I wasn’t sure until I looked it up, but it was apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald who first said this, in 1936, in a piece called Crack Up that he wrote for Esquire: “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I think that any advocate of online education, especially proprietary education, has to be Fitzgeraldian. We have to accept both the near-utopian possibilities and, at the same time, the limits of capitalist development.
On the one hand, there’s the ongoing neglect of the traditional schools in affirmative action, particularly for working people, and the huge potential of online education to reach people who have never felt they had a chance to gain this sort of capital. On this side of our Fiztgeraldian brain might be this piece: “Online learning, uplifting, efficient.” It might be a little optimistic, but if half of the potential of online education suggested here is realized, we’d have a very different education system. We could generate a surge of mobility not seen since the GI Bill in the late 1940s.
The problem, as Marx put it in another context, is that the profit motive tends to create conditions that become “a fetter upon the mode of production.” Proprietary education, in other words, could create institutional models that are both profitable for them and beneficial for students, just as banks can create mortgages that are both profitable and non-exploitative. As the ongoing debate over proprietary education shows (“For-Profits Colleges Draw Minorities, Stir Murky Debate on Student Success“) though, too many schools seem unwilling to take on the challenge.