Minnesota Criminalizes Learning
Honorable mentions go to New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for driving out Uber’s online taxi-hailing service and to automobile dealers’ groups in four states for trying to have Tesla dealerships declared illegal. But the grand prize in this week’s unexpectedly heated competition for most creative use of government to stifle innovation has to go to Minnesota.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the state has decided to crack down on free education, notifying California-based startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents. Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, partners with top-tier universities around the world to offer certain classes online for free to anyone who wants to take them. You know, unless they happen to be from Minnesota.
A policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education told The Chronicle that Minnesota is simply enforcing a longstanding state law requiring colleges to get the government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders. She couldn’t say whether other online education startups like edX and Udacity were also told to stay out.
1. Although Coursera is playing along, there’s really no ability for Minnesota to enforce this ban. It’s on the Internet, which respects no borders. All I have to do to fool Coursera and Minnesota is log on through a proxy server based in a South Korean elementary school and I’m good to go. So this is just dumb on a technical standpoint.
2. What’s really dumb is that Minnesota has just told people “You can use the Internet for surfing porn, watching lolcats, and posting really hideous and excrable material, but learning on the Internet is just horrible!” Yes, they have just said that learning is wrong and illegal. The Minnesota government does not want you to learn.
You gotta ask yourself in these instances, “Who benefits?” Surely not average Minnesotans. I believe without a doubt that teachers unions and public universities see Coursera as some sort of threat—even though it only offers individual free courses, not degrees—and used the heavy hand of the state to stop it. I think it’s well past time to separate school and state, don’t you?
Let Americans learn!