Freeway Flying — Educational Model for an Un-Modern Age

skipping stones in the big pond where the One Percent bury their dead . . . US!

Again, mining the mighty independence and harmony of philosophical thought that can be the Internet, the web, these blogs like DV. Since I’ve opened up my posts — including poetry — to open comments from around the globe, I have been pleasantly pleased by the few focused, targeted comments around my sometimes looping vascular pieces, which many have found intriguing and exhausting to read. Such is life, as I personally tell those that email me.

I’ve lived the life of a daily small-town and medium-sized town print journalist, following the dictates of old school journalism, i.e. invented neutrality. Of course, those old days of journalism ARE the good old days of journalism, even for those of us Marxists who plowed through the false bifurcations-dichotomies-balance-objectivities of that time. Compared to NOW, when newsprint is almost dead, or in the case of the great grey lady, Washington Post, screwed, bruised and tattooed by the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who just scarfed up that news organ, now just a fluttering sheet for Zionist Bezos’ machinations to control 99.99 percent of all global on-line retail sales . . . but with a trillion bucks in the bank(s), the caffeinated Princeton grad needs to dabble into more things he cares absolutely nothing for, and his only bottom line is his whole line — make money, corner markets, be the Media he always wanted to be.

The Washington Post announced Monday that Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, has agreed to buy the newspaper for $250 million.

Bezos has been described by friends as a libertarian, though RealClearPolitics notes that he usually donates to Democratic candidates.

Bezos donated six figures to fight a Washington state measure to impose an income tax on its wealthiest residents. He also pledged $2.5 million to defend the legality of gay marriage in Washington. Read more:  **

That Bezos-Amazon-Millenial thing will be broached in an upcoming piece by yours truly, but . . . .

So, I KNOW how to write cogent, inverted triangular pieces to fit the masses and play the heart-strings of those who can only tolerate those Happy Meal drawings INSIDE THE LINES, BOYS and GIRLS . . . or ELSE!

Inside the black lines on that white paper!@#. Right. Been there, done it, bye-bye American Pie.

So, again, this post is meandering, again, into some troubled waters — that is, not your mother’s composition, expository, finely honed essay!

I’ve taught college courses since 1983, and though I went at them with the beat of a different crack head drummer in mind, and went after ADMIN class who ruled the roosts, and who embedded himself into various communities and saw the short end of the Colt Police Special handcuffs and the sight-end of a Smith and Wesson for various Free Speech events, like anti-Reagan Central America genocide or Iraq War Numero Uno Massacre, well, I’ve put up with enough of the MLA Style, Chicago format, AP Stylebook crap that I give no bended knee to so-called proscribed literary or journalistic normalities or pedagogues.

With all that bias now out in the open, let’s get on with this School Yard Fights, and a commentator to one of my recent pieces on precarious-adjunct-temp-at-will-migrant-part-time teaching. Again, note the Freeway Flyer in the title. You will see what that alludes to below, if you haven’t already figured it out by now. The piece that precipitates this interview is . . .

The “A” in Adjunct is little “a” for apartheid **

I received several comments about it, but one sticks out — from Harvey Whitney, faculty, in the trenches, and a writer for DV himself!

Let’s start with his comment on my “A is for A**hole Adjunct!” article:

 

An excellent article. The essential irony of higher education is that it pushed for the enaction of Obamacare but when it came around to implementing it, colleges decided to give their adjuncts the shaft by reducing their hours or laying them off entirely to avoid subsidizing their health insurance (which many of them still can’t afford on an adjunct’s “salary”.

As a struggling adjunct, I understand many of Haeder’s concerns and we can look at capitalizing forces as being responsible for these alarming trends.

Higher education wants to make profits by jacking up tuition costs, admitting as many out of state students as possible (these students have higher tuition rates than in state students), and replacing tenured faculty with a myriad of adjuncts to work at the equivalent of a minimum wage. I’m a McProfessor teaching kids a McEducation. Do you want fries with that? Quality of education can decline. For example, I travel between two campuses fifty miles apart to teach classes and on some days, I’m just tired when I get to class but my rent or my bills never take a day off. Fatigue can affect my performance. And for all of that, the degree itself does not provide much of an advantage in an economy of persistent tepid job growth: one where employers have made the conscious decision to stop hiring and instead use their existing employees to do work that a new hire could/would do. It’s just amazing how rotten to the core this country has become.

As the every inquisitive and pushy journalist, I went ahead and attempted contact with Professor Whitney:

Thanks for weighing in, and, alas, let’s talk — I can do an interview of you, via email, and you can either fully ID yourself, partially ID, or completely go with a pseudonym and a general bio.

I will be asking a few questions around Gates and Gang — not the best article, but:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Gates-Effect/140323

Thanks, and your comment was posted.

Then, bam, a response, which is now the basis of this School Yard Fights‘ interview with a seasoned faculty member who himself is in the trenches of this war against us all, against the very existence now of an adjunct nation.

Hi,

I actually write occasionally for DV and Swans Commentary on issues of higher education and adjunct working conditions. My name is Harvey Whitney. While in some cases I am critical of higher education in terms of how the human disciplines are overly critical of the sciences (that’s purely an academic issue), I stand squarely with you on how badly academia treats its adjuncts. Community college is the worst where it is so bad that not only is the pay next to nothing but we get the run around on whether the classes we teach will be taught the next semester. ACA is another hot button issue too (I just lost a gig over it since the college wanted to cut adjunct hours.) But at the community college level, I have had more grade challenges than I have had teaching in a university and in each case, the administrator almost never ever wanted to hear my justification for the grade. It is as if the customer–eh, student–was always right: as well as maintaining the bottom line. So the weird position adjuncts are in is that the college considers us authorities on knowledge we specialize in but not authorities within our own classrooms.

Paul, I’ve got to head out (I’m in Maryland) to get lunch because I think my stomach is going to reach out and eat this keyboard. I think I found you on linkedin.com. Anyway, an interview would be just fine via email.

All the best,

Harvey Whitney

So, I did a quick DV search and picked through his great piece, “Overselling the Humanities” ** Here, a bit of an excerpt:

I am not sure if moral rectitude is a plausible reason for promoting the “value” of the humanities or that their “value” is moral rectitude. There has certainly been no shortage of scholars in the human disciplines who have scoffed at the idea of objective, transcultural moral values. From the likes of Frederick Nietzsche to Michel Foucault, the whole idea of objective moral values is an artifact of metaphysical ambitions that manifest themselves in an urge to control others. That is pretty much the philosophical side of moral theory that has been voraciously co-opted by the more historical disciplines: these days in the historical disciplines, historiography or “interpretations” of history mean more to historians than history itself; further, “good” historians are forbidden to cast moral judgments on the peoples of history who have committed the grandest of evils: merely because in doing so, we impose our temporally local standards of morality upon individuals who had their own standards. So therefore, according to some of these historians, we would be ill advised to call out some of the founding fathers (or even their philosophical inspirations, such as John Locke) for promoting liberty and yet either kept slaves or profited from the slave trade. This type of moral relativism also emerges in the scholarly and popular debates over whether the Civil War was caused by slavery or federal incursions of states’ rights. What the humanities disciplines continue to miss—and this could possibly be the reason why they have fallen upon such hard times recently in terms of funding and job opportunities for their departments and student majors—is the inescapable connection between interpretive relativism and moral relativism. If a fixed or singular meaning of a text is merely the imposition of judgment or is entirely dependent upon a person’s motivations and cultural aspirations, then why can’t we say the same of moral value claims?

So, like any good inquisitive soul, I wanted to have a dialogue with Mr. Whitney, so I offered him the opportunity for an interview:

Thanks, and now that you rang my bell — “Overselling the Humanities” — let’s get the interview rolling. Soon. I’ve been a journalist most of my life, from age 18 to the current life-stream. I’ve worked a lot on science-based stories, and did a few stints as a logistics guy on science diversity surveys in various places, including Mexico, Yucatan and Vietnam. My radio show, Tipping Points: Voices from the Edge, had on for hour-long conversations with me on a weekly basis many scientists and people working in the sciences, per se — Catching Fire’s Richard Wrangham, Weather Makers Tim Flannery, Richard Heinberg, Peak Everything, and David Suzuki, just to name a few. Food experts, agriculture experts, etc. etc. I also wrote for dailies and weeklies in El Paso and Spokane around the same issues.

So, overselling the humanities is something I’ve witnessed up close, and now that I am on the job market in Portland, Oregon, the sorts of jobs I am qualified for are full of the hubris of wanting a Jack or Jill of All Trades with so much experience in development, marketing, on-line social media mush, well, as an educator, writer and activist with a second master’s in urban planning, my skills sets and history are not in demand. The market is flooded with humanities types, and the sorts of jobs I apply for, demanding a lot of experience and skills, hell, $15 an hour, with two college degrees.

That’s not to say I don’t have my qualms with the IT engineers and science majors who sell out to arms-drugs-booze-GMO-nukes-military-big energy. Balance, ethics, and a sense of where the hell these people want to take us, well, that’s suspect no matter which field of discipline you point to at any institution of higher learning.

So, Harvey, I’ll throw you a few time bombs, and you can defuse or detonate at your leisure.

Below, the questions in italics, Harvey’s great responses under the questions respectively. Enjoy an adjunct’s perspective on “things”.

1. Biggest challenge you see in higher education?

HW –Decline in student initiative. Students seem to have bought into the consumer model of education (but so have administrators) and feel entitled to high marks without putting in the effort for them. This is why it is difficult to gauge the value of a college degree. Even Harvard and Yale have had incidents of grade inflation which is hilarious because once upon a time, just having graduated from those institutions meant that you were guaranteed a good job after graduation.

2. Hardest things around being an adjunct?

HW –The pay is bad but the worst aspect is the failure of administrators to back their adjuncts in the face of student grade complaints. We’re professionals about what we do but some administrators feel that an adjunct who is perceived as “hard” (i.e., an adjunct who challenges his or her students) must be shown the door as soon as possible. From my experience, adjuncts who give out “A”s like candy have a longer shelf life in the community college system than adjuncts who do not.

3. Why do you teach?

HW –It is a calling.

4. Why does teaching count?

HW –It is not possible to learn everything one knows through one’s self. Interaction with a more knowledgeable, skilled individual can facilitate learning both ways: for the student and the teacher. This is why teaching counts.

5. Why should teaching at least pay a living wage?

HW – Anyone community college or university adjunct teaching at least three classes a semester should be making a living wage and have health benefits. Three classes is probably beyond 40 hours a week working time in terms of lecture, class preparation, grading student work, and travel. I stick travel in there because it is no secret that adjuncts–due to the tight teaching market in the university system–will often have to drive or commute to a far away community college or several in order to cobble together enough classes to support themselves. I’ve commuted from near Baltimore, MD to Alexandria, VA daily to teach classes at two colleges.

6. What’s your take on MOOCs? (massive open on-line courses)

HW –MOOCs are a symptom of our remote, push button culture. We can have a pizza delivered to us by texting our order to Domino’s, we can start our cars with a remote, we can learn quantum physics by listening to a pre-recorded lecture on quantum physics by a decorated MIT physicist online. Obviously, establishing MOOCs universally could hurt adjunct employment prospects since I would imagine that MOOCs are cheaper than adjuncts. This drive to replace human labor with a mechanism or something that is prefabricated is eventually self-defeating for humans. Eliminate human labor for the mechanical labor and humans can’t find work. Without work, we can’t make money; and without money, we can’t stimulate economic growth through buying. This is one of the great paradoxes of technology which I have alluded to in the following article: ** “Eight Paradoxes and Curiosities of a Deeply Unmodern World.”

7. React to or respond to the following ( I will include the pulled quotes and source when I publish the interview):

a. Bill Gates, a Harvard dropout who became the richest man in the world, believes that foundations can step in where markets fail. Higher education should cost less, produce more graduates, and better serve low-income students, the Gates thinking goes. Colleges cannot count on more public money to fix their problems. Instead, better data and openness are part of the solution, to do things like measure the “value” added by each institution. So is technology: Among the foundation’s investments are projects to test how massive open online courses, or MOOCs, could change introductory and remedial classes.

“The education we’re currently providing, or the way we’re providing it, just isn’t sustainable,” Mr. Gates told the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities last year. “Instead we have to ask, ‘How can we use technology as a tool to recreate the entire college experience? How can we provide a better education to more people for less money?”

But as Gates’s higher-education activism grows, so does anxiety over the consequences.

Critics fear that the focus on quickly pumping more students through the system could encourage colleges to water down requirements or turn away applicants who might struggle. Already some feel it has prompted community colleges to churn out too many graduates with short-term certificates that polish the colleges’ completion numbers but offer dubious long-term value to students. Eventually, critics worry, the foundation’s efforts to promote access and completion could actually increase social divisions by creating separate and unequal programs.

If philanthropic efforts like Gates’s create public colleges that are just teaching to the job interview, the result could be “a better on-ramp for jobs but a worse one for real social mobility,” says Robin Rogers, an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, in an e-mail. Ms. Rogers, who is working on a book about the role of billionaire philanthropy in public policy, says “the leadership class of the United States could become one that students had to be born into or selected to be in”—through scholarships—”by the existing elite.”

HW –See what I said above about MOOCs. They are a cost saving way of making education accessible to as many people as possible but some of the problems you run into is that the learning experience becomes less personal (i.e., no one-on-one, classroom or office hours interaction with the instructor) and there is perhaps a tendency to flood the market with programming or scripting classes or classes based upon quantification or the repetition of artificial languages. While this last part–the flooding of the market with MOOC classes in programming or scripting languages–might be worthwhile in terms of a cheap way for students to gain marketable computer skills, how do we make something such as World Religion or Shakespearean poetry teachable to thousands of people in an online format? Don’t these latter subjects require a significant dialogue with the professor about the interpretive aspects or cultural ramifications of the texts? Those sorts of things cannot be reduced to an easily disseminated artificial language or quantitative algorithm that one must commit to memory.

REACT: b. MOOCs have hogged much of the public conversation about remaking college. But the competency-based model of College for America may represent a more radical reform. It is education rethought from the ground up, designed to control costs by using computers where possible and humans where necessary.

HW –“Competency based model” ? Aren’t admissions to and successful completion of traditional colleges and universities competency based in some way?

Mr. Crosgrove and his classmates study clusters of curated online materials, such as the free “Smarthistory” videos presented by Khan Academy. They let students show mastery of competencies by completing “tasks.” One task, for example, asks them to research potential works of art for a museum exhibit and to create a PowerPoint on their findings. The completed tasks are shipped out for evaluation to a pool of part-time adjunct professors, who assess the work and explain to students what they should do to improve.

A coach helps Mr. Crosgrove set goals, navigate materials, and handle problems. The faculty role in College for America involves curating the content for students and assessing tasks.

“The notion of the faculty member as the deliverer of learning—that’s the piece that we pull out,” says Paul J. LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s president.

HW –Back in the 80s when I was an undergraduate at the University of Richmond, “the notion of the faculty member as the deliverer of learning” was already being challenged and dismissed as a faulty learning model. Classes that challenged this model were often discussion based along two lines: the professor “led” the discussion of the readings/material or the professor allowed the students to lead the discussion and would generally allow the discussion to go wherever the students wanted it to go. But MOOCs do not do much in this regard: sure, there might be a mechanism for having an online discussion but there’s something remote about it. The character, formality, and perhaps even the intellectual spontaneity of conversation is lost, and potentially cheapened with emoticons and/or textspeak (e.g., lol, smh, etc).

Referencing articles here — **  “The Gates Effect.”

8. What have the schisms between the arts and liberals and STEM created?

HW –I’m not sure that the schisms are anything that scientists have created but are the results of humanistic scholars or scholars in the human disciplines seeking to delegitimize science as an “objective” mode of inquiry. The problem is that scientists aren’t the ones who are claiming to have an objective mode of inquiry about anything; instead, they would claim that they are studying nature and deriving working rules of nature with the tools that they have at their disposal. Only humanistic scholars obsessed with the objective/subjective epistemic or ontological distinctions or humanistic scholars envious of science funding have started what is commonly known as the science wars.

9. If you had Obama’s ear, or Gates’ for that matter, as Secretary of Education, what would you say about higher education?

HW – Reform standardized testing. Students need to be able to write as well as decode complex information through critical thinking, something a multiple choice test might not be able to measure or provide a valid snapshot of. Also, why do we perpetually need to, with these tests, measure the student’s retention of facts exclusive of his/her creativity in interpreting the facts?

10. US and World History are your specialties — what about this notion that Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the US not to be taught in K-12?

reference the hot link to the AFT article, if you haven’t already read and analyzed this issue –

http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/03/kicking-howard-zinn-in-his-grave-neocons-rotten-unions-the-sign-of-the-times/

http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/02/open-veins-of-conquest-aft-union-disinternment-of-howard-zinn-tells-pk12-teachers-to-drop-peoples-history-of-the-united-states/

HW – I generally do not like to wade into issues or controversies that seek to establish the veracity a nationalistic or revisionist view of history, simply because these types of conflicts often serve as proxy wars between the left and the right; since I am convinced that our current economy does not benefit at all from the unyielding intransigence of both doctrines, why should we expect history to benefit from a similar intransigence? More importantly, how do we expect students to benefit? A faulty assumption in this debate is that the only legitimate historical narratives either privilege the victor’s view of his reality or privilege how the oppressed confront their realities and (hopefully) triumph over their oppression. I reject philosophical dualism, binarisms, etc. of any kind as incomplete and generally uninformative ways of interpreting reality and most certainly history. I’ve seen both views of history (Zinn’s view of history from the oppressed’s standpoint and the American Federation of Teacher’s view of history from the traditional, triumphalist narrative of American shared ideals and values) and my position is that both viewpoints are limited and make too many assumptions.

Perhaps a major assumption of both is that we should conceive of history as actually teaching a moral story or a story by which we should make moral conclusions from. For example, Zinn’s idea that we should look upon the American WWII effort to liberate the world from fascism as hypocritical, considering that America during the war blatantly oppressed African Americans through Jim Crow. As an African American myself, I find Zinn’s analysis tempting but we have to add a measure of skepticism of Zinn’s assumptions. For example, it is wrong to assume that any culture, where historical or contemporary, will or can be morally consistent. Human morality is not merely a progression to greater freedom and greater responsibility; on the contrary, I would contend that in some situations, morality would require lesser freedom and lesser responsibility. Society would say, for example, that I would be doing the moral thing by prohibiting a man from jumping off a bridge to his death. The man feels his life is worthless and wants to end his pain. But say I’ve just physically prevented his jumping and his life does not change: he goes through further pain. Had I truly comprehended his pain, I would not have prevented him from ending his life: I would have limited my freedom over him and responsibility to him as a fellow caring human being because I do value the right of individuals to make decisions about their own lives and I should have afforded him that. But this is a case of moral inconsistency: I value life so much that if an individual is truly rational about ending his life, then he should be afforded that freedom. We can acknowledge moral inconsistencies in history—among historical peoples—without passing judgment on them, only because we know that morality, like all of life, “evolves”. I hate to use that word these days since President Obama has used the word to describe his changing stance on gay rights and the word has now become one of those tired media expressions to describe a change in viewpoint (“paradigm shift” is a another term that similarly signifies a change in viewpoint but as terms borrowed from science by the media or popular culture become universally applicable, they often lose their original meaning). I agree with Zinn’s initiative to point out these moral inconsistencies in historical cultures (we do need to know how we humans fall short) but we have to be careful about claiming a morally superior high ground in judging the cultural practices of a historical society, simply because if history is to be a guide, we cannot escape the moral inconsistencies of our own time: inconsistencies that are likely to cloud our analysis of historical societies.

But I want to be careful about using the term “evolves” in describing the history of morality. Evolution, as I understand it, suggests the progression of a lower life form to a higher and more adaptive life form; in other words, evolution signifies progress. But not all progress is good; likewise, not all changes in viewpoints are good. Certainly within the Democratic party, the idea of limiting government aid to the weakest in our society—an idea promoted by the Clintons (let’s end welfare as we know it!) and Obama—signified an evolution of sorts on the part of the Democratic party who seemed to have bought into the notion that the more government refrains from market interference, the more chances businesses and individuals have to survive on their own. This is a bad evolution, especially in these economic times: we’ve learned the story of deregulation (most recently from the era of easy credit and subprime loans in the late 1990s and early 2000s). But perhaps this is simply a moral inconsistency that the Democratic Party has run into as of late. The opposing party, the Republicans, are neither free of such evolutions into moral inconsistencies. As a party of free markets and less government intrusion into personal lives, they nevertheless support corporate welfare or welfare for the wealthy and often seek to impose laws to interfere with women’s reproductive rights or laws that impose Christian doctrines/creed upon others.

I think I have been even handed here because I, on the one hand, agree with Zinn that he is right to point out moral inconsistencies in historical cultures; on the other hand, I disagree that from the standpoint of the present that we have any moral high ground to criticize those inconsistencies. As for historical narratives full of pomp and circumstance, narratives that place the United States as the moral ideal of the Earth, I do not see those narratives as much more than nationalistically preferential, jingoistic feel good stories. As historians, we have an obligation to look at the multiple facets of a historical time period and not force the facets to fit into dualistic, binaristic categorical molds.

But in terms of the United States government funding the AFT or other organizations to force feed students (and teachers) narratives that fit a particular point of view (often a political point of view) is dead wrong. But I know that as an adjunct (well, soon to be former adjunct) that the department of education will or has been in the process of tying funding community colleges and universities’ history departments on the basis of these departments’ frequency in providing “objective” tests. Apparently, not only does the department of education view American history as a singular, jingoistic, patriotic narrative but also believe that there are certain atomic “facts” within that narrative that cannot be contested: facts that are “sacrosanct”, such as “Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.” Slaves were freeing themselves along the Underground Railroad long before Lincoln made any declarations about the status of slaves but we will never know that if the department of education and groups like AFT get their way.

11. Weigh in on the crap going on in Tucson around the high schools having history courses tied to Mexican-American culture:

http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/02/tucson_youth_group_hosts_their_own_chicano_studies_classes_on_weekends_photos.html

HW — Again, similar to what I said above, historians at every level must study every facet of history. I find the Arizona situation a case in which the shunning of Chicano studies is a way of force feeding a singular, jingoistic, Norman Rockwell, Anglo narrative of American history upon students and teachers who believe that history has multiple facets: a history in which multiple peoples and cultures interact.

12. I will put in a partial list and the link to the books banned in AZ — go down three-quarters of the way and look at that list of banned books and discuss –

http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/04/dead-poets-sold-out-bards-the-p-in-poetry-is-political/

HW – A lot of books here I haven’t read but that is simply because my specialties are the history of science and natural history/ecology. Obviously in terms of the relationship of humans to the environment, often, a very negative relationship in which humans exploit the environment for material gain, I’m surprised theDust Bowl hasn’t been banned for being critical of this industrial materialist complex of devouring everything in nature without consequence or moral obligation to nature (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is another firebomb thrown at this industrial materialist complex). But as I said before, we cannot have a complete history without studying history in all of its facets.

13. What can we do as adjuncts in 2013 and beyond to collective bargain, to keep our profession as teachers, and to inset ourselves into education policies?

HW – We need to unionize at the national level. There are too many of us to not to. What were the numbers again? Adjuncts comprise a majority of the university and college teaching force in America? That’s a lot of adjuncts! I’m keeping up with things here http://www.newfacultymajority.info/equity/ . We also need to get our students involved. They have misconceptions about us, namely that we earn hefty salaries for what we do when what we actually earn is minimum wage or less with little or no benefits. If students knew the amount of work we did and what we earned for it, I think they would demand action as well.

Paul Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington, and with life long learners and gifted and talented high school students. Poetry and short fiction, the novel and creative non-fiction are also his stem cells. Check out his stuff at www.cirquejournal.com. He can be reached at: paul@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.