Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The philosopher's stones

Why does Friedman keep talking about Mooks? And Koreans? Only time will tell.
In today's Friedman on the subject of massive open online courses, the Mystax Sapientiae sometimes seems to be parodying himself—I mean on purpose, with a little wink, as when he mentions his driver, here, and then the driver turns out to be one of his VIP friends.
You may think this MOOCs revolution is hyped, but my driver in Boston disagrees. You see, I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.
The sneakers turn out to be a gift from Sandel's 14,000 students in Korea, where he was also asked to throw out the first ball in the baseball season opener, and I imagine to film a [jump]
dance video too. That is, 14,000 wisdom seekers in one amphitheater at Yonsei University in Seoul, not to mention the 20 million hopefuls in China who have watched his subtitled videos but not bought him sneakers.

That's philosopher's stones!

Anyway I was wondering how you could apply Socratic method to a class of 1,000, not to mention an amphitheater-full. What kind of dialogue do you do in a situation like that? Well, one possibility is that you let the students do it themselves in an indefinitely long comment thread, as in the one excerpted below that has been growing Socratically, it seems, since March 2011, on Robert Nozick and the philosophy of taxes really stink.

SIMRAN VIRK· 6 weeks ago
Robert nozick argued that redistribution is an act of forced labour (slavery)... asking bill gates to pay taxes for welfare is asking him to do force labour.
here's an another way to look at this.there are workers working for bill gates. they work say for ten hours. out of which they work say 4 hours to get their wages (this is their incentive to work. this wage is what inspires them to work). then they labour another 4 hours to cover the cost of resources (rent, raw materials etc). this work they do because these resources enabled them to work, without them they would not have been able to work hence bound to cover these cost.
now for the remainder of two hours they work to generate profit for bill gates. this amount of labour is what they neither want to do nor are bound to do. but bill gates want them to labour for profits.which is the source of his profit, source of his accumulation of wealth. ISN'T this forced labour. a form of slavery.
and if bill gates can become rich by theft why not the govt is entitled to steal from bill gates.
moreover liberals argue that if one becomes wealthy by fair play they are entitled to keep their wealth. where is fair play in above situation.
2 replies · active 6 weeks ago
shadowfire87's avatar
shadowfire87· 6 weeks ago
I am sorry Simran Virk but that is not a very good comparison. First the total that you presented was 10 hours correct? That means that they worked 10 hours to get their wages. After that it is up to them to decide what to do with the pay that Bill Gates agreed to pay them for the labor that those workers agreed to perform for those wages. Those workers choose the job that Bill Gates offered them in the first place. That alone makes their labor "non-forced".

But for the sake of this argument, lets say that the salary that they earned was broken down just like you showed. If that is the case then those workers do not have to work those last two hours. They could just walk out after performing just eight hours which, in your frame of mind, would deny Bill Gates his "profit". Of course Bill Gates has no obligation to keep those workers on his payroll if they did since they choose to work those hours in exchange for Bill Gates' promise to pay them for those hours.

In the End, the money earned by those workers belongs to them and not Bill Gates, so it is not forced labor in the slightest.
shadowfire87's avatar
shadowfire87· 6 weeks ago
Going further, what makes you think that they do not want to help Bill Gates become wealthier? Some on his payroll may want him to produce more profit outright (Some Microsoft employees are shareholders of Microsoft stock. Because of that fact when Bill Gates Grow so do they). Just things that make you go hmmmmmm.

I really like that Simran Virk myself, even though I cannot figure out either (a) what language his or her name is in or (b) what it's an anagram of. But if this small exchange is typical—working from Simran's very clear, if eccentrically expressed, bit of Marx to just things that make you go hmmmmmmm—then I for one don't think it will do the job. For one thing, there's no evidence that any of these three has read any of the other 3,000-odd comments, some of which may possibly be helpful. At this rate, though, nobody's ever going to get that slave to come up with the Pythagorean proposition.
The Socratic method. From Wikipedia. I love that facepalm in the upper left.
There's a real problem in that. Because if Friedman is right,
Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know. 
And that is exactly the kind of knowledge that you really can't transmit to 20 million people through a video with Chinese subtitles, if you see what I mean. If you want to teach people to do stuff, you just have to have a lab section. Friedman seems to have an idea that the economies created by all the massive open onlinitude will open up some kind of equivalent space in which students in residential colleges will get even more of that hands-on real education than they already do, but I really don't quite see how more declarative knowledge for those 14,000 Koreans translates into more procedural knowledge for the Harvard undergrads. 

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