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School’s Out Forever – The New Inquiry
"Education has become the way to talk about class and labor in an American political system that is profoundly uncomfortable with both. In the hands of reformist technocrats, inequality is a matter of nuanced social engineering rather than a conflict between two unequal and opposed sides – those who profit and those who only work. If society wanted to reduce the growing discrepancy between rich and poor, we would worry less about tweaking the educational system and simply pay or give the poor more money. Marsh writes, “Given the political will, whether through redistributive tax rates, massive public works projects, a living wage law, or a renaissance of labor unions, we could decrease poverty and inequality tomorrow regardless of the market or the number of educated and uneducated workers.”

Although Marsh takes the reader back to historical junctions when choosing such paths toward a more equal country seemed possible — like President Johnson’s war on poverty or President Nixon’s proposal for a national income — those days are long gone. As Governor Walker’s successful move against public unions in Wisconsin shows, organized labor’s fight for survival isn’t conducive to winning higher wages. Marsh is not optimistic about the likelihood of an American labor renaissance; the best outcome he can imagine is that we might hold the debate about class and wealth distribution in undisguised terms. “We ought to acknowledge the limited but nevertheless real role education plays in providing individual economic opportunity and may play in generating national economic growth,” he writes, “At the same time, we should seek to make education more of an end it itself and less of a means toward some other end.”

While Marsh uses all his considerable analytical prowess to dispel the myth of class mobility through education, he accepts the conventional wisdom about the “true” purposes of education without a second look. If schools can’t solve society’s economic problems, he suggests, then they should focus on what they can do. Citing Thomas Jefferson through Christopher Lasch, Marsh offers only these two possibilities: “To give everybody the intellectual resources — particularly the command of the language — needed to distinguish truth from public lies” and “to train scholars, intellectuals, and members of learned professions.”

A school system devoted to those two goals wouldn’t make the country more equal, but it might restore English professors like Marsh to their former glory. He writes, “The liberal arts might regain the stature their inevitably central locations on campus indicate they once had. How much better for students’ souls — for their future happiness — to have studied the humanities or some branch of the liberal arts?” Putting aside the supposed strength of the correlation between majoring in literature and happiness, the answer to “How much better for their souls?” isn’t graphable. But being an English professor means never questioning the transcendent impact of your own thought on others."



"Just like the aberrational student elevated out of poverty through education, the exceptional teacher who can impact a student’s soul provides a flawed justification for a system which fails to provide anything of the sort on a larger scale. The hope is that every student has a teacher or two over a decade and a half that really makes them question and think, but either way, we silently acknowledge that they’ll spend the majority of their young vigor-filled lives quivering at the arbitrary mercy of petty kooks and jowly tyrants. Schools train students in what business professor Stefano Harney says every diploma really proves: “that the student can follow arbitrary authority, endure boredom, and compete against others.” Classrooms, tellingly, are usually depicted in popular culture as excruciatingly boring. Teachers post Calvin and Hobbes cartoons about the soul-crushing banality of compulsory attendance on the classroom walls. In TV shows and movies about young people, class time is depicted only so that it can be interrupted by something more important — whether it’s whispered gossip, singing montages, or vampire slaying. Or, à la Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, class is so awful as to be a self-explanatory joke.

With the economic logic ripped apart, the only reasoning Marsh presents for keeping students in the prison/school for 12 to 16 years is that their souls might benefit from compulsory membership in a gerontocratic book club, even if we have to put a sizable proportion of them on amphetamines for it to work. This isn’t coincidental, it’s prefigurative, a determining sneak-peek at the adults they’ll become. High schools and colleges knowingly teach and enable the Adderall-seeking behavior that graduates will need to compete in the work world — that is if they don’t have standing prescriptions from elementary school. When a sixth-grader isn’t paying attention in class because he’s too busy clenching his knees together so as not to piss his pants before the bell rings, he’s not learning to be a better citizen or intellectual, he’s learning to be a better prisoner, employee, or soldier.

One of Marsh’s most suggestive comparisons is the number of striking workers against the number of new college admittances over time. Although the lines crossed long ago, the juxtaposition suggests the classroom is only one possible choice in pursuing a better life, and not necessarily the best one. Elsewhere around the world, young people try to construct better lives for themselves outside the classroom, as in Spain and Greece, where students fight against the austerity and increasing economic inequality Marsh fears, or in Egypt or Tunisia where revolution is not to be confused with an SAT-prep company. Using expert knowledge no teacher could have inculcated, young hackers risk jail to expose public falsehoods and build solidarity with peers overseas by fucking around on the internet. They’re not willing to leave the problems of their inherited world for moribund labor unions or withering socialist parties. Students in America could try a different kind of strike based on what’s occurred in Cairo and Athens — out of the classroom and into the streets. And how much better would that be for their future happiness, how much better for their souls?"
2011  education  schools  schooling  schooliness  learning  labor  unions  economics  solidarity  capitalism  corporatization  unschooling  deschooling  teaching  authority  conformity  conditioning  clavinandhobbes  poverty  inequality  malcolmharris  johnmarsh  politics  class  classmobility  socialmobility  policy  edreform  why  tyranny  control  supression  liberalarts  opportunity  corporatism 
june 2014 by robertogreco

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