education's digital future

educ 217x histories and futures of humanistic education

Convened during winter quarter 2014, 217x was a critical investigation of how the fundamental purposes of higher education have been imagined throughout US history.  Much of the curriculum is available here.  The course is affiliated with the HASTAC #FutureEd Initiative.


Online education is one of the most hotly debated topics today. Whatever your opinion, there is no doubt that it is and will continue to shape education in a profound way. This course examines and debates certain features of online education specifically as they relate to the humanities and notions of engaged critical learning.

This course is affiliated with "The History and Future of Higher Education," an initiative at the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC).  We will work in tandem with Duke Professor Cathy Davidson’s “The History and Future of Higher Education,” and UC Santa Barbara Professor Christopher Newfield’s “Literature, College, Creativity, Corporation" (syllabus at bottom of page).  We will have four Google Hangout links with these other classes, and use additional forums to interact with them. Each campus will use a slightly different syllabus.

EDUC 217x at Stanford will focus on historic moments during which the idea of education—what it is, for whom it is intended, and with what values—have come into crisis.

We will examine the idea of education as a simultaneously personal, collective, and intensely intellectual endeavor that is both shaped by and shapes societies. We will focus specifically on the idea of the public good in the relationship between education and democratic values.

Our effort will rely heavily on student input, participation, invention, and face-to-face dialogue with learner at Duke, UC Santa Barbara, and worldwide. At Stanford, we meet on Wednesday afternoons from 1:15-4:05pm in the SCANCOR seminar rooom, CERAS 123 (except for March 5th, see schedule below). Directions and parking information are here.



All readings, unless otherwise specified, will be available online and/or via SIPX by the start of the class.  

1940 AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom

Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (“Introduction,” “Sweetness and Light,” “Barbarians, Philistines, Populace” [Chapters 1-3]).

“Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in a Digital Age”

Cathy Davidson, Now You See It!. New York: Viking. 2011. (Introduction and Chapter 3)

Cathy Davidson, “How A Class Becomes a Community”

Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum. 1993. (Chapters 1, 2, 3)

The G.I. Bill of 1944 (Title II Chapter IV, pages 287-291 in this version) 

Regenia Gagnier, “Operationalizing Hope: The Neoliberalization of British Universities.” Occasion. Vol. 6. 2013. 

Henry Giroux, Teachers as Intellectuals. Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey. 1988. (Chapters 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13)

Suzanne Guerlac, “Humanities 2.0: E-learning in the Digital World.”

Geoffrey Galt Harpham, “From Eternity to Here: Shrinkage in American Thinking About Higher Education”

Gregory Lee, “Tomorrow’s Humanities? Head in the Clouds, Back to the Future, Across the World.” Occasion. Vol 6. 2013.

Colleen Lye, Christopher Newfield, James Vernon, “Humanists and the Public University.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. Vintage International. 2005. - Please check with your local bookstore to purchase this book.

The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890

Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2008. (Chapters 1-8, 13, 15, Conclusion)

David Palumbo-Liu, The Deliverance of Others. Durham: Duke University Press. 2012. (Preface, Introduction, Chapter 3 [on Never Let Me Go])

David Palumbo-Liu, “Introduction” to Occasion 6: Restructuring the Humanities. 2013.

Report of the President's Commission on Higher Education in a Democracy in 1947

Howard Rheingold, Net Smart. MIT Press. 2012. - Please check with your local bookstore to purchase this book.

The “Nanterre Manifesto”

The “Port Huron Statement”

Kristin Ross, May ’68 and Its After-lives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2002. (Introduction, Chapters 1 and 2)

C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1959. - Please check with your local bookstore to purchase this book.

Spellings Commission, "A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of US Higher Education." Washington, DC: US Department of Education. 2006.

The Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois debate in the early 20th century: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, The Negro in the South. 1907 (Chapters 1-3)

The Yale Report of 1828

Materials on “Pre-Texts”



Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l’an 2000 (Jonah, who will be 25 in the year 2000). dir Tanner.

Entre les murs (The Class). Dir. Cantet


Schedule (Hangout dates are in brackets—be sure to attend!):

1/8     Introductions. At this first meeting I will introduce myself and the course to you, and my co-instructors will as well.  And we’ll hear from you.  We will create teams, start compiling a bibliography on MOOCs, and I will invite you to join a Facebook group, “Why Online?”

1/15   At this meeting we will discuss several foundational texts in education and culture, which delineate the social, cultural and ethic role education is to play.  We start with Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, and end with several contemporary readings.

The Yale Report of 1828, The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, 1940 AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom, The G.I. Bill of 1944 and the Report of the President's Commission on Higher Education in a Democracy in 1947. CP Snow The Two Cultures, Palumbo-Liu, “Introduction” to Occasion 6: Restructuring the Humanities. Gagnier essay in Occasion; Harpham, “From Eternity to Here: Shrinkage in American Thinking About Higher Education.”

[1/22] At this meeting we will discuss Christopher Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University and the relation of the humanities to public universities today.  This will also be our first collaborative virtual meeting with Professors Newfield and Davidson’s classes.

Readings: Newfield (Chapters 1-8, 13, 15, Conclusion), Lye, Newfield and Vernon on “Humanists and the Public University”; readings on MOOCs derived from 1/8 class session.

1/29    This session is devoted to readings that discuss both the liberatory and critical intellectual roles education can play, and the social responsibilities of teachers.  We will discuss the Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois debate in the early 20th century, Freire, Giroux readings.  We will also discuss the final assignment for this class.

[2/5]    This will be our second collaborative class.  We will be talking about the impact and possibilities of online and digital learning, and the ways these technologies create and even demand new conceptualizations of the classroom and the relation between those involved in and connected by these new media.

Readings: Cathy Davidson, Now You See It (“Introduction” and Chapter 3. "Project Classroom Makeover”); “How a Class Becomes a Community” and “Rights and Principles”; Davidson and Goldberg, “The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.”

2/12     Here we get back on the “historical” track to learn about one of the most important and significant re-visions of education and public space, and the democratic struggles over education—the world-wide events of 1968, and specifically what happened in Paris in May 1968.

Readings: Kristin Ross (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2), the Port Huron Statement.  We will watch the film “Jonas” in class—a poignant and sharp retrospective on how French life changed, and did not change, after May ’68.

2/19    Today we watch a powerful documentary on a contemporary classroom in France, “Entre les Murs,”  We will pay special attention to the relation between this film and our prior week’s film and readings. 

[2/26] At today’s meeting we will turn to a work of literature that examines education from a literary point of view.  For this class please read the Introduction to my book, The Deliverance of Others, as well as the chapter on the novel, Never Let Me Go. Please also read Never Let Me Go.  You will find it a fascinating and disturbing read. 

This will be our third collaborative class, and for it we will also have a visitor, Professor Doris Sommer, who will also give a public lecture on her Pre-Texts project.  Pre-Texts blends literary study with creative and critical thinking in public school settings in the US and in Latin America. You will find it exciting and inspiring. Her talk will start at 5pm.

[3/5]    Today we will discuss Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart, which teaches us about internet literacy, and also reflect on Sommer’s Pre-Texts.  The class then will center on new technologies, learning, and the humanities.

Readings: Suzanne Guerlac, “Humanities 2.0”; Gregory Lee, “Tomorrow’s Humanities?” Hangout with our partner classes as well as Prof. Howard Rheingold and Pre-Texts originator Prof. Doris Sommer.

[Friday, 3/14]  Closing--Synthesis.  This will be a time to reflect back on what we have learned together.  We might decide to use this session to present projects, discuss final thoughts, etc.

Readings: Spellings Commission, "A Test of Leadership"