Christian Higher-Ed at The Dawn of the MOOC

Higher education is perma-crisis, but the prevailing winds issuing forth from the coffers of venture capitalists are twisting it towards the demonic. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s article at Slate shows just how insidious the effects of market logic on secondary education are. Cottom bluntly states that when colleges are businesses and students are customers, racism and sexism are the norm. Her article is in response to recent events at the Minneapolis Technical and Community college, where English and African diaspora studies professor Shannon Gibney has  been formally disciplined due to complaints lodged by three white students who were made uncomfortable by professor Gibney’s in-class discussion of structural racism.

This is, of course, asinine, but totally consistent with the college-as-business outlook. As Cottom tells it, treating students as customers not only aids and abets structural prejudice, but completely undermines education itself. Students will effectively pay for a few trivial skills and the maintenance of their pet ignorances.

In the midst of all of this, it’s interesting to compare my own experience in private religious higher-ed to the trends of mainstream institutions. While right-leaning Evangelical colleges undeniably suck on the capitalist teat with fervor, there is at least a pretension of submission to the community, a recognition that education is not wholly pleasant. This, of course, represents the area of sharpest critique for these institutions. While the students aren’t treated like customers, this idea of submission is expressed at best as a partial denial of total student agency, where the consumer status is simply transferred to parents (as was my experience), and at worst the sort of nigh-fascistic disciplinarian policy of the dreaded BJU.

But, there’s a kernel of truth in there. Paradoxically, the Christian institution’s downfall might be it’s greatest strength. While there’s no denying that such institutions have even more of a structural prejudice problem than others, these ideas that education isn’t always pleasant or wholly contingent upon the whims of a fickle student body are worth resurrecting elsewhere.


3 thoughts on “Christian Higher-Ed at The Dawn of the MOOC

  1. Excellent thoughts, Josh. I resonate.

    This is tangentially related, but your title prompted the question. What do you think of Christian education and its relation to MOOCs? Personally, I’m caught between wanting to affirm the MOOC model as a kind of democratizing of education and the necessary destruction of the “university,” which regularly houses irrelevance for the sake of it. Yet I’m obviously suspicious of the terrifying utilitarian and sterile discussions that drive the model.

    Is there a Christian response to MOOCs? Is the MOOC model capable of being brought into a Christian impulse to universalization and democratization? Could there be a way to wrest the model from venture capitalism in the service of better ends?

  2. Admittedly I used “MOOC” as trendy short hand for higher ed under late capitalism, but I definitely think they’re worth exploring outside of venture capital and celebrity lecturers. It’s rough territory, but ultimately i don’t think the well’s poisoned, there’s just a layer of scum floating on top.

    As far as a Christian response, I haven’t really thought about that properly, but it might be an interesting path for the/a church to take. abandon the private university model entirely, which seems to be more of a poisoned-well situation, and scale up while scaling back at the same time. What was the Sermon on the Mount if not the first MOOC?

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