Graeber points out that the history of these exchanges, whether meaningless or meaningful, is actually a surprisingly recent development:The habit of always saying “please” and “thank you” first began to take hold during the commercial revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — among those very middle classes who were largely responsible for it. It is the language of bureaus, shops, and offices, and over the course of the last five hundred years it has spread across the world along with them. It is also merely one token of a much larger philosophy, a set of assumptions of what humans are and what they owe one another, that have by now become so deeply ingrained that we cannot see them.
“...When human beings are passionate and exploring their dreams, when those things become a part of a person’s life, they can do the impossible.” ...The men and women of The Future Project aren’t alone in feeling that, as American education become more rigid and assessment-driven, our society is losing a vital economic resource: creative, resourceful thinkers. The most successful innovators in the American economy, such as Google, understand the creative, intellectual, and economic value of dreaming, and have made passion projects a part of their corporate culture. Google funds dreaming in the guise of its “20 percent time” rule.
The new rhetoric in discussion of MOOCs may also be showing up from MOOC providers themselves. Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Udacity, predicted last year that within a half-century there would only be 10 institutions of higher education left in the world. Now, Thrun is a bit more modest. “Upfront, I believe that online education will not replace face to face education, and neither is it supposed to,” he wrote in a blog post last month. “Just as film never replaced theater plays and many of us prefer to watch sports live in big stadiums, online will not abolish face to face interaction.” He also said ed tech innovators should be “willing to learn from our failures and to forge on.”
The political scientist and Chicago alderman Charles Merriam (1874–1953) once proposed that American metropolitan regions secede from rural areas to form their own states. In The Metropolitan Revolution, the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley don’t go quite that far, but they do champion metros as “the new sovereign.” Katz and Bradley believe that localities are capable of doing much more than they currently do and that expanding their policy portfolios would pay off for them and the country.
Even those disturbed by rising income inequality accept the necessity of a system that rewards ability. And even the most die hard capitalist would not defend a system that apportions its rewards principally to the lucky. But what if talent and luck are increasingly hard to distinguish?