by Audra Himes
(Swans - October 24, 2005) Corporate-think and corporate-talk are taking over higher education in these United States. Free, critical discussions about the world of ideas are soon to be over. The Establishment has set its foot down. The Man walks amongst us.
Degrees from US institutions of higher education are some of the most sought-after in the world because the world of higher education in a free society is a hotbed of ideas, theories and research that grows into real-world advancement. Nearly every single thing you rely on or that influences you started out as an idea in a mind honed by the methods of qualitative and quantitative research design. A self-regulating system that balances and rights itself because of the value that its constituents place on the life of the mind, higher education in the U.S. was always strong because of people who understood the demands of critical thinking and the scientific method. The torch was passed from generation to generation by professors who were thinkers and performers, able to work with students to get the absolute best from them. The best professors themselves were individuals who were very much individuals -- thinkers and practitioners able to exert the force of their minds to bring together disparate strands of thought and create something new, then communicate it to students in ways that excited them as learners and made them want to know more. The field of knowledge was increased by this excitement, this enjoyment in theorizing, experimenting and learning.
Oh, wait, have I lapsed into the past tense? Ah, yes, I'm speaking of the good ol' days. Before online degrees.
If anything helps me to see the downhill direction in which we're traveling as a culture, it's the genesis of online "universities." Turn-key courses, designed by corporate-think types and a couple of instructional designers, replace classes influenced by the research interests of the individual faculty member. Student-teacher discourse is no longer the give-and-take of human interaction, face-to-face, where we deal with our differences as people and learn from one another's perspectives. Instead, online "facilitators" must retain students/clients at any cost, praising them with "Great job!," "Excellent point!" and all other manner of exclamation-pointed phrase. "Retention" is the key word because "retention" = "money." Instructors can't stray from the curriculum of the turn-key course, can't take a side journey through interesting terrain that's discovered by on-the-spot interaction. The contours of the conversation itself, you see, and the calendar on which strands of the conversations can take place, are dictated by corporate Powers That Be who have made a curriculum, flogged it to the Internet masses, and raked in the tuition (funded by federal student loans in many cases, so once again, John Q. Public's taxes are going to subsidize Wall Street ventures instead of into a pot that benefits us all). The clarion call of online purveyors stays true to form; universally, it's "Earn a degree -- and more money!" That's the only value education could possibly have, right?
What is happening to higher education foreshadows our fate. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser points out that in some areas of the country, an individual can go quite literally from cradle to grave without spending a cent at a locally owned, locally interested business; put another way, from birth to burial, every cent spent goes to a huge retail chain or multinational. Massive conglomerates have taken over our economy, leading to the McDonaldization of the landscape and Walmartization of wages. The result? Small businesses capsized, rural areas gutted, precious little opportunity or investment in our inner cities.
Higher education is going to the same dogs. Corporate think -- "The organization is always right" -- is containing free-wheeling freethinking. Higher education will no longer be about learning to probe and question; it will be all about getting a piece of paper that entitles you to more pay from The Man who educated you to (not) think in the same way that he does.
If virtual universities, with their turn-key courses, one-dimensional conversations, and indoctrination, take the place of critical thinking, the scientific method, and the frisson of making learning happen, we are headed down a dark road, indeed.
What have we come to? We've come to a place where those who've stood for social justice and could speak truth to power, from university corridors to the halls of the Supreme Court, are fast being replaced by those who are educated in expediency and the ends justifying the means.
Who are we? Who we are as a country of entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders, held as institutional memories at the universities that created some of the best minds of our nation, will be lost by the nanosecond memory that The Man needs us to have if he's to control our thoughts as well as our income.
What do we stand for? Control. Containment. Conformity. Co-optation of critical thinking by those who need us to be homogenized, distilled, colorless, thoughtless, and brainless so we can become cogs in the very wheel that grinds us down.
Hello, all! We are Corporate America -- corporate born, corporate educated! Welcome aboard!!!