Out to Pasture: Herding Education to Slaughter
May 29, 2014 3:36 PM Subscribe
Friedrich Nietzsche, famously a full professor at the tender age of 24, was in a good position to develop an acute sensitivity to the university as machine:
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"The student listens to lectures . . . Very often the student writes at the same time he listens to lectures. These are the moments when he dangles from the umbilical cord of the university. The teacher . . . is cut off by a monumental divide from the consciousness of his students . . . A speaking mouth and many, many ears, with half as many writing hands: that is the external apparatus of the academy; set in motion, that is the educational machinery of the university."
Today, we are living in an age in which many are poised to cut this umbilical cord altogether, while others would prefer to keep the connection, but stretch the flesh all the way around the globe, so it can double as a fibre optic cable.
Like the economy itself, higher education seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis. In the United States – where I have worked for nearly ten years– universities nevertheless like to consider themselves the last bastions of true homegrown industry. Despite the mushrooming of new educational institutions in China, the Middle East, and South America, the operating assumption here is that everyone around the world desires an American education. ‘This country may not make things anymore,’ so the logic goes, ‘but we still produce the finest minds the world has to offer, no matter the field.’ Whether this is an accurate representation of reality or not, a college education in the US is still a precious thing, at least for those who can afford it.
Professors, however, and other educators, are not necessarily so excited about the vision of the future these online evangelists paint for the panting pundits. Indeed they are concerned about what is already happening in terms of implementing (some would say ‘forcing’) the change. In the pedagogic trenches, MOOCs are considered a symptom of wider economic patterns which effectively vacuum resources up into the financial stratosphere, leaving those doing the actual work with many more responsibilities, and far less compensation. Basic questions about the sustainability of this model remain unanswered, but it is clear that there is little room for enfranchised, full-time, fully-compensated faculty. Instead, we find an army of adjuncts servicing thousands of students; a situation which brings to mind scenes from Metropolis
rather than Dead Poets Society