Creative destruction is still destruction.

16 10 2011

I’ve been reading the now-famous We Are the 99 Percent tumblr for some time now, and the thing I find most striking about it is the number of people who cite their student loan debt in their statements. It’s not like my education was either cheap or free, but the shear magnitude of the numbers cited really is quite striking, which makes their anger easily understandable.

Apparently, noted lunatic Glenn Beck would like these people to blame their own colleges and universities for this part of their economic predicament. As the Church Lady used to say, “Isn’t that convenient?” The earth has moved, the world has changed and Beck wants us to blame the institutions that prepare people for the world rather than the world itself. If college cost 25% of what it does now, there would still be a shortage of good jobs to go around.

Unfortunately, the edu-punks interested in changing education rather than blaming it are only going to make the unemployment problem worse before it ever gets better. You can see it in their rhetoric, which tends to invoke destruction (or at least disruption) rather than construction or cooperation. Here, of all people, is Rupert Murdoch, invoking what is perhaps the most famous ad of all time at Jeb Bush’s education summit last Friday:

We need to tear down an education system designed for the 19th century – and replace it with one that suited for the 21st. And we need to approach the education industry the way my friend Steve Jobs approached every industry.

Most of you know that Steve introduced the Mac with an ad that has since become a legend.

Those of you who were watching the 1984 Super Bowl will remember it.

It ran only once.

It ran for only one minute.

It shows a female athlete who is being chased by the police of some totalitarian regime.

At the climax, the woman rushes up to a large screen where Big Brother is giving a speech.

Just as he announces, “we shall prevail” she hurls her hammer through the screen.

With that, Big Brother’s whole world comes crashing down.

If you ask me what we need to do in education, I would point you to that ad.

Later in the speech, Murdoch claims that, “Technology is never going to replace teachers,” but that’s exactly the way it’s been playing out in American classrooms at all levels. Here’s the way it has played out at one Kindergarten:

On a recent visit to KIPP Empower, it was not clear that computers—or the educational games that the children play on them—were doing much teaching. Instead, Kerr says the computers provide a way to reduce his class size of 28 students. By having half work on laptops in the classroom, a teacher is able to work intensely with the other 14 students.

Or you could hire two teachers instead of one and every student could get that close attention all the time.

Here’s the same dynamic as it plays out in higher education. Or maybe you’d prefer here. I’ve got a practically limitless amount of evidence for this because the American example of technology in higher education is to use it not to improve education but to juice total revenue, which inevitably means decreasing labor costs rather than making tuition cheaper.

Yes, I know all about creative destruction (Schumpter’s version, not Marx’s). Surely technology in education can do wonderful and interesting things, but telling that to an unemployed ex-education major with $50,000 in student loan debt (or an adjunct faculty member in the same position for that matter) is the functional equivalent of releasing the hounds on them.

Labor needs to have the economic difficulties created by significant transitions cushioned in order to win their support. Teachers are not Microsoft or IBM. They’re mostly college graduates with lots of student loans that need to be paid back. Replacing teachers or professors with a software program isn’t going to help anyone involved, except the companies that manufacture those software programs, companies like the one now owned by Rupert Murdoch.

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2 responses

17 10 2011
Music for Deckchairs

When you first asked the question about whether 5year olds should be learning on computers, I wasn’t troubled by that prospect–as I mentioned, I live with a six year old whose learning has been visibly advanced by a really simple Australian web-based program called Study Ladder, widely used by teachers as a homework taster for younger primary children.

But your point about the sharing of class time between computers and teachers making it possible for class sizes to increase without additional staffing is a really serious one. So what’s the best way, do you think, to balance the interest that teachers have in using emerging technologies for the benefit of their students, and the interest educational institutions have in cutting overheads? Does the former have to be sacrificed to defend us against the latter?

17 10 2011
21st century child neglect. « More or Less Bunk

[...] let’s pick on Rupert Murdoch again. In his education speech last Friday, Murdoch also said: What technology can do is give teachers [...]

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