21.290 education, education, education

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 07:29:20 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 290.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2007 22:43:03 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: education, education, education

Last evening, cross-eyed tired, I resorted to the universal anodyne,
television, and found a British series called "Whistleblowers", about
people who righteously rat on those who deserve whatever they get --
which I assume is never enough pain in return for the pain they've
caused. In any case, this evening's pain-giver was a fat-cat
businessman, who invested in "rescuing" schools he had already set on
the skids by dirty-tricks publicity. Once thus rescued, these schools
were turned into efficient operations that taught subjects revised in
accordance with fundamentalist religious principles -- a gratuitous
bit the programme could have done without -- and systematically
eliminated students who would bring their ratings down on what in
this country are called the "league tables" (google for it).
Infamously this included students who needed medical and psychiatric
help. One of them committed suicide, thus provoking the
whistleblowing. In a particularly heated moment, the head teacher of
a rescued school declared that she had no choice because of these
league tables. "Education is a business!" was her concluding statement.

This being the UK, and Blairite doctrine in quiet decline, one hopes,
the attack on the league tables is perfectly understandable. But what
particularly interested me was the over-the-top depiction of the evil
consequences of regarding education as a business that must balance
its books or even show a profit. Having the previous evening sat in
the presence of an old fashioned scholar of immense accomplishment,
simply among the best of his kind, making a comparison was
inescapable. Admittedly I do tend to be idealistic beyond reason even
now, but I cannot help think that someone took the opportunity to put
subversive thoughts into the heads of the Great British Public. May
he or she live long, prosper and do it many times more. A British
Michael Moore in the making?

No, this is not a rant against Business nor against the people who
dedicate their lives to making money. Rather, a logician might say,
it is a quietly impassioned proto-argument that we have made a
fundamental category error in applying the business model to
education. In the instances I have seen close up, this error has
proved to be not merely illogical but also a practical blunder. Of
course by the time anyone will listen, tremendous damage has already
been done.

What has this to do with computing? Only that computing in the
humanities has real potential either of making money or of costing
what in the humanities passes for the earth. So we're vulnerable and
right where the action is. But what does one do? What have those in
the natural sciences who love learning, in a similar position, but
much more so and for much longer, done?



Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Fri Oct 12 2007 - 02:46:01 EDT

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