Speaking of Education…

David Schultz–with whom I collaborated on a textbook a couple of years ago–has written a thought-provoking article on the coming decline of the “corporate” university.

The corporate university is being undone by the very forces that created it. The defining characteristic of higher education in the last forty years has been its corporatization, which has transformed the university from an educational community with shared governance into a top-down bureaucracy that is increasingly managed and operated like a traditional profit-seeking corporation.

David points out that–at least since World War II– there have been two very distinct “business models” that have characterized American higher education. The first model was based on public investment in education, and it lasted until the 1970s. “The second, a corporate model, flourished until the economic crash in 2008.”

Public institutions were central to the first model.

The business model was simple: tax dollars, federal aid, and an expanding population of often first-generation students attending state institutions at low tuition. Let us call this the Dewey model,after John Dewey, whose theories emphasized the democratic functions of education.

Beginning with the 1980s, support for all public institutions and programs–including but not limited to universities– began to diminish, and a near-religious belief in the power of markets to cure everything that ails us replaced it.

The corporate university took control of the curriculum in order to generate revenue. The new business model found its most powerful income stream in professional education, including programs in public or business administration and law school, which became the cash cow of colleges and universities. This was especially true with MBA programs, which rapidly multiplied. These programs were sold to applicants with the claim that the high tuition would be more than offset by future earnings.

This business model in part used tuition from professional programs to finance the rest of the university. Students in these programs were able to secure loans to finance their training. The model relied heavily on attracting foreign students, returning baby boomers in need of additional credentials, and recent “baby boomlet” graduates seeking professional degrees as a shortcut to professional advancement.

The consequences of this shift are all around us: ballooning student debt loads, the emphasis on narrow job/professional training and the corresponding neglect of the liberal arts curricula that taught students how to think, the ever-growing dependence on poorly-paid (okay, exploited) adjunct faculty, and the rise of for-profit institutions that promise quick credentialing without the inconvenience of an actual education, among others.

David pulls no punches: as he says, the corporate business model is an education Ponzi scheme, and like all Ponzi schemes, it is falling apart.

Those of us who care about education, who fear the consequences for self-governance of a credentialed but uneducated population, need to figure out how to go about restoring the university’s civic and intellectual mission.

Diversity and Distrust Revisited

Thanks primarily to the wackier GOP candidates for President (okay, that’s virtually all of them), we’re seeing a recurrence of socially divisive arguments about “political correctness,” abortion, religion and immigration–and an elevation, in unfortunate and not-so-veiled forms, of America’s racist impulses.

I was pondering our current unlovely public discourse, with its rejection of “otherness,” when my eyes fell on my bookshelf, and on Stephen Macedo’s 2000 book, Diversity and Distrust. The book was a meditation on the important civic role played by public schools in multi-ethnic societies like ours. I leafed through it to see where I’d highlighted observations (something that’s harder to do on a Kindle app), and I thought I’d share a few of them:

American public schools have been, in many ways, where the tension between diversity and the felt need to promote shared values has played out most dramatically. This institution has, from its inception, been the principal direct public instrument for creating a shared political culture amid religious, racial, ethnic and class diversity.

..some of the the most basic and widely discussed conflicts around public schools have been the consequence of religious opposition to basic civic ideals.

The [common/public school] was meant to pursue a novel set of civic ends: consolidation under public aegises was essential to the institution’s civic agenda.

The proponents of many orthodoxies, especially perhaps integral and totalistic belief systems, will not be happy with educational institutions that include all of the children within a pluralistic community. We cannot pursue shared civic ends without making it harder for the proponents of some moral and religious doctrines to perpetuate their views.

Macedo’s book was a full-throated–and persuasive– defense of the importance of public education in a diverse democratic country.

In Indiana, we’ve turned our backs on the civic mission of the schools, bowing to the demands of those who value particularist dogma, privatization, interest group politics and profits above the need to create and perpetuate a common American culture based upon our particular (and yes, in that sense “exceptional”) historical and legal commitments.

Tea Party Priorities

Evidently, the theatrics–make that “tea” actrics–will not end anytime soon.

You may remember that, in 2011, when he was still in Congress, Mike Pence was an enthusiastic leader of that year’s “defund Planned Parenthood or shut government down” effort. It’s 2015, but in the crazy caucus, only the faces have changed. Last week, Indiana Congressmen Young and Stutzman were among those voting to shut down government.

Despite last week’s passage of a short-term “clean” funding measure to keep government open until December, the zealots are still intent upon shutting down government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded, and a not-insignificant number of them say they’ll refuse to raise the debt ceiling when the time comes. (That, of course, would cause a massive default by the U.S. on its obligations, including such obligations as military pay, social security and medicare.)

Given so many Republicans’ willingness to do it again, you’d think the last shutdown (in 2013, over Obamacare) had been a rousing success for the would-be extortionists. It wasn’t–at least, not in what the rest of us call the “real world.”

Indeed, as the zealots prepare to play yet another game of chicken, twenty thousand federal workers are still suing over the last government shutdown, and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service calculated the economic damage done by that fit of pique:

Federal employees worked 6.6 million fewer hours during the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, according to a recent report, with the loss of productivity resulting in a 0.3 percent loss in economic growth.

In other words, sending more than 850,000 federal employees home without pay for at least part of the shutdown took billions of dollars out of the economy.

Although the ideologues refuse to believe it, most government employees work at jobs that actually need to be done. When those jobs don’t get done, the economy slows, hurting everyone.

None of that matters to the zealots. In order to “defund” Planned Parenthood–that is, in order to keep Medicaid from reimbursing the organization for medical services provided to poor women and men (STD tests, breast cancer screenings, birth control pills, etc.), they’re willing to make poor people poorer. And sicker.

Tea Party “patriots” are willing to ignore the reality that there are no other providers with the capacity and reach to substitute for Planned Parenthood, and that defunding the organization would cut off medical care to millions of Americans.

Poll after poll confirms that most Americans support Planned Parenthood, value its services and don’t want to see it defunded. They also don’t want another government shutdown.

Americans would really like to see a Congress that governs rather than postures, but apparently, that’s too much to ask.


John Boehner and the GOP’s Alternate Reality

There has been no lack of punditry–much of it inane–in the wake of John Boehner’s resignation. But I encountered one of the more thought-provoking analyses at the progressive website Daily Kos. After detailing the gleeful reactions emanating from the more reactionary precincts of what used to be a political party (and is now some sort of cult), and accusations from people like Mike Huckabee to the effect that Boehner had “given the President more power on Obamacare,” the poster ruminated:

After total legislative obstruction, a government shut-down, more than 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, an ensuing presidential election, two Supreme Court lawsuits, and other pending litigation – – Republicans are livid with the belief that John Boehner has worked with the President to strengthen Obamacare.

No sane political observer could think that.  So, what gives?  As Jonathan Chait explains, we are witnessing a sort of collective Republican denial where they cannot accept that they are not the ruling party, not the “deciders” (to use a former president’s phrase):

To understand the pressures that brought about Boehner’s demise as an ideological split badly misconstrues the situation. The small band of right-wing noisemakers in the House who made Boehner’s existence a living hell could not identify any important substantive disagreements with the object of their wrath. . . . The source of the disagreement was tactical, not philosophical. Boehner’s tormentors refused to accept the limits of his political power. . . .

The “crazy caucus” continues to occupy an alternate reality. It exists merely to throw sand in the gears of government, refusing to accept anything less than everything it wants–and increasingly unable even to articulate what “everything it wants” is. (Anyone who has ever parented a cranky two-year-old can recognize the behavior…)

That said, the real problem isn’t that a minor, albeit significant faction of a major party is arguably insane. The real problem is, voters elected them. And non-voters abetted them.

That’s what is so frightening to contemplate….


Jeb! and “Earned Success”

Here we go again.

At a recent campaign event in South Carolina, Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and how he would appeal to black voters.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But–as Charles Blow noted in a recent column in the New York Times— he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

Shades of Mitch Romney, his “makers” and “takers” and 47 percenters!

As Blow noted, this was not one of the unforced errors we’ve come to expect from “Jeb!” (And I thought he was supposed to be the smart one…)

And this is not some one-time slip of the tongue for Bush. In Bush’s book written two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” he wrote: “Since the 1960s, the politics of victimization has steadily intensified. Being a victim gives rise to certain entitlements, benefits, and preferences in society. The surest way to get something in today’s society is to elevate one’s status to that of the oppressed. Many of the modern victim movements — the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, the black empowerment movement — have attempted to get people to view themselves as part of a smaller group deserving of something from society. It is a major deviation from the society envisioned by Martin Luther King, who would have had people judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin — or sexual preference or gender or ethnicity.”

What is it about privileged people that makes it so difficult for them to look at their fellow humans and see fellow humans? What makes them unable to see the systemic issues–economic downturns, jobs paying less than living wages, overt and structural discrimination–that disadvantage some people?

What is it about less fortunate people that elicits these sneering, patronizing stereotypes, rather than efforts to understand–let alone remedy–those systemic constraints?

What special kind of cluelessness makes a man born to wealth and privilege consider his own condition “earned success” that anyone might achieve?