[OPE-L:1502] FYI: Outside Observers for Class reading Capital

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Thu, 14 Mar 1996 16:29:24 -0800

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 13:47:14 -0700
From: Hans Ehrbar <ehrbar@marx.econ.utah.edu>
To: marxism@jefferson.village.virginia.edu
Subject: Outside Observers for Class reading Capital

This is an invitation for outside participants and observers in a
University of Utah Economics class reading Capital, which starts two
weeks from now and lasts for 10 weeks. If anyone on the marxism list
is interested in joining this class, please send me an e-mail. I can
let a few outside participants take part (there is no charge for it).

As study guide I am using a manuscript I am writing, which has a new
translation, detailed Annotations, and Study Questions to selected
Chapters in Volume One (Chapters 1, 2, 4, 12, 19 in the present class,
but we will also do 6 and 25). Every week each participant must
select one of the assigned Questions and submit an answer to an e-mail
list, which broadcasts it to everyone in class, but protects the
identity of the author by a pseudonym. I give detailed commentaries
to each submission; some of my commentaries are sent to the class as a
whole, while others are only sent to the author of the message, but
everyone who is interested in that particular Study Question can read
it on the www.

There are also two exams and a term paper, and there is also the
opportunity for participants in class to discuss general questions on

Finally, there is a weekly one-hour in-class session, which serves as
a wrapup for the preceding weeks's discussion on the internet. But
this is not a central part of the course.

In my feedback to the students' homeworks, I concentrate mainly on two

(1) The University of Utah is not an elite University. Many students
are quite smart and creative, but utterly untrained and discouraged.
I want to give them the experience that their deeper thoughts make
sense and can be discussed intelligently.

(2) Modern schooling deprives the students of the cognitive tools to
understand society. Methodological individualism, the fact-value
distinction, empiricism, the overemphasis on analytical thinking
versus dialectical thinking, etc., are barriers preventing their
understanding of the society they live in. The same errors also
prevent their understanding of Marx's text, and this gives me an entry
point from which I hope to open their minds so that they will be
better able to learn from their own experiences.

Every time I teach the class in the e-mail format, I am planning to invite a
limited number of outside participants from around the world and from
various backgrounds. These observers will receive the study
materials, and they will receive all the e-mail, and they are invited
to participate in the class to any extent they see fit.

For instance they may engage in free e-mail discussion with 50 U of U
students, only a minority of whom are Marxist. Some of them have a
libertarian bent, but most are interested in the arguments of
Marxists. But if the outside observers want to take part in the core
of the class and submit answers to Study Questions like anybody else,
please feel free to do so. I am more than willing to spend time on
your submissions, and I think this would enrich the class. I am also
especially interested if there are High School students out there, in
order to see whether a class like this would be beneficial and
interesting to them. (Perhaps your experiences will give me arguments
so that I can offer it as a regular class to Utah High School students
in the future.) If someone who is already knowledgeable about Capital
wants to join the class and correct my mistakes, I would consider this
an interesting challenge. If you are thinking about it, please drop
me a note. Everyone is invited to comment on everyone else's
submissions. It would also be informative for the students to witness
a discussion among Marxists.

If you are interested, please send me a message, and tell me something
about yourself, and how or to what extent you want to participate. I
cannot guarantee that I can accommodate everybody; I have to use my
judgment what is most beneficial to the enrolled students. But since
I will teach this also next academic year, I hope that eventually
everyone can take part who expresses an interest.

Those who are interested can also watch the class discussion
on the www, go to one of the following addresses for links:


Here is some historical background about this class:

When the administration at the University of Utah solicited faculty
involvement in high technology and distance learning, I submitted a
proposal for an upper division undergraduate economics class, which
would primarily use e-mail and the www for reading Marx's Capital.
Unlike other high tech classes, I did not want to abandon the student
to a sophisticated automated learning environment, but I wanted to use
the technology for meaningful one-on-one interaction between student
and instructor. This was not exactly the direction the Administration
wanted to go, but I did get permission to teach it, and since my early
attempts were generally liked by the students, I am scheduled to teach
it in the upcoming Spring Quarter, and three times next year.

I had several outside observers from the marxism list in Jan-March
1995. I want to express once more my gratitude to those who participated
then. These observers limited their participation to the free
discussion on the e-mail list. Therefore the e-mail list became the
most exciting thing for the students. Some became really addicted to it.
At that time, the format was a little different; the answers to the
study Questions were not circulated on e-mail. There was some good
discussion going on, but it was only between me and the individual

I taught this class also last September-December, again in a
slightly different format. The class sessions were 3 hours instead of
one, there was no free discussion list, and there were no outside
observers. But this was the first time that all answers to the Study
Questions were circulated by email to everyone. I also graded more
severely then, there was no `Marxism premium' but the GPA was
comparable to other 500 level classes at our Department. This class
was very successful. We really got down to some very good discussions
of Capital in this class. It is easy to skirt the critical issues,
and especially in a college setting the discussion tends to skip over
the difficult points. Not so last Autumn. I had the impression that
a number of students learned a lot about Marx's Capital. My study
guide and Annotations are getting better too (although I am still far
from satisfied with them); I revise them every time I teach the class.
An old version is still on the marxism archive; I wrote Jon Beasley a
message asking him replace it by the new one, but it seems Jon is
unavailable right now (are you there, Jon?)