Fathali M. Moghaddam, Ph.D.

Fathali M. Moghaddam

The Psychology of Dictatorship

Let Them Eat MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

How A New Apartheid is Emerging in Higher Education

Posted Aug 08, 2014

“You know, Stanford has an amazingly low faculty-student ratio. That’s another reason why I want my kids to go there.”

                “Yes, that makes sense.”

                “And they do so much for the poor.”


                “Yes, you know they make MOOCs for the poor. You know what MOOCs are, right?”


                “It’s a fantastic idea. Online education for the poor.”

                “Do you think your kids would like MOOCs?”

                “My kids?! I certainly hope they don’t get MOOCs with the tuition I’ll be paying! That would be crazy!”

                “But does that mean community colleges and state schools without enough money will end up with more and more online education and MOOCs?”

                “Well it’s a matter of cost cutting. You can’t expect tax payers to keep paying for expensive public education. My taxes are too high as it is, far too high. America isn’t supposed to be a socialist country, you know.”

                “No, definitely not socialist…”

                “And besides, some of the kids at Stanford will benefit from MOOCs. It's open to everybody, rich and poor. That’s what makes it so democratic.”

                “But isn’t there a danger of us ending up in a kind of apartheid system, with mainly online education and MOOCs for the poor and small face-to-face classes for the rich?”

                “No way, America is an open society, remember the American Dream. Anybody can make it in America, that’s our magic. No apartheid here. Obama is in the White House, remember that.”

                 “I know Obama is in the White House, and it’s good to see ethnic minorities make it up the system. But he is not representative of the poor. The chances of a kid born to poor parents, making it up the system has actually gone down in America. Social mobility is lower in America than in most of Europe.”

                “You don’t understand. The American Dream is something people believe in. As long as the dream is alive, the system works.”

                “But how does it work? Some would say the only real thing about the American Dream is that it is a dream.”

                “That’s just completely wrong. It works because we’re a country of entrepreneurs, of innovation. Look at online education. Here we are, giving MOOCs away to the poor. With a MOOC, a poor kid has as much chance as a rich kid, its equality of opportunity. It’s affordable education.”

                “But you want your kids to be in small classes at Stanford.”

                “That’s natural, I want my kids to have the education I had. It’s a family tradition. My parents had the same thing. It’s a great institution. Look at what they’re doing for the poor. Look at the MOOCs they’ve given away. Look, there’s just no pleasing some people. You’re being critical because Stanford and other top schools are making MOOCs, but you would be critical if they failed to make MOOCs.”

                “I am critical because I want real reform in higher education. I want the bloated university administrations cut. I don’t want MOOCs and online courses used as a magic pill for the poor.”

                “It’s better than nothing!”

                “Do you want state schools and community college in this area to use the Stanford MOOCs.”

                “Of course, they definitely would benefit. Think of it, Stanford professors available for hundreds of thousands, even millions of students. Who knows, maybe my taxes will be lowered too.”

                “But we need real reforms….”

                “Forget your real reforms; it’ll never happen. Administration costs will keep going up, driving up tuition – that’s the real world we live in, my friend. University administrators with multi-million dollar pay packages! That’s real! As for community colleges and state schools, let them all have MOOCs.”

About the Author

Fathali M. Moghaddam, Ph.D.

Fathali M. Moghaddam, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the director of the Conflict Resolution Program, Department of Government at Georgetown University.

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