I wrote this in response to Institutionalized by Mike Caulfield and following the Jim Groom and Mike C. conversation.  And frankly just trying to keep up as others are also posting about this!  See Stephen Downes‘ piece and Maha Bali’s, The Sustainability of Open.

This is not a new debate. And may be one of those non-debate debates, like nature/nurture.  One of the oldest struggles that activists have had in any movement is whether to work ‘in or out of the system’.  And if Open Education is a movement, it needs its activists – inside and out.

Not sure who Mike is accusing of “romanticizing the fact they are poised against the institution”. And maybe he means us tenured, full professors who have and still enjoy a very decent salary.  But it hasn’t always been an easy road for many of us to get here. And this is especially insulting to people who have had to fight institutions every step of the way for their very life.

The real argument here isn’t institutions vs. not institutions- but who gets to have a say over how these institutions are run, who gets to set the priorities, who has the power.  Also, there seems to be a real misunderstanding here of equating ‘non-institutionalizing’ with rogue individuals just working on their own.  But activism has been about organizing groups of people – want to call that an institution? Whatever.  Do huge groups of gay rights activists in the street, for example, constitute an institution? By the way, it was that kind of activism that eventually led to institutional changes like legalizing gay marriage in the U.S.

“You can’t make real and lasting change without reforming institutions.” says Mike. But as any good feminist understands, the pressure from OUTSIDE of the power-holding institution is what leads to the institutional change.

 “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” 

Audre Lourde, History is a Weapon, The Masters tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s house

Especially for those of us that work in so-called public institutions, the influence of the voice of most of the people inside of those originally well-intended institutions is being increasingly eroded and replaced by a corporate top-down structure.  Why?

“But we don’t have any money”! -seems to be the excuse.   Nobody seems to have any money these days. Not schools, not communities, not local businesses.


People working inside of higher ed institutions who have watched them close down, or are watching the very essence of teaching and learning slowly and deliberately being defined and controlled by a consumer model are not just ‘romanticizing’ about being ‘poised against the institution’.

Perhaps the piece in Jim Groom’s post that needs the most attention is his link to Audrey Watters, The Education Apocalypse.  To me, these are the questions:  Why is public support for Higher Ed eroding? To what extent has this been engineered by profit-motivated corporations seeking a new base of untapped consumers?  And what can we do about it?

Open Education has the great potential- if we do it right – to make crystal clear, the connection between what students are learning in their universities AND the value of that learning to the public commons. As our institutions become increasingly defined by corporate structure, we will more and more need to collectively organize outside of them to effect the changes necessary to get this message through.