[Smt-talk] Teaching for free

Victor grauer victorag at verizon.net
Tue Jul 2 12:52:11 PDT 2013

In addition to responses submitted via the smt list, I've also been 
receiving some private emails regarding my "free university" 
proposal, and would like to share some of those thoughts here -- 
anonymously, of course.

>I think this is a fantastic idea. I work for a research institute 
>which looks at new models of education, mostly involving technology. 
>There are important deficiencies within the current provision of 
>free online courses (MOOCs) and there is a need for new initiatives 
>to address these. . .

>Having said this, the questions around education are not just 
>pedagogical, but socio-economic (indeed, I think they are 
>bio-psycho-socio-economic). Big questions indeed - so it's a big challenge.
>But please count me in! This is much needed.

Thanks. And I fully agree, we are faced not only with a pedagogical 
challenge, but a socio-economic one as well, and it would be a huge 
challenge to try to create an institution that was meaningful and 
progressive in both arenas. I'm especially concerned about doing this 
in such a way that it doesn't make things more difficult for those of 
us who are not retired and still depend on their teaching income.

I'm assuming of course that I'm not the only one thinking along these 
lines and I'm hoping it would be possible to link up with others with 
better organizational skills than mine. But I thought it would be 
interesting to at least try to get some sort of ball rolling . . .

>Is there a means of getting courses accredited without being part of 
>an established university? Can one establish a small school or a 
>private teaching practice and have one's course accredited?

Excellent question. My feeling is that over the next few years the 
whole fabric of higher education is going to have to change in some 
major ways, and that would include accreditation. It looks to me as 
though the whole process of getting a diploma in order to be 
"properly certified" has been so seriously devalued that for most 
employers it has to mean less and less. Just think about how 
drastically grades have been inflated, and how common cheating and 
plagiarism have become in so many institutions. I would like to think 
that letters of recommendation from teachers with some sort of 
standing in their fields ought to count more than simply a sheepskin 
signed by some overpaid administrator, backed up by a transcript 
demonstrating that you too, along with 75% of those graduating with 
you, managed to wangle lots of A's and B's.

>There are Russian pianists teaching privately in the East Coast who 
>are more qualified than some of the people teaching piano for credit.
>The expenses at large universities result from the cost of buildings 
>and facilities. But there are many spaces that can be rented cheaply 
>for individual instruction.

Yes. And also spaces that might be available free of charge, as in 
public libraries, city centers, public schools after hours, etc.

>I think your idea is great, and (sadly) much needed. I have been 
>thinking lately how wonderful it would be to be able to teach 
>students who only came to me because they wanted to learn music, 
>period. I think a whole generation of students would leap at the 
>chance to get an education without becoming a debtor. What prevents 
>me, and others in my position, from doing that is, of course, that I 
>am not retired, my work as a musician is still ahead, and I've got 
>debts to pay.
>The travesty (and irony) here is that to the degree you succeed in 
>what you propose, to that same degree are the available positions 
>likely to be reduced from their already scant number. This seems to 
>be an insoluble dilemma. What's also ironic is that here in Arizona 
>our State constitution says that education at our universities is to 
>be as "free" as possible--trust me; it's not.
>Thinking outside the box is required by the state of education now 
>in the country; I just don't know what the answer is.

Very thoughtful. Very well put. What's needed is definitely more than 
just some free-of-charge classes. We are faced with a huge 
socio-economic problem for sure, in fact a full blown crisis. There 
is no substitute for political organization, to put pressure on the 
powers that be to change the broken system in ALL its aspects.

Funny. Because this is just now bringing back memories of experiences 
from the 60's and early 70's, when we thought our efforts at reform 
were going to change the world forever. I was something of an 
activist back then, and proud of it. We did make a difference, no 
question. But the entrenched forces remained entrenched, and our 
system of higher education has only gotten more corrupt over the 
years. The only difference is that it is now not only corrupt but 
unsustainable. So something is going to have to give. And when it 
does, hopefully we will be ready.

Victor Grauer
Pittsburgh, PA USA


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