The values of capitalism, especially as expressed through free market (neoliberal) ideology, have come to dominate how we organize our lives. Silicon Valley and the tech sector is busy celebrating the “gig” economy. Companies have simply stopped hiring employees and now conduct much of their work using “temps”, “1099ers”, part-time contract workers. The companies, and the champions of free markets, tout this as a wonder of flexibility and opportunity. For gigers not being recognized as an employee means that they lose out on all sorts of direct and indirect benefits long part of the contract between employers and employees: minimum wages, overtime benefits, health insurance, workers compensation for those hurt on the job, unemployment benefits for those who are laid off, proof of employment for those trying to rent or get a loan, and, perhaps most significantly, lower taxes (workers who are “independent contractors” have to pay the employer’s share of payroll taxes, thats an additional 7.7%). Part-time employees have no regular schedule, in many cases no regular place of work, no regular contact with other employees, or even a job at all. They are the ultimate commodity, entirely replaceable with very few contingent liabilities for companies.
American higher education long ago became an essential part of the corporate state and therefore focus for application of free market ideology. As the accompanying chart shows, in 1975 the contingent faculty (full-time non-tenure, part-time and graduate assistants) made up 55% of the academic workforce.
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For some time I have been thinking, writing, and gathering information, not necessarily in any good order, about our situation here in the US. For more than a decade I have thought that we are in a protracted crisis.
This crisis can be felt at the personal, family, local and national level in all areas of life. Some of the sources are systemic to technological change and the global dynamics of capitalism. Some find their roots in fundamental failures in humans – racism, sexism, religion, etc. Some flow from our political system, some from our economy.
The focus of this work has been to try to identify what this crisis is about within the US context, to describe it, without any real notion of even suggesting solutions.
Where Did This List Come From and Is There an Order?
I first started this list two or three years ago while we were still in the deepest part of the Great Recession. Most of the early entries related to the political system and economic inequality. As I have returned to it I have broadened the coverage of social and political topics. Most recently I have added ones that relate to the mythology underlying our approaches to life in the US.
Here is my current list of topics:
- Underperforming, expensive healthcare system
- Political system controlled by big money, private and corporate
- Distorted role of corporations
- Quasi-religious faith in “free market” capitalism
- Race, sex, ethnicity, klans….
- Myth of social mobility
- National and State Political Systems Designed to Be Anti-democratic and Dysfunctional
- 30+ year stagnation of income
- Disappearance of living wage jobs
- The rich are at their feeding troughs
- Expensive, underperforming K-12 educational system
- Expensive, underperforming higher ed system
- Web access and infrastructure
- Homelessness and poverty
- Bloated, dysfunctional global military and empire
- Our longest war – the war on drugs
- Criminal justice system – aka the judicial-incarceration gulag
- Persistent income disparities
- Super rich vs. everyone else
- Intrusion by organized religion into government and politics
- Energy policy focused on consumption instead of efficiency
Online education has been around for over a decade. Questions abound about the efficacy of e-learning. Here are two TED talks about the move by our flagship higher ed institutions into this space. The first talk by Daphne Koller: “What we’re learning from online education” is just plain thrilling.
“Since we opened the website in February, we now have 640,000 students from 190 countries. We have 1.5 million enrollments, 6 million quizzes in the 15 classes that have launched so far have been submitted, and 14 million videos have been viewed.”
We appear to be rapidly approaching a point where we can say that the Web is delivering on its potential to expand access to education on a global scale. An interesting insight is that all of these courses are offered on a schedule, with homework assignments, quizes, exams, all of the scheduling features that drive people to actually get to the end of their course work. Deadlines do work, even in the virtual world.
Then for a closer look at just one of these online courses watch the 6 minute TED talk by Peter Norvig, “The 100,000-student classroom“
Now, the class ran 10 weeks, and in the end, about half of the 160,000 students watched at least one video each week, and over 20,000 finished all the homework, putting in 50 to 100 hours. They got this statement of accomplishment.”
You can go to Coursera.org to view the schedule of classes and maybe even enroll. What are we doing in the evening? TV?
We all have had, some now enduring, experiences in the educational system. Excepting the academic super stars for whom the educational system was designed, most have at best mixed feelings about it. Here is a TED Talk given in 2006 by Ken Robinson:
“Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity”
It is a compelling critique and most humorous. You will not get through these nineteen minutes without a lot of laughs.