[iDC] Deinstitutionalizing education

Stephen Downes stephen at downes.ca
Mon Nov 1 17:23:14 UTC 2010

Hiya Everyone,

The Harvard Business Review blog recently ran an interesting post that is
directly applicable to this discussion. In 'Is What's Good for Corporate
America Still Good For America?'
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/10/is_whats_good_for_corporate_am.html Bruce
Nussbaum ran though a number of reasons why people are losing faith in
corporations in the United States. But I think his list, or at least most of
it, has a wider applicability to institutions in general, including
(obviously) corporations, but also governmental agencies, including schools
and universities.

1. Outsourcing - the column takes an American perspective, but the
phenomenon is experienced globally. " The truth is that most US corporations
chased cheap labor to boost their profits over this period... It was all
about teenage girls and boys in China making things and 20-something Indians
servicing something, all at low wages." This is a trend we see from
institutions in general - a devaluation of labour. Universities that hire
low-paid graduate assistants (who will not be graduated unless they comply),
NGOs and government offices that depend on interns and low-paid assistants,
hospitals and health services that contract out essential services to
private companies employing low-paid non-union staff: the trend is the same
across the board. Institutions further their own ends at the cost of wages
and benefits. Even labour unions do this! While productivity is rising
globally, the staff who produce this productivity are receiving less and
less of the benefit. Indeed, with things as they are, it is as though
institutions are telling employees that they should be happy to be getting
any of it at all, and not complaining about their declining share.

2. Trust - Nussbaum says, "America's business, legal, accounting, and
financial elites bear little resemblance to responsible adults you can
trust." The same proves to be true of elites worldwide, whether they are
overtly corrupt or criminal, or whether they are doing it behind the
protective veil of corporate secrets and Swiss bank accounts. The fact is,
business news today is a litany of fraud, theft, obstruction of justice, and
even more serious cases. Countries that are supposed to be democracies
kidnap dissidents and torture prisoners. Contracts are awarded based on
bribery and influence peddling. American states cannot keep their governors
out of jail. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122885197858492201.html
Nussbaum writes, "Where were the business voices condemning Wall Street for
the excesses that brought on the Great Recession? Where were the voices of
reason when Washington turned a budget surplus into a huge deficit by
cutting taxes, launching two wars, and expanding Medicare without paying for
any of those moves?" If there's one thing to count on, it seems that the
leaders of our institutions will serve only their own interests, to the
detriment of society as a whole.

3. Greed - while today's elites enjoy unprecedented wealth, "the middle
class has stagnated for two decades, while poverty, especially among
children, has soared." It is accepted as normal, structural, even
justifiable, that large swaths of populations worldwide struggle without
enough to eat, little education, and no health care to speak of while the
people running our institutions continue to earn - and waste - unimaginable
salaries. Much of the economic turmoil of the last few years can be traced
directly to the need of these presidents, CEOs and managers to earn
substantial salaries while running the institutions with which they were
entrusted into the ground. No source of wealth is immune from their
attentions - they are at once plundering pension funds, environmental
resources, government revenues and taxation, and any other source of revenue
they can find. Nothing must be left in the hands of the people! There is, it
seems, no upper limit to the wealth they, or their companies, can amass.

4. Corruption - there is little distance to be found between the people
occupying the boardrooms of governments, our top institutions, and
corporations. The smallish club manages both public and private affairs to
the same conclusion, with the result that the people entrusted with out
institutional responsibilities have subverted the democratic process, using
political power instead to block and divert any effort to lessen their hold
on the wealth of the nation. Nussbaum writes, "Intense lobbying killed
Glass-Steagal, the regulation of most derivatives trading, the expansion of
bank rules governing leverage, and the simple failure to oversee and stop
corruption in the mortgage business." This is only the tip of the iceberg,
with such corporate lobbying and influence entrenched in organizations such
as the WTO and WIPO. What possibility there was that free elections informed
by a free press could influence the levers of power has been effectively
eliminated by corporate ownership of both.

5. Democracy - Nussbaum writes that "by equating lobbying with freedom of
speech (a serious mistake), the Supreme Court is allowing unions and
companies to directly use their own funds to secretly finance ads." Leaving
aside the fact that union wealth is much less that corporate wealth, the
underlying observation - that the political process has been subverted by
wealth - is sound. Because winning election requires exposure to a large
number of potential voters, and because this exposure may be purchased only
from expensive corporate-owned media sources, winning an election requires
enormous wealth or financial support, something which from time to time may
be obtained by outsiders, but which is regularly available only to the

6. Ingratitude - perhaps worst of all, the managers and leaders of our
institutes seem to feel it is all owed to them. They seem to feel that,
because they have acquired inordinate amounts of wealth and power, that they
are therefore somehow deserving of it. There is no sense whatsoever that
their power, influence and wealth are produced by the people they ostensibly
manage. There is no sense whatsoever (as evocatively portrayed in the recent
Robin Hood movie) that leaders need the people they need. That Kings need
their subjects. That institutions need their clients. Rather, we see across
the board, from university administration, to institute boards, to corporate
managers, that the institute is a good in itself, productive of all its own
wealth by its own virtues (thanks to its managers, of course) and owing
nothing - no loyalty, no gratitude, no reward - to those individuals who
made it possible.

In short, representative democracy has failed. Our leaders, entrusted with
the sovereign, institutional and corporate wealth by voters, stakeholders
and shareholders, have stolen it. They have now usurped these institutions
for their own purposes, turning against the population those very
instruments designed originally to advance our wealth, enlightenment and
self-governance. It is tempting to want to say that it is the managers
themselves that are at fault, representing as they do the most greedy,
untrustworthy, corrupt and ungrateful, elements of society, but it is hard
not to raise questions about a system itself which has resulted in the
elevation of the criminal class to power (or, perhaps more accurately, has
fostered the creation of a new criminal class out of those with whom it has
entrusted power). 

And I am concerned that measures intended only to preserve our wealth and
position within this social order do not address this failure. I am
concerned that measures intended to remind institutions of the agreements
they made - agreements about retirement, agreements about education,
agreements about a fair wage for a fair day - will succeed in winning only
grudging acquiescence of only some of these concessions from a management
class that has no intention of honoring any of the agreements it has made in
order to achieve power. We should instead be looking at how to create a
social order in which our agreements cannot be voided by a leadership intent
only on increasing its own power. The institutions we create leverage vast
resources and create untold wealth, but we are held hostage by those in
whose hands it places that power.

We must take matters into our own hands. I do not accept the conclusion
that, say, the use of the internet to educate ourselves is some sort of
surrender to neoliberalism. Far from it; it removes us from the sort of
bondage that allows such a government to withhold, as though by some sort of
right, our natural inheritance, our access to the knowledge and cultural
capital of society as a whole. It is only from the perspective of people as
consumers or recipients of an education that online learning appears as a
devolution of individual rights to commercial culture; but if in place of
the educational institution we create our own form of learning through free
association with each other do we create an educational system that cannot
be abridged, cannot be held hostage, cannot be sacrificed to corporate or
personal interests.

Today, the dominant values promoted by our institutional forms of governance
are power, ownership and control. We represent as more valuable institutions
that are able to manage more people, move ever greater resources, amass ever
greater quantities of capital. That is how online education comes a canard;
it appears to represent the devolution of our rights and interests into the
mysteries of an ever greater, ever more distant, institutional mass. But
such a mass, far from being an instrument, becomes an entity in its own
right over time, subverting those very purposes to which it was originally
put. We need to design forms of social organization based on different
values, forms that promote stewardship, agility and stability, forms that
draw on and enhance our inherent capacities as collections of individuals,
rather than forms that magnify or amplify the abilities - and ambitions - of
single ones of us.

People today are beginning to realize, I think, that the solution of the
problem of institutional excess does not lie in the creation of more
institutions. The solution to the problem of the corruption of mass
movements does not lie in the creation of yet another mass movement. The
solution to the problems of greed and entitlement in our leaders and elites
does not lie in the creation of more leaders and elites. The way to end war
is to cease waging war; the way to free us of our chains is to cease forging
chains. We secure our own right in society by securing the right of each and
every member of society, by working not as in a bond, but by virtue of free
association, of cooperative exchange of mutual value, with natural limits to
the right to own, and possess, and control. 

-- Stephen

-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [mailto:idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net]
On Behalf Of davin heckman
Sent: Monday, October 25, 2010 10:36 AM
To: Dean, Jodi
Cc: Diego Leal; idc at mailman.thing.net; Cristóbal Cobo
Subject: Re: [iDC] Deinstitutionalizing education


I think that context here, is everything.  I have long been skeptical
of online education.  My experience leads me to believe that many
people (I include myself in this number) need to discover social space
and the risks and pleasures associated with it.  And I believe that
only from intimate encounters with each other can we form the cultural
attitudes necessary to abstract social existence to the point where it
can be meaningfully signified online.  And, as evidence of this, I
offer up my own use of networks.  As someone who is a bit skeptical of
the whole project, I think it is easier to approach it with an amount
of attentiveness that would probably not be there if I simply assumed
this approach were equivalent to or superior to physical proximity and
the demands it places on communication.  In other words, and this is
hardly an original point, the value of communication is determined to
a degree by the various things that are invested in it....  whether
these investments be social, psychic, economic, etc.

Against the backdrop of austerity, then, these types of endeavors are
going to be invested with value that will undoubtedly color the
conversation against the idea of community.  This isn't to say that
all the participants will bring similar investments to the
conversation, but the more that do, the less likely you'd get an
education that is not preoccupied with the values of the institution
(which, in this instance, would be an institution founded upon
inequalities and dedicated to their acceleration).

In watching the social revolt in France, I have seen how the popular
American investments in consciousness are paying off.  As I travel
about the small town I live in, I have overheard two conversations
about what is happening in France....  the vantage point is tied to
the years of anti-French propaganda by the American right AND the
specific critique of socialism offered by the Tea Party movement.
What the conversation sounds like is a couple of old guys saying....
"Hmmm....  look at those people."  "Can you believe they are doing all
that because they want to retire at 60!"  And then drifts off into
some sort of vague mutterings about socialism and how hard we work,
but that we could also end up like that if we aren't careful....  with
lots of grim head-shaking.  But in the conversation, you can see
flickers of sympathy.  Working people here know that they are being
taken advantage of, too.  And they sense that things are getting
worse.  But the conversation pivots from a brief flirtation with
justice directly into resentment (the expression of disbelief that
they can retire at 60).  And, boom, instead of people saying, "Yeah,
they have a point!"  they mutter and shake their heads.  I suppose the
next thing for me to do is to interject into the conversation, which I
regret that I haven't done.

On the other hand, I have had conversations with people who do
ultimately conclude after seeing what's going on in France that we
should also be fighting for a chance at a better life.  But in the US,
people are pretty split between those that have achieved meager
benefits (or none at all) and don't want to see the rules changed....
and those who want to see the ethos changed even if they never taste
the fruits of their effort.  The difference is whether the perception
of inequality turns into a drive for justice and greater social
equality or into a spiral of resentment and anti-social behavior.  I
think that the capitalists have been very effective at propagandizing
people to see even things like "justice" or "empathy" or "progress"
through a sinister lens.

So, I would say (and I suspect you'd agree) that online education that
occurs against the backdrop of growing disparity is treacherous,
especially if it is a consequence of austerity being presented as a
triumph of the market.  Against this, there are a number of online
educational endeavors that do achieve greater critical thinking, the
possibility for deeper connections, and an extension of consciousness
(provided, of course, we engage seriously).  This isn't going to be a
substitute for public education.  But it might provide a
counter-narrative to the austerity measures.  But if I had to put my
money on a particular process, I would say that face to face education
is the best opportunity for preserving it, but preserving it requires
the effective dissemination of critical tools in whatever medium is

This whole process of teaching students to be socially engaged,
critically aware, empathetic, reflective, etc. is something that has
to start in early childhood, before they even set foot in a school,
whether it is online or not.  Locally, the closest you get to this is
in the fairly large network of homeschoolers, most of whom are
religious, but many of whom either start out or end up being quite
capable of independent thinking.  The key difference here, is that
parents have adopted a countercultural attitude....  which isn't
always necessarily a positive one....  but which does effectively
prove that how one is invested in the process of education determines
its potential.  (Ironically, this is also a part of the dismantling of
public education....  but given what public education is often
like....  I almost always find my conversations with "unschooled"
teens to be more interesting than my conversations with educated



2010/10/22 Dean, Jodi <JDEAN at hws.edu>:
> One should also consider the ideological role and place of celebrations of
"digital learning" in the setting of forced austerity measures and education
cuts in the EU, UK, and US.
> Does saying, "well, people can teach themselves online!" provide further
justification for the neoliberal dismantling of public education?
> Jodi
> Jodi Dean
> Hobart and William Smith Colleges
> new from Polity, Blog Theory: feedback and capture in the circuits of
drive, http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745649696
> ________________________________________
> From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] on
behalf of Ismael Peña-López [ictlogist at ictlogy.net]
> Sent: Friday, October 22, 2010 10:45 AM
> To: idc at mailman.thing.net
> Cc: Diego Leal; Cristóbal Cobo
> Subject: [iDC] Deinstitutionalizing education
> Hi everyone,
> Not all of you may not know me as I am relatively new to the list. My
> name is Ismael Peña-López.
> Many thanks to Trebor Scholz for inviting me to share my thoughts on
> learning on the iDC!!
> I am a lecturer at the Open University of Catalonia in Spain where I
> work about the digital divide, specifically questions of empowerment. My
> research asks how educational institutions change because of digital
> media.
> http://ictlogy.net<http://ictlogy.net/>
> Along those lines, I would like to introduce some topics on the
> de-institutionalization of learning that have been enabled by ICTs. How
> is this de-institutionalization being used to reach collectives that
> dropped out of the educational system or actually never even entered it?
> Some of my reflections will be based on the "2010 Horizon Report:
> Iberoamerican Edition" (http://www.nmc.org/news/nmc/8050), which I
> co-authored with Cristóbal Cobo (http://ergonomic.wordpress.com/) and
> Diego Leal (http://www.diegoleal.org/) who will join me in this iDC
> discussion.
> Let's start like this:
> In many places of the world (especially in rural areas and in lower
> income countries, but not only) the educational system is deficient.
> Today, many claim against the industrialization of education, the
> "Fordization" of learning, the failure of one-size-fits-all,  the
> devaluation of knowledge, or the creation of workers instead of
> citizens.
> But the truth is that, in most cases, the industrialization of education
> democratized access to knowledge, even at the risk of a certain level of
> commodification. The problem is that education, especially quality
> education is increasingly difficult to scale
> (http://ictlogy.net/?p=3405).
> Notwithstanding, digitization of content and communications have caused
> a dire "revolution" that is transforming our society into an Information
> Society. This digital revolution has lowered the costs of creating,
> accessing  and distributing knowledge-based goods and services, and has
> also lowered the  costs of interaction, intermediation and transaction.
> http://ictlogy.net/bibciter/reports/projects.php?idp=640
> http://ictlogy.net/bibciter/reports/projects.php?idp=1332
> Some find this revolution a threat to educational institutions -- it
> will now be easier to circumvent them to access knowledge and experts
> around the globe at lowest costs. Some think that it can be leveraged to
> reach the unreached, to bring education to those that, because of time,
> space or financial constraints, could not attend formal education in an
> educational institution (ie. schools, universities...).
> Open educational resources allow for that quality content to reach
> people everywhere in the world. The MIT's OpenCourseWare project has,
> for instance, been replicated for the Spanish speaking community at
> Universia OCW (http://ocw.universia.net<http://ocw.universia.net/>), in
Chinese by CORE
> (http://www.core.org.cn/cn/opencou/), in Japanese by the Japan OCW
> Consortium (http://www.jocw.jp/) or the ParisTech OpenCourseWare project
> for French.
> The good news is that not only institutions can produce such materials
> as Khan Academy has shown.
> http://www.khanacademy.org<http://www.khanacademy.org/>
> Mobility solutions have also enabled people to learn anywhere anytime
> and with the most simple devices. The Tecnológico de Monterrey or the
> Open of Catalonia  are mobile devices. And cellphones (mind you: not
> smartphones) are being used
> for many learning purposes and stand for mobile and immersive learning
> for literacy in emerging economies (ie. Sub-Saharan Africa).
> http://www.ccm.itesm.mx/tecmovil/
> http://myway.blogs.uoc.edu/
> MILLEE http://www.millee.org/
> http://ictlogy.net/?p=3556
> The m4lit project in South Africa Kenya is also worth mentioning
> (http://m4lit.wordpress.com<http://m4lit.wordpress.com/>).
> Peer to peer learning has been definitely boosted by the Internet, that
> has been able to create communities of practice and communities of
> learning despite their members being scattered on wide geographic areas.
> Red Social UIMP 2.0 (http://redsocial.uimp20.es/) to explore the new
> potentials of ICTs in Education in SpainSpanish speaking countries,
Stephen Downes' page (http://www.downes.ca<http://www.downes.ca/>)
> on education, based in Canada but with participants all over the world,
> or the community around Uruguay's Plan Ceibal
> (http://www.ceibal.edu.uy/) are just some examples of social networks
> empowered by ICTs.
> Even autonomous learning has its chance after the development of
> Personal Learning Environments, a combination of the aforementioned
> approaches  centered on and managed by the learner.
> And augmented reality, artificial intelligence and the semantic web
> will, in a near future, add up to the toolbox learners can use outside
> of educational institutions for their own benefit and learning.
> There are, of course, some dichotomies that need being addressed but the
> gates are  wide open and the possibilities many.
> http://ictlogy.net/?p=3430
> best,
> Ismael
> --
> Ismael Peña-López
> Department of Law and Political Science
> Open University of Catalonia
> http://ictlogy.net<http://ictlogy.net/>
> Av. Tibidabo 39-43
> 08035 Barcelona
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