Murder Machine Part Deux

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.

Furthermore:

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.

And

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.

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9 Responses to “Murder Machine Part Deux”


  1. 1 coc July 16, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I feel your pain Mr Green, but fear not. The Primary School Curriculum (PSC) is largely free of overt ‘brainwashing for capital’ and the focus on instruction and discipline is far from what it once was. I have no dount that the breaking of the church in the 1990s had some effect in the dilution of the regimentalism that prevailed theretofore. On paper at least, the PSC is loaded to the gunnels with progressive philosophies, but as one would expect, much hangs on its implementation in the hands of church dominated schools.

    The secondary school system is every bit as bad as you describe of course, little more than a ‘production unit’ production line. Interestingly, it was the then nascent secondary system which most provoked Pearse’s ire, for much the same reasons you’re outlining.

    Of course you are not compelled to send your child to one of these priest ridden instititions. You can of course home school. Sort of like if you don’t like church control of hospitals you are free to establish your own one. All at your own expense of course. It’s a grand little republic all the same, isn’t it?

  2. 2 Tomboktu July 16, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I don’t know that primary schools are necessarily church-dominated, much less priest-ridden, although that are dominantly under the patronage of churches. The teachers and principals are predominantly lay people.

    =========
    I know of one primary school in the Dublin RC diocese where the principal, a laicised cleric, has just one crucifix in the school, in his office. (And it was simple cross: two large twigs with a knotted piece of string attached to it so as to represent Jesus — symbolic rather than the ghoulish realistic representation of a man being tortured that I have seen in so many places.)

    He told me was challenged about this by a visiting delegation from the Roman Catholic schools’ representative organisation in Finland: why was there no crucifix in the entrance hall where all visitors to the school could see it? And why was there not a crucifix in every classroom?

    In the entrance hall is a child-painted mural representing peoples and cultures from around the world, under a quotation from Nelson Mandela.

    The principal told me that he told the Finns the majority of his pupils are not Catholics, and many are not even Christians. He said he wants his school to live Christ’s message “whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me” by showing to the religion and culture of his pupils the respect he expected his to be shown when he had lived in apartheid South Africa, and not forcing it upon them. The choice of quotation from Mandela (I have forgotten what it said) was intended to be universal, to be close to something found in texts of most religions and which atheists can identify with.

    I was shown around the school, and was deeply impressed with the way in which he was warmly greeted by pupils. I do not think it was an act for my benefit.

    I had previously been sent to meet the principal of another school, across Dublin, that was stated to have a reputation for being inclusive of children of other religions. Indeed, the school’s mission statement (the Department of Education’s inspectors encourage them to have one) included this. While I waited outside the principal’s office to interview her I heard her around the corner in a corridor dealing with a boy — aged about eight — who had hit a girl in the preceding break. The principal was a fury. She would ask the boy a question and as he started to answer would cut him short: “Do not lie to me!”. I had not seen the incident, but I could tell he was not lying: he was not let say enough to get out a lie. And she repeated the question and barked him down three or four times before he learnt to meekly say “yes Mrs X”.

    Later, when I interviewed her, I asked her how her Roman Catholic school accommodates religious diversity. In the conversation around that, I asked about practical examples of how the school might accommodate Muslims. (I was thinking of examples like exempting from PE any pupils who observe day-time fasting during Ramadan.) Her answer was that you needed to do a lot more work on Muslim boys’ toilet hygiene.

    And I recall that an Educate Together school — in Clare, I think — was severely criticised for its autocratic and heavy-handed management style by the inspectors in the last year or so.

    =====
    In your research about the available schools, I would recommend you to see if the Inspectorate has published any evaluations of the schools you are considering: http://www.education.ie/insreports/school_inspection_report_listing.htm

    A glowing report may not sway you — the particular inspector(s) on that day may have taken a light tough or problems may not have been apparent — but some of the more recent reports (i.e. since the system of publishing reports has settled down) have been candid about problems they do identify, and you can usefully evaluate if any such problems are important in your choice.

  3. 3 KevanB July 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Hugh,

    As a father of three daughters I know your feelings. I passed the 11+ and didn’t take the rest. The sheer hypocrisy of some of the moments in the girls educational career, was appalling. I was appalled at myself.

    As you say, the system is geared, especially at secondary level, to churning out rote learned fodder for the cannons of big business. Primary wasn’t so bad as they I feel genuinely tried to instill the three Rs into the girls.

    I do feel kids need the three Rs. Reading, all those books I have enjoyed and learnt from. Writing, so I can and they can write a large FU to any passing representative of the things I or they might despise, and arithmetic so they can do the sums and the accounts that give them the freedom to run their life in this world of money.

    Of course it is not free, three kids can cost you nearly a grand in books and add ons each year. Add that to sending them to a school whose ethos is one I abandoned in my late teenage years, after I raised my eyes from motorbikes, rockn’roll and decent women.

    The policy I adopted was one of deep skepticism to all things educational. This rubbed off on the kids and got me very unpopular as they went into secondary. Not with them but with the schools.

    It gets worse when they go into secondary school, should you pay the three grand a year for a private school that actually costs about sixty grand, except that the rest of the money is paid by the other poor shits who sends their kids to so called state schools.

    Aside from home schooling, which I could never work how to to do as I had to earn a living, and mostly I worked far from home, the only thing to do is to make sure that they get Dad’s point of view. They may not buy into it, but at least you can say you tried.

    Did I succeed?

    Ah now, there is a question. I look forward to your post in twenty years time. Mine will will come a bit after that. So far so good, I think. Well maybe, but fatherhood is a work in progress. And we hope that they will have a better life than we did and be critically more aware at an earlier age.

    Kevan

  4. 4 LeftAtTheCross July 19, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Like the other commentators above, I feel your pain.

    I wrote a letter to the IT the day of O’Hara’s piece. It wasn’t published.

    There’s an article in the Srping’10 Communist Review (got it in Connolly Books) on the subject of youth which aligns with some of what you’re saying. Just read it yesterday evening.

    I have 3 kids in school, the youngest two in the village RC national school, my eldest in the Sisters of Mercy convent secondary in Navan. I’m an athiest and a lifelong Clash fan. So I never grew up in that sense you might say. Maybe life batters you down, maybe you mellow, maybe it actually doesn’t make much odds. My kids are little conservatives, they love school, being with their pals. I hate that they are being drilled in conformity but I hope that they will realise as they mature that there’s more than one way of looking at the world. Some school teachers are closet fascists, most are well meaning nice people with a genuine vocation. I haven’t met any communists just yet. The kids get attention and they do flourish, their personalities develop. Life is a journey, they can rebel against the machine in good time on their own terms. Maybe they won’t, but that will be their decision, made on the basis of what they have learnt at home as much as what they have learnt in school.

    As for the agenda of that O’Hara piece, my blood is still boiling.

  5. 5 Hugh Green July 20, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Thanks for the considered comments all.

    coc,

    It’s depressing, if you are right, that the primary school is generally more progressive than the secondary school is pretty depressing, since it means the secondary school will seek to drive out whatever creative habits had been developed, however unevenly, hitherto.

    The quota of priests among the staff or the proximity of priests or other religious orders to the running of the school isn’t my main concern. Lay teachers can be as authoritarian and unhinged within the Catholic school system (and, as Tomboktu points out, without this system too) as the most turbulent cleric.

    It’s more the fact of being compelled to accept this form of education in the absence of any alternative, in the knowledge that there are many in the Catholic church who would agree with the assertion, as per Denis Faul, that ‘the faith is caught as much as taught’”.

    Tomboktu,

    Thanks for the advice. I’m not surprised that there’s a fair amount of diversity in how Catholic schools are run, depending on key individuals within the school management structure operate, and that non-Catholic schoolchildren may flourish, relatively speaking, within a Catholic school just as a school with a secular orientation is no guarantee of a superior education.

    Kevan,

    ‘we hope that they will have a better life than we did’- My problem is that I don’t have a great deal of hope.

    LATC,

    Thanks, will check out the Communist Review piece. Would be interested in reading your letter about the O’Hara piece if you’re happy sending it on.

    • 6 LeftAtTheCross July 20, 2010 at 8:48 am

      Here you go. It wasn’t a very together letter in retrospect, I was annoyed writing it.

      “Madam,

      Intel’s Jim O’Hara makes a case for radical overhaul of the education system as a enabler for the smart economy, “Overhauling education the smart thing to do”, July 8th.

      He states that the economy demands certain skills.

      Demands. Requires. Relies upon. Necessitates.

      Undoubtedly when seen through the eyes of multi-national corporations this is indeed how education appears, as a service which provides training to the future workforce. But it is a blinkered vision. O’Hara’s opinions reflect a narrowly constrained view of society, one in which the state serves only to facilitate business and enterprise. It is a view which is profoundly undemocratic, which demands that the requirements of enterprise be placed before the greater needs of society at large, that sectional interests should come before the common good.

      Society is more than just an economy, citizens are more than just potential employees.

      What about turning this on its head? Should society not demand that business provide the types of employment that facilitate families, communities, that promote social well being? Sounds mad, doesn’t it, given the “reality” of the employment “market” in this neo-liberal era. There is no alternative, we are where we are, etc.

      Sometimes we forget that where we are now is not where we always were, nor where we must always remain. It brings to mind a t-shirt seen recently which proclaimed “Unions, the people who brought you the weekend”. Often we take for granted the gains that have been won for ordinary people from those who would mould our lives for their profit. We should not allow them to undermine education for the greater good of society by allowing them to dictate the formation of our children, our future.”


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