Do we dare look under the hood of American democracy? Or do we have the suspicion that Supreme Court decisions and political battles conceal a drift into disfunction, decay and corruption, too? This week we’re asking our panel of estimable guests where the problems lie with our government, and how to go about fixing it.
May 22, 2014
- Shai Reshef, founder and president of University of the People, a free, non-profit, online university;
- Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character;
- Sebastian Thrun, cofounder of Udacity and Google X, developer of the Google driverless car and Google Glass.
- Margaret Doherty, Ph.D. candidate in English at Harvard University.
- Evan Charles and Dan Pickett, founders of Launch Academy, a ten week coding bootcamp.
Continuing our series on higher ed, we’re hacking our way to a better model; call it New U. There won’t be a football team or a building and grounds department and maybe no president and no tenure. We might think of more adjuncts with more power. We could surely MOOC up in order to spend way down and eliminate the frats, kegs, mixers and majors. Where would you start in reimagining the American university?
- Paul Tough’s article in the New York Times, “Who Gets to Graduate?“
When you look at the national statistics on college graduation rates, there are two big trends that stand out right away. The first is that there are a whole lot of students who make it to college — who show up on campus and enroll in classes — but never get their degrees. More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.
The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.
- Shai Reshef discussing “How Much Does it Cost to Educate All Those Currently Priced Out of Education?“
Realistically, it will only take a drop in the bucket in relation to the billions floating within the higher education industry. To exemplify how insignificant the support needed to reach individuals currently priced out of education is, take the recently launched $6 billion fundraising campaign at the University of Southern California and divide by 1000; the average $300 million university endowment in the U.S. and divide by 50; or the interest Harvard earned every 10 hours last year. Either way, the solution is $6 million: a tiny price in the world of higher education but a number that has the capacity to educate the world over.
- Thomas Frank in Salon, “Congratulations, class of 2014: You’re totally screwed“
- This interview with Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, “A Q&A with “Godfather of MOOCs” Sebastian Thrun after he disavowed his godchild“
January 23, 2014
Aaron Swartz, before he became the first saint of the Internet age, seemed the perfect boy-child of the Internet, the algorithm made flesh, a human embodiment of the Internet’s voraciousness and connectivity, its head-spinning drive toward an open banquet of knowledge. The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, pictured Aaron Swartz “blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good.” And then in Aaron Swartz’s death by suicide, at age 26, one year ago, it seemed a promise had been crushed — the machinery of surveillance, censorship, and control had won the day. A year later the invitation is to see deeper into a vision of technology but also of culture and humanity, and to recover something of Aaron Swartz’s ambition, as he put it shyly, “to save the world.”
Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor and for a decade Aaron Swartz’s closest grown-up friend, leads us this hour from the cold, snowy trek he calls the the New Hampshire Rebellion. It’s a mission to save a corrupted Republic, to ransom the Congress of the United States, to smash the money shackles on our politics. It is part of the project to renew Swartz’s spirit. Lessig may be the preeminent legal advocate before the Supreme Court and elsewhere of the free Internet – free as in freedom, not as in ‘free lunch’, as the saying goes. He is the author of Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It.
We’re trying also to locate Aaron Swartz as a landmark in the culture and the age. Matt Stoller, an incisive, sometimes scathing blogger on politics and money, was Swartz’s close friend and contemporary inside politics. The author Maria Bustillos corresponded with Aaron Swartz and has written wonderfully on his literary appetite and his own writing. He’d commented after his arrest two years ago that he read Kafka differently: The Trial, he realized, was not fiction but meticulous documentary coverage. And finally: nothing engages me more about Aaron Swartz than the news (to me, anyway) that he was an astute reader and commentator on David Foster Wallace and his mad epic Infinite Jest. On his blog Swartz had “solved” the mysterious ending of Wallace’s novel. It is as if he were trying to deduce the algorithm in Wallace’s head that produced the book. I am feeling tremors of a convergence here of iconic figures — two geniuses, two suicides and perhaps two parallel visions of an American apocalypse.
A reading list, for those interested.
- From Swartz’s blog, Everything Good is Bad For You and A Non-Programmer’s Apology. And thoughtful writing on David Foster Wallace, Swartz’s favorite writer (and the figure at the center of next week’s show!): On Finishing Infinite Jest and What Happens at the End of Infinite Jest.
- Requiem for a Dream, Larissa McFarquahar’s posthumous profile of Swartz in The New Yorker.
- Justin Peters, The Idealist, on Slate.
- Wesley Yang, The Life and Afterlife of Aaron Swartz, New York.
- Noam Scheiber, So Open It Hurts: What The Internet Did to Aaron Swartz, The New Republic.
- Matt Stoller, Aaron Swartz’s Politics, Naked Capitalism.
- And a digital memorial to Swartz.
A year ago Professor Lessig gave a TED talk about campaign finance reform, and how he sees the issue: