They have planned and established an education system which more wickedly does violence to the elemental human rights of Irish children than would an edict for the general castration of Irish males. The system has aimed at the substitution for men and women of mere Things. It has not been an entire success. There are still a great many thousand men and women in Ireland. But a great many thousand of what, by way of courtesy, we call men and women, are simply Things. Men and women, however depraved, have kindly human allegiances. But these Things have no allegiance. Like other Things, they are For sale.
-Pearse, The Murder Machine
It will be soon be time, indeed the time has probably already passed, for us to start looking for a primary school. I am about as enthusiastic about this as I would be about a visit from the bailiffs. To tell the truth, I have been putting it off for some time, in the wild hope that the education system would simply dissolve before the moment arrived. My thoughts about my son going to primary school remind me about what I thought about primary school before I myself started. Some decades later, I am quite sure that my four year old self was mostly right on this.
What do people have to go to school for, anyway?
One can roll out liberal, conservative and progressive arguments about the emancipatory power of education, and how education is needed for a person to become a fully-fledged human being. So far, I agree.
What I do not, can not agree with, is the idea that these necessities can only be addressed by a system of schools in the form that we know them. And I deeply resent the fact that I will be compelled to send my child to one of these institutions which, as far as I can see, are primarily geared to instilling discipline and obedience, and, secondarily, to instruct in the development and certification of a range of skills that will make his labour power attractive to a prospective owner of capital. Education, in terms of priorities, scarcely comes into it.
My resentment is further deepened by the grip of the Catholic Church on the range of available institutions from which we are forced to choose, and the possibility that we might have to end up sending him to one of their schools in the absence of an available alternative. The fact that an Educate Together school may present a secular alternative does not cancel out the fact that these too are part of the existing education system.
It is further deepened by the fact that we will have to pay for his school books: a barbaric practice. Also by the knowledge that I may find myself, at some point, in loco praceptoris, hypocritically biting my lip and offering inducements to do homework, issuing reprimands for failing to be dutiful in class, and all that stuff.
As I write this, I can hear fragments of arguments against this in my mind, and they all sound to me like arguments from authority. Not in the sense of repeating the conclusions of some expert who happens to conclude that the current education system approximates the best possible of worlds, but rather, in the sense that this is the way things are, and that it is better to accept it and get on with it rather than making the situation to so much questioning complaint. These arguments are arguments from authority in the sense that they derive from brute authority, springing forth from a habit of obedience instilled and developed, to a large extent, in school.
Let me get back to somewhere approaching the point. While I do not see Catholic Church control of schools as favourable, I do not see the mere transfer of this control to the State as necessarily favourable either, mainly for reasons I put forward in the post about the tiny and vocal minorities: there is no reason, in the present, why a weakening of Church influence would lead to the instrumental purpose of schools being altered one iota. What is more, given the current balance of class forces, the likely outcome is an even greater subordination of schools to the demands of the owners of capital.
There is no public discussion on what schools are for. It is mostly taken for granted that they exist to serve capital. When the matter of schools is raised in broadcast and print media, it is always in terms of whether or not they are turning out properly equipped units of production. A lot of the time this is disguised in disingenuous concern for giving children the right skills to meet the demands of the 21st century global marketplace. The bullshit of the corporate world suffuses all conversation about what children should be learning: problem-solving, innovation, communications, team work, creativity, critical thinking. These are precisely the sort of glittering generalities that flash up in the brochures of any corporate asset stripper worth its salt. But anyone reading the brochure of an asset stripper knows very well that in so far as there is any truth to this bullshit, it is on account of how well these attributes serve the needs of capital. Not so when it comes to people thinking about education.
Consider chickens. There is a lot more public thought given to the best way to raise chickens than there is given to the best way to educate children. Many people will fret over the conditions of battery hens, and will opt for free range or organic chicken, out of concern for the chicken whose flesh they will eventually devour. There is, of course, nothing wrong with worrying about chickens. But whilst people are at least aware of differing methods for raising chickens and of potential negative effects of particular approaches, not least on the chicken, I have never come across a discussion about education that was not in terms of turning out children as optimally equipped production units or as maturing investment portfolios. No doubt this is in large measure an effect of the existing education system, where discipline and instruction are paramount, and as a result this form of ‘education’ is seen as an element of some natural order.
Well, it isn’t. The problem, though, is that however revolting the existing system might be, it is better than what is being proposed by the likes of Jim O’Hara, general manager of Intel Ireland and vice-president, Technology Manufacturing Group, Intel Corporation, and board member of Enterprise Ireland, who had a revolting article published by the Irish Times last week.
Before looking at the article, consider the growing influence of Intel and other multinationals, in terms of interventions in what passes for public debate. The extent of their influence on government policy is immense, but not particularly transparent. Explanations as to why multinational firms chose Ireland as a base tend to cite factors such as a young, English-speaking workforce and low corporation tax.
What is less cited, but an important factor nonetheless, is the degree of power enjoyed by large multinationals over the state apparatus, by comparison with larger jurisdictions with broader economic bases in which there are a broader range of powerful constitutencies that the government must deal with. In this jurisdiction, given the relative size of firms like Intel to the rest of the economy, when its bosses say ‘jump’ the government has already provided it with a range of options to choose from in terms of altitude preferences.
Consider, for instance, the ‘major overhaul’ of the intellectual property regime to be conducted by the government, reported here.
The members of the intellectual property IP Implementation Group are: Dr Jim Mountjoy [Chairman], Founder of Euristix/Board Member, Science Foundation Ireland, IBEC Damien Callaghan, Member of Innovation Taskforce, Investment Director, Intel Capital John Scanlan, Director, Technology Transfer Office, NUI Maynooth Richard Stokes, CEO, Invent (Technology Transfer Office, DCU) Brendan Cremen, Director, Technology Transfer Office, UCC Professor Terry Smith, Vice-President for Research, NUI Galway Dr Jeanne Bolger, Vice-President Scientific Licensing/Alliance Manager, Jansen Barry Kennedy, Research Program Manager, Intel Dr Daniel O’Mahony, Partner, Kernel Capital Partners and Partner, Seroba Kernel Life Sciences Dr Ena Prosser, Partner, Fountain Healthcare Partners Paul Kavanagh, Director, Kinometrics Tara MacMahon, Intellectual Property lawyer, Member of Innovation Taskforce
Or consider the responsiveness of Batt O’Keefe to concerns expressed about ‘grade inflation‘, and the people he had been talking to about it:
Asked if concerns had been expressed by employers about particular institutions, Mr O’Keeffe acknowledged several industry people were of the view that there was a disparity in standards between some establishments.
“In order to get consistency across the board, we need to have an outside, overseeing quality assurance body, to ensure that all qualifications across our education sector are on par.”
Mr O’Keeffe said he wanted to achieve “an equilibrium” of standards across the various educational institutions.
Mr O’Keeffe insisted the investigations into exam results did not represent a “witch hunt” but a challenge to all institutions to meet the quality standards.
Internet giant Google Ireland, one of largest private sector employers in the State, today welcomed Mr O’Keeffe’s decision. The company, which employs 1,500 people at its European headquarters in Dublin, said Ireland’s education system has been a critical attraction for US investment in Ireland and the key to delivering the smart economy.
“We believe it is imperative that the integrity of our third level education system is maintained and we are pleased that the Minister is looking into this,” said Google Ireland chief executive John Herlihy.
The investigations follow high-profile criticism of the Irish education system by former Intel chief executive Dr Craig Barrett at the Farmleigh economic summit in June and again in Dublin last month.
And consider the Irish Times’s approval of O’Keefe’s solicitous response:
There is much to be done to reverse the decline in academic standards. But Mr O’Keeffe has acknowledged the scale of the problem, albeit belatedly, and is breaking with the tradition where the Minister sees himself as no more than a cheerleader for the education sector. It is also appropriate that a minister should respond to concerns raised by major employers such as Intel and Google. As he said yesterday, we can no longer afford to ignore the views of these and other US multinationals which provide jobs for more than 200,000 people.
What Intel and Google and say goes. It is in this light that O’Hara’s article from last week ought to be read. Most multinational firms have media strategies, and as part of this they seek to reach a certain degree of media coverage. It seems likely that O’Hara’s intervention here is part of this, rather than the fruit of a patriotic impulse. Whether what is being proposed represents a real priority for Intel scarcely matters: what matters is that it will be acted upon.
In a turgid piece replete with the usual corporate excremental sausage, he writes, outlining Intel’s ‘vision for excellence in education and a path to competitiveness in the 21st century’, that
The curriculum should be structured in such a way that it reflects the needs of modern society
i.e. the curriculum should be structured in such a way that it reflects the needs of Intel.
Curriculum improvement goes hand in hand with teacher development….If we are to drive excellence among the teaching profession we should look at compensating teachers based on performance
i.e. teachers should be subjected to intensive metriculated assessment, based on how they meet the goals set for them by Intel.
Meritocracy makes great sense in business and there is no reason why it should not work in education.
i.e. people like me, at the pinnacle of the business world are here on merit. This is why they rule, and this is why I and people like me can impose our vision on the education system (Let’s forget about the fact that over the past few decades, in the country where the meritocracy of my corporation originates, pay for those at the top have grown to obscene levels while wages for most of the population have stagnated). Just as we have arrived at the top of a corporate tyranny where everything is subordinate to the creation of profits for shareholders, we expect the education system to operate as a tyranny, with each teacher in charge of his or her own ‘career’ development, having internalised the values of the corporate system, and we expect teachers to impart these values to the children they have been assigned to instruct.
Students must have access to the best learning environment and infrastructure, including always-on broadband in the classroom and beyond so that learning can continue after school.
Today, learning does not continue at school. Children should work longer hours to meet Intel’s needs.
New approaches to teaching and learning require new approaches to evaluation. In business, when it comes to performance, you get what you measure.
In business, when it comes to raising the rate of exploitation of workers, you get what you measure. It allows bosses to exercise greater control and surveillance over workers, and will work for teachers and children too.
It is important that we do not just change certain aspects of education, but create a culture that embraces innovation, regular evaluation and continuous improvement.
We must create a system of surveillance that renders children subordinate to the values of corporate capitalism from an early age and continuously seeks to build on their ignorance, obedience and subordination, erasing any capacity for critical thinking.
Industry can make a contribution to shaping the subject and career selection of students to ensure that the best and brightest come through the system and serve the knowledge areas that reflect the needs of the nation.
Any child that does not obey is surplus to Intel’s requirements.
There’s your knowledge economy right there: slavery, ignorance and a particularly psychotic strain of neo-liberal ideology. If people are even in the slightest bit serious about avoiding a repetition of the abuses of the past, never mind developing decent forms of education, these bastards must be resisted at all costs.