The Presumption of the Technocrats

Writing for New Republic, Blaine Grateman has written a very perceptive review of Kevin Carey’s The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere. Carey is a propagandist for the technocracy, that new class of the ultra-wealthy characterized by its unflinching willingness to promote digital technologies as an unmitigated blessing, as the solution to every problem, and, not coincidentally, as a seemingly bottomless well of corporate profits and personal wealth. The technocrats blithely ignore the destructive consequences of our rapid adoption of digital technologies—the problems that have been created in chasing after digital solutions—and they have demonstrated repeatedly that they are very willing to exaggerate or to exacerbate problems to expedite the adoption of digital solutions. Case in point, the United States still has, by every measure, the strongest system of higher education in the world, and yet if you read the articles and books by propagandists such as Carey, you would think that the Ivory Tower has already collapsed upon us.

Here are the key paragraphs in Grateman’s review:

“If the entrepreneurs in Carey’s book are out to solve real problems, they’re also out to make real money. In one of the most memorable chapters, Michael Staton, a partner at a venture capital fund, shows Carey a chart with circles for various global markets: a small, $300 billion circle for enterprise software, a larger, $1.6 trillion circle for media and entertainment, and a huge, $4.6 trillion circle for education. That’s more than the entire United States budget. Carey likes to describe the venture capitalists out for a slice of this pie as Godzilla-like ‘thunder lizards,’ who destroy “ancient institutions in their last days of decadence” only to plant ‘seeds of a new world to come.’

“But as they circle, might the self-styled thunder lizards be described just as aptly as ‘vultures’? One of Carey’s chief liberators, for example, is Michael Saylor, ‘tall and handsome,’ a ‘classic MIT rationalist, someone who sees the world for what it is, and what it should be.’ His shady dealings as the CEO of MicroStrategy also led to one of the largest fines in SEC history. The book never asks whether the profit motives of men like Saylor might sit uneasily with the educational mission they proclaim, and this leads to some major problems with its central premise that students and education are being ‘liberated by technology.’”

The entire review, titled “Silicon Valley’s ‘Thunder Lizards’ Want to ‘Hack’ America’s Broken Universities,” can be found at: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121258/kevin-careys-end-college-review-hacking-broken-higher-ed

We cannot and should not want to turn back the clock. But it is time to step back and take a broader, more reasoned perspective on educational technology: the online for-profit university “bubble” has “burst”; the charter schools are being exposed as corporate money grabs that serve almost no one but the executives who oversee them and the shareholders receiving dividends from the corporations who operate the vast majority of them; and standardized testing is finally being broadly resisted as an elaborate and expensive ruse—nothing but data gathering that is as massive in scale as it is pointless as assessment.

It is time to look closely at the Silicon Valley social model: billionaire entrepreneurs whose corporations’ signature products are produced by terribly underpaid people who labor in suicidal conditions in overseas factories and, in the Silicon Valley itself, sprawling corporate campuses and personal estates bordered by ever-expanding homeless camps.

We need to tell the technocrats that they will have to clean up their own messes before they have any credibility in presuming to consign our institutions to the dustbin of history.

 

3 thoughts on “The Presumption of the Technocrats

  1. Pingback: The Presumption of the Technocrats, Redux | The Academe Blog

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.