by Patrick Wills
The majority of political discourse on the national stage — with varying degrees of philosophical and rhetorical decorum — makes it evident that the question of public education is a matter of contention and debate. There have been countless efforts in the last few decades to prop up the American education system and notwithstanding some small successes on small fronts here and there, it has been, for the most part, a complete failure. However, this essay is, in effect, a critique of the dominant American ideology of Capitalism rather than a critique of the American education system. Hence, throughout this piece I use the terms dominant ideology, capitalism and American neoliberalism; but for the purposes of this paper these terms are synonymous.
What I mean when I use those three synonymous terms more precisely is the free-market, capitalistic economic system that goes by as neoliberalism: but is more distinctly defined as the neoliberalism that comes out of the Chicago school of economics in the 1960’s and was brought to the center stage of American politics by Ronald Reagan as influenced by Milton Friedman. And for clarity’s sake, I am not including the contemporary versions of French and German (or any other country) neoliberalism (unless specifically noted), the neoliberal theories developed in the Austrian School of economics (pre/post WW2), the Mont Pelerin Society (post WW2) and certainly not the theories of Friedrich Hayek. And it is this system, or rather, this philosophical assumption that I am going to posit is the reason the American education system cannot transcend beyond what it always has been. From this position I will argue the following thesis: the American Education system is an implicitly violent and oppressive apparatus that is the dialectical product of – and product for – the promotion and replication of the dominant capitalistic (neoliberal) ideology; that — within the ideological power structures at-hand — cannot and will not have efficacy to transcend itself beyond the paradoxical current state of affairs. That is the long way of saying American education cannot be repaired until the system it is subordinated to is repaired as well.
2.1. Capitalism qua Success
Capitalism, as the dominant American ideology, is wholly and completely illiterate, which is to say that it does not have the capacity or wherewithal to comprehend anything that is measured qualitatively. The only method it has for comparing one individual to another, one ideology to another, one organization to another, one government to another and even one philosophy to another is by forcibly reducing everything to quantifiable units of capital — in short, to money. And success as such, is the rendered outcome from said quantifiable assessment and is henceforth the only metric for success in capitalism. Moreover, it could be further argued — although I am only going to grant a cursory consideration to this point — that the normative ethical system in actu under capitalism is a product-of the aforementioned dichotomous formulation.
The avid — and perhaps compulsive — positivist qua rationalist would persist that quantitative assessment allows an objective comparison that is not susceptible to biased and subjective projections. However, as educational psychologist Donald Campbell notes in his theory that is known as Campbell’s law, this intuitive position is falsely reasoned, as “the more any quantitive social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor” (Goldstein 209). In spite of the kernel of insight this theory provides, the philosophy of American education is not prescriptive in articulating a desired concept of the ends of education (or “the good” in Platonic terms) and any organization that does not prescribe its ends will be subjugated to, as John Dewey states, the “mercy of accident and caprice” (Dewey 95). However, Dewey’s assessment, albeit reasonably discursive, is abhorrently reduced to dismiss the elusive and omnipotence of the dominant ideology, which will apply its ends to any and all systems that do not articulate their own. In other words, if you do not formally declare the ends of the education system, capitalism will supply one for you — to create success, as rendered in quantifiable units of capital.
This process is not only applied to education systems in process, but is also applied to how an agent’s education is utilized after graduation — “everything is ‘commodified,’ or assigned a numeric value based on what’s worth in the marketplace” (Knopp 15) and this process of commodification becomes the means upon which human value is determined. In other words, as Henry Giroux succinctly stated, “losing one’s individuality is now tantamount to losing one’s ability to consume” (Giroux 6). Capitalism only values people by their ability to produce capital and their ability to consume with their capital — make money and spend money.
2.2. Capitalism qua Freedom
Education is not the only system or concept that has failed to explicitly denote its own ends and has henceforth received the ethos of the capitalist ideology projected on it. The metaphysical quality of freedom is also guilty of the same assumption/problem. Freedom, as being the tacit core quality of the American experiment, is a very difficult term to define, measure and apply and notwithstanding the implicit virtue in championing freedom, eo ipso, what does it actually mean? The deep philosophical question that roots within this question — to which Rousseau articulated in great style and depth — is, simply put: is freedom something granted or is it something asserted? And secondly, what free activity is implied by the word freedom?
Capitalism assumes that the “free market is a perfect scientific system” and that assumption creates a “closed loop” (Klein 51) that allows the aforementioned philosophical question about freedom to collapse in on itself. In other words, capitalism perceives a) government in of itself to be an unnatural institution and its only role is to promote freedom as a “natural attribute as reasoned by the […] enlightenment” (Peters 172) — this would be an act of granting freedom — and b) allowing individuals qua free agents to champion their own freely willed desire — this would be an act of asserting freedom. In sum, the role of government is to grant the freedom for people to assert their freedom. And without a prescriptive notion of the ends of freedom it will reduce itself — as does education — to assuming quantifiable units of capital are the metric to determine the value of one actualized freedom to another.
If, freedom par excellence, is the objective of a freely determined democracy as the prescriptive and championed ends to which our entire civilization rests upon as the quintessential ethos upon which we define the degree to which an agent is an American qua patriot, and if this freedom is measured by one’s freely willed capacity to generate/spend capital, then it could be further reduced and argued that the degree to which you are free is equal to the degree to which you can generate money. And, further, the degree to which you can generate capital is the degree to which your patriotism can be measured. This formula side-steps the paradoxical problem of freedom, by making the closed loop of freedom by utilizing the ends as a justification to the means that hence bring forth the ends. Converting all agents of America into what Foucault refers to as homo economicus — a model of the human who’s behavior can be fully reducible to economic analysis (Peters 171) — who can justify the unbridled and measurable ends of capital accumulation by assuming a de facto correlation to the incommensurable metaphysical ends of freedom. Hence, capital success (capital accumulation) — as justified as being intrinsically correlated to freedom — is an ends in itself.
2.3. Capitalism qua the Aims of Education
If freedom is the core quality that our democracy — and the world over — promotes and if freedom is measured in one’s capacity to accumulate capital, then it could be argued that this is the reason American education is reduced to the aforementioned formula of success. And, moreover, this would imply that capitalism uses education as a mere means to an ends — to create conditions that maximize capital accumulation — and that education, eo ipso, has only instrumental value in the United States. That is to say, education is an instrument used for the promotion of capitalism qua freedom and freedom qua capitalism is a tautology. Since American education does not denote a normative (and transcendental) teleology — to which John Dewey persists as a necessary condition for the enablement of a free democracy — then it could be only reasoned that the descriptive teleology of the American education system is a product of capitalism insofar as it is used instrumentally for the replication of the freely willed projected ends of the capitalist ideology.
3. Success qua Failure
The illusion of capitalism is simply that “every means is a temporary end until we have achieved it” (Dewey 114) and that is to mean that capitalism perpetually moves the goal line and creates an infinitely extended notion of success. Say, for example, we lived in a society that perceived the aims of society as obtaining happiness (broadly construed), then it would be hard to a) compare one happiness to another and b) assess one’s relative capacity therein to perpetually increase happiness. That is to say, if family brings you happiness there could be a degree to which too much family creates diminishing returns, or too little family fails to make you happy. As the act of infinitely increasing any qualitatively measured quality dilutes the value of any particular quanta of happiness within the set and henceforth creates an infinitely diminishing value to the happiness content as you infinitely increase the size of your happiness schema. In other words, one’s ability to create value from qualitatively measured qualities is a fixed amount that cannot be increased, but only diluted and in all qualities there is a happy medium. Or, in other words, if charted they would follow the law of the inverse “U.”
However, we do not live in that society and measuring things quantitatively — as capitalism does — allows for the semblance of an infinite extension of obtainable ends. In other words, capitalism does not say you need to make a fixed amount of capital to be perceived as a success, but rather, it perceives success as the process of perpetually achieving capital with success. To stop striving to accumulate capital renders you a failure. But, at the same time, one cannot perpetually create a meaningful return on (capital) investment indefinitely — the process of infinitely extending capital accumulation is wholly unobtainable, therefore, as long as it is mathematically possible for you to have a higher rate of return or have a higher quantity of capital, you are always failing in your ability to perpetually strive to create capital. Therefore, a perceived illusion of having an infinite capacity to accumulate capital only creates — psychologically manifested — an infinite capacity of perceived self-failure.
Education as a system that is the product of capitalism is no exception to this concept of infinite failure. If pedagogical success is dependent on its ability to successfully satisfy the lofty ends of capitalism and if those ends are infinitely unobtainable, it is reasonable to assert that American pedagogy, in the status quo, will infinitely be perceived as a failed system. This perpetual notion of perceived failure creates a perpetual willingness to correct. Notwithstanding the improbability of creating an infinitely perceivable return on investment of our education system — as quantitatively measured — capitalism perceives failing to strive towards these unobtainable ends as failure. In this regard any and all attempts to fix the education system that wholly dismisses the underlying disease will always be an utter failure in both their ability to create capital and in their perceived value — as dictated by the myopic value system of capitalism. However, to stop trying to fix it is to also assume failure — you’re as they say, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
4.1. Negating the Negation
It does not matter if you are erecting an army, starting a coffee shop business or creating a public education system, the mechanics of capitalism will dictate the process of each of these functions in the exact same way, insofar as the method upon which they allow for the appropriation of the means of production and in its application therein. The mechanical functionality of capitalism requires — as a necessary condition — a concentration of capital to exist and subsequently creates concentrations of capital — negating the possibility of its own negation. The means of production, are broken up into two categories which Marx refers to as the instrument of labor and the subject of labor (Marx 1970b 84). The instrument of labor are in essence tools or any instrument used instrumentally towards the process of creating a commodity. The subject of labor are the raw materials used — when applied to a coffee shop — are the coffee beans, water and electricity. So, in short, they take the raw materials of beans/water/electricity and use the instruments of labor/machines to create the commodity of coffee. Which is sold for capital to facilitate that this cycle can start anew. In the simplest and most fundamental way that is how a capitalists functions at generating capital.
Some may argue that this process is natural and that it is a reasonable interpretation of Darwin (or Adam Smith) to assume a survival of the fittest (or invisible hand) as a schema that can be easily applied to give the notion of homo economicus’ efficacious determination as the natural way of being. Contrary to this, I argue that the system of capitalism and its mechanics therein are wholly ingrained into the consciousness of American culture to the degree that the laws and mechanics of capitalism have become tacit assumptions that are used as the backbone of assessing our ontological disposition. That is to mean, capitalism does not exist because it is natural, but rather it is perceived as natural because it needs to justify its material existence to avoid negation, so it elevates its own materialistic determination to create the illusion that it is natural. It is natural, because it believes itself to be. To be clear, I am not suggesting that capitalism has consciousness, but rather, these conditions are created through implicit human intervention that assumes as such, acts as such and hence justifies as such.
4.2. The Root of All….
To avoid confusion let me articulate that capitalism is essentially a machine comprised of other machines, comprised of more machines and so on. For example, we have the entire machine of the American Capitalist Economy and within that machine is the food machine and within that is the Starbucks machine and within that is the coffee bean machine, paper-cup machine, freight machine, and so on. Capitalism is a complex web of machines that are not hierarchical to each other, but all subordinate to the main system as a whole. You can think of it as a tree and the Capitalist ideology is the soil upon which everything grows and within the tree itself is a complex web of interconnected branches and leaves — which is inclusive of all people. As Giroux says: “[Neoliberalism] furthers a market-based politics that reduces all relationships to the exchange of money and the accumulation of capital, it also depoliticizes politics itself and reduces public activity to the realm of utterly privatized practices and utopias, underscored by the reduction of citizenship to the act of buying and purchasing goods.” (Giroux 47)
That is to say, that in every part of our life from public to private and in every way we interact with others and/or the environment, we are wholly interconnected and interacting within the capitalist machine itself. This makes all people — in full reduction— into machines themselves and cogs in the capitalist machine. This makes every business, every transaction, every interaction and every person instrumental to the ends of capitalism as a whole. We, as humans qua machine, are a mere means to the capitalistic ends of the capitalistic state.
4.3. The Paradox of Liberation
If all that is subordinated under the dominant ideology is merely instrumentally valuable, then it would also stand to reason that the dominant ideology shapes the structural mechanism of all the systems rooted within it. In other words, the capitalist process that is inherent to the capitalist machine would naturally emanate into the education system. Or, as Myles Horton, the educator and civil rights advocate notes, “[i]t doesn’t make a great deal of difference what the people are; if they’re in the system, they’re going to function like the system dictates they function…” (Knopp 33). This is to succinctly make the point that American pedagogy will — notwithstanding all the effort of the people situated within it — always reflect the structure of the capitalistic machine as a whole.
If the dominant structure dictates the structure of the education system as a whole and considering the aforementioned claim that a capitalistic machine will not act towards its own negation, it would seem reasonable to assert that the mode and means upon which the education system functions would be instrumental to the promotion of the machine itself, as opposed to promoting the machines parts, viz. the students. This can be easily seen in parallel to the way education was used during Nazi Germany, as William Oliver Martin explicates, the system coupled nonsense propositions with proclamations of truth — such as, that capitalism and democracy are innately corrupt as a True proposition and contradicting this or the entire system was not allowed (Martin 64). Or, more contemporarily, how the Chicago school of economics teaches capitalism as a natural fact, or how grade schools preach American capitalism as the way it is, or, more perversely so, how Texas outlawed critical thinking.
Marx would contest that the solution does not come from replacing the “weapon of criticism” with the “criticism of the weapon”; but, rather, because it is a conflict of material necessity or, as Marx calls it, “material force” — then the solution is to combat the prevailing material force with another. This, as Marx goes on to say, can become problematic and diluted because material force that gets “gripped by the masses” can be elevated to an idea. That is to say, it becomes ideologically cemented and hence begins to reflect the ethos of what it was designed/destined to replace (Marx 1970a 137). This is a clear example of what Paulo Freire warns against: the oppressed cannot transcend the oppressive system by a) rejecting the pervasiveness and significance of the oppression of the oppressor or by b) (as Marx stated) the oppressed cannot mimic the tendencies of the the oppressor as a conduit towards liberation (Knopp 33). But, the question is, is this possible?
Noam Chomsky deeply critiqued the Occupy Movement in their persistence at attempting this feat by fundamentally refusing to play the game by the rules of the oppressing class and this is, as Chomsky notes, why the movement fell flat and lost momentum. Chomsky frames his argument in contradistinction to the Spanish civil war as evidential to — in my interpretation of Chomsky — the power of playing to the rules of the oppressor (Chomsky 3). Chomsky highlights his case of “awe” with a wonderful excerpt from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell to illustrate both the industriousness and organization of the Spanish proletariat — both of which, the occupy movement failed at realizing (by design). However, what Chomsky fails to note and what Freire warns of — as the overarching subtext that unfolds in Orwell’s autobiographical masterpiece — is that all sides of the Spanish civil war elevated themselves to playing the same game and, subsequently, the ethics became diluted to the point in which there was no clear evidence if actions were right, wrong, or just; and, as I interpret Orwell as implying, the whole thing — and by thing I mean the proletariat’s attempt at elevating the class consciousness and determination of the lumpenproletariat without succumbing to the strategies of the oppressor — in the end was seemingly meaningless (Orwell 1938).
This brief side-track into examining the efficacy and methods therein of liberating pedagogy from the oppressive grips of capitalism was to help underscore the depth of the problem at hand. If our objective is to liberate education from the capitalist machine, could this be sufficiently achieved by utilizing the tools of capitalism or, as Freire argues, must this be done by refusing to use their tools and even refusing to name the oppressor altogether?5. Oppression, by Design
If you feel that privatizing the education system — and/or making it a profit center — is problematic and/or an unintended adverse affect, then your argument will fall flat against the neoliberal ideology. As they will respond — or preach rather — the mantra of Milton Friedman as he states in Capitalism and Freedom: “First, government must remove all rules and regulations standing in the way of the accumulation of profits. Second, they should sell off any assets they own that corporations could be running at a profit. And third, they should dramatically cut back funding to social programs.” (Klein 57)
That is to say, if the assets of education could make profit as a privately run institution, then it should be run as a privately run institution. This strict adherence towards privatization on principle alone is on par to what Foucault states is the distinction between American neoliberalism and French/German neoliberalism — American neoliberalism conflates economic analysis to a “method of thought, a grid of economics and sociological analysis” as it takes a “foothold in both the [political] left and right.” Or, in other words, the mantra of Friedman is not just an economic view, but it is an altogether metaphysical assumption that goes above and beyond the general reach of economics. Foucault further underlines this comparison by noting that in France an economic debate will remain in the framework of empiricism and perhaps even pragmatism, but, conversely, in America every economic debate becomes philosophically elevated and wholly reducible (in the Humean sense) to fundamental philosophical questions like the nature of humanity, what is freedom etc. (Foucault 218-219). I preface this section with this to highlight that if I perceive teachers and rote knowledge as being the means of production of education as a capitalist machine, this is not, to be clear, accidental or a consequence of something greater— it is, in effect, by design.
So when veteran teachers are indiscriminately blamed for poor test scores of students, as dictated by the ‘Race to the Top’ initiative (Goldstein, 259), we clearly see that the pedagogical machine does not see teachers as subjects but rather it objectifies and sees the teachers as an educational tool — a ready-to-hand object (to use the Heideggerian term). And, isn’t this is to be expected, and isn’t this what the existentialists warned us of: “in civilization man must expect to become the appendage of his machinery” and the “engineer successfully turns human beings into things through the esoteric rationale of an inanimate object” (Morris 63-64). And, as Freire states, nobody can actualize their authenticity while in the process of negating the authenticity of others (Freire 85). In other words, if the system (by design) fundamentally necessitates that the teacher (as means of production) gets reduced to mere object, to a replaceable part of a machine and the allowance of this factual process is, as Friedman argues, the path to freedom, but is also, conversely, the path to turning the oppressor into the oppressed (as Freire argues) and therefore negates the path of freedom— then we arrive at a paradoxical impasse. This paradox is akin to Nietzsche’s critique of the anarchist mantra of “no gods, no masters” that he notes in Beyond Good and Evil— as the proclamation of a seemingly desirable acceptance of a natural state of being (godless and masterless) by an external source is infinitely interpretable and pliable and the “cheers of nature” exhibited by the atheist, or anarchist or neoliberal are forever culpable to the tyrannical “Will to power” — albeit, Friedman or Marx (Nietzsche 1998 §22, 25-26).
Even though this contradiction is abundantly clear to Foucault and others alike, it is not in the better interest of the capitalist ideology to even address the problem at hand, and any attempt to critically think our way out of this problem will be perceived as disobedience and, as Dewey states, perceptions of disobedience will seem “threatening” and the willingness and desire to control and force influence upon the dissenting opinion will seem immanently so (Dewey 31). Although, Dewey argues this has a breaking point, I part ways with Dewey on this matter and think that perhaps if there was merely an oppressive teacher, then perhaps dissent could rise above the will to power at hand in a particular classroom; but when the will of the state as actualized through the will of a teacher — à la the instrument of labour — colludes with mind numbing rote education — à la the subject of labour — the product, the commodity, the student will not have the tools at their disposal to rise-up. The teacher is systematically inputting rote facts into the minds of children, as Freire metaphorically calls it— the banking concept; what does this do? But, namely, “…force on students almost total-passivity [that] can easily render the teacher equally passive, […] produc[ing] glassy-eyed, checked-out students and droning, deadly boring instructors.” (Johnstone & Terzakis 190)
This is by design and this is the will of the mechanic, the engineer and the oppressor. The subject of labour, the raw materials, the rote knowledge is tooled and crafted to make the “substances subservient to their aims” (Marx 1970b 84) — this takes instruments and labor and when all combined: this is the means of production. And this is, poignantly so, the lynchpin of Marxian philosophy altogether— liberation comes upon us once we (as in the individual) seize the means of production and take ownership upon the factory. Can this be?
6. Fixing the Hole
Like any machine that exhibits inefficiencies, failings and/or potential weakness, the mechanic will either find a way to increase capital — spend their way out of trouble; or they’ll attempt to re-engineer the means of production. And, in order to ensure that their efforts are fruitful, install some quantitative metrics to facilitate real-time progress reports. So first, as illustrated in part 1, capitalism can only assess success in quantitative metrics and that coupled with Reagan’s presumed state of urgency — as declared in Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk” speech written by University of California president David Pierpont Gardner — we have the groundwork laid towards what has become three decades of compulsion towards finding the right way to assess education methods.
The (neo)conservative solution to the education problem has been exclusively and poignantly fixated on repairing what they perceive as an inefficient means of production. This is outwardly exhibited by attacking the instruments of labor: removing laws that allow collective bargaining (increase power over means of production), replacing teachers with cheaper alternatives, replacing the public institution itself with a private profit driven alternative and persistently trying to create more economically efficient teaching methods.
The (neo)liberal solution to the education problem has been mostly fixated on presuming the problem requires an infusion of capital and advocates for tax increases and this perceived necessity to increase available capital makes the for-profit-charter-school option seem like a reasonable outlet to remove government inefficiencies and streamline the process of education.
In public discourse — and in spite of critical discourse — both solutions could be seen as reasonable and a discursive course of action. And, even if these two approaches are dichotomously juxtaposed to each other, they are two sides of the same coin and — for the purpose of the self-perpetuating, non-negating, capitalist ideology — they are perceived as the viable solution because they contradict and feed into each other and perpetually work towards increasing the drive to the contrary. That is to say, the more one side wants to increase funding, teacher pay and reinstall unions; the more the opposition wants to do the opposite. The pendulum wavers with equal force and the only thing that ever changes — mutatis mutandis — is what needs to change to maintain political momentum. As Francisco Weffert eloquently stated: “All the policies of the Left are based on the masses and depend on the consciousness of the latter. If that consciousness is confused, the Left will loose its roots and certain downfall will be imminent, although the Left may be deluded into thinking it can achieve the revolution by means of a quick return to power.” (Freire 149)
In the dog-fight for political power in Washington it is the presumption that a return to power is equal to some tacit and transcendental elevation in consciousness as evidently ipso facto by popular vote — and, of course, notwithstanding the ideological confusion — as a justifiable presumption that the modus operandi is the most efficacious course of action. Or, in short, the mechanics of the machine will perpetually tinker and promise betterment anew, but the result will be an utter vacillation of finding new ways to create failure. Obama’s race to the top carrot “significantly expand[s] charter schools and create[s] data that allow teachers to be evaluated based on their students’ test score” (Russom 119), while 83% of charter schools perform equal to or “actually worse than traditional public schools serving similar populations” (Russom 129). This is, supposedly, Change We Can Believe In. Alas, as Nietzsche reminds us: “…[T]he fundamental feature of man’s will, [is] his horror vacui: he needs a goal — and he will sooner will nothingness than not will at all” (Nietzsche 1918, 67). That is to say that out of fear of utter emptiness (vacui) man will act out of an ascetically charged compulsion to will for the sake of willing — even if all is negated. In short, going back to April 1983, the state of our education system would be significantly better if we had simply not willed at all.
7. A State of War
Educational Correspondence theory states that the educational system will correspond to the structure of the dominant ideology that it subordinates within, or in other words, it will reflect the structure of the ideology. The efficacy of this theory I would argue is evident in this essay, but to continue our discussion of the machine and its replicative process I am going to go further and argue that beyond just reflecting the capitalist ideology in itself, it functions towards indoctrinating the students to replicate the assumptions of capitalism by creating the illusion that capitalism is both the natural state of being and the path to human freedom. So, it is by a perceived notion of natural will and a drive to actualize human freedom that ensures the indoctrinated students of American pedagogy continue to sow the non-evolving seeds of its ideology. Perpetuating oppression, dehumanization and negating all that is human freedom.
How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be the ‘hosts’ of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization. (Freire 48)
This is to say is the education system is to the student as the oppressor is to the oppressed and the actions of the oppressed to self-liberate only end up reinforcing the bondage of the oppressor; paralleled would be the attempt to liberate the education system from corresponding to capitalism. Which, unfortunately, only draws it closer to reflecting that which it tries to reject. But beyond being merely a reflection of capitalism, it is the self-replicating cause of capitalism: just as capitalism will not negate itself in the particular, nor will it negate itself in the universal. That is to say, the America education system is as much a product for capitalism as it is a product of capitalism.
The immediate incarnation of American pedagogy, as to not negate itself, is a replication of the capitalist ideology as being both the of-itself and for-itself and it will not and cannot progress anew; unless the totality of the capitalist ideology is transformed in absolute congruence with the totality of all ideological systems that subordinate within the dominant ideology. Anything short of what I shall call collective transcendence — vox populi, vox Dei — is to perpetuate a state of oppression, a state of violence or, as Simone De Beauvoir claims: a “state of war.” (Beauvoir 754).
8. Demanding the Impossible
The 2016 State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama made numerous rhetorical claims about the necessity to focus more attention on our education system by helping give our future generations the educational tools to be better prepared for the “new economy” and its persistence to automate and render many occupations as obsolete. The irony in his address is that it fails to recognize that the problem with our education system is self-evident in many as the other problems he addressed. Climate change can be addressed with technology, but it can also be addressed through a critical and ethical introspective self-reflection about our ethical relationship to ourselves and future generations. Economic disparity can be addressed temporarily by finding ways to create jobs, but it also can be addressed by a critical analysis of the assumptions of capitalism and its ramifications on society as a whole. Global terrorism can be addressed with ramping up the military-industrial-complex, but it can also be addressed by a critical introspection about how to contend with contradicting ideologies within a globalized world. These are not problems of technology, or lack of technology; but, rather, these are problems of humanism — problems that are deeply addressed in the liberal arts, namely, in philosophy.
The irony is that the only conceivable path to repair the American Education system is through education — but not just any education. If we want to declare the aims of education (or the ends), as John Dewey suggests we do, we should recognize that the question: ‘What are the aims of public education?’ is a philosophical one. If we want to improve upon our reality we need to demand the impossible and demand that advancing technology and advancing humanism should receive equal effort and consideration. Otherwise, our ego, our arrogance and our technology will be, without a doubt, our downfall.
We can, I hope, do better.
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 Dear Mr. Secretary:
On August 26, 1981, you created the National Commission on Excellence in Education and directed it to present a report on the quality of education in America to you and to the American people by April of 1983. It has been my privilege to chair this endeavor and on behalf of the members of the Commission it is my pleasure to transmit this report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Our purpose has been to help define the problems afflicting American education and to provide solutions, not search for scapegoats. We addressed the main issues as we saw them, but have not attempted to treat the subordinate matters in any detail. We were forthright in our discussions and have been candid in our report regarding both the strengths and weaknesses of American education. The Commission deeply believes that the problems we have discerned in American education can be both understood and corrected if the people of our country, together with those who have public responsibility in the matter, care enough and are courageous enough to do what is required. Each member of the Commission appreciates your leadership in having asked this diverse group of persons to examine one of the central issues which will define our Nation’s future. We especially welcomed your confidence throughout the course of our deliberations and your anticipation of a report free of political partisanship. It is our collective and earnest hope that you will continue to provide leadership in this effort by assuring wide dissemination and full discussion of this report, and by encouraging appropriate action throughout the country. We believe that materials compiled by the Commission in the course of its work constitute a major resource for all persons interested in American education. The other Commissioners and I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to have served our country as members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, and on their behalf I remain,
David Pierpont Gardner , Chairman — (Gardner 1983).
[Thank you Patrick for this essay. Lead picture credit: utexas.edu.]
The writer is the author of Nothing’s Sacred.
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