Political Science Now

Dialectics and the Megamachine: A Critique of Ersatz Education

Dialectics and the Megamachine: A Critique of Ersatz Education

By Peter J. Jacques, University of Central Florida

This article proposes that the learning environment matters, and that there are qualitative differences in online versus face-to-face classes. While online education provides some benefits, they also narrow the opportunities for dialectical conflict that thoroughly challenge student thinking, an interaction more likely to be found in real-time conversations. In person, there is more opportunity for an instructor to challenge the reasoning of students in real time, and for students to ask probing and follow-up questions. The article considers the structure of educational dialectic suggested by important thinkers including Galtung, Habermas, and Buber. Online education is then situated as a technology that interferes with human relations and dialectical reasoning and fits within the notion of technics and the megamachine advanced by Lewis Mumford, which dehumanizes personal interactions with instrumental processes for growth and efficiency. Students follow suit by focusing more on the instrumental absorption of course content to pass the course, instead of higher order critique. Of particular interest to political science education is that if conversational dialectics are weakened in universities, and therefore polities—and the technics are simply considered a natural replacement for in-person conversation—the opportunities to teach critical reasoning required for critique of complex political phenomena are also narrowed. We might temper the dangers of the megamachine by reflexively discussing the political economy of online teaching itself with our students and by starting to expect synchronous conversation, which will open dialectical opportunities.

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Journal of Political Science Education | Pages 211-224 | Volume 13, 2017 – Issue 1, Published online: 2 August 2016