Archive for May, 2010


Psychiatric Drugs and Poor Kids

Monday, May 24th, 2010

A troubling article from the Journal of the American Medical Association reports the finding that poor children are significantly more likely to be prescribed tranquilizing, physically dangerous antipsychotics—even when there are no symptoms of psychotic behavior.

From the Huffington Post:

Children covered by Medicaid are far more likely to be prescribed antipsychotic drugs than children covered by private insurance, and Medicaid-covered kids have a higher likelihood of being prescribed antipsychotics even if they have no psychotic symptoms. This is reported in the May19, 2010 Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) article, “Studies Shed Light on Risks and Trends in Pediatric Antipsychotic Prescribing.”

Researchers at Rutgers University and Columbia University found that children and adolescents covered by Medicaid were four times as likely as those with private insurance to receive an antipsychotic in 2004. Among those aged six to 17 years who were covered by Medicaid, 4.2 percent were prescribed at least one antipsychotic drug. In contrast, among those in this same age group who had private insurance, less than 1 percent were prescribed an antipsychotic. Nearly half of these Medicaid-covered pediatric patients receiving antipsychotic drugs had nonpsychotic diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or some other disruptive behavior disorder. In contrast, of the privately insured pediatric patients receiving antipsychotics, about one fourth were diagnosed with ADHD or some other disruptive behavior disorder.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Alt.edu: Digital One-Room Schoolhouse; Summer Camp

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

By Anya Kamenetz

Two alt.edu models I’ve come across in my travels:

A woman named Rochele Hirsch came to my talk at the Carter Center and passed me a 1-page summary of her proposal for a “Digital One-Room Schoolhouse.” The next day I ended up tossing around the idea at TEDxAtlanta onstage in the Q&A with Gever Tulley of the Tinkering School and Michael Levine of the Cooney Center (Sesame Street digital learning folks).

Basic idea: home school kids in small neighborhood groups using digital resources to expand the virtual boundaries of the classroom while preserving a strong community feeling and peer-to-peer relationships.

“- 14 kids (multi-age) in a neighborhood classroom (walk to school)with

- 2 “Learning Process Facilitators” (not “teachers”) whose job includes connection with students — and ensuring they are learning, that the equipment is working well for them, that they are paid attention to in a learning environment.
- Distance Education provided, multi-media, interactive teaching/learning through the computer with EXCELLENT teachers/lecturers and an EXCELLENT curriculum: The student moves as rapidly as they can or want to through the required basics — and then on to advanced work as they choose — with constant feedback, reinforcement and “extra” opportunities.
- Phone-center “tutors” (all over the country) who are available to answer questions and engage the thinking process either through the phone or through chat as the student is moving through the education module.
- Older students provide tutoring to younger students as part of their own learning and reinforcement
- Parents are more involved — because they are close by to the neighborhood “distance education classroom” and would be conspicuously absent if not involved.
- Further socialization can be accomplished through arts / music / sports — with modules on one-two days / week — with larger groups
- The school day runs longer (say 8 to 6:00) — to support family needs, study time, exercise, extra optional studies and socialization.”

Summer camp is another awesome educational model for kids and adults. It’s immersive, a strong community, tailored to a single passion. I had amazing experiences taking college level courses in three weeks at “nerd camp” as a middle schooler. The Tinkering School is a summer camp for playing with power tools, learning about physics, and making and repairing things. I also got an invite from ITP at NYU yesterday for this:

“For the first time this June we are inviting non-students, working professionals, to come to ITP on weekends and evenings to make stuff, hear speakers on the cutting edge, collaborate with people from diverse disciplines…It’s a mash-up of an artist residency and a summer camp for adults…We’re creating a flexible structure, an Un-University, that will be responsive and supportive to the group we select. The structure is based on “unconferences” such as foocamp or barcamp, where presentations and discussions form in response to participants’ interests and projects. ITP’s facilities––its faculty, resident tutors, and equipment––will be at your service…During the school year ITP is a two year graduate program in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU where students from both artistic fields and technological ones explore innovative possibilities. On our web site we say we are a Center for the Recently Possible.”

They are asking me to post a session–what do you think?

Visit DIYUBook.com to comment.

The Food Movement, Rising: The New York Review of Books

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Chances are you probably already know that some of the brightest luminaries in the food movement are also authors published or distributed by Chelsea Green. That’s not bragging—that’s just the way it is. (Well, maybe it is bragging. A bit.) We’ve got Carlo Petrini, Shannon Hayes, Joan Gussow, Joel Salatin, and numerous other small farmers and food producers who are leading the way toward a more sustainable agriculture.

This article from The New York Review of Books brings together the seemingly disparate threads of the growing (no pun intended) food movement, focusing on a few folks who are bringing not just responsibility into the conversation on food politics, but also one critical ingredient: flavor.

The Italian-born organization Slow Food, founded in 1986 as a protest against the arrival of McDonald’s in Rome, represents perhaps the purest expression of these politics. The organization, which now has 100,000 members in 132 countries, began by dedicating itself to “a firm defense of quiet material pleasure” but has lately waded into deeper political and economic waters. Slow Food’s founder and president, Carlo Petrini, a former leftist journalist, has much to say about how people’s daily food choices can rehabilitate the act of consumption, making it something more creative and progressive. In his new book Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, Petrini urges eaters and food producers to join together in “food communities” outside of the usual distribution channels, which typically communicate little information beyond price and often exploit food producers. A farmers’ market is one manifestation of such a community, but Petrini is no mere locavore. Rather, he would have us practice on a global scale something like “local” economics, with its stress on neighborliness, as when, to cite one of his examples, eaters in the affluent West support nomad fisher folk in Mauritania by creating a market for their bottarga, or dried mullet roe. In helping to keep alive such a food tradition and way of life, the eater becomes something more than a consumer; she becomes what Petrini likes to call a “coproducer.”

Ever the Italian, Petrini puts pleasure at the center of his politics, which might explain why Slow Food is not always taken as seriously as it deserves to be. For why shouldn’t pleasure figure in the politics of the food movement? Good food is potentially one of the most democratic pleasures a society can offer, and is one of those subjects, like sports, that people can talk about across lines of class, ethnicity, and race.

The fact that the most humane and most environmentally sustainable choices frequently turn out to be the most delicious choices (as chefs such as Alice Waters and Dan Barber have pointed out) is fortuitous to say the least; it is also a welcome challenge to the more dismal choices typically posed by environmentalism, which most of the time is asking us to give up things we like. As Alice Waters has often said, it was not politics or ecology that brought her to organic agriculture, but rather the desire to recover a certain taste—one she had experienced as an exchange student in France. Of course democratizing such tastes, which under current policies tend to be more expensive, is the hard part, and must eventually lead the movement back to more conventional politics lest it be tagged as elitist.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Under the Radar, HUD Moves to Privatize All of America’s Public Housing

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Author George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate) unearths some troubling new legislation coming out of Housing and Urban Development. If PETRA passes, says Lakoff, it would be a big victory for onservatives and a huge blow to progressive values of fairness and good government. Taxpayers will be on the hook, tenants’ rights will be trampled, and private companies make out like bandits.

From BuzzFlash:

The Obama Administration’s move to the right is about to give conservatives a victory they could not have anticipated, even under Bush. HUD, under Obama, submitted legislation called PETRA to Congress that would result in the privatization of all public housing in America.

The new owners would charge ten percent above market rates to impoverished tenants, money that would be mostly paid by the US government (you and me, the taxpayers). To maintain the property, the new owners would take out a mortgage for building repair and maintenance (like a home equity loan), with no cap on interest rates.

With rents set above market rates, the mortgage risk would be attractive to banks. Either they make a huge profit on the mortgages paid for by the government. Or if the government lowers what it will pay for rents, the property goes into foreclosure. The banks get it and can sell it off to developers.

Sooner or later, the housing budget will be cut back and such foreclosures will happen. The structure of the proposal and the realities of Washington make it a virtual certainty.

The banks and developers make a fortune, with the taxpayers paying for it. The public loses its public housing property. The impoverished tenants lose their apartments, or have their rents go way up if they are forced into the private market. Homelessness increases. Government gets smaller. The banks and developers win. It is a Bank Bonanza! The poor and the public lose.

And a precedent is set. The government can privatize any public property: Schools, libraries, national parks, federal buildings — just as has begun to happen in California, where the right-wing governor has started to auction off state property and has even suggested selling off the Supreme Court building.

The rich will get richer, the poor and public get poorer. And the very idea of the public good withers.

This is central to the conservative dream, in which there is no public good — only private goods. And it is a nightmare for democracy.

To read the rest of the article and find out what you can do to help, visit BuzzFlash.

 
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A Savory Spring Treat: Chef Caleb Barber’s Recipe for Fresh Tomatoes in Tuna Mayonnaise

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Summer is tomato season and nothing beats a ripe, home-grown tomato. And after putting so much work into nurturing and growing your own tomatoes, you’ll want to do something special with them.

Chef Caleb Barber (co-author of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love) has a few ideas about that. Here’s one of them.

From Vermont Life Magazine:

Pomodori Heirloom Tonnati or Fresh Tomatoes in Tuna Mayonnaise

Chef Caleb Barber, Pane e Salute, Woodstock

In Barber’s twist on the classic Italian Vitello Tonnato — veal in tuna mayonnaise — slices of fresh tomato stand in for the meat and are drizzled with a briny, creamy sauce. It makes a perfect light lunch with good crusty bread or a lovely first course for an al fresco summer dinner. Barber and his wife and restaurant co-owner Deirdre Heekin grow many of the restaurant’s tomatoes, and for this recipe, he says, the tomatoes should be quite firm, possibly even a touch green as Italians sometimes prefer.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer, side salad or light lunch course.

3 large egg yolks

Juice of 1 lemon

2 or 3 pinches of salt, plus more to
taste

½ cup plus additional olive oil as
needed

1 (5-ounce) can Italian tuna packed in
oil, drained and squeezed of excess
oil

1 Tablespoon capers, drained

1 anchovy filet

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

6-8 large fresh tomatoes, cored and
sliced ¼-inch thick

In a food processor (or in a medium-sized bowl and using a whisk), beat the yolks, lemon juice and salt together. Slowly beat in the olive oil, a few drops at a time if you are working by hand, or gradually by a thin drizzle with the blade running if you are working with the food processor, until the desired texture of a light mayonnaise is achieved. (Start with ½ cup olive oil in a steady stream and stop the blade as soon as the oil is finished.) If the mayonnaise is not thick enough, drizzle in a little more oil, taking care not to overmix. (If overmixed, the emulsion may break apart and no longer suspend the oil.)

Pour 23 of this simple mayonnaise into a separate bowl and set aside. Add the tuna, capers and anchovy to the mayonnaise in the food processor. Process together until smooth, then fold in reserved mayonnaise until a saucy texture is reached, neither stiff nor runny. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Spoon the mayonnaise over the tomato slices and serve. Any remaining mayonnaise can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. (Recipe first published in “Pane e Salute: Food and Love in Italy and Vermont” by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, Invisible Cities Press, 2002.)

Read the whole article here.

 
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It’s National Bike to Work Day! (Did You?)

Friday, May 21st, 2010

It’s National Bike to Work Day! If you haven’t biked to work in a while and you’re a little intimidated, or you just need a quick refresher, here’s a handy guide to get you started.

The following is an excerpt from Biking to Work by Rory McMullan. It has been adapted for the Web.

As the old phrase goes, “It’s like riding a bike”: once you learn you never forget. Most of us had bikes as children and can still ride one. Is there anything that adults need to learn about riding a bike?

There are more cars on the road than ever before, and surveys show that the biggest barrier to taking up riding a bicycle is the perception of danger. Confident cyclists who have good road position and excellent control of their bikes are the safest. If it has been several years since you were last on a bike, and the prospect of riding on a busy road is daunting, then a few hours of training with experienced riders will do wonders for your confidence and safety.

Before you ride on the road

Before jumping on the bike and launching yourself onto the open road, here are a few tips:

Have a roadworthy bike A bike bought from a bike shop should be ready to ride. If you already have a bike, seek the advice of a mechanic at a bicycle shop or use the checklist below:

  • Brakes Look to see if the brake pads look worn. Lift the front wheel, spin it, and pull the front brake: the wheel should immediately stop turning. Repeat with the rear wheel.
  • Tires Test with your thumb to see that the tires are firm, if not, pump them up.
  • Wheels Check that the wheels are true: lift the front wheel and spin it to make sure it is not impeded, and repeat with the rear wheel. Check that the wheels are clamped securely.
  • Handlebars Hold the front wheel between your legs and wiggle the handlebars to ensure they are tight and aligned correctly.
  • Saddle height You should be able to sit in the saddle and touch the ground with your toes.
  • Test ride Before venturing onto a road, the final check should be a test ride. Find a safe, car-free area and take a ride, operating the brakes and gears, and making sure the bike is comfortable. Do not ignore strange noises or jumping gears, as they probably indicate a problem.

If you have any doubts about the mechanical safety of your bicycle, seek help from your local bike shop.

If you have never ridden a bike before, consider starting with a ladies’ bike with a low, step-through frame. Stand with legs astride the bike, hold the handlebars, put one foot on a pedal, push forward with the other foot and start pedaling. You may wobble a bit at first, but the faster you go the less you will wobble.

Steering To get used to steering your bike, try practicing maneuvering between some obstacles, and making U-turns.

Signaling and communication Probably the most important part of riding on the road is good communication with other road users. Before you take to the road you should practice riding with one hand, and looking behind while signaling. Before you maneuver, make sure there are no obstacles in front, and then look behind you and try to make eye contact with approaching drivers. Always clearly signal what you are going to do.

Braking There are two brakes on a bike, front and back; the back brake is usually operated by the left hand and the front brake by the right hand. Both levers are on the handlebars. These are the most important part of the bike, so get used to the brake setup and to operating it.

Practice in a car-free area, and get used to riding with your fingers on the brake levers. If this is very uncomfortable, or if you find the brakes are not working well, seek the advice of a mechanic at a bike shop.

Use the back brake to slow down, and both front and back brakes together to stop.

Emergency stops To stop quickly, simultaneously pull hard on the back and front brakes, shift your weight backwards, moving your posterior toward the back of the saddle while stiffening your arms. It sounds more difficult than it is; practice a few times.

  • Avoid skidding Pulling the back brake hard will lock the rear wheel, which will cause you to skid. Like ABS in cars, brakes work most effectively when the wheels are still turning. If you start to skid, release the brake lever slightly.
  • Do not pull the front brake on its own suddenly as this could throw you over the handlebars. When using the front brake, shift your weight toward the back of the bike.
  • Never turn the handlebar while pulling hard on the front brake—the front wheel will skid, and you could lose control.

Operating the gears Many bikes have gears, which make it both easier to climb hills and get high speeds on the flat. Unless you live in a very hilly area you are unlikely to need more than a few gears for everyday use. Most gears are controlled from the handlebar either as grip shifters or as EZ-fire (buttons that are pressed by thumb and forefinger), or incorporated into the brake levers.

There are two main types of gears—derailleur and hub—which are operated differently. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

With derailleur gears, you change gear while pedaling forward. The front derailleur is controlled from the left-side shifter, the rear derailleur from the right shifter. Different gear speeds are achieved from combinations of the front and rear derailleurs.

On the front, the largest sprocket is the highest gear, while on the back the smallest is the highest gear. A 27-speed bike will have 3 speeds on the front and 9 on the rear, giving 27 possible combinations. However, try to avoid the gears that make the chain cross over at an extreme angle; these “criss-cross” gears are bad for the chain and sprockets. Especially bad is to combine the inside (small) front sprocket with the outside (small) rear sprocket; this combination is noisy, inefficient, and causes the chain to wear out prematurely.

With hub gears you briefly stop pedaling to change gear. A hub gear only has one external cog, and the speed is controlled through cogs inside the hub of the wheel. There are fewer gears, usually between 3 and 7, but this system is easier to operate and the ratio between the highest and lowest gear is usually the same as a 27-speed derailleur system.

Be visible

Before you enter traffic you should ensure that you are visible: wear a reflective jacket or vest and have lights on your bike if you might be cycling in the dark.

On the road

Once you have learned to control your bike, and are confident with turning, braking, and changing gears, you are ready to ride on the road, but before you do you should be aware of the basics of road position.

There are two main positions for on-road cycling. You can ride in the traffic stream (the primary position) or to the right of it (the secondary position).

Primary position If riding in the middle of a lane you are part of the traffic, and are very visible to drivers because you are right in front of them. This position should be adopted in residential streets, especially when parked cars on either side may mean there is not enough room for safe passing. You are also doing drivers a favor by removing the decision from them as to whether or not there is room to squeeze past you.

Secondary position Riding to the right of the traffic stream, in the secondary position, is a concession to road users coming from behind at higher speeds, allowing them to pass. This position is usually adopted on main roads.

The distance from the curb depends on the width of the road, but as a rule of thumb leave at least three feet between yourself and the curb.

Inexperienced cyclists often ride too close to the curb. This is dangerous, because if you hit a bump, or a car door opens, or a pedestrian or pet runs out in front of you, you can only swerve into the traffic stream. But if you are further away from the curb and someone passing gets too close, you still have room to move back toward the right. Generally, cars will give you as much room as you give yourself.

Passing parked cars When passing parked cars, always be aware that a car door could open, so look to see if the cars are occupied.

Taking the lane There are occasions where you should move from the secondary to the primary position. This is called “taking the lane.”

Places where you should take the lane include:

  • passing parked cars
  • approaching and moving through an intersection
  • riding in a bus lane
  • moving through a narrowing road

—in fact whenever you want to ensure you are not going to be passed. To do so, plan well ahead, and look over your left shoulder to see if it is clear. If it is clear far enough behind so that no one will be affected, move left into the traffic stream. You may have to wait. Good communication and signaling should enable you to negotiate your way into the traffic stream.

Intersections Approaching traffic lights or an intersection where you must give way, position yourself in the primary position in the center of the lane. If when approaching an intersection there is a line of traffic, the least safe option is to pass on the right, so be very cautious and never pass a truck or large vehicle on the right. It is best to either wait your turn or consider passing on the left to get to the front, where there is often a reserved area for cyclists.

Clearly signal your right or left turn, and look behind to check that drivers are giving way. Then when it is clear, or the lights are green, move through the intersection maintaining your primary position in the center of the lane.

 
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Prosecuting George W. Bush: Charlotte Dennett on Santa Fe Radio Café

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

For a lot of people, what’s past is past. But there are some who still believe that if you break the law, you must be held accountable—no matter who you are. That’s the driving principle behind the accountability movement.

When Charlotte Dennett ran for Attorney General of Vermont, part of her platform was a promise to prosecute former-president George W. Bush for murder. The state of Vermont has good reason to be angry: we’ve sent a disproportionate number of soldiers to fight and die in the Iraq War that Bush waged under false pretenses. In this interview, Dennett discusses the movement and her book, The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encounters Along the Way.

From Santa Fe Radio Café:

Mary-Charlotte: So you had an encounter which was the kind of archetypal “I read a book that changed my life” encounter with Vincent Bugliosi, whose book is called The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. Tell us about that book and what followed, the chain of events that followed from it.

Charlotte Dennett: Well, a friend had told me about the book during the late summer of 2008. She knew that I had tentatively decided to run for Attorney General in Vermont, being a lawyer. I’m a member of the Progressive Party—there’s three parties in Vermont—and they needed someone to run for that position, so I tentatively accepted, and she put the book in my hands knowing that I was also a journalist, that I’d had some experience in the Middle East, and she said she thought I’d be very interested in this book, and then she said rather cryptically, “I think there’s something in there that we in our different separate states can do about the problem of Bush sending our troops to war on false pretenses.

Listen Now

Read the whole article here.

 
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VIDEOS: BP’s Gulf Coast Oil Spill Hits Louisiana Wetlands

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

The worst-case scenario is happening in Louisiana. Oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is washing up on the fragile coastal wetlands. The brown sludge is set to destroy “every living thing there,” according to Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

From the Huffington Post:

(AP) — AT PASS A LOUTRE, La. – A chocolate-brown blanket of oil about as thick as latex paint has invaded reedy freshwater wetlands at Louisiana’s southeastern tip, prompting Gov. Bobby Jindal to step up calls Wednesday for building emergency sand barriers.

Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser led a flotilla of media to inspect the oil encroaching on remote wetlands lining Pass a Loutre, near where the mouth of the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig disaster had been lapping at the coast before. But this was not the light rainbow sheen or the scattered tar balls seen in previous days.

Jindal, sitting at the edge of an airboat, swept a handheld fishing net through the mess and held it up. It was coated with brown sludge, which had stained the lower shafts of the leafy green reeds sticking up to eight feet out of the water.

“This has laid down a blanket in the marsh that will destroy every living thing there,” Nungesser said.

Jindal said there had been indications of such coastal contamination from aerial observations on Tuesday. Wednesday’s trip confirmed the incursion.

“The day that we’ve been fearing is upon us today,” he said later at a news conference in the coastal town of Venice, about an hour away by boat.

Read the whole article here.

 
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Mother Nature Network Spreads the Word: Help CGP Help the Gulf Coast Cleanup Effort

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

It’s hard not to feel helpless, frustrated anger over the rapidly spreading oil leak in the Gulf Coast. That’s why we here at Chelsea Green Publishing decided to do something to help. We’re giving away a digital download of Riki Ott‘s Not One Drop: Courage and Betrayal in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill on Scribd for free for an indefinite period of time, and we’re hoping our readers will feel moved to donate to Global Green, an organization helping with the cleanup effort. At the very least, they’ll have the chance to read Dr. Ott’s account of her experiences with the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and its impact on the community of Cordova, Alaska.

From Mother Nature Network:

Chelsea Green said they wanted to give away the book because, “we realized that many are watching this tragic spill, and are left feeling powerless. We wanted to take the opportunity to both empower and educate people across the country and the world.”

Riki Ott said in an open letter,

“I’m writing now from Grand Isle, the only (human) inhabited barrier island in Louisiana, and a thriving community of 1,500 based on fishing, tourism, and oilfield service. Fishermen here and in the small communities dotting the southern marshes and swamplands of what is euphemistically Barataria “Bay,” refer to BP as “Bayou Polluter.” They say BP spills oil every year and they point out marshes still dead from dispersants that were sprayed there. They are very afraid of the potential long-term impacts of 300,000 gallons of toxic chemicals to sensitive young life forms — eggs, larvae, and juveniles — not just fish and shellfish, but the myriad life forms that nurture and sustain the intricate marsh and open-ocean food web. What will happen? What can be done to assess and mitigate the harm? And what about stopping future spills?

“Based on my experience with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and background as a marine toxicologist, I can answer those questions and more. But I can’t be in every coastal community along the Gulf. To make the critical information more accessible, my publisher Chelsea Green and I are offering “Not One Drop” as an eBook.”

Read the whole article here.

 
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Education and the Laying On of Hands

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

By Anya Kamenetz

This article was originally published on DIYUBook.com

I had an excellent, thought-provoking discussion last week at UC San Diego courtesy of iGrad with a really well-chosen group of professors: Dr. Beyer of National University, a nonprofit online university that is the second-largest private institution in California; Dr. Allison Rossett, a professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State; Joe Safdie, a poet who teaches at San Diego Mesa Community college; and Monte Johnson, a philosophy prof at UCSD whose field is Aristotle.

Johnson was especially good to have on the panel because he’s a principled, absolutist opponent of online education. He said repeatedly that while he could abide the use of hybrid models and online resources to supplement the classroom experience, he thought it was “absurd” to pretend that a degree granted entirely online could possibly approach the quality of one in the traditional classroom. He handed out a Xerox (not available online) of a list of references to research critical of the quality of online classes; on the opposite side was this letter signed by hundreds of professors objecting to Washington State’s “2020 Commission on the Future of Higher Education” , strenuously objecting to the commission’s recommendations about accountability, productivity, and increased availability of online classes.

It’s easy to satirize the position of someone defending the status quo, who trivializes and dismisses “education by
CD-ROM and internet” out of motives that include inherent conservativism and fear of losing one’s own job and respected position in society. There was more than a whiff of that spirit in the room. But I think Johnson made some really good points that should be taken under consideration, not to stall this transformation but to guide it.

1) Open educational resources don’t equal education. Access to a video of a lecture is not the same as access to a class. Content is infrastructure–the first step.
2) We can’t codify exactly what might be lost in the transition from online to in-person learning, but it pays to look at what goes on in the classroom really really closely so we can either replicate it or enhance it in the online environment, or supplement it with real-world experience in hybrid models. At one point I asked Johnson what it is exactly that he does in his philosophy class that he thinks can’t be done online. “Do you teach through the laying on of hands?” No, he said, but I look people in the eye, I call on them, we converse back and forth. Safdie mentioned then that he teaches through videoconference, which also involves a form of eye contact; platforms like Moodle allow for plenty of either real-time text-based chat or posting on a Facebook-like wall, which seems like a fine way to discuss philosophy to me–not too different in fact from the promulgation of ideas through a series of written papers in dialogue with each other, like at a symposium for example.

3) From the Washington letter: “One of the problems with the newest crop of distance-learning institutions is that they are motivated entirely by profit.”

This is true. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Public institutions need to get involved in defining online education or it will be defined for them by a set of institutions with very different agendas.

4) “In reality a privileged few will continue to enjoy the personal and economic benefits of face-to-face instruction at schools like
Stanford, UC Berkeley, and M.I.T. The less fortunate citizens of our state will make do with downsized and underfunded campuses or settle for inferior and dehumanizing “virtual”  alternatives.”

The thought of a two-tiered system like this makes me queasy. Online-enabled higher education doesn’t have to be inferior or dehumanizing. It can represent the best of what education has to offer today. Yet there’s a danger that this will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The DIY U future allows community college students anywhere in the country to access the same number of library books, the same lectures and course materials as are available at MIT and Stanford. It can also allow students to collaborate across institutions and form networks of peers and mentors outside the state and city where they happen to live and go to school. In this way there’s a potential to overcome old hierarchies. But it’s not a given that things will turn out this way.  The reality today is that students with the fewest resources are at the institutions with the fewest resources, and that those who are accessing online-only education are doing so largely because they have to work while they go to school.

If people who care about quality and equality in higher education don’t get deeply involved in the use of technology to stretch the resources we have in order to educate everyone to the best of our ability and their abilities, then the future will be shaped by people with worse motives and visions.


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