- Capitalism and Alternatives -

On lapses in intellectual thought about education

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on October 10, 1999 at 17:34:38:

In Reply to: Anti-intellectual culture & state education. posted by Gee on October 08, 1999 at 12:09:45:

: This struck me as an amazing parallel with libertarian / free market / objectivist thinking.

: Wherever you find such texts you find almost parallel criticisms of state education - with the most virulent accusing the state of monopolising state education and thus denying choice to those less well off (by forcing a 'contract' between state and taxpayer)

SDF: I went to a private school for six years, then I chose to go to public universities for awhile. I don't see "government monopoly," nor do I see "force".

: and in generating a Dewey influenced education culture inimical to independant critical thinking,

SDF: Gee, whose writings have so far been completely uncritical of capitalism, is here telling us not only what Dewey's writings on education say (not that he could possibly name any of Dewey's opus, much less tell us all about what any part of it means in sum), but furthermore he is telling us about "independant (sic) critical thinking" in much the same way all libertarians "indepandantly" tell us the exact same thing.

: in filtering history and other subjects to fit with state preferences.

SDF: I await any substantiation of the claim that there exists something called "state preferences," independently of public opinion (which is after all the opinion of all those sovereign individuals you've been hearing about on the net). History is filtered, all right, but the scions of private enterprise are the ones who write the textbooks that filter it. "State preferences" appears as a libertarian bogeyman.

Furthermore, in this sort of argument, "private-public" distinctions are held to hold the essence of educational quality, independent of any serious debate about what constitutes quality education i.e. what is best for the students.

: Even less 'extreme' criticisms accuse state education of resulting in the above afflictions via incompetence, buraucracy and very weak influence of parental choice as compared to 'vote with feet' private education or even voucher based handouts.

SDF: I await Gee's analysis of the history of voucher systems.

: So 1) socialists might argue that state education is controlled via 'the master capitalists' in some way so as to produce a 'class' of uncritical proles

SDF: Gee writes completely unawares of the rich debate about the Bowles and Gintis thesis in SCHOOLING IN CAPITALIST AMERICA.

: and 2) libertarians might argue that state education is controlled in denial of choice by a self serving political elite in order to exert power over the population at large and to have children who grow up without criticising them, instead remaining dependant for guidance upon them.

SDF: How about that! The idea that libertarians could criticize anyone for being "self serving"! What a curious notion, almost as empty as "self-interest"!

: Even SDF's criticism, that students are offered several authoritarian figures per day in their 50 minute sessions in detriment to their development will find agreement among libertarians.

SDF: In the above passage, I was not criticizing, I was describing, and my description was of the category of SECONDARY public and private education, that it was neither democratic nor coordinated. So not only was I not criticizing all education, I was also criticizing a tendency in private education as well, one that is well documented in the ethnographic literature as well as in personal (yes, anecdotal) experience. See for instance Peter McLaren, SCHOOLING AS A RITUAL PERFORMANCE.

: One might even guess that (genuine) socialists and libertarians would both favor, for instance, a montessori school over a state one.

SDF: State-run Montessori schools are a distinct possibility, as are private schools that are worse than state-run schools, but which nevertheless thrive economically. The above proposition repeats the popular fallacy that "state ownership" and "private ownership" are terms that necessarily say something about how a school is RUN, whereas in fact they only describe WHO OWNS THE SCHOOL.

: The criticism that 'the system' fails children in part by failing to teach actual skills in the sciences, math and english

SDF: Such criticism is usually rendered unimportant by its detachment from the real life context in which "actual skills" count for something. Do students who grow up to be manual laborers really need to learn "actual skills in the science, math and english"? If we are really interested in the answer to the above question (and not just pretending to care as part of an ideological agenda), we need to know "how so" relative to the CONTEXT in which students GROW UP. If they don't need such skills, then the school's "failure" to teach them is meaningless.

What's more, such criticism usually runs unaccompanied by the VERIFICATION of the claim that any particular school isn't teaching any particular skill.

: and spends too much time pursuing various open ended, highly subjective studies in 'social studies' of one kind or another

SDF: Again, references to the verification of ACTUAL PRACTICES at ACTUAL SCHOOLS are usually missing from armchair criticism of the above sort. The "conservatives," as Gee calls them, obviously need a bogeyman.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup