Category: Book Club

Paying the Price

In reading chapter three of Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price, I was struck by the deep resentment that the Pell Grant garners. Like every other form of welfare promoting social mobility, the Pell Grant has been weaponized as a redistributive, unearned, golden ticket that allows people to skip to the front of the line while carelessly spending the hard-earned dollars of the working class. Obviously this is a straw man characterization, but I think it accurately echoes the core narrative identified by Arlie Hochschild in her study of Tea Party Republicans.

My habit has long been to dismiss such a characterization as the critique of mean-spirited, irredeemable people, but this is extremely counterproductive. I still don’t agree that we should do away with the Pell Grant or other forms of welfare, but I need to and can do a better job engaging in respectful conversation around this narrative. Until we can find common ground with those who feel left behind and cheated by the system, there can be little progress. As an educator, I need to be able to engage with people and convincingly argue for several fundamental points that I can no longer take for granted:

  1. That the highest quality public education is an inalienable birthright of every person
  2. That public education is an obligation of the government
  3. That government investment in education is economically productive. That is, for every dollar spent, more than a dollar is generated
  4. That a student has a right to maintain dignity while receiving welfare and shouldn’t be asked to pass drug tests or justify food expenses
  5. That teachers should be respected as important contributors to society and paid accordingly
  6. That education is about growth for each student rather than arbitrary standards of proficiency
  7. That education is allowed to be fun and actually works better when it is
  8. That enabling students to flourish requires asking them their goals

These eight headings are not defitive or exclusive. They are simply a managable starting point. If I can effectively articulate these points and engage people on them, we may be able to find common ground on student aide and educational policy more broadly. If not, states like mine may continue to defund education at all levels.

In an editorial in the Oklahoman this morning, OU Provost Kyle Harper provided hard numbers for the relative lack of support for OU from the state:

The University of Connecticut, a public flagship very similar in size to OU, receives about $16,500 per undergraduate student from the state, whereas OU receives around $6,200 per undergraduate from state appropriations. Our tuition and fees are also 22 percent lower, yet we offer an equally high-quality educational experience and achieve nearly equal rates of student retention.

As Kyle notes, “We have been doing a lot with a little,” but we need to reach out to Oklahomans and talk with them about why education is important. We cannot take it for granted that people already want to have the best schools; rather, we have to help restore that esteem for and pride in educational systems.

Through chapter three, Sara Goldrick-Rab has been particularly effective in her treatment of the first four points. Thus far the book seems like a really useful reference for both quantitative and qualitative evidence on the simultaneous importance and insufficiency of student aide. I hope that it will also provide a proscriptive argument for how we can move forward.

Leadership Schools and Digital Literacy

In Bonnie Stewart’s latest post for #HortonFreire, she introduced us to the Antigonish Movement, “a Maritime adult education, cooperative, and microfinance movement of the 1920s and ’30s that led to the development of local credit unions that still dot the landscape around Maritime Canada.” Bonnie suggested this movement as both an historical parallel to Horton’s Citizenship Schools and as a model for our network to improve digital literacy.

In thinking about Bonnie’s call to action, I see parallels with a program that may provide some of the organizational scaffolding for such an educational program. About six months ago I participated as a student in a program called Software Carpentry. This non-profit group teaches faculty and grad students three basics of programming literacy: linux command line, version control (usually with GitHub), and a broadly applicable programming language (usually Python or R).

These skills and the correlated literacies are great, but what is interesting for this conversation is the model adopted by Software Carpentry. After completing the program as a student, they encourage participants to consider going through the instructor training. Participants can earn certification which confers the right to use the Software Carpentry branding and materials in their own workshops. The multi-stage training looks something like this:

  1. A 2-day instructor training focused on pedagogy
  2. Watch and give feedback in a video conference debriefing for a new instructor
  3. Participate as the junior-partner in a team-taught session of Software Carpentry
  4. Debriefing in a video conference
  5. Contribute to the GitHub repository of course material

It might be useful for the #HortonFreire group, along with our broader professional circle, to think about developing a similar GitHub repository of course materials. One of the things I particularly like about this technological model is how it would allow us to create a pool of common resources, and also our own forked versions of the repository that are fitted to our particular cultural environments, the needs of the local students, and our varied pedagogies. These GitHub materials could then provide the jumping off point for local workshops.


 

My previous posts in the #HortonFreire book club:

Organizing and Educating around Open Ed

Organizing and Educating around Open Ed

In reading We Make the Road by Walking, I am struck by the magnitude of Myles Horton’s work. His educational and organizational efforts were targeted at (among other things) improving literacy in order to help people secure their right to vote. This is so obviously important and world-altering that I was having a hard time relating to it. How could I hope to learn anything from what he was saying when I don’t have that type of motivational tool, either for my audience or myself.

I do not, on a daily basis, lift people from illiteracy to building their own schools in an effort to end historical oppression. I never worked with Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr or the thousands of others that Horton influenced. And, it occurred to me today, in a rare moment of humility, that I need to stop trying to compare myself to Myles Horton. That is a path to feelings of deep inadequacy.

However, my motivation to promote “Open” publication, research, pedagogy, etc. comes from a similar, if more approachable place. I think everyone has the right to share in both the use and creation of human knowledge.

Open access publication is usually the starting point in my conversations about open. Those faculty not yet onboard are at least aware of the concept. Conversations that start with affordability of open textbooks can quickly morph into the absurdity of having to purchase research articles that were written, reviewed, and usually edited by researchers who are not-compensated from the revenue generated by the article. The more “radical challenge” is to help them see that locking articles behind paywalls creates a divide between academics with rich libraries and those without, and between academia and the rest of the world. We should not be “neutral” about allowing the knowledge that we create to be withheld from the vast majority of people.

Open review seems like a much newer concept. Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities is making great use of GitHub and the MLA Commons to integrate open review into their workflow. After an initial open review by the small circle of editors on GitHub, each article goes up for public review by anyone who visits the site. This feels novel and disruptive, but every reader, in every medium critiques and analyzes the text as they go. This simply gives the reader a chance to contribute their feedback into the refinement and improvement of the work.

And yet, open review is not an entirely novel invention of the digital world. In a graduate course I took on academic publishing, the professor, Ronald Schleifer, told us that he signs his peer-reviews for monographs and journals. He explained, “It forces me to make my review as constructive as possible so that even when — especially when — I recommend rejection of an essay, I demonstrate the seriousness of my concerns with constructive suggestions. In these reviews, in part because I know the author will know it is I who am writing it, I do everything I can to suggest how an author can make it publishable. This policy, I find, forces me to assume the point of view of an author and ask myself what would make the argument I am encountering the strongest it might be. Occasionally over the years I have even received thank-yous from people whose work I recommended against.” What Ron’s saying here goes to the larger point that open communication and cooperation in the writing and refinement of knowledge accelerates advancement and should be a goal in and of itself.

Taking this a step further then, I have been advocating for open research, or perhaps more precisely open notes, with my work on a project called Situating Chemistry. While having access to the printed work of my fellow historians of science is great, what about all of the notes and research that never gets printed. Pooling together our hard-won facts about historical figures, transcriptions of rare documents, and bibliographies of resources is allowing us to build a web of information that will both accelerate our individual research and open new questions for comparative and collaborative projects.


While I haven’t seen the phrase open pedagogy in We Make the Road by Walking, Google n-grams suggests that the term was in use in the late 80s. Nonetheless, the conceptualization and multiplication of Citizenship Schools offer an operational definition of open pedagogy. Both Horton and Freire noted that theory is a guide, but you have to meet students where they are and understand why they want to learn before you can start educating. In many ways my day-to-day job is to help faculty understand student-centered education and the negotiation of  learning goals for both the individual and the class.

Myles story about meeting a woman in Mississippi who had so internalized the concept of the Citizenship Schools that she thought she had invented them demonstrated both the promise of open pedagogy and the humility needed on the part of instructors. Rather than feeling that he had somehow lost ownership over intellectual property, Myles was excited about this success.

As Horton says in chapter three, there is a difference between organizing and education. My activist instinct is to tell people the answers and push them into open practice. I would love to tear down the institutions of academic publishing and replace them with open, online technologies. But I am an educator and not an organizer. I will help people to understand the technologies and philosophy behind open while still respecting their concerns about challenging the long-standing system. I can “challenge the weakness of the culture,” but ultimately I must leave it up to those I work with and educate to decide for themselves whether to pursue open paths or remain “neutral” about the status quo.

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