Monday, June 02, 2008

Defending Edupunk

Responding to Ken Carroll, who unloads with a personal attack on the very idea of edupunk: "It is also dismaying to see the lack of edublogger critiques,: he writes. "Everybody loves Edupunks, it would seem. "

Actually, the critiques - Belshaw, for example, and Warlick - began within a day or two of the idea being announced, which may actually be a new record. So it's hardly fair to say everybody loves edupunks.

And while I'm correcting misconceptions, few of the people who self-identified as edupunks are actually teachers.

I think you are mistaken to confuse the target of edupunk criticism as 'the capitalist'. The target is, more accurately, authority. It's true that many capitalists have used wealth to appropriate authority. But the two are not identical.

More significant is the suggestion that edupunks are "seeking to politicize (and I would argue, infantilize) discussion in this space." Leaving aside the pointless ad hominem, I would suggest that discussion in this space is already very politicized, and that edupunk is a reaction to this.

If you look at the things the people involved have stood for over the years (and not, say, their postings over the last week) you'll find that they are strongly in favour of things like open access, personal empowerment, diversity, and such.

These are political positions, yes, but they are positions that are actively and consistently opposed by people who are in positions of authority. We have had to deal with politically inspired curricula, blocking of applications and websites (including our own), legal threats and lawsuits, funding and political issues in the workplace, and more.

It takes a lot of willful narrowness to say that it is the *edupunks* that are politicizing this space. Ideology is *dominant* in this space, and edupunks are calling it out, naming it, and pointing at it for all to see.

The final criticism is that you oppose the attitude - "These guys look intellectually and emotionally indistinguishable from their students." And "Forty year old tenured men in hoodies, talking about revolution is no more than perpetual adolescence and self-indulgence."

Fair enough. But I think you miss the point of this. Conventional wisdom would say that these people should put on suits and make their points intellectually in polite society. The attitude is - in my opinion - a way of saying that the game is rigged. That no change will ever emanate out of polite society, which structures specifically to preserve its privilege.

You write, "Personally I reserve that right for someone with a grown-up argument and a relatively serious attitude." I have been making such arguments for decades. View them here: http://www.downes.ca/me/articles.htm

From my perspective - you haven't deal with any of these arguments. You haven't engaged on the positions I advocate at any level, save perhaps the most superficial, as it relates to your own self-interest.

As for Junger: the author you accuse of 'flirting with Nazism' was influenced rather more by Nietzsche than by (say) his friend Heidegger, and he actually refused a Nazi post and position in the party, a very courageous anti-Nazi stance for a German in that era to take.

I could debate - and have debated - these points to a considerable degree of nuance and intellectualism. But the serious attempts are reduced to caricature and ridicule by the polite society, which, as I said, serves to protect its own self interest, and little else.

I think that what discomfits people about the edupunks is that they are grown adults doing things the authorities would disapprove - it is, indeed, anti-authoritarianism, impolitely expressed, which is *exactly* the point.

And insofar as they may appear to be 'defenders of the oppressed' - may I say, if they are like me, they looked, and they saw that the position was vacant. Nobody in polite society gives a damn about the oppressed. Though they are very quick to criticize anyone who lifts a finger.

p.s. my punk roots - people like Ted Axe and the Action, and F.I.S.T. - have mostly been erased from history.
http://ottawaexplosion.blogspot.com/2008/03/action.html

5 comments:

  1. Steven,

    It may be that the game of civil discourse (I far prefer "civil" to "polite"--I think there's a difference) is rigged and change by that means is impossible. But if that's so, I believe we're sunk anyway, as I think that no amount of anti-authoritarianism impolitely expressed will lead to much beyond anger, fear, destruction, and self-congratulation.

    Anti-authoritarianism doesn't solve the problem of authority, in my view. It merely redistributes the problem.

    So I can't embrace "edupunk." I can and do embrace learning and all that is needed to support it. I don't resist authority. I resist those in authority who lie, cheat, and steal.

    Maybe it's false consciousness, but I see some distinctions there, some vital distinctions that "edupunk" overlooks.

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  2. @Stephen,

    I want to thank you for this comment. You didn't have to write it, and while I could really care less about that jack ass's response to an idea he refused to even think about, I do appreciate you laying out a really solid framework of the social, political and economic framework that so many are ignoring.

    @Gardner,

    I wish you would spell out those distinctions you list above. You are making a ton of implicit claims about what punk is and isn't---without a touch of humor mind you---while all the time deriding it.

    Why return to your very specific, and seemingly personal, definition of what punk is ---which I do not agree with--- and graft that definition onto something that is providing a possible metaphor to create and imagine with (which I freely acknowledge is limited but we all must recognize has touched on how some people might understand what they do). What is wrong with that?

    Moreover, there is poetry in punk, whether you acknowledge it or not.

    As for anti-authoritarianism, one of the larger problems I see with authority and leadership is that when it takes itself too seriously it tends to kill any sense of wonder and/or humor.

    There are other ways than that to approach learning and what's needed to support it. You have been key in my education in this regard. But, I don't know why we insist on polite (or civil) as the key.

    Ideas an arguments were never polite where I grew up in NY, and I still appreciate the realness it represents for me. People told you off, came clean, and let you know you had hurt them, it wasn't always pretty, but you always knew where you stood.

    I could never say that about grad school, or the Ph.D process more generally. It was a nightmare, and I would have taken 1000 fuck yous over every civil word ever spoken to me if it meant folks would really think about things together and not constantly jockey for position, power, and ultimately authority.

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  3. @Stephen I apologize for misspelling your name. I zigged when I should have zagged.

    @Jim I'm not sure how to respond to your questions, but I'll try. I understand that for some people civility means disingenuousness. I don't think that way myself. I've been bullied by people wearing business clothes and speaking quietly, and I've been bullied by people who yell and let the spittle fly in the name of speaking truth to power. (I'm not talking about you here!) I don't take any one affect or style of discourse as an automatic indication of honesty, just as I don't take any one affect or style of discourse as an automatic indication of dishonesty. I make my mind up on a case by case basis. Movements like "edupunk" seem to me to risk bringing in a truckload of prejudices to replace the very prejudices they decry.

    Stephen rightly called Ken Carroll out for ad hominem attacks. Ken replied and apologized. Whether or not you agree with Ken, his participation in the comment string on his post looks pretty thoughtful and reasonable to me. I don't think it gets us anywhere to call him a name and thus get right back into the ad hominem arms race.

    I'll try to elaborate on any distinctions I've made, though I should probably do that in my own blogspace. What I was trying to do was respond to Stephen's arguments. And I assure you my definitions of "punk" are not idiosyncratic. That doesn't mean they're right or helpful, but having lived through the whole punk movement (at least once), I really don't think I'm just making things up.

    Nor do I think my tone is derisive (though deriding edupunk would be very edupunk, wouldn't it?). I'm trying hard to generate as much light as heat. I'd like to generate *more* light than heat, though that's a hard task for human beings (especially for yours truly).

    Why be civil? Not to be hiding nefariousness under the cloak of civility, though that can certainly happen, but to give trust a chance to develop, to give the conversation a place to go beyond calling names and dividing the sheep from the goats. For my class discussion forums I have only two rules: passion encouraged, civility required. I don't see them as mutually exclusive. "Civility" to me suggests "commitment to civilization," that is, to the idea of living and talking together.

    I'd never try to defend grad school as an experiment in civilization, though even with its nightmares (and there were many) my own graduate education was invaluable and essential to me.

    And where did I say that there was no poetry in punk? :)

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  4. > Anti-authoritarianism doesn't solve the problem of authority, in my view.


    Anti-authoritarianism is, in essence, thinking for oneself, rather than thinking as one is told.

    No problem of authority has ever been solved by any other means.

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  5. Hi Stephen,

    I thought I'd wait a while and watch whether the vacant meme has anything to it and all it mustered in my small neck of the woods was .....little more than nothing.

    Results of a blog-wrap-around here - http://www.edupunk.com.au

    We have reached zenith in the edupunk-debunk.

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