Wednesday, November 18, 2015

a brief interpretation of higher education, inspired by Georg Lukács

As long as higher education is construed through ideology, it will be impossible to develop the basis for overturning the social relations within. The ideology prevents us from confronting the contradictions of education in capitalist society.

1. Education provides access to socially produced goods—job security and income being the most commonly cited. The ideology tells us that this access is on the basis of merit earned by students’ academic and social-benefit work through the auspices of the institution. In fact, education is an institutional state apparatus that determines access to goods through sorting candidates, then subjecting those admitted to disciplines that produce a consciousness perfectly suited to the tasks of upholding and reproducing status quo predominant social relations. Power, wealth, and prestige are reproduced in a docile subject.

2. Education develops democratic citizenship. The ideology addresses democratic virtues of critical thinking, autonomy, and social responsibility. It develops these as the skills of individuals, in service to the prevailing social order. The possibilities of collective action are marginalized both by institutional policy and architecture, but also by the standards and protocols of evaluation. The democratic citizen produced by education is a individualist-bourgeois consciousness, prepared for fulfilling a role established by nationalist, capitalist aims. Meanwhile, this consciousness believes in individualist concepts of rights, merit, property, etc.—i.e., it does not believe in collectivism, cosmopolitanism, or the free ability to form social bonds through the collective will.

3. Education creates whole human beings through transformative experience. The ideology refers to the individual as a being whose transformation is needed and valuable. The self-regard of this form of consciousness further naturalizes individualism by producing a reality effect in which the individual is held up in opposition to the social whole. The cult of the fetishized individual makes it unintelligible that this effect is the result of being caught up in the social whole that is constructed through education (among other institutional state apparatuses). In fact, even the individualism worshipped in education is a false and mistaken one—individualism as the development of a “personality” composed of “lifestyle choices” which are nothing more than selections of consumer objects.

4. Education creates public good. The least tangible and plausible claim of the education ideology is that it benefits the social whole. Because education reproduces and recapitulates the class divisions in capitalist society, and naturalizes these along with the notions of merit, productivity, individual responsibility, etc., the product of education can only serve the class interests of capitalist society. The “public good” so named is an orderly (i.e. compliant) society where class divisions themselves can be occluded.

Yet these self-destructive, exploitative principles are marshaled in defense of education by “progressive” educators and their collaborators. Tax support of so-called public higher education is advocated on the grounds that education is the key to economic and social progress—for individuals, entry into the “middle class;” for society, creation of an army of professionals to provide ameliorations for various ills.

Here yet another contradiction is hidden: the ills for which the “middle class” needs amelioration are created by “middle class” consumption. Indeed, the ills of the society as a whole, and of the planet, are created by religious devotion to consumption. That consumption further drives worldwide exploitation of people and planet that enriches capitalists while it impoverishes everyone else. While those in the “middle class” perceive themselves to be beneficiaries of consumer society because they live among technological means, it is nearly impossible to discover, and really impossible to perceive the real effects and costs of consumption.

Education provides the ways and means of consumption: consumers and consumer objects. And of course, the amelioration of the ills of consumption is brought about by more consumption. For alienation from other people, consume “communications media” devices! For physiological and psychological malaise, consume medicine!

Meanwhile, real power and wealth not only remain in the hands of capitalists, but they accumulate still more. Their own false consciousness prevents understanding that their own power and wealth is dependent upon a fatal addiction to consumption and is destined to end. A despoiled, smoldering planet uninhabitable by humans is also uninhabitable by capitalists.

To the extent that any of this is true, education as it is currently formulated can not benefit anyone. The only form of education that could, would be a thoroughly critical education, aiming not to contribute to the prevailing social order but to bring about its destruction. This critical education could not promise any individual a better life, because the destruction needed will be costly and painful, and the conclusion of the revolutionary period is in an unknowably distant future. Critical education could not promise any kind of advance in the power or wealth of individuals—on the contrary, it would lead them to be ill-suited to the labor routines and compliance demanded by every workplace. Critical education could promise pain and suffering. It could promise exposure to forms of thinking that are unrecognizable in bourgeois culture. It could promise exposure to severe disciplinary tactics and state violence.

No comments: