DIY U: Take 2

So in the airport waiting for my flight to the UK I tried to bang out some quick thoughts upon finishing DIY U, only to retract them within minutes of publishing them (though apparently not before Google managed to catch a copy of it).

I retracted the first draft because I realized how important the issues are and I wanted to be clear, for my own sake, if not for yours.

My first reaction, which I largely covered in my initial retracted draft, is that Kamenetz’s book is not a bad one at all taken as a piece of popular journalism aimed at documenting a specific crisis in American higher ed and three different emerging responses to it, variously “artisans” (those working on systemic transformation of higher ed), “monks” (edupunks and open ed types who, whilst often still inside the very institutions they are critical of, are portrayed as promoting education outside the confines of the institution) and “merchants” (those looking to privatize and profit from the crises of cost and quality facing higher ed). I think critics who have chastised for citation errors and the like are basically nit picking, and I honestly believe (based partly on the focus of Kamenetz’s first book) that her desire to raise a clarion call about cost and “quality” issues in American post-secondary education is sincere, and that she is not a particular booster of the privatization of learning. But…

I want to go further with my reservations than I did in the first draft. And while I enumerated them as two in that first draft (that the book was too American in focus and that it only pays lip service to it’s title “DIY U”) these are really two aspects of the same concern.

A first take on this concern would be that while I respect the analysis focuses on cost (and to a lesser extent “quality”) as legitimate concerns, especially from the student or “consumer” perspective, that the role of higher education, it’s value and placement in society, is too complex to be reduced to these few considerations or to be approached from only those perspectives. This is not a particularly damning of Kamenetz, though – we live in a world surrounded by reductive analyses, always collapsing distinctions and differences in order to “get to THE point,” “get things done” etc.

And some will claim that’s just the way the world is, and that resisting this is just more evidence of my “monkish” nature. Maybe. But therein lies my larger take on my concern, and again, it is unfair to unload this on Kamenetz’s work specifically, because it is no more guilty of this (and possibly even less) than most analyses; but the concern is this, that while we can and do make these kind of global analyses of problems and solutions (because indeed, there are no private language games, we can and do recognize commonalities), we need (indeed I’d say MUST, but I step back) to resist the urge to collapse any of our own specific contexts into these global analyses and solutions. And this is why I think the rather short-shrift given to “edupunk” belies a misunderstanding of the profundity of its origins; because, just like it’s predecessor “punk,” edupunk must kill itself off; it is ALWAYS local, ALWAYS specific, contextual, grassroots, emerging. “EDUPUNK” IS DEAD. LONG LIVE EDUPUNK! It is an urging towards a relationship of learner, teacher and knowledge that is NOT simply instrumental, a constant examining of “relating” itself.

In a discussion on twitter, Mikhail Gershovich and I described Jim Groom as “an American Pragmatist” which he took really badly. But I believe this (and Jim, PLEASE correct me, as this is really new thinking for me, and I know I am positing a lot) is because he understood us to be meaning the colloquial sense of the word, often taken to mean “utilitarian,” which is almost the exact opposite of what we (and I believe he) intended. No, I think both Mikhail and I were talk philosophic Pragmatism that refuses to collapse contextual specifics into meta-narratives. Now inasmuch as this approach still holds on to Ends, albeit the Ends specified by the specific context, I can see a tension between this and my above description of edupunk. And if I haven’t totally lost the plot, then hopefully this is something Jim and others can help me work through, but again, I think, always resisting the urge to meta-narrative, to resurrecting “Edupunk.”

So, monkish? Well, at least, if not totally barmy! I mean, how do you implement a plan of national reform on the back of this? Well, you don’t. Not that it’s not needed, but if you take seriously the ideas of autonomy, of nodes, of emergence, then at best you figure out how to un-bundle while not falling prey to the conservative lie, the myth of the individual. And this is where I think we progressives, if I may, need to take seriously the charge that network learning panders to autodidacts; not because it must be true, but because for it not to be true means accepting that some learners may want to simply get a credential, just “get the job,” and that if we are to contract for their teaching, it needs to be a negotiation, one that includes informing them of the possibilities but actually listening to what they want, and finding the agreement in between. That, it would seem to me, would be truly edupunk. – SWL

7 thoughts on “DIY U: Take 2

  1. Maria Droujkova

    I am a parent and I like the book.

    I almost want to keep the comment as the above one-liner. But here is some background. For the last several years, we’ve been contemplating “homeschooling through college.” The movements and groups outlined in the book provide tremendous legitimacy to these plans.

    There are many perspectives from many different points of view, but I will be honest: parenting my daughter is several orders of magnitude more important to me than any of these perspectives. As an educator, I am alarmed about knowledgeable, caring families removing themselves from the public school system, but this alarm does not outweigh my decision to homeschool my own kid.

    Maybe individuals, each doing a different DIY thing and coming together in small groups for validation, will change things around more than global, systemic approaches.

  2. Scott

    Maria, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I am perhaps being too harsh now in retrospect that the book does (at least for you) provide substance to the “DIY U” title and isn’t simply using it as a marketing slogan. I think my post above ultimately speaks more to my own thinking recently than it does to the book. It was simply the thing that triggered me to finally try to tie together my own tendencies to try to find grand, systemic solutions with what I see as a different approach emerging from both the “edupunk” and network learning camps, but to also ask them to temper their idealism with an equal amount of listening to what learners are asking for. And there’s a good chance I’m just full of it.

  3. Maria Droujkova

    Scott, I wish I had better background to the paragraph that starts with, “In a discussion on twitter…” But here is the thought I’ve been thinking lately too, and I am grabbing the chance to discuss with someone who understands – thank you! Namely: “How do you implement a plan of national reform on the back of this? Well, you don’t.”

    “Cost” and “quality” may be two of the very few universals left after decentralization, disintermediation, unbundling and other de-s and un-s happen. Maybe the fewer universals, the better?

    As for the book, I expected more know-how and more edupunk than I got. “Deschooling Society” it isn’t, hehe. But hopefully, there will be more, and in several genres beside journalism.

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  5. Michael Josefowicz

    I think you’ve come to the crux of the issue with “accepting that some learners may want to simply get a credential, just “get the job,”

    My point is that the present model of the University may not be the best way to meet that need. With the growth of online it’s precisely that function which seems to be separating and finding better, faster and cheaper ways to get that done.

    The challenge is that so many colleges have built marketing and delivery mechanisms that conflate “getting the credential” with “learning” and the life of the mind, that there source of funds is facing a problem as great as the auto industry had when they “owned” their market.

    It might well turn out to be a good thing for scholarship, but a really disruptive thing for higher ed as presently organized.

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  7. Tad

    I have to say that this is this is quite possibly the review/look at/reaction to the book that best matches my own reaction to the book. Thank you.

    Now if anyone asks what I thought, I can just refer them to this URL.

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