Deconstructing Education

Millions of learners have enjoyed the free lecture videos and other course materials published online through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s OpenCourseWare project. Now MIT plans to release a fresh batch of open online courses—and, for the first time, to offer certificates to outside students who complete them.

MIT Will Offer Certificates”  Marc Parry

We’ve become so sentimental about universities– if not delusional— that we forget that the entire point of the higher education system was to control knowledge, or, better, to carefully regulate the cultural capital of the middle class.  It was a classic Goldilocks problem: if higher education was too restricted, you can’t run your high-tech economy, if it’s too open, you risk  what H. Bruce Franklin  once called an educated proletariat.

After WWII million of  people got access to a higher education– my father among them– who would normally have been locked out via the G.I. Bill. At some point, though, arguably in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the porridge got a little too cool, and so the pendulum began to swing back, shutting down access or restricting what the educated could do by forcing them into debts that border on indentured servitude.

MIT’s certificates are a rare moment of long-term thinking in the ruling classes.  The first step to change in higher education is to break the university’s monopoly on knowledge. That why open courses and open source is so important. The second, and perhaps more important step, is to institutionalize the time and energy invested in this form of learning so it can circulate as  cultural capital. That’s what MIT has begun.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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