“Do you remember that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, “How well he spoke,” but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, they said, “Let us march.” Adlai Stevenson, introducing John F. Kennedy in 1960, as quoted in Adlai Stevenson and The World: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson (1977) by John Bartlow Martin, p. 549
I’m at a personal crossroads that has gotten me out of bed at 3 in the morning.
From the time that DIY U debuted at South by Southwest Interactive in March, and I went to lunch with Aaron Marshall, Sands Fish and Glenn Platt , people have been saying to me, essentially: nice book. What are you going to do about it?
But I didn’t set out to reinvent higher education, I’ve protested. I’m a journalist. I want to sit next to the guys who are reinventing higher education, and study them.
Now, there are people who don’t really respect or understand the role of the Fourth Estate, compromised as it may be these days. “Groom and I are just as much writers and journalists as she is,” said Stephen Downes about DIY U. Well, yes, you’re a writer in the sense that you communicate via the written word, but no, you’re not a journalist. You write a newsletter and a blog about a field in which you yourself are employed. It’s entirely partisan and entirely for insiders–you have no obligation to ever speak to anyone who disagrees with your basic premises, nor to make your writing intelligible or interesting to anyone outside that inside circle. More of a journaler than a journalist. Likewise, I made fun of Alan Levine on Twitter for taking issue with the fact that I physically described people in the book.
But that’s neither here nor there. On the whole the edupunks have been unbelievably generous with me, even if their take on the book (Cf Scott Leslie’s recent nice post ) can be summed up as, “Ok job. But you didn’t pay enough attention to edupunk!”
The point I’m trying to make is that even when people scoff, I’m proud of being a journalist, a social critic, even, in my most pretentious moments, a public intellectual. I think it’s a noble aspiration and a necessary role in society. And I’m in a pretty unique spot for making my living without a university appointment and without any commercial affiliations. And it’s a fine living. I don’t need any more money.
The issue that faces me now is this. I have a couple of offers on the table from “merchants” with plans to reinvent higher education through for-profit startups. Both of them have aspects to their projects that I find interesting, even groundbreaking. I also have some more nebulous offers, or really, requests for help, from an artisan and a couple of monks who are doing extremely cool things, and if I were spending 100% of my time on DIY U-related stuff I would have time to help them out.
What all these are pointing me toward would be a shift in my role from describing what’s going on to backing particular horses. I don’t know if I could write for the magazine anymore–certainly not about education. I could still write books, but I could no longer consider myself a journalist.
And that’s what’s keeping me up this late.
UPDATE: I can’t thank the commenters enough. Y’all have given me some really valuable feedback and not snarked on me, which would be easy to do. I am going to continue to think and pray about this over the holiday weekend but I really am leaning towards staying on this side of the line for now.