Are edupunks dismantling the public institutions of higher education?

There’s a fair bit of noise and identity politics in this rant (and response from the writer who feels attacked by it), but also an interesting point about the scope for what I’d call ‘agile’ approaches to reform the institutions rather than undermine them.

In a nutshell, Jim Groom, the academic credited with coining the term ‘Edupunk’ is now disowning it. He seems to be claiming that the punk ethos, to the extent that it was critical of the establishment, just wanted to revolutionise it from within, and actually wanted to make it healthier. So, not a very threatening punk.

In response — beginning from “I use the term edupunk sparingly” in the clipping below (unfortunately I can’t find a way to insert a divider in Amplify) — Anya Kamenetz, who has written books with Edupunk on the cover, quotes Groom back at herself, at the same time as self-deprecatingly referring to herself as a ‘gadfly’.

Clipped from
your history of flirting and seducing the neo-liberals who want to dismantle public institutions has been a real turn off. In fact, the last straw has been your indecent exposure in the title of yet another book by Anya Kamanetz that keeps me from being even remotely interested in continuing this relationship with you.
I mean, when did you stop dating journalists and start dating advocates for a mechanized vision of DIY education? You and I had deep institutional roots, and I am still proud to serve the public mission, why have you turned from this vision? I don’t know, EDUPUNK, I’m confused.

I know the Gates Foundation has lots of money (heck they have been throwing millions and millions of dollars at education for years now, look how that has gone) but their vision of education as a wholesale gutting of publicly funded institutions and replacing them with some groovy YouTube vidoes (a la Khan Academy)and a wide range of powerpoint slides (a la Open Coursware) is a surefire means to further alienate an already fractured culture.

I use the term “edupunk,” sparingly, to convey the message that learners are empowered and responsible for their own learning, and that they should seize the tools and techniques of openness to do so. I don’t have a single, pure vision for the institutional structure(s) within which open learning can, will, and should take place. I didn’t think that you did either, considering that the definition of edupunk you gave me was: “Edupunk is about the utter irresponsibility and lethargy of educational institutions, and the means by which they are financially cannibalizing their own mission.”

That doesn’t sound to me like someone who is committed to defending to the death the existing system of public institutions in the face of all comers.

I have some intuitions that the future has to do with things like open accreditation and widespread translation, as well as massive amounts of federal money such as the $2 billion just allocated to create open textbooks for community colleges. Corporations like McGraw Hill and Apple and the Washington Post Co. will continue to shape the future of education, for worse AND for better. So will the state and federal governments. So will private philanthropy, as it has done since before the founding of the American colony. So will talented and zealous career academics such as yourself. So will gadflies like me.



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