Clockwork Orange at College

This week while everyone was thinking about the impact of the U.S. election, discount viagra ask I was thinking about what is going on in U.S. higher education.  I attended the roll-out of my university’s newly adopted online education platform—Blackboard 9.1.  With much fanfare, viagra for sale assembled faculty were introduced to the learning management system’s much touted features that would “help faculty help students more effectively” and tie our work into an all-in-one enterprise platform that was to become the new “OS” for higher education.  Just so it’s clear where I am coming from here, discount I am an advocate for online education. I teach online classes and have done for over 15 years. My students learn to think critically as well as they would in an onsite class. In so many cases whether they live in rural small towns, have five kids at home, are on active duty in the military, are too timid to engage, use English as a second language, are starting with less preparation then their classmates, or just need the convenience of working at night after work, I see students benefit immensely from the vast resources available at their fingertips. They gain entry into worlds of ideas and advanced skills once barred to them.  My alarm is not about online education. It is about the underlying worldview and theoretical assumptions about what this industrial strength technology says about the role of education in a free society.

With great fanfare faculty were introduced to two joined-up systems to be added on to basic online courseware. One was a data analytics package developed originally for industry to manage customer relations and collect back-office data on performance. It has now been adapted and sold to the education sector as a tool to monitor and report how faculty deliver “education services” to students. The other was a presenter from McGraw Hill who described with TED-talk enthusiasm a content delivery system designed by his multi-national publishing corporation to deliver prepackaged digital course elements developed by their “content providers and instructional designers.” As students balk at paying $250 for a textbook, McGraw Hill and other publishing houses have rebranded themselves as software companies delivering curated information to a student’s device and calling it knowledge.

Though delivered with a pacifying dose of platitudes about its benefit to educators, “making their lives so much easier,”  these two products represent nothing less than a centralized socialization system designed to deliver at industrial scale a training regimen to the largest number at the lowest cost. It is the perfect tool to provide skilled workers to large scale organizations who want compliance first, productivity second and self-authorship and creativity not at all. The fact that research says it won’t, and will only shift expenses from fixed faculty positions to the outsourced IT budget  is never mentioned.

What does the faculty member do in this new world of industrialized education?  Well less and less. She can decide which learning objects (pre-designed modules and assignments) she wants her students to receive, what evaluation system (multiple choice, essay, exam) will be used–all sold by McGraw Hill.  And if she is a full-time faculty member (not a contingent faculty member who will teach only what they are given) she may instruct the course designer where to place each “learning activity.”  She will grade those assignments that require faculty expertise (although there is now software that can do that for the overwhelmed faculty member). And while students are working on their own to master the content the faculty member (and her dean) can analyze the multiple data sets to see how she is doing. There will be graphs, scatter plots and pie charts that can tell her how many minutes a student spends in an activity, what an average score is on any assignment, whether the module is “delivering the intended learning outcome” and if prof X does better than prof Y. She will no longer need to know her individual students’ unique circumstances to figure out what kind of help they need.  She is relieved of that by back office administrators who read the same data and can whip off a preprogrammed  “nudge” message those whose score on an assignment suggests they are at risk.

My colleague Roberto Carneiro, former Minister of Education for Portugal, pioneer in distance education and co-author the 1996 Delors Report[1] on education for the twenty-first century, has made a distinction between a “Clockwork Orange” education where everyone is programmed to learn the same things the same way, and an emancipatory humanistic education which is aimed at education that sets free the imagination and releases what the  Delors Report regarded as, “the treasure within.”  Carneiro reflected on the twenty-first century context of rising uncertainty, incoherence and rapid change and made a strong case for an education that wll help young people thrive in this new world. Where they can discover themselves and each other as—persons, beings for themselves–and develop their unique potential to participate in crafting a world that works for everyone and where human dignity is at the center.

Yesterday was among the most depressing days of my life as an educator as I saw how far we have fallen from my own progressive vision and from the aspirations of the Delors Report for an education that liberates the genius of each human being, and how the soulless and morally empty Clockwork Orange scenario appears to be gaining on us.


[1] Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The treasure within. Paris: UNESCO.


Is APA going corporate with new governance proposals?

I am thinking about organizational governance. Today my IFF prompt card suggested that I “facilitate self-organization”.  It was highly relevant to a conversation I am engaged in with colleagues who are Division Officers of the American Psychological Association.  A Good Governance Commission (GGC) has been working for three years to suggest some changes to the governance structures with the aim of improving how the organization’s business gets done by making it nimble, generic cialis recipe aligned and scientific. .All three of the proposed new models claimed to achieve the desired efficiency by concentrating power and reducing members’ sphere of influence. It seems like some members of the GGC have forgotten Winston Churchill’s comment, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”

I have been on both sides of the “nimble” versus “deliberative” argument. In this discussion I come down firmly on the side of messy democratic processes structure. The comments from those who have developed the proposal suggest to me that the process has been shot through with the same corporate ideology that runs through management, leadership and governance research–the myth of the “rational actor” and the technocratic logic of MBA-think.  One member of the GGC says “working on GGP has been an interesting process, and I probably have liked it so much because it is so scientifically-based!  It turns out that there is a whole research field that is dedicated towards leadership, organization, and decision-making processes in professional associations.”  This implies that the members of GGC believe that this “research” can guide them in how to construct governance processes that are more efficient “quick and nimble”. Not a chance. This is the sort of entrepreneurial logic that brings us governance by consultant, objectification, deregulation, lack of transparency, and an illegitimate distribution of power that inevitably corrupts. It is based on the prevailing American myth that leadership, governance and decision making are rational processes conducted consciously by rational actors following data driven action paths.  It fits right in with the preference in market economies for metrics over experience, efficiency over effectiveness, for trust in technocrats over leadership, privileges economic decisions over moral judgments and human relationships and distrusts the messiness of collective collaborative wisdom.

The same member comments (critically) that the APA structure hasn’t changed in a century–and by implication is “out of date”. But the US Constitution and the British parliamentary system are a lot older than that and though there are plenty of modifications that can be (and sometimes are made)  to improve things, no one suggests disenfranchisement of the citizens as one of them. The current debate in Britain about the future of the House of Lords is a case in point. The debate about such a deep change in governance is not so much about efficiency and nimbleness–though the British Ayn Randians like to use those words– it is about fairness, representation and cultural coherence. No one expects it to be quick.

My IFF colleague the late and sorely missed Max Boisot, who helped design the multiple-stakeholder governance process that coordinated the work of thousands of independent scientists and billions of investment dollars for the CERN Large Hadron Collider, makes the point that governance is not a rational process and attempts to make it so usually fail, often bringing down the organization in the process.  As Sir Geoffrey Vickers used to say to the technocrats, human systems are different.  Boisot also makes a distinction between governance in a corporation whose goal is business success and governance in a social group or community.  The test of effectiveness for a corporate entity might be nimbleness–getting to market first, not spending resources on redundancy, wasting time in pointless meetings etc. The measure of corporate success is how well it achieves its business goals, not how people feel about how they got there. If people don’t like what is happening, they can put up with it or they can leave. But for a community like APA whose mission is to provide a collective professional identity to its members and serve its diverse members’ professional interests, the test of effectiveness is how good members feel about being affiliated, how well the members feel their needs are met, how they believe their organization represents their values and deeper commitments, how well they are treated by colleagues, how empowered they feel to influence direction and decisions, how stable and coherent the collective sense of identity is, and how just, reasonable and wise actions appear and how needed changes are made. One arrives at a sense of a healthy community not via quick and nimble decisions, but by decisions that emerge from slow, thoughtful, dialogue. Even sometimes by making mistakes and then correcting them–all grist for a “thick” human system.

APA has served its members well for over a century. By most measures a successful institution. From where I sit as a member of a small division of course there are changes that could improve things, but the goals of good enough governance in a community this large are usually met.

The question members need to ask of these proposed changes to governance is not are they “scientific” according to some research done members of a group of executive consultants but are they needed and are they wise?  I see nothing in the description given us in the well articulated description of GGC proposals that suggests they will improve APA for its members and as others have said there is plenty that should worry those of us who prefer the slow messiness of real democracy over the untested management theories de jour.





Deeper news about the Brazilian protests

Deeper news about the Brazilian protests.

I just returned from a month in Brazil arriving home just days before hundreds of thousands of young, viagra purchase middle class protestors poured out onto the streets in 80 cities and eleven state capitals. Like the Occupy movement in the US, these protests seem to have taken the world media by surprise and attempts to offer some insight about what the protestors want are all over the map. Trying to divine the causes of the discontent from the diverse banners, chants, Tweets, Facebook shares, and statements by various groups and politicians, mainstream analysis remains incoherent and reinforces the old 20th century frames for understanding public protest. As one exasperated Brazilian politician asked, click “What do these people want?”

Here’s my take. I don’t deny that many of the factors suggested in press reports have had their impact. The 20-cent bus fare hike, government corruption, high taxes, poor job prospects, government priorities, billions on new soccer stadia, putting on a show hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics instead of needed infrastructure like schools and hospitals are among them. But my experience in Brazil even before the riots erupted, leads me to another hypothesis—one that is deeper, more widespread across the world’s youth, one that has its roots in cultural changes that have been going on at least since the 1960s, and one to which leaders and commentators better start paying attention if they are not to completely lose legitimacy with their young citizens. And leaders in the US and Europe should pay attention, too.

Regardless of specific complaints what we are watching in the Brazilian and Turkish street (and probably London in 2011 and the more complex Arab Spring) represents surface waves on a civilizational sea change that is well underway around the world.

Among the educated young there is a sense of deep uneasiness that the future isn’t what it used to be. They believe prospects for a meaningful life on a sustainable planet are darkening. Institutions, norms, infrastructure, governance, knowledge and ways of life that for two carbon-fuelled centuries people in the developed world have taken for granted (and many of the world’s people still aspire to) are increasingly seen to be failing to provide the good life for any but the very rich and in fact are leading us to catastrophe. They feel “rage against the machine.” This is a generation that has been raised on what Abraham Maslow called “being values” -they want emotional fulfillment and spiritually meaningful lives in a sustainable environment.

They are immersed with images of the future on every conceivable device. Most of the kids I met n Brazil had at least two mobile phones. They monitor a global community of Facebook friends— hourly. They are well aware of the threats facing the word and are impatient to get on with their lives as the go-for it, self-creators–entrepreneurs, professionals and leaders they are urged to become. But as they reach adulthood they find little space for their aspirations or their concerns. The work available to them, if any (and for 25% are there is none) is as low paid drones in faceless corporations, failing public institutions that deliver neither adequate services nor fulfilling career opportunities and they feel oppressed by massive cultural forces that are (in their experience) making robots out of them. As one young person with a graduate degree working for a large urban hospital told me, “I am really just an algorithm in human form. I can’t make a single independent decision in a day. If they could replace me with a smart system they would. I am instructed by supervisors to check all the boxes and not to care too much, so I don’t burn out, and my smile is pasted on.” She was on the street in Brazil this week.

This uprising is a battle for the what kind of future these young people see and those I spoke too are deeply anxious. They have lost faith in their leaders—all leaders– pointing to corruption at every level, toxic pollution, global warming, extremism, rapacious corporations, global companies making giveaway deals with the government for Brazil’s new oil reserves, and so on down a litany of shameful disappointments. And they see those in authority—in government or corporations– continuing to spout the same old platitudes; denying the magnitude of the looming threats and, worse, using dictatorial power, massive surveillance, police and military violence to keep the lid on dissent and themselves in power.

I am receiving regular news from students and academics in Turkey and Brazil and though the situations are obviously different I see an important similarity. These protestors want what any young person should want. They seek a voice in their future, a space free of heavy handed control, to chart their own path to a fulfilled life on a planet that has a sustainable future. They want transformative leaders to work in partnership with them through what they already know will be a difficult passage though the multiple challenges ahead but all they see around them is what Eric Fromm called the ” dead hand of bureaucracy”. They feel suffocated by the business think controlling every aspect of their lives from kindergarten to the job market. They seek fulfillment yet find their world increasingly indifferent, cynical and devoid of life. They are not expecting solutions to come down ready made from the top but they seek leaders who understand what is at stake, don’t BS them, and who are willing to stand in solidarity with them to create a future that is worth living. Their message may seem fragmented and incoherent when viewed from the standpoints of commentators schooled in simpler and more predictable times, but when seen as a response to the deep civilization crisis underway their spirited message is one of hope. The Western industrial story is inadequate to the complex challenges this generation faces—so they are looking for the elements of a new story that can support a fulfilling way of life in the radically changed conditions of 21st century. Though they are losing faith in leadership as usual these young people still have faith in themselves and have the courage to act for a better world and they expect more of their leaders than denial, corruption, and betrayal. Though the target problems are local the themes we heard in Occupy and I heard from young people in Brazil before and during the demonstrations are civilizational. We now need transformational leaders who can hear this and who will work to help this generation create a future where they will have more fulfilling lives as citizens and more noble occupations than robotic jobs in the machine. The alternative might be very grim indeed.