Open Ed, Trump, Brexit

The #Trexit Conversation

I’ll be leading  a panel discussion at OER17 called Open Education in a time of Trump and Brexit.  Joining me in the panel live at the conference will be Maha Bali (@bali_maha), Lorna Campbell (@LornaMCampbell), and Martin Weller (@mweller).  While we four could easily carry on a lively discussion for 80 minutes (some would say I could jabber that long myself), I wanted to bring in additional perspectives.  To that end, I have enlisted the help of a few people to provide different perspectives to get the conversation going.  These people, Robin DeRosa, Nadine Aboulmagd, Chris Gilliard, and David Kernohan, unfortunately couldn’t attend the conference in person, but they’ve kindly provided us video statements intended to help provoke the discussion and stimulate our collective thinking and learning.  I’ve embedded those video statements below in this post.

I know many, perhaps most or even all, open educators have thought about the implications of the Trump election, the Brexit referendum, and other political movements for open education and OER.  I hope this panel can help stimulate a wider and deeper discussion and sharing of ideas.  Feel free to participate on Twitter with the hashtags #trexit #oer17.   Or, add your comments here or blog them yourself.

The Topic

The original motivation for this panel discussion came from private discussions among some of us just after the US presidential election in November 2016.  We thought those discussions should be expanded and made more open. After all, one of the core values of the open education movement is that more participation and open involvement improves the outcomes, right? Hence, this panel discussion with the open education community at OER17. The original proposal for this panel discussion stated:

Like the Internet itself, the Open Education movement, including OER and OEP, has grown in a world of globalised capitalism that has been dominant in North America and Europe, and indeed, developed and growing economies. The Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s election, and shifts toward nationalist-right parties elsewhere are changing the political landscape. At a minimum, the rhetoric of these movements, both in support and opposition, has altered public discourse and often attitudes toward higher education. These political shifts have complex and multifaceted implications for the open education movement.

At the OER17 conference in London, our panel aims to stimulate deeper thought beyond our initial reactions to these political movements. We hope to provide different perspectives on the relationship between Open Education and the political changes represented by Brexit and the Trump election. Many questions arise, including:

  • What challenges do these political movements pose for Open Education? What opportunities?
  • Open Education movement has largely embraced values of inclusiveness, sharing, connectedness, equity, voice, agency, and openness. How might these values be furthered under these new regimes? How might these values be hindered?
  • Will our work in the open education movement change?
  • In what ways can we shape the future of the Open Education Movement?

When considering the relationship between Trump/Brexit and the OER/ open education movements, it is tempting to think in narrow terms. We’re tempted to see think first of funding implications, academic freedom concerns, or wavering support for education as a public good.   These are valid concerns. But as our three “provocateers” suggest, there’s more to the intersection of Trump/Brexit and OER/Open Education than we might think at first.  It’s complex.

The Provocations

Robin DeRosa

Robin DeRosa, (@actualham), suggests we observe and consider the parallels between the larger political environment and the environments we create in the classroom. (4:47 min)

Nadinne Aboulmagd

Nadinne Aboulmagd, (@NadinneAbo), provides a close-up insight into some challenges the Trump administration policies create for open scholarship. Note: Nadinne was prevented from creating the video at the last minute due to illness but has very generously shared her script for the video here.

Chris Gilliard

Chris Gilliard, (@hypervisible),  notes the role of surveillance and monitoring and urges us to think of open as in freedom. (2:28 min)

David Kernohan

David Kernohan, @dkernohan, takes a look at the “roaming auto-didacts” involved in the Trump/Brexit movements and considers what open education/OER did and did not contribute.

At this point, we’ll insert insightful and witty commentary from our panelists.

UPDATE:  After I put this blog post together but just before the panel started, we received the video from Nadinne (who went beyond the call of duty!).  I wanted to include it:

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

How do you know that? Why do you think that?  How does that make any sense?  

I was a highly opinionated child with a lot of crazy ideas. But my Dad was patient. He never told me “that’s crazy” or “that’s wrong”.  Instead he usually greeted my pronouncements with some variation of those three questions and often he strung them together into a dialogue.  I’d answer and he’d ask the next question or repeat the first.  At some age, I don’t really recall when,  I began to internalize those questions and the resulting dialogue.  When I got to college I had the chance to study rhetoric and semantics. I added my own questions to his three.

Why these words? What do they want me to think/feel/do? Why are they saying this?

I guess these questions are what the education folks call “critical thinking”. What I know is that we’d be better off asking these questions when we read. I’ve been reading lots of stories, tweets, and posts about “fake news” websites and the need for improved “fact-checking” and digital literacy.  But I’m not too sure we’re getting at the problem. The problem is a lack of critical thinking as my Dad would have approached.  Instead, people seem to be emphasizing the following questions:

What are the “facts”? Is this true? Is this a “legitimate” news site? Should I trust this source? How do we filter out the “fake news”?

These are the wrong questions. They won’t lead to critical insight. They’ll only lead to more deception and propaganda.  I see two problems with these questions people are posing.

First, everything cannot be reduced to some “fact” status as either true or not true. I don’t want to get into some deep philosophical exploration of the nature of truth, I just want to point out any statement of the future  or intentions is inherently speculative and cannot be “fact checked”. All statements of policy intents are statements about the future.   A person can lie about their intents (and even lie to themselves) but it cannot be “fact checked”. The lie can only be challenged by building an argument of reasoning why the person should not be believed. Further the class of things that can be called “facts” includes only objectively verifiable things. Yet subjective things matter too. Feelings, preferences, and perceptions cannot be “fact-checked”. Culture is made of more feelings and perceptions than it is facts.

I could elaborate on the inadequacy of “fact-checking” and likely will in some future post, but right now I want to focus on the second issue: the problems involved in focusing on “legitimate” vs. “fake” news sites.  This isn’t really critical thinking at all. It’s a reliance on authority as the sole arbiter of truth. It’s actually the approach that says we don’t have to engage the actual message itself and critically think about it. This approach advises to divide the world into approved “legitimate” news sources, presumably nice establishment entities such as the New York Times, or Washington Post, or ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN.  I suppose whether Fox News qualifies depends on whether you’re Republican or Democrat.  But other sources are deemed suspicious and likely to be “fake”.  Folks, the problem isn’t whether the news publisher is “legit” it’s whether the news story itself is “legit”.  Big difference.

Let me use a story that has made the rounds in the last day or so.  The Washington Post published a story with the headline:
Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

Almost instantly, the Twittersphere and blogosphere lit up with mostly unhappy Clinton supporters claiming this is the biggest news story and everybody is missing it.  And yet, the Washington Post site fails on all my Dad’s questions. There’s nothing really there. And when I ask myself about their semantics and ask myself “cui bono?” from this piece, I find it seriously lacking.  I don’t have to take it apart for you because Fortune magazine and journalist Caitlin Johnstone, quoting Glenn Greenwald, did it for me.  You can read for yourself:

Fortune:  Russian Fake News

Caitlyn Johnstone on Newslogue: Glenn Greenwald Just Beat The Snot Out Of Fake News Rag ‘The Washington Post’

(update 28Nov2016: An even better critical thinking take-down of the Washington Post article from William Black at New Economic Perspectives: The Washington Post’s Propaganda About Russian Propaganda )

I’ll reiterate what I’ve said on Twitter and FB.  We shouldn’t be calling out “fake news” sites. We shouldn’t even be calling out “fake news”.  We should call it what it is: propaganda.  Calling it “fake news” will mislead us and get all of us into trouble.  It leads to binary thinking: is this “true” or “fake”?  The problem is propaganda. The most effective propaganda is neither true nor fake. It contains at least some elements of truth or facts but uses rhetorical sleight of hand to get you to believe something you really don’t know. We used to call it spin, but I guess that’s gone out of style.

Let’s remember “legitimate” news sources can and often do deliver propaganda, “fake news” if you will, just as easily and even more effectively than any “fake news sites” spun up by some troll teenager in his basement.

I’m old enough to remember that the legitimate news sources delivered the news to us about Gulf of Tonkin incident and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and anthrax.   Those were propaganda, “fake news”, spun up to work the nation up to war. They worked unfortunately and hundreds of thousands died. Indeed, the march to war is always accompanied by the whole hearted support of the merchants of death and the “legitimate” news sources.

Crying “Russians! Russians!” is dangerous. Accepting such stories uncritically is even more dangerous.  It allows people, especially establishment Democrats, to ignore their own culpability in creating this disaster of an impending Trump presidency. But even more dangerous is it feeds the war machine. We have a populace that wants to look elsewhere to blame their problems: Republicans want to blame Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants.  Now Democrats are crying to blame Russians.  That way lies madness. Let’s remember, when it comes to world wars, it’s three strikes and we’re all out.

So I humbly ask that we all ask ourselves as we read these days: Who’s zoomin’ here?

hat tip to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin for the inspiration for the post.  Enjoy:

 

 

Brexit, Trumpworld, and the Future of Open Ed: A Topic for OER17?

The deadline is looming in a few days for next April’s OER17 conference in London. I’m not even sure yet if I can make to the conference yet but the events of the past week seem to me compelling to us.
I’m thinking of proposing a panel discussion to discuss Open Education in a time of Brexit, Trumpworld, & whatever other shifts to the hard right happen before April. Specifically we would look at not only whatever threats the political shift from globalized neo-liberalism to far-right nationalism might mean, but more importantly in my opinion other issues:
  • examining the idea that open, connected, learning is more important than ever, and that open, connected, learning is the vehicle by which we combat long-term these trends
  • the implications for the more decolonization and opportunity in the rest of the world, after all, Brexit-Trump-Putin etc is pretty much a Euro-North American phenomenon.
  • what hidden opportunities might this shift away from neo-liberalism offer?
  • how might we change our approach to promoting open, connected education?
Martin Weller has already offered some thoughts from last September in Open Education and the Unenlightment.  I intend to blog heavily in the coming months on the subject and also include my Comparative Economic Systems class in the work.
Here’s the catch. I really don’t want to create another all-white-male panel.  We need more voices. If you’re thinking of attending OER17, interested in being part of it, and you don’t look like me (lucky you!) please contact me ASAP.  Either follow me on Twitter (@econproph) and DM me, or email me at   econproph(at)gmail.com.

Doing the Write Thing

The past 4 weeks have been unsettling.   As above, so below.  At my school where I’ve spent 8 years heavily engaged in governance, planning, and accreditation work I’ve come under a severe personal and “political” attack that has put the open learning project I’ve decorative image of trees reflected in pond led at risk.  I didn’t see that coming.  Yet, three weeks ago I participated in my first Lilly Conference. I felt comfortable and surprisingly (to me) confident. I’ve never thought of myself as having much pedagogical expertise. I always thought I was just an economist, an unconscious competent when it came to teaching.  I started to realize that even though I don’t have any degree in “education”, I’ve got something to contribute and I feel comfortable with these “teaching experts”.

Then two weeks ago it was OpenEd16. I’ve already written about that. I found my people. Never have I have felt more at home with some academic group.  I went to OpenEd hoping to tell the story  of what we’ve done with open learning and a domains of one’s own project at my community college.  I seriously hoped to get a kind of “that’s a good job, there, little bro” from all these thought leaders and big research schools that pioneering this movement.  What I got was a welcome and interest as a peer – people thought I had something interesting to say.  My voice was welcomed. And it was welcomed on a stage much larger than I pictured. It’s an international stage.

And then election came day.  Trumpland.  I didn’t see that coming either, but in retrospect this week, I should have.   I’m still an economist. I teach not only macro principles, but econ history and comparative econ systems.  But I listened to pollsters instead of relying on my own analysis as economic historian.  So I’ve been deeply buried in trying to figure out what Trump + Republican congress means. How will things change.  How do I explain it.  And I’m trying to figure all that out while sorting out my own feelings of grief for my country and society and my realization that I have to help protect all those that are so threatened  by this coming new administration.  I am fortunate enough to be older, hetero, white married male. I am not as vulnerable as so many others are.  That’s a privilege.

But with great privilege comes great responsibility. 

So what to do?  I realize that I’ve let my blogging and writing languish in recent years as I got more and more involved in governance and politics inside the little campus where I work.  I got tied up in a silly anxiety over whether I should use this blog, which originally started as just explanations of economic news for my students and somehow gained some followers, or use a different platform for topics that weren’t directly economic analysis: open learning concepts, pedagogy, management and leadership of higher education, and just broader social commentary.  I realize I’ve let my voice get too quiet.  I also realize that while I don’t have all the answers,  I can offer some unique perspectives.  What’s felt like an unfocused jack-of-all-trades-not-expert-in-anything career with corporate planning, strategic & technology planning consulting, teaching economics, economic analysis, college governance, economic history,  rhetoric studies, and pedagogy might actually be an advantage.  I can connect dots that others can’t even see.  I’m also now in my sixties. I’ve seen many things those that are younger haven’t and were never taught.

So I hereby commit to write more.  I’m going to contribute my voice more and quit hesitating.  The role I’ve come to play on campus needs to step up to a larger stage where more across long distance can hear and where I can amplify their voices.

I’ve developed a bad case of blogstipation*.   Specifically, you the reader can expect more and more frequent posts about the following themes. I promise there will be more of not only the original reason for this blog,

  • More macro policy analysis – As we shift from Obama’s inadequate policies based on broken mainstream macroeconomic theories to Trump’s likely to be volatile and failed policies based on a free-market fantasy, there will be much to explain.

but also more about what I’m doing and experimenting with pedagogically.

  • Open Learning – the nuts and bolts of what I’m doing, what I (we) are learning about learning, and the odd insight

I now see that I these aren’t entirely different worlds of thought.  They’re connected.  So I’ve got some pieces in the works that make the big picture connections.

  • It’s the End of the World, except It’s Not.  Brexit. Trumpworld.  Putin. Europe seems to be turning to the right.  I read and hear way too much commentary that sees this as the end of the world but sees it in older 20th century right-left, free market capitalist vs. socialist, cold-war or WWII terms.  It is possibly the end of a dominant system in the West, but that system is globalized neo-liberalism (don’t reach the verdict yet, the Empire has yet to strike back).  That view also ignores the heavily colonized vast rest of the world. What comes next?  There’s a lot to talk about.
  • Sub-Prime US.  Gardner Campbell  planted this seed.  The financial crisis of 2007-09 that started in the U.S. with the sub-prime mortgage mess wasn’t an accident. It was a feature of the system and not bug.  When seen as part of a globalized, neo-liberal, hierarchical system, we see that sub-prime is a class thing.  The “student success” and “completion” agendas and efforts in higher education have much in common with Wall Street’s embrace of sub-prime mortgages.  The corporate restructurings and shift of the US economy from manufacturing to finance & entertainment is part of a class system: the blue-chip 1% and the elite-educated struggling to become the 1%, and the rest of us reduced to sub-prime status.  Sub-prime us.

But I also have ideas about how we can lead, react, and fix this mess.  I need to document and share these ideas so they can be pollinated.

  • Flipped College – How we manage, organize, and lead higher education must change.  Much has been made in recent years of the need to “flip” the college classroom (I hate the simplistic moniker BTW).  But the classroom pedagogy is but a reflection of the institution itself. If we don’t want the classroom to be top-down content-delivery, we have to flip the college itself away from top-down hierarchical structures and practices.
  • some more that I don’t have cute little names for yet.

Stay tuned.  I have work to do.

 

So Who Pays For the Government and How?

I’ve always found putting things in historical perspective and looking at the long-term trend of things usually illuminates a lot of policy discussions. It’s easier to see “what’s really happening” if you look at the long-term trend.  Taxes, tax rates, and the government budget are often hot topics of policy debate.  So is the future of the intergenerational social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare (also here).

As Paul Krugman has often mentioned, the best way to think of the U.S. federal government budget is to think of the government as “an insurance company with an army”.  But who pays for this insurance company (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) and it’s accompanying army?  The distinct trend of the last few decades is that individuals are being asked to shoulder more and more of the burden and that corporations are carrying a less-and-less share. In fact, as this graph shows, the corporations are nearing becoming insignificant in their contribution to the general welfare and maintenance of our government.

The data for this graph is from Office of Management and Budget in this file.

 

Busting the Medicare Myths – Presentation

I gave a presentation today to the Michigan Intergenerational Network at Madonna University on the economic prospects of Medicare (U.S.). Thanks to the Madonna Univ. Gerontology Department for support and assistance.

For a downloadable and viewable copy of the presentation, see:  https://jimluke.com/course-resources/presentations/busting-myths-about-medicare/.

Is “Right to Work” About Freedom?

It’s Rick Snyder’s incredible flip-flop here in Michigan on so-called “Right to Work” legislation and his claims that it’s about “freedom” that brings me back to blogging.  Lately I’ve been getting increased questions about what “Right to Work” really means.  So, let me try to cut through the Orwellian rhetoric and explain.

So called “Right to Work” laws have absolutely nothing to do with “freedom” for workers. The “freedom” talk is purely a made-up rhetorical lie intended to get gullible workers to support something that most likely is not in their personal best interest.  Supporters of  so-called “Right to Work” laws (RTW)  claim it’s about establishing the “freedom to not be forced to join a union”, that it’s about “freedom of association”.  But that is an absolute falsehood.  Forcing someone to join a union as a condition of employment is called a “closed shop” rules.  Ever since the 1948 Taft Hartley (a US law covering all states) “the closed shop” has been illegal. Let me repeat for clarity. Forcing someone to join a union as a conditon of employment has been illegal everywhere, including Michigan, since 1948.  RTW laws change nothing in this respect.

But Taft Hartley law also says that if a union is certified as bargaining representative, then the union must bargain on behalf of ALL employees, whether union members or not.  Further all employees are covered by the union-negotiated contract, whether members or not. A union becomes the certified bargaining representative by a vote of ALL employees at some point in time, with a majority necessary to cerify.  A union may be de-certified later by another majority vote of all employees (whether members or not).  Until the union is decertified, the non-member employees benefit from the contract and are covered by the contract.  If a union is certified to represent, non-members are not free to strike different deals or contracts.

Employees who choose to be union members pay dues.  In return for dues, members receive the benefits of bargaining, the contract, and due process representation. Members also get to vote on union leadership and maybe participate in social events put on by the union, depending on which union it is. Non-members do not get the social benefits or voting rights, but they DO get the benefit of the contract, bargaining, and due process.  In return, non-members do not pay “dues”. Rick Ungar in Forbes clarifies:

But did you know that Taft-Hartley further requires that the union be additionally obligated to provide non-members’ with virtually all the benefits of union membership even if that worker elects not to become a card-carrying union member?

By way of example, if a non-member employee is fired for a reason that the employee believes to constitute a wrongful termination, the union is obligated to represent the rights of that employee in the identical fashion as it would represent a union member improperly terminated. So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.

Obviously, the Taft Hartley law puts a burden on unions. A certified bargaining agent union must bargain on behalf of all workers, whether they are members or not.  That costs the union money and time.  Yet,the union may only collect “dues” from members.  Herein lies the difference between RTW states and the rest. The rest should properly be called “union shop” states.  In a “union shop” state such as Michigan was until yesterday (Dec 11, 20123), the certified union may charge “agency fees”, not “dues”, to non-member employees on whose behalf they bargain. Agency fees are required by law of non-member employees in union shop states. In RTW states, non-member employees do not have to pay agency fees. In RTW states, non-member employees are allowed to benefit from the contract and protections and bargaining power of the union without paying a dime to support the bargaining activities.  The agency fees are established in union shop states to reimburse the union for it’s costs of negotiating, bargaining, etc.  RTW laws are all about how much money gets paid to certified unions and have nothing to do with “freedom”.

How Much Are Dues vs. Agency Fees?  Enter the Supreme Court

For a few decades after passage of Taft Hartley in 1948, many unions set the agency fee at the same dollar amount per month as the dues.  Obviously this encourages membership since an employee faces a choice of same cost for non-membership vs membership, yet membership brings some marginal benefits beyond the bargaining and contract benefits.  But, a few decades ago (I forget exactly when – I think it was in the 1980’s), some non-members of unions in union shop states sued to not have to pay the agency fee, claiming a First Amendment free speech violation. The logic of their argument was essentially that:

  • union shop labor laws required non-members to pay agency fees to an organization, the union, of which they were not a member and with whom they may disagree politically
  • unions use some of their money for political “speech” purposes: campaign contributions, advertising, lobbying, etc.
  • Ergo, the laws were forcing the non-members to supoort political speech with which they disagreed and therefore should be considered unconstitutional under the US Constitution 1st Amendment.

Countering the non-member’s argument was the union position that the non-members benefit from the union’s activity (bargaining) and should be required to contribute their share to the costs.  If non-members were not required to monetarily support the union’s bargaining and other activities, then it would constitute an unfair burden on members (they would be forced to pay to provide union benefits to non-members) which is itself probably unconstitutional (see Beverly Mann about Article 1, Section 10)

The Supreme Court “split the baby” and developed a solution that acknowledged both sides.  The Supreme Court established that required agency fees are indeed constitutional (ie. “union shop” laws are constitutional).  But, it also said that requiring non-members to support political speech and activities with which they disagreed was not constitutional.  The solution lay in establishing that unions report the amounts they spend on political speech and adjust the agency fee to be some fraction of the dues.  In other words, if the dues for members were $40 per month and the union reported that 20% of it’s total expenses were for political speech activities, then the agency fee would have to be set at $32. This decision was one of a few public policy and economy changes that helped to reduce union influence in the political arena starting in the 1980’s.  There were other more significant ones such as the PATCO strike, but the Supreme Court decision did help reduce marginally some of the money and support unions could provide to union-friendly politicians.  The effect was most pronounced in private sector unions.

Indeed, the battle over RTW laws vs. union shops has nothing to do at all with “freedom for workers”.  It has everything to do with money for political campaigns and political activities.  Historically, most union political activities have been in support of Democratic candidates, but not always.  Republicans perceive they can gain a significant advantage and perhaps a permanent power majority if they can weaken unions and cut-off the political support unions provide to Democrats while simultaneously increasing their financial support from corporations and billionaires, neither of which face any limitations any more.  It is no accident that police unions are exempt from the new RTW law in Michigan.  Police unions such as the FOP can continue in Michigan to demand either dues or agency fees from all police officers.  Why?  Police unions have historically been the unions most likely to support Republican candidates, particularly for court judgeships.

NOTE: Despite continuing really heavy work duties, I am going to try to make posts in the next few days about “Whether and How RTW Laws Weaken Unions and Affect Workers” and “What the Evidence Shows on RTW Laws and Economic Growth”.