Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important and dangerous issue we face as a society is education. There are multiple reasons for this, but perhaps the most compelling is that there is no difference between education and democracy. What I mean by that is the same thing that educational philosopher John Dewey argued in his seminal work ‘Democracy and Education’ – which is that the major aim of education should be to promote self-aware, critical thinkers who understand their interdependence with and responsibility to the society in which they live.
If you believe the major premise of Dewey’s argument – that democracy and education are so intertwined they literally cannot be separated – then it is immediately obvious why a vibrant education is the most important thing in the country. More important, even, than national defense, the economic outlook, etc…
Now the tragedy is that our current educational discourse presents two equally terrible options: either our legislators are silent on the issue of education (i.e. they just don’t care), or they are vocal and hold a terribly mistaken understanding of what education is, and its goals. I believe that, unless the current trajectory of education is changed, it will ultimately collapse our already thinning democracy. I’m quite serious about this.
In a nutshell, neoliberalism is the idea that everything in society should be measured by a market-driven approach. It assumes not only are those with ‘business experience’ more capable and qualified to oversee any system of policymaking or administration, but that all things essentially boil down to business analytics and standards.
I don’t want to harp on this point too much, but the short version of the story is this: this assumption is not only dead wrong, it going to end up destroying our democracy and our way of life. It is fueled by a McCarthy-era fear of economic globalization, meaning that the US will no longer be the economic bully it once was. It is grounded in a number of hugely mistaken philosophical ideas about the nature of human existence, knowing and learning (which I don’t bore you with, but will happy to discuss at a later date). It has made itself manifest across all sectors of society, but the one I, personally, most interested in is education for the aforementioned reasons.
What it’s meant in terms of education is the absolutely ludicrous claim that the ultimate aim of education is economics. It extends this premise into the argument that business methods and mindsets (based on a completely naive understanding of knowing, teaching and learning) are best suited to the education system: training models, comparable performance measures, efficiencies of scale, standardization. Viola! Education has now become big business.(FYI: Obama’s policies on education are more destructive and terrifying than George W. Bush’s)
This neoliberal disease has reached near fever pitch. Here’s a good example: the Wake County School System (traditionally considered a model of public education in moderately urban environments) hired retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata to run its system. His credentials? A 12-month training program at a big business education training facility. In any other field, this would be considered absolute lunacy. Could you imagine taking a one-year course in medicine and then being hired to run Duke Medical Center? Well, the people of Wake County decided that was not only acceptable, it was preferable to alternatives like, say, taking the best a brightest in the field of education as a leader for the system.
“The Market As God” by Harvey Cox