Friday, June 5, 2009

University Evolution

My assessment of Brockman's intro piece ( is that it is naïve at best, and probably closer to techno-posing.

It focuses on an "industrial model of student mass production" that regards each student as "an empty vessel". Clearly the author of that model didn't read Plutarch ( or perhaps thought his pre-industrial wisdom no longer applies. Regardless, This industrial model appears to be largely a straw man: easily ridiculed and skewered without need for the effort involved in any heavy intellectual lifting. The piece shows no inkling that this model was only partially viable in a pre-Chomskian formulation, since for more than a half century, the "blank slate" psychological models have been well-demonstrated to be incorrect. I'm astounded that the work of John Dewey and others at the end of the 1800's seems to have also escaped the attention of people I presume are professionals.

The gag of "lecture" as the "process in which the notes of the teacher go to the notes of the student without going through the brains of either" is a fine joke, but does not provide any definitions for serious analysis of educational models.

Brockman/Tapscott quotes a number of facts that are simply wrong, such as Shirky's claim that free time was "new", arose after the 1950's, and was something with which the "world" had to "grapple". This shows ignorance of the division of time inherent in the industrial revolution and no understanding of the sectors which benefit from mass media or how those sectors pushed this technology. It offered unparalleled abilities for indoctrination of large numbers of people and elites could not deploy it rapidly enough. Reading Tapscott and Shirky, I'm reminded of John Milton's 1642 pearl: "they who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them of their blindness." It astounds me that a professor of telecommunications devotes so much discussion to television shows from Gilligan's Island to Desperate Housewives. This is like spending 99% of one's time examining the week Raytheon spends making a new missile, and all but ignoring the decades of recovery by the families it hit. Note to NYU telecommunications professors: Television networks offer entertainment in order to lure people to watch who can then be sold to corporations who advertise, with ads uniformly attempting deceit and manipulation by well-researched, well-documented means.

Open economic models with participatory, democratic management are very old, and contrary to Shirky's claim, the 90's had many active proposals of this type. Even the ancient Greeks developed ideas that inspired Karl Marx and Upton Sinclair.

Yochai Benkler is quoted as claiming people couldn't encounter the "wealth of cultural materials" on the net if they did not understand their online activity relative to the "dominant ideology of the last 40 years". That's a silly claim – people do all kinds of things, like reasoning and acquiring language, without understanding how it happens, much less its context relative to various domains and disciplines.

Certainly, the Edge crew has some good points and ideas, but the signal to noise ratio is too low for this reader.

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