But Who Will Pat Down The Pat Downers?

As someone who avoided holiday travel by air, I have to say that this whole TSA thing is really another example of bureaucratic mental lockdown which will only result in more and more ridiculous rules which we will all learn to love and cherish eventually. Trust me, I was born and raised in the Soviet Union.

And now to something completely different. I asked the students to write a small reflection paper on a rather banal but, if attended to, potentially thought-provoking theme (for any smart undergraduate): is our sense of right and wrong innate or acquired? Not surprisingly, they mostly wrote that it is acquired and went on to argue how family, culture, education and environment are all essential elements and so on. However, on almost every paper that made a big deal of education and family I found myself writing something like “Good point, but who educates the educators?” I’m looking forward to asking this question in class tomorrow, but I’m fairly sure it’ll be one of those “Hmmm, I don’t know – their educators?” conversations in which I am trying to explain the paradoxical nature of the claim and the students give me looks like I’m insane, because I make this pretty commonsensical view (“we learn our values from our family/society”) into a problematic one (“this is the whole problem with you, philosophy-types – you take our established beliefs and you attempt to destroy them”).

All of this lead me this week to Marx’s Third Thesis on Feuerbach:

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change [Selbstveränderung] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.

It is a rather cryptic note and I’m sure some scholar dedicated a good book to it already, and I’d like to read it.

How does one approach this problem – educators need to be educated – without avoiding a kind of infinite regress? Does it mean that this “revolutionary practice” in a sense destroy the very traditional notion of education?

The New Poor: NY Times article on For-Profit Education

One fast-growing American industry has become a conspicuous beneficiary of the recession: for-profit colleges and trade schools. At institutions that train students for careers in areas like health care, computers and food service, enrollments are soaring as people anxious about weak job prospects borrow aggressively to pay tuition that can exceed $30,000 a year.

But the profits have come at substantial taxpayer expense while often delivering dubious benefits to students, according to academics and advocates for greater oversight of financial aid. Critics say many schools exaggerate the value of their degree programs, selling young people on dreams of middle-class wages while setting them up for default on untenable debts, low-wage work and a struggle to avoid poverty. And the schools are harvesting growing federal student aid dollars, including Pell grants awarded to low-income students.

“If these programs keep growing, you’re going to wind up with more and more students who are graduating and can’t find meaningful employment,” said Rafael I. Pardo, a professor at Seattle University School of Law and an expert on educational finance. “They can’t generate income needed to pay back their loans, and they’re going to end up in financial distress.”

For-profit trade schools have long drawn accusations that they overpromise and underdeliver, but the woeful economy has added to the industry’s opportunities along with the risks to students, according to education experts. They say these schools have exploited the recession as a lucrative recruiting device while tapping a larger pool of federal student aid.

Read the rest of the article here

Free Education.

Here‘s an interesting idea for a “proletarian university”:

‘What about a self-organised ‘proletarian university’ that runs one night a week in cheap spaces? Given enough willing lecturers, academics could offer one 2-hour lecture of their choice (or in a more co-ordinated way?) once every three or six months. These could be lectures with the aim of introducing people, including beginners, to topics and thinkers of interest. Participants would go away with some ideas, maybe reading lists, to help with further study. Proletarian university could start with an open-ended syllabus entitled ‘Proletarian Philosophy’. Who knows after that?

People could pay a small fee depending on the cost of the space etc. People on benefits come for free. Those with jobs pay in full. Students get concessions. Lecturers get paid something.’ Continue reading

This Class Is Brought To You By Matress King.

This was bound to happen – when a smart administrator is looking for extra-cash, they’re bound to find it. Let’s face it, we already have a name plaque on everything that can be sold anyway.  So if you are teaching a class with a donor’s name on the door, why not have a donor for class itself?

To Don Q. Griffin, it was just an idea. But to many commentators, it endangered academic freedom.

Near the end of June, in the midst of one of the worst budget crises in California history, the City College of San Francisco chancellor told The San Francisco Chronicle that any private donor who gave $6,000 to the institution would have the canceled course of his or her choice revived and named after them.

The critics, including trustees who learned of the chancellor’s idea only after reading about it in the newspaper, wailed. While donors have endowed chairs and entire divisions of colleges for years, this was different, critics said. What would happen, they asked, if — for example — the college offered a health course sponsored by a big alcohol or tobacco company? Continue reading


Nate points out a journal I haven’t seen before – Worlplace – in the latest issue that are some really nice essay, including thing one – “Theses on College and University Administration: A Critical Perspective” by John F. Welsh (.PDF) – here’s a taste:

Thesis 3: The Peter Principle does not operate in higher education. Certainly, administrators find their level of incompetence, usually sooner rather than later, but that does not preclude their upward movement in the hierarchy. The Peter Principle is based on the assumption that the performance of roles at the apex of the organization requires superior competence. In higher education, competence matters only at the base of the organization to achieve the teaching, scholarship, and service missions of colleges and universities. Competent performance in the organization is necessary only by departmental administrative assistants, faculty, and students. Beginning at the level of departmental chair and proceeding upward, “effective administration” is largely a non sequitur as far as the academic life of colleges and universities is concerned.

Thesis 5: Accountability, therefore, is not a reciprocal or interactive dynamic within colleges and universities. Accountability is a one-way process of surveillance and subordination of faculty, students, and staff to the policy dictates of political and economic elites. Colleges and universities are not sanctuaries and they are not autonomous. They are elements of the state capitalist system. As such, they both reflect and reinforce the basic organizational principles of state capitalism: organizational resources are mobilized to expand the control of the state over individuals and groups in order to maximize profit, and to ensure political order through obedience to political and corporate authority. The reduction of management and leadership skills in higher education to the

service of the state and private capital provides an organizational field for corrupt and predatory behaviors to emerge and flourish.

Thesis 7: Strategic management, personnel evaluation, assessment, and public relations are the primary means by which administration expands its control over faculty, students, and staff. “Accountability” is the fixed idea that legitimates predation and the expansion of administrative control.

Thesis 17: Faculty senates and collective bargaining units have little function in higher education beyond the ritual subjugation of faculty to administrative, economic, and state power. Targets of administrative abuse are either left to their own resources to fight the organization, or they are forced to band with other targets in spontaneous and unmediated forms of rebellion that do not fit neatly within the universe of administratively sanctioned behaviors.

Reforming Community Colleges

Cool take on Obama’s proposed reform of community colleges at Savage Minds:

There has been a lot of talk about Obama’s recent commitment to community college education. The plan, outlined here, calls for increased community college graduation, funding for innovation in educational strategies and techniques for increasing completion rates, increased partnerships between community colleges and businesses, modernized facilities, and the development of online courses (interestingly to be created and distributed by the Department of Defense).

I don’t really know enough to evaluate all the elements of the plan — from a cursory glance, it looks like it will be a helpful in certain areas, overall doing little but doing little harm, as well. It’s not the kind of massive educational reform we need at the community college level (and even more at the university level, and still more at the K-12 level), but I see little reason to be against it.

Except for this: David Brooks supports it. And David Brooks’ track record is perfect: he’s never been right about anything.

Data Obseity and Popularity: It’s Google!

Via Eurozine.  An interesting article, “The society of the query and the Googlization of our lives,” suggests we suffer from information overload and paints a rather dismal picture:

Ordinary people have hijacked strategic resources and are clogging up once carefully policed media channels. Before the Internet, the mandarin classes rested on the idea that they could separate “idle talk” from “knowledge”. With the rise of Internet search engines it is no longer possible to distinguish between patrician insights and plebeian gossip. The distinction between high and low, and their co-mingling on occasions of carnival, belong to a bygone era and should no longer concern us. Nowadays an altogether new phenomenon is causing alarm: search engines rank according to popularity, not truth. Continue reading