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I think, if we take a really hard, long look at our society right now, most of our systems are effectively "broken"...and those breaks are interrelated and tied to the fact that our narratives about what do do are no longer cohesive and often at odds with what we actually do in practice. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance around most of our inherited cultural systems.

Looking at new narratives for education might be more productive than getting stuck on the merry-go-round of "broken," especially if we could look for narratives that go beyond binaries and straw men to make their point. There aren't a lot of these around MOOCs right now. Sure, there are calls coming from inside the building. And outside. We need to sit back and tease apart what these are, not construct simple narratives to reify them.

I like your bullet points: in them, I see a nod to one of the big pieces Shirky ignores about the system as it is, which is its structural (if clunky and poorly-enacted) to the concept of public. Even as universities become increasingly corporate and neoliberal, the historical inheritance of academia as a public institution expected to support and enable access and equality is visible in the many services and structures in place that don't necessarily have to do with course delivery. When Shirky cites the Don't Go Back to School piece, he ignores the fact that the majority of people who can get away without some kind of credential are white middle or upper-class males...the rest may well benefit from cheap education but will need it to operate beyond purely market principles in order to even begin to compete.


Stealing and riffing on your idea from Twitter ?yesterday, I think I'd replace the "education is broken" slogan with "education is fixed", with all its connotations:

- education is a gamble rigged to favour a certain group
- education is very set in its ways
- education has been bodged together to patch up egregious failings
- education has recently taken a dose of illegal drugs

Erm ... maybe the metaphor isn't quite that good.


I think the thing I see get lost in these conversations the most is that the major cost of education is not tuition, but time. Tuition is the way, in fact, that you protect that time investment in study.

Tuition protects the investment in two ways. One: it provides support, classes, access to professors, libraries, etc. And secondly, it guarantees that that time ends up in a credential that gets them what they want out of the study.

My point is that nobody really wants a free education -- they want an education that balances protection of their time investment with cost. Our cost is, in fact, nearing the limit of what is feasible for a number of reasons you mention, but it bothers me that Shirky uses a metaphor that doesn't account for sunk time cost to students.

A better metaphor might be studio recording -- I've written a song, practiced it, and now would like to present it best I can. So that has changed over the past several years -- there's now a lot of options to get software and produce your music yourself. But to the extent the music means something to me and I have disposable income, I am not going to choose the cheapest option -- I'm going to balance these two things. I'll either buy moderately expensive recording equipment, or get someone to do the master, etc. It's not like an MP3 at all, or a book, or anything, because I have skin in the game...


@Bonnie - can you please not post comments that are obviously more intelligent than the original post as it just shows me up ;) This isn't quite the point you were making, but I was going to say in the post (before it got too long) that education is a mirror of society, and certainly since 2008 society has been quite a bit broken. Times are hard, so it would be surprising if this wasn't reflected in students struggling and disaffection with schools. The 'No-school' movement annoys me partly for the reason you identify - it's easy to find some white, middle class male who went on to be a success. Do they also find the poor, disadvantaged kids who dropped out, for whom it wasn't such a great success? And for every one of their stories you could counter with 1000 of people who's life has turned out well because they studied hard and did well at normal school. So I don't get what their point is?

@Doug - yes Scott pointed out the same. In some ways it is a fix in that it's rigged from the start, in the Lance Armstrong manner (rich kids do better). But like sport it's also open and you don't have to be a Tour de France winner to get a lot from it. Oh, I have no idea where I'm going with this metaphor, abort, abort!


Mike - you make a very good point. Someone once suggested to me that the most valuable thing campus ed offers is organisation - the physical buildings and timetable do this for you. It's probably a hard sell - give us money and we'll organise your time, but you are quite right. Shirky misses a lot in his metaphor

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