Means to an end.

3 08 2011

I wasn’t going to post the Matt Damon video that’s going around because at first I just thought he seemed awfully rude. Then I realized that he’s actually talking to a camera crew from a libertarian TV channel and immediately forgave him. More importantly, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with it until I read Cory Doctorow’s take on the exchange at Boing Boing:

It’s a very illuminating example of a clash of ideologies. Damon, after all, had no “rational” business becoming an actor, since he was almost entirely certain to fail. Now that he is a multi-millionaire, he has no “rational” reason to continue acting, because he’s assured of financial security forever. Clearly, Damon is someone whose lifelong incentives are not about “job security.” Rather, his motivations are vocational — he does this because it fulfills him.

Fulfillment. Satisfaction. Can you see where I’m going with this? It’s not just that I don’t want to spend the rest of my teaching career doubled over a computer no matter what kind of financial incentives I get to do so, it’s the fact that this kind of work would inevitably be less fulfilling.

I can hear the howls of protest now! Yes, I realize that it is possible to do incredibly interesting things in an online environment. Not everyone is hobbled by having to use Blackboard as their course management system and I am sure that students’ lives are being changed by many dedicated online instructors even as I write this. Nevertheless, I’m also certain that countless other people on both ends of the online educational relationship don’t really want to be there no matter how interested they are in learning because the MBA mentality of which Damon speaks so permeates the entire online education enterprise.

Who thinks most administrators want their faculty to teach online because they care about learning? They’re heading online because they see dollar signs. This excellent post from the New Faculty Majority blog isn’t exactly on this subject, but I think this particular passage applies here just the same:

Since 9/11 I have had a gradual, rude awakening that the field I had embarked upon as a chipper graduate student at MIT was dissolving into a “managed education” nightmare where the noble role of a professor, and the profundities of the world presented by such, was being undercut at every turn by a generation of under-educated managers. A majority of these people have no roots in teaching, research or the arts. They just don’t “see” what they are destroying.

Imagine then that I am the most dedicated online teacher in the world. I have a problem or concern about how my class is going. The solution costs money. What kind of response am I going to get? Do you honestly think it’s going to be education first, cost second? Online education is a means to an end for administrations everywhere and that end is to increase revenue. Period. Full stop.

What happens if I appeal to my students for help in making my online class better? Are they going to care? Why should they if all they know about me is what they read on a computer screen. Again, this Tweet is about a slightly different subject but I still think it applies:

Even if you’re not at a for-profit school, so many students these days have that MBA mentality that Damon decries. They’re not interested in the learning process; they’re interested in the result. We’ve been telling students for so long that a degree is their ticket to a better life when we should have been saying all along it’s the education that matters.

That way when a reporter from Reason TV sticks a mike in your face, you can give them what they deserve.


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11 responses

3 08 2011
Music for Deckchairs

Hey ho.

I don’t disagree with much of this, as you know. But I could point out the teeny inconsistency in that you’re writing this on a blog and out there somewhere are readers and even those who rise up from their deckchairs and respond despite not knowing a single thing about you other than what they’ve read on a computer screen.

The reason I harp on about this, to switch metaphors for a moment, is that I think to take the argument onto the “people don’t engage meaningfully with people they encounter online” ground isn’t the strongest approach we can take to the impact all this is having on academic working conditions.

Reflecting on the origins of our exchange, I think I’m shifting slightly to “online artisan” as an alternative to “online charlatan”. That is, if we can somehow manage to defend artisanal teaching online, we may be able to continue to use it precisely to argue against the industrial phenomena that are making us all feel so queasy.

3 08 2011
Middle Seaman

I don’t want to comment on the online teaching vs blog post and response process. People wrote letters of love and friendship across oceans for decades; that communication was very effective for many. My kids are spread from seas to shining sea, but we keep in touch via email daily.

Only sex needs co-location.

Can we easily tell the difference between “online artisan” and “online charlatan?” I don’t believe so. I think that Obama has the talent of a below average high school kid; many think that he is intellectually brilliant. (The later are, of course, complete morons.)

3 08 2011
Jonathan Rees

Y’all:

It is easy to connect with people through the Internet on a non-superficial level if they want to connect with you. If one or both parties have the MBA mentality, they’re going to treat you and your class the same way that the employees walking the floor do at Home Depot, i.e. like you’re an annoyance who they wish would just go away. In that case, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an online artisan or a moron, the turkeys will inevitably get you down.

4 08 2011
Historiann

Jonathan–I’m sorry I didn’t see that you posted on this last night. I posted on the Damon video this morning, but will create a link to this post, too.

As far as electronic versus f2f communication: you’ve got it right exactly. Being skeptical of the value of some technologies for some kinds of communication and/or education doesn’t mean that you have to chisel your thoughts on stone tablets, for dogssakes.

Yes, Jonathan and I have blogs, but OUR BLOGS ARE NOT OUR CLASSROOMS. He’s allowed to b!tch about online teaching online.

4 08 2011
Matt Damon goes all Good Will Hunting on some glibertarians : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

[…] Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk already posted on this yesterday–see his reaction & further thoughts on the race to the online bottom of higher ed over at his […]

4 08 2011
sleepschmeep

“We’ve been telling students for so long that a degree is their ticket to a better life when we should have been saying all along it’s the education that matters.”

Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

5 08 2011
Music for Deckchairs

OK, I really do need to ask what we think our classrooms are that makes them radically different from, say, blogs: proposing ideas, sharing evidence, generating debate, exchanging opinion — I’m happy whenever they’re the features of my classroom, and I’m sure most teachers are.

Obviously we’re lacking a few of the classroom accoutrements, as I’m pretty sure MOLB isn’t taking a roll and there won’t be a quiz, but in general I’ve learned as much from reading here and elsewhere as I have from sitting in a room talking about it. (And believe me, despite being holed up in my online attic I really do spend a ton of my time sitting in rooms talking about things. In fact, I’m now wondering if 90% of committee time wouldn’t be better spent in blog format … )

Just quietly, my point wasn’t that I have a problem with hopping online to complain about being online; I’m just not convinced that we can continue to defend ourselves against bad resource management by arguing that people don’t connect with people they haven’t met.

15 08 2011
The functional equivalent of eating through a tube. « More or Less Bunk

[…] When I wrote about education as a means to an end I never expected to read someone taking that so literally! Where’s the joy in an online […]

30 08 2011
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” « More or Less Bunk

[…] is probably the most craven example of what Matt Damon called “MBA thinking” that I’ve ever seen in print. [Yes, I know the guy is from the […]

15 09 2011
More paying students, fewer teachers to pay. « More or Less Bunk

[…] It won’t be sold as austerity, though. It will be sold as efficiency. [There's that "MBA thinking" again!] Check this out from some tech guy writing in IHE: [A]ctively seek vendors as partners that […]

27 09 2011
The Humanities: They’re good for what ails you! « More or Less Bunk

[…] not just “MBA thinking,” it’s snake oil salesmanship. I see no studies to back that up, and fully expect if there are […]

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