Posts Tagged ‘education’

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Back in 2009, in the midst of the Great Crash (and therefore at the start of the Second Great Depression), a colleague and friend asked me whether I expected the teaching of economics to change. His view was that, since mainstream economics had so miserably failed in both predicting the crash and providing a guide as to what to do once the crash occurred, it was obvious the economics being taught to students had to fundamentally change. My answer was that, while the need for a change was obvious, I didn’t see it happening—and it probably wouldn’t happen (thinking back to the emergence of the Union of Radical Political Economics in the late-1960s) unless and until students of economics demanded a different approach.

Well, in various places (starting almost a decade before the current crises, with the eruption of the Post-Autistic Economics movement in June 2000), students have been demanding a fundamental change in the way economics is being taught. The latest effort to move that project along is a report from the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society. Here are some of their key findings, which refer to how economics is taught at Manchester but clearly have much wider relevance, in and beyond the United Kingdom:

  • Economics education at Manchester has elevated one economic paradigm, often called neoclassical economics, to the sole object of study. Other schools of thought such as institutional, evolutionary, Austrian, post-Keynesian, Marxist, feminist and ecological economics are almost completely absent.
  • The consequence of the above is to preclude the development of meaningful critical thinking and evaluation. In the absence of fundamental disagreement over methodology, assumptions, objectives and definitions, the practice of being critical is reduced to technical and predictive disagreements. A discipline with a broader knowledge of alternative perspectives will be more internally self-critical and aware of the limits of its knowledge. Universities cannot justify this monopoly of one economic paradigm.
  • The ethics of being an economist and the ethical consequences of economic policies are almost completely absent from the syllabus.
  • History of economic thought is an optional third year module which students are put off taking due to it requiring essay writing skills that have not been extensively developed elsewhere in the degree. Very little economic history is taught. Students finish an economics degree without any knowledge of momentous economic events from the Great Depression to the break-up of the Bretton Woods Monetary System.
  • When taken together, these points mean that economics students are taught the economic theory of one perspective as if it represented universally established truth or law.

Capital

First, there was Marx for Beginners by Mexican cartoonist Rius [pdf]. Then, there were the two on-line lecture series by Stephen Resnick and David Harvey.

Now, there’s a new resource—a book and a set of Powerpoint slides—called PolyluxMarx: An Illustrated Workbook for Studying Marx’s Capital, by Valeria Bruschi, Antonella Muzzupappa, Sabine Nuss, Anne Stecklner, and Ingo Stützle, translated by Alexander Locascio, which can ordered from Monthly Review Press and is available on-line.

The Great Recession, triggered by the collapse of financial markets in 2008, struck with such ferocity that millions of people began to question the rationality of our capitalist economic system. And as scholars, journalists, and activists tried to comprehend what was happening, they were forced to look deeply into the nature of capitalism—inevitably leading them to the work of Karl Marx. Now, Marx is enjoying a worldwide rediscovery and resurrection, and his masterwork, Capital , has found its way back into college classrooms, labor unions, the Occupy movement, study groups, and into the hands of disillusioned young people.

Reading Capital can be a daunting endeavor and most readers need guidance when tackling this complex work. PolyluxMarx provides such guidance.

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Tens of thousands of Spaniards joined together in Madrid to protest against the continued imposition of austerity measures.

Demonstrators were protesting over issues including unemployment, poverty and official corruption.

They want the government not to pay its international debts and do more to improve health and education.

The BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid says protesters travelled from all corners of Spain, many of them making the journey on foot, in order to voice their anger.

They called their protest the march of dignity, our correspondent says, because they say that the government of Mariano Rajoy is stripping Spaniards of just that.

For many of them, the cutbacks that Mr Rajoy has implemented, in particular to health and education, are causing Spain irreparable damage.

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Liberals and conservatives agree on one thing: the answer to the declining fortunes of the American working-class is more college education.

As workers’ wages have stagnated over the course of the past three decades, and as the real wages of workers with a high school education have actually declined, the solution offered by countless politicians and economists on both wings of the mainstream political spectrum has not been structural change but, instead, more education. “Get a college education,” they pontificated in unison, “and your problems will be solved.”

The increase in wages and employment of college-educated workers during the technology boom of the 1980s and 1990s appeared to confirm their view, and to excuse the escalating costs of a college education (and the growing indebtedness on the past of college students). Now, the fortunes of the cognitariat have gone bust. They have increasingly joined the ranks of the proletariat, and added to the already-enormous pressures on those below them in the educational hierarchy. The result, in the past decade, has been wage stagnation across the board.

That’s the central thesis of recent research by Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand. Their argument is that the Information Technology revolution ended in 2000 and that, as a result, there has been less need for cognitive workers, which not only led to stagnating wages for college-educated workers but had a cascading effect through the rest of the labor market.

The reduction in demand for cognitive jobs during this period implies that high-educated workers switch, in part, to accepting routine jobs. This movement of high-educated workers into the less skilled occupations amplifies the push of less educated workers toward non-employment. In fact, less educated workers move out of cognitive jobs because of the decrease in demand for those tasks, and they move out of routine jobs both because of decreased demand and because of increased supply to those jobs by the higher educated individuals. In this sense, employment has what we think of as a cascading nature, with more skilled workers flowing down the occupation structure and pushing less skilled workers even further down. Hence, even though the major change in the bust period relative to the boom period is the shift in the demand for cognitive jobs, non-employment increases among the less-educated as this is the main escape valve for the labor market.

The net result has been stagnating wages and decreased employment in both the cognitive and routine sectors, an increase in employment in the low-wage manual sector (as the rising fortunes of the tiny minority at the top led to increased demand for the services performed by manual workers), and decreased employment rates as the least educated have been forced out of the labor market altogether.

So, what does this mean for the idea that a college education is the solution to all our problems? According to the authors,

having a BA is less about obtaining access to high paying managerial and technology jobs and more about beating out less educated workers for the Barista or clerical job.

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As Ed Brayton [ht: sm] explains,

Sometimes a single image just sums up perfectly what is wrong with an issue or a society. This one certainly seems to capture the problems in our educational system. It’s an email sent to teachers by a credit union offering to loan them money to buy school supplies they should already have.

It’s bad enough that teachers are put in a position where they have to buy school supplies for their students anyway, but now a bank wants to loan them money and charge them interest for it. Because that’s not too predatory or anything. The way we fund public schools in this country is ridiculous.

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Failing MOOCs

Posted: 20 November 2013 in Uncategorized
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Apparently, Sebastian Thrun, the star of Massive Open Online Courses and CEO of MOOC-purveyor Udacity, has admitted his company’s products aren’t very good. The question is, why?

As Rebecca Schuman sees it,

But what is the big deal about Thrun’s pivot, and why are academics and higher-ed writers alternately wary and gleeful about it? On the surface, Thrun appears duly chagrinned that his brainchild, so proudly hailed in neoliberal wet dreams, has failed the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to learn for free. And on the surface, the new direction of Udacity, which is to leave the university environment and focus on corporate training courses, seems appropriate: Sure, go “disrupt” a bunch of corporations, they love that kind of thing.

What’s got the academic Internet’s frayed mom jeans in a bunch, however, is that Thrun’s alleged mea culpa is actually a you-a culpa. For Udacity’s catastrophic failure to teach remedial mathematics at San Jose State University, Thrun blames neither the corporatization of the university nor the MOOC’s use of unqualified “student mentors” in assessment. Instead, he blames the students themselves for being so damn poor.

The way Fast Company has it, Thrun chucks those San Jose State students under the self-driving Google car faster than he chugs up a hill on his custom-made road bike, leaving a panting Max Chafkin in the dust to ponder the following Thrunism: “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives. … It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.”

The problem, of course, is that those students represent the precise group MOOCs are meant to serve. “MOOCs were supposed to be the device that would bring higher education to the masses,” Jonathan Rees noted. “However, the masses at San Jose State don’t appear to be ready for the commodified, impersonal higher education that MOOCs offer.” Thrun’s cavalier disregard for the SJSU students reveals his true vision of the target audience for MOOCs: students from the posh suburbs, with 10 tablets apiece and no challenges whatsoever—that is, the exact people who already have access to expensive higher education.

It is more than galling that Thrun blames students for the failure of a medium that was invented to serve them, instead of blaming the medium that, in the storied history of the “correspondence” course (“TV/VCR repair”!), has never worked. For him, MOOCs don’t fail to educate the less privileged because the massive online model is itself a poor tool. No, apparently students fail MOOCs because those students have the gall to be poor, so let’s give up on them and move on to the corporate world, where we don’t have to be accountable to the hoi polloi anymore, or even have to look at them, because gross.