“In the 1930s, the FSA employed several photographers to document the effects of the Great Depression on the population of America. [Dorothea] Lange’s image of a migrant pea picker, Florence Owens Thompson, and her family has become an icon of resilience in the face of adversity.”
In a comment on an earlier post about online higher education, I used the phrase “poor white trash” to describe one opinion on this pedagogical method as first applied by Professor Margaret Soltan at George Washington University. For those unaware of her excellent blog, University Diaries, I plug it.
I contacted Soltan for further clarification of her use of the phrase. She graciously replied, with permission to quote:
First, as to the phrase: It seems to have become quite mainstreamed — there’s a best-selling White Trash Cookbook, etc. — so while it’s certainly pejorative, I don’t think it’s got much shock value anymore.
I use it to designate forms of education that are of strikingly low value. The trashiest form of education — by all measurable standards — is for-profit online education. That’s why there’s a national scandal going on about it right now. One flight up there’s non-profit online education, where cheating is easy and where standards vary wildly among institutions and among courses (which is why professors at quite a number of schools — most recently U Cal Berkeley — are resisting the trend.)
Since online is the wave of the future, the best thing for its advocates to do is ignore critics like me. Online has won the debate, and in the next few years most American university courses will be offered via computer screen. My critique is directed to professors and administrators who might want to resist the trend, and to other observers who want to think about things like this in a way that goes against the grain.
The use of the word trashy caused a sharp mental twinge. Nabokov coined a word, “poshlust,” that also describes much of online higher education.
Poshlust, Nabokov explained, “is not only the obviously trashy but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive.”
Please understand that I am not criticizing all uses of technology in the classroom or online learning for the acquisition of certain types of skills.
But I point out that a small place down the road from the University of Minnesota in Northfield doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot of online learning. Carleton College has recently been described as one of the most loved higher education institutions in the U.S. based on the percentage of alums who vote with their wallets. Maybe they are doing something right?
And I remember my own undergraduate experiences at Northwestern. I do not believe my courses in political theory, philosophy, my science courses and all of my laboratories could ever be duplicated online.
Having been called poor white trash occasionally in my youth, it pains me that online education is deemed good enough for such folks. Thin gruel indeed compared to what is offered at a good liberal arts institution or university.