 2003, and even then I couldn’t really afford it–my parents scraped hard-earned cash together to help with that; I didn’t even own a laptop till…2007, I think, after I’d been in grad school for a couple years. So don’t tell me that folks who come from far less advantaged racial and economic backgrounds than I did will somehow be able to afford all the infrastructure that is required to participate in this brave new world of technological education.

And that doesn’t just go for education policy gurus, it goes for professors as well.  I have plenty of ideas for using technology in the classroom, and sometimes I can actually implement them. But simply assuming that your students at, say, an urban commuter campus will somehow have the cash and the time to fulfill your tech pedagogy ambitions is to enact on a smaller scale what it sounds like The End of College does on a large scale.

[On a side note, and just to tick off more people, this kind of assumption is why I’m at best cool toward a lot of Cathy Davidson’s initiatives, which to my mind often reflect the advantages of her educational landscape and not, say, Idaho, Arkansas, large chunks of Tennessee, urban California…you get the picture.]

Other articles I’ve been reading:

  1. Let’s keep Ayn Rand out of…just about anywhere, really. I came across two Rand stories this week, neither of which are complimentary, but then any positive coverage of Rand amuses me. First, a dirt-dishing story on “how Ayn Rand helped turn the US into a selfish and greedy nation” [granted, that’s hyperbolic], and second, a column titled “Ayn Rand comes to U.N.C.,” detailing the (questionable) politics in the North Carolina university system. But enough of that. Rand and her ilk blight the soul.
  2. An interesting piece objecting to to Steven Pinker’s argument in The Better Angels of Our Nature that the world is getting less violent. I’ll have to read Pinker’s book first before really diving into this, but my initial reaction is skepticism (granted, the book was initially published in 2011…).

  3. From this morning, a long article about “The War Against the Humanities at Britain’s Universities.” Sounds about right, from what friends and colleagues tell me. Depressing, but this seems to be where the world is heading these days.