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.