23 April 2007

Marxist support

One characteristic of a really bad idea is that it is bad to many different people, for many different types of reason. So it is with educational conscription. Chris Dillow posted on this issue recently, and with his permission I reproduce it in full. He was wrong about the thanks. This is a single issue campaign and I'm sure his support is very welcome.

Fabian Tassano and friends are rightly campaigning against educational conscription. They'll not thank me for this, but this is one area where libertarianism meets Marxism.
Louis Althusser called schools ideological state apparatuses. They're one of the means by which workers are indoctrinated into modes of thought favourable to the continuation of capitalism. There are (at least) four ways in which this happens:
1. Schools inculcate a culture of presenteeism. In bullying students to attend even unnecessary classes, schools prepare them for a world in which they'll have to attend factories and offices not  (just?) because it is technologically necessary to do so, but because presenteeism permits easy oversight by capitalists of workers.
2. Schools normalize alienation. The school uniform, and the fact that schools are sometimes a long way from home, send a message: your individuality must be suppressed.
3. Schools teach that success depends upon obeying rules, and subordinating yourself to authority.
4. Schools help legitimate authority. In well-run schools, teachers have both authority over students and superior knowledge. This coincidence inculcates the belief that authority is always to be identified with superior wisdom. It is only after you become a skilled worker that you realize this to be a fiction.
Now, the thing about these mechanisms is that they operate without the intention of any particular teachers. Indeed, I suspect their existence is a lucky accident, rather than anyone's design; some things are the result of human behaviour but not intention.
However, it's an accident that accords well with New Labour ideology. One feature of this - seen in its desire to get people into work and prepare them for the "challenges of globalization" - is the belief that government should operate as a human resources department. To New Labour, people must change to meet the needs of the economy, rather than vice versa.
The question is: are there any possible viable alternatives? I'm not at all sure.

Fabian then responded in the comments:

Let me subvert your four ways, if I may.

1. Mediocratic schools inculcate a culture of cultural "absenteeism", i.e. disaffection with bourgeois values, by showing a contrast between theory (enforced attendance, "education does you good") and practice (skiving, anarchy, soul-destroying boredom).

2. Mediocratic schools normalize pseudo-individualism. You are encouraged to regard yourself as the same as everyone else, although you can choose clothes/hairstyle to distinguish yourself.

3. Mediocratic schools teach that success depends upon playing in with phoneyness, and subordinating yourself to the dominant ideology.

4. Mediocratic schools help legitimate selective anti-authoritarianism, i.e against private authority figures, but in favour of state agents (social workers, doctors, etc.).

The "viable alternative" is to get the state out of education - there are *no* good economic arguments for the state to be involved.

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