Edupunk E-Book Offers Options for Low-Income Students

With OpenCourseWare lecture notes and assignments, streaming TED talks and even educational YouTube videos, it's become easier than ever to piece together your own education for free - or nearly free - using resources you can find on the Internet. It's with that in mind that education and economics expert Anya Kamenetz has written 'The Edupunk's Guide to a DIY Credential.' What is an Edupunk, and how can students benefit by being one?

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School of Punk

In the mid-1970s, bands like the Ramones and the New York Dolls tore away all the trappings of popular music to usher in a new style of pure, unadulterated rock and roll. Punk music denied the establishment at every turn. Even if it was a little rough around the edges - as evidenced by the playing styles of those involved - its supporters upheld it as honest, albeit raucous, art.

That same ethic powers the recent 'edupunk' movement, a term originally coined by blogger Jim Groom. The idea is that edupunks strip away the infrastructure associated with traditional higher education and reconstruct it themselves, thereby learning by doing (as one might imagine those early punk bands did with their instruments). With the wealth of material now available via non-traditional educational venues, the edupunk ethos is an achievable reality.

Hence Anya Kamenetz's The Edupunks' Guide to a DIY Credential, a free online text aimed at 'low income and potential students,' so they can 'find alternative paths to a credential using online and open resources.' It's the first ever book financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which shows a serious commitment to making education an affordable, achievable goal for many. Among its many features, Kamenetz's book includes DIY tutorials ('how to get a credential,' 'how to teach yourself online,' etc.), a list of Open Educational Resources and interviews with self-motivated DIY learners, who relate their stories of gaining college credit at, as Kamenetz puts it, '81% off retail.'

But How Punk Is It, Really?

Yet Kamenetz has come under fire from some supporters of the edupunk ethic who believe she's distorting what that term really means. Among her critics: the aforementioned Jim Groom, who wrote a scathing, snarky letter in response to news of The Edupunks' Guide. Groom, along with others, takes issue with Kamenetz's interpretation of 'edupunk,' which in his mind isn't DIY at all. Instead of students reconstructing the learning process for themselves, opponents argue, Kamenetz merely helps them replace traditional classroom instruction with Internet teachers: YouTube videos become professors, TED talks become lectures. There's still no learning by doing, it's just learning from a different source.

Semantics aside, though, there's no doubt that many students throughout the U.S. and abroad would benefit greatly from a more affordable education however they can get it. The fact that Kamenetz found so many willing subjects to interview (over 100) suggests that the discount education she's proposing, regardless of what we call it, has an audience. Helping that audience discover its possibilities via a free e-book seems like a major move in the fight to make education more accessible to all. Interested learners can download the book and figure out ways to jump-start their own reduced cost education. Is it punk? Maybe not technically, but the notion of taking what you want from the world regardless of established traditions certainly seems to have a bit of the punk spirit to it.

If punk music's your bag, check out this fun way to learn music theory.

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