Saturday, July 07, 2012

An economic argument by analogy

Back in the 1960s, after a lot of well-documented studies of abuses in mental health institutions and the warehousing of people within them, there was a push for a more humane system of care. A system of well-funded community health organizations, ample prescription benefits and social services support, and access to trained mental health professionals could allow people to be treated humanely and to lead productive lives.

Long story short: good plan, bad execution. Thinking that if those in need of mental health services had medication, they had no need of support systems (psychiatry, psychology, social workers, and other supports), states took the money, spent it on other things, and gutted the support systems for mental health. The Feds cut back and cut back until now, if I recall correctly, the jail and prison system is the place where a lot of people who could have been helped in other ways now receive care, if at all. Institutions were removed with promises of support, but the support never matched the rosy promises.

Mental health institutions are not universities, and the mentally ill are not students, and there are a lot of other things that don't work as an analogy here. But consider this:

New and equally rosy promises are being made about MOOCs right now. We can all go to Coursera or Khan Academy! Teachers can become tutors--the "guide on the side" to match the "sage on the stage," which has now moved online. Recent articles on getting course credit for these suggest that course equivalency exam mills now springing up and the venerable CLEP exam that's been around since George Washington crossed the Delaware will now give credit.

And so I ask again: how long are state legislatures going to support education--that is, the tutoring and grading that university professors will still be allowed to do in this system-- if students are being "educated" with videos from Famous Professors at Famous Places? How long will they support research? How long before the glorified tutoring goes online, too, and gets outsourced? And, the question no one seems to care about: what happens to a quality liberal arts education in this system?

Dave Barry once said that the cereal ads that tout Froot Loops or whatever as "part of a nutritious breakfast" should really say "adjacent to a nutritious breakfast." If education leaders promoting MOOCs don't want us to see them as "adjacent to a liberal arts education," they need to step up and answer some of those questions.

The only programs that won't be subject to this are the really important, hands-on ones--like football.

1 comment:

Z said...

Again, this has already happened. My university has always given credit for the CLEP exam. Less now than 15 years ago. In many states funding for education and research, unless it is something that directly supports a favored industry (e.g. petroleum and so on) has already been withdrawn. People really do believe MOOCs are just as good as real classes, etc. C'est tout fini déjà!

Mental hospitals, yes, I suppose community care was the excuse Reagan used and abuses in mental institutions were cited, but the real point was the changes in social policy and funding generally, to favor business and the profit motive and get government out of funding health, education, welfare, etc. Here's one rapidly found piece on it. http://www.sociology.org/content/vol003.004/thomas.html

Here is a pretty good blog piece on it.
http://ernielb.blogspot.com/2009/04/california-mental-hospitals.html

I am procrastinating grading and will go, but would like to Google more on this. ;-)