Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs are currently being heralded as the future of affordable education. But what kind of education will it actually provide?
"Everybody loves the idea of lowering the barriers of entry to education; it's the easiest sell in the world, and Khan Academy, a nonprofit, pushes all the right buttons. Khan's success thus paved the way for MOOC providers to employ a rhetoric of inclusiveness, simplicity, low cost, and metrics, metrics, metrics: the same reasoning that today drives everything from 'philanthrocapitalist' foundation spending to high-stakes standardized testing.
"But the shortcomings of the Khan approach will be evident to anyone who cares to have a go at 'US History Overview 1: Jamestown to the Civil War,' the 18:28 minute video-with-voiceover class I chose at random from the Khan website. Within the first two minutes Khan has disposed of over a century, blowing past Jamestown ('a kind of commercial settlement') and Plymouth Rock ('we always learned this in school, you know, the Pilgrims on the Mayflower sailing the oceans blue and all the rest') and 'fast-forwarding' to 1754. It's not even a flashcard approach; it's a series of lacunae, startlingly free of insight or context, mentioning not one single book or author, and only one political or religious figure (George Washington) in the nine minutes I watched. I've seen more informative cereal boxes."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 31, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4608 words)
What if there were a flagship McDonald's store that served all the variations of country-specific fast food items found in chains from around the world?
"Everyone talks about how globalization 'McDonalds-izes' the world, but the funny thing about a place like New York is that you can get basically every kind of food *except* whatever they serve at the foreign outposts of our proud American chains. I would say I know more people who have had a lamb face salad from the Xi'an Famous Foods in the Golden Mall in Flushing than have had the poutine from the Montreal McDonalds, never mind something you really have to travel for, like a Chicken Maharaja Mac. Frequently, when I travel outside of the USA, my trips to the local McDonald's are the most genuinely foreign-feeling and disorienting part of the trip. I went to Paris last year. There are probably ten restaurants within walking distance of my old Williamsburg apartment that are varyingly obsessive imitations of Parisian bistros, Parisian bars, Parisian brasseries. If they were hung in museums, the wall texts next to them would say 'School of Keith McNally.' But there is not a single place in New York that serves a Croque McDo."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2406 words)
How an era of rampant expansion—and sloppy spelling—led to the creation of strange or questionable street names in Las Vegas:
"With all this rapid expansion came strange civic issues. As Rothman notes in his book, police officers were given new maps of the city every week. Some of the streets on the map, he points out, had been misspelled—not on the map, but on the street sign itself. As a particular instance of this, he cites Jane Austin Avenue, in North Las Vegas—like the snout-nosed McMansions that call it home, Jane Austin Avenue is an ugly and misguided gesture at Old World luster. If you take a closer look at this particular subdivision, which has streets named for dead Europeans and luxury automobiles, you'll notice Jane Austin isn't the only spelling error around. We also have Alfa Romero [sic] Ave and De [sic] Vinci Ct. The developer's carelessness is stunning. They're not alone."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 16, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2975 words)
This week we're thrilled to feature Mike Albo's "The Junket" as our Longreads Member pick. Albo is the author of The Underminer
, and "The Junket" was recommended by Longreads managing editor Mike Dang
, who writes:
"I've never read a piece by Mike Albo that I didn't like. He's written for lots of glossies and websites like The Awl
, and his pieces are always honest, relevant and brutally funny. This week's exclusive is no different. 'The Junket' is Albo's novella about the story behind how he lost his part-time column at a prominent newspaper in New York that he calls 'The Paper' due to a media firestorm that unfairly accused him of violating the publications's ethics policy when he went on an all-expenses-paid media junket to Jamaica. It's also a story about the difficulties of earning a living as a full-time freelancer in an expensive city, and how independent contractors, who don't earn a steady salary or receive benefits of any kind from the places they consistently work for, are so easily disposable. 'The Junket' is a thinly veiled, fictionalized account of what happened to Albo, but it's wickedly funny, and will ring true for anyone who's ever had to file an invoice and cross their fingers for a paycheck."
You can support Longreads—and get more exclusives like this—by becoming a member for just $3 per month.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 19, 2012
LENGTH: 55 minutes (13819 words)
[Fiction] A celebrity couple's ill-fated trip to Lagos:
"She put her pen down and thoughtfully chewed the silky inside of her left cheek. She stared hard at the photo on her iPod of those beautiful, strong young African women who had just invented this amazing generator that made electricity out of human urine. She shook her head. It was amazing the things that people did in the face of adversity. She continued shaking her head, trying to comprehend the humanity of humanity.
"'Be careful shaking your head,' said her son Maddox, who was sitting on the other side of the enormous bed, watching 'Homeland' on his iPad. 'A shard of your beauty just hit me in the face.' She barely heard him. She let her eye cast around the room for a moment. All her children were here, Maddox, Zahara, Shiloh, Pax, each with his or her iPad. Maddox was next to her on the bed, Zahara was stretched out along the foot. Pax was on one corner of a pink velvet couch, Shiloh on the other. All four were staring at their iPads. In the bedroom foyer, Knox and Vivienne were making a cat out of wooden blocks."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2100 words)
An interview with the journalist (see his recent stories
) about what makes a good story:
"I spent three months and I just couldn't do it. And the reason was because I kept on meeting people who worked in the credit industry and they were really boring. I couldn't make them light up the page. And, as I said in The Psychopath Test, if you want to get away with wielding true malevolent power, be boring. Journalists hate writing about boring people, because we want to look good, you know? So that was the most depressing one. To the extent that I would like get up in the morning—I've never really told this to anyone, but I'd get up in the morning, I'd go downstairs to breakfast and I'd, like, look at my cereal and burst into tears. And then I'd think, it's only like nine hours until I can sit down and watch TV. After three months of that, I was thinking, I'm actually getting depressed here. So I abandoned it. My editor in New York keeps reminding me that, if I'd carried on with the credit-card book, it would have come out exactly when the banks collapsed and everyone would have turned to me. But I just couldn't do it."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 12, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2654 words)