Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system. To the degree that this happens, we are also becoming submerged in a new “culture of silence.”
—Richard Shaull, Forward to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th anniversary ed., p. 33
Why do we teach? Is it to provide access to a community, ensure standards of excellence, share our love of a field, see the flash of insight in a student’s eye? Do we try and accept or exclude? Whose interests do we pursue in our classrooms? The motivations of faculty and administrators have combined to create an education system with peculiar goals. It often seems our schools exist to systematize the populace and ensure conformity — flying in the face of developing democracy and student self-interest. When we teach, whose side are we on?
Choosing sides demands a conscious decision and the determination to follow through. Teachers must choose to create classes and schools wherein students actively create their learning environments and control their own progress. We must consciously choose to be on the side of students. Preventing students from shaping their education removes the relevance of whatever education remains. If we want our schools to have meaning, we must empower students to be contributors, change agents, and creators in their schools. Placing students in a position of control over the shape of their education demands what Paulo Freire calls “a profound trust in people and their creative power.” We have an ethical obligation to help students harness, not repress, that power.
Overall, students must have a say in the decisions that affect their learning. For, as Freire says, “to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.” Academia must hold as its objects its studies, not its students. To do otherwise diminishes the value of education because the student is being asked to buy into someone else’s idea of what is worth studying.
The value of a college degree has changed — one might say deflated — over time. As Jeffrey J. Selingo notes, “coffee shop baristas with a philosophy degree are subjects of mockery.” And now, thanks to Arizona State University’s online programs, baristas without a philosophy degree can earn one on the house. Such large-scale collaborations address the affordability, though not the reputability, of a degree — two very different aspects of value.
The popular podcast Freakonomics tackled the subject in their two-part exploration of whether college is “really worth it.” In it, Stephen J. Dubner and his guests discuss how the market rewards someone who earns a degree and compare that reward with the ever-increasing cost of a college education. They even share some staggering figures about credit mills — companies that very literally attach only a price tag, rather than a program of study, to a diploma.
These very real economic considerations distract us from the larger discussion of the purpose of an education. We need to change the nature of the conversation away from economic terms and into humanistic ones. By addressing today’s conception of “value” in education, we seek to shift the focus away from financial benefit and toward human enrichment and increased consciousness.
We look to challenge the notion of what an education is good for and to explore questions such as these:
- When we ask whether a college degree is “worth it”, what does that degree represent?
- If we view higher education transactionally, what do our students get for their time, money, and labor?
- When we ask students to devote four years of their lives to the pursuit of a goal, what exactly is that goal?
- With the current widespread social support for STEM fields or “practical knowledge”, how can the liberal arts assert their value?
- In what ways can critical digital pedagogy add to or ensure the value of an education?
- How does education (elementary, secondary, or post-secondary) benefit students?
- In short, what is education good for?
We at Hybrid Pedagogy have always operated in a precarious balance. We discuss academia, but we eschew many of its trappings. We don’t pull rank or stand on titles. We advocate for students. We challenge the presumption of authority. We work to build a community of pedagogues, rather than a committee of policy analysts. Join our community and help us define and determine the purpose of education.
This is a call to discuss, as pedagogues, education’s purpose and value — to our society and especially to our students. This is a call for declarations and examinations of intrinsic, though perhaps not explicit, value. It is also a rejection of the pernicious view of education as a sales transaction at a time of year when transactional sales preoccupy the popular consciousness. It is an effort to challenge the satirical sentiment of popular theater:
What do you do with a B.A. in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree
I can’t pay the bills yet ’cause I have no skills yet
The world is a big scary place
But somehow I can’t shake the feeling I might make
A difference to the human race
— Avenue Q
Responses to this rolling call will be reviewed starting in 2016. All accepted responses will move through our open, iterative, collaborative peer-review process. Articles should be around 1,000–2,500 words and should clearly address issues of critical digital pedagogy surrounding the purpose and/or value of education, very broadly defined. To submit a response to this call, visit our submissions page. Direct inquiries to Chris Friend, Managing Editor.