RE: general, particular; economics, education

From: David Preiss (
Date: Wed Oct 13 2004 - 07:28:43 PDT

This is interesting, Jay, as it rings a bell about the issue of GRAD
STUDENTS unionization at private US universities. Curiously enough, the
universities say that grad students are students so they should not pay
them, even if they are teaching. Students say that their teaching is
their work and that they share a lot of the teaching burden of the
university plus their research work, which should be seen as a job. The
issue that being students is a JOB have not been raised by the students
unions, though. I guess they would happily endorse your point of view,
as actually strikes have been called. I, looking these discussions from
a "developing world citizenship point of view", and where teachers are
largely subpaid by their job, somehow see these discussions as part of a
wealthy country mentality. There are thousands of students at the
developing world that would be extremely glad with the benefits students
at the US already have. Still, I do share the idea that unions are good
for grad students and that the largest the benefits grad students
receive, the larger the chances are that minority students, students
with families, and students from the developed world can attend big
institutions. So, I guess that what you say nicely applies to graduate

David Preiss
Telefono (Chile): 56-2-3547174

-----Mensaje original-----
De: Jay Lemke []
Enviado el: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 3:02 AM
Asunto: Re: general, particular; economics, education

Michael Roth makes some interesting points about how AT concretely links

the macro-social and the local-community levels of analysis in studies
workplaces or of educational issues.

I think we all know it is easier to combine micro-social and meso-social

(community, institution) levels of analysis, than it is to link either
more fully macro-scale sociology.

So it seems intriguing to me to explore Michael's suggestion that the
concepts of exchange and division of labor are notions not usually
in to the analysis of, say, schools and classrooms, but which might help

bridge the micro-macro gap (in our theoretical discourses, not in the
material system, where the gap does not "exist").

Do we ever ask, for instance, why students' labor is not considered
productive and paid for?

(Compare the traditional case of housework labor by "wives".)

What difference would it make to schools if we paid students to study
to learn? in fact paid them enough to get them to learn as much as we
society needs them to learn?

What would be the going rate of wages for the productive labor of
How much would we have to pay? Would we pay those who are currently less

academically well-motivated more or less than those who already see
self-interest in learning (because for middle-class students that
has a high probable pay-off that it does not seem to have in the view of

many other students)? If we believe there is a net social benefit to
more students learn more, why are we not prepared to pay for this
involuntary labor?

Suppose students unionized and refused to learn anything at all, or to
our tests, or to cooperate in any way with schools, unless they were
paid a
fair wage for their labor?

Suppose student unions negotiated for wage rates, but also for working
conditions, or learning conditions, balancing meeting state requirements

with time for learning about personal interests? or a voice in the
and promotion of teachers?

And what of the division of labor? A lot of scholarship already tells us

that the kind of labor-of-learning assigned to working-class vs
middle-class students in schools mirrors the adult division of
labor-of-production. This is the cornerstone of reproductionist theories
education. In fact there seems to be a third-tier here, because even
middle-class school "education" is pretty mind-numbing. The division of
labor assigns leadership class students labor-of-learning which is more
creative, involves more autonomy of decision-making compared even to
middle-class labor-of-learning. But none of these are paid labor. If we
think in terms of the aggregate value-added to society by the labors of
learning of the three classes, surely the first two groups, by sheer
numbers, must add far more social value by their learning. Compare this
the delayed payback they get for their labors. An interesting economic
exercise. But what would be the consequences for this division of labor,

and for the attendant class reproductive cycle, if we did pay all
for their labor of learning in proportion to the value-added to society
whole? not in deferred job opportunities, but in current-dollars for

Would the race be on for highest achievement and highest pay? Would
be conflict over the criteria of achievement? Would we end up paying by
hour, by test results, or by some more economically rational model of
actual value added? How would that be calculated, when it is not at all
obvious what the value of a given type of learning will be to society at

the future time that the student deploys that learning in other

Is the humanistic model of education, that education is not about
value, but about intrinsic value to our souls, partly just a
to cover up the bare fact that we do not pay students for their
labor? There is here a basic primary contradiction: we claim that their
learning is essential to society and adds value to society, but we also
claim that there is no economic grounds for paying them for adding this
value to the community.

If on the other hand this value were to be subtracted from the
by students' refusal to perform the labor of learning, its enormous
economic value-added would be immediately obvious.

Would you work for 12 years for no pay on the non-guaranteed promise of
deferred wages? Would you endorse a union contract with this provision?

And if you were paying students for their labor of learning, would you
content that the current contents of the curriculum stands entirely
any empirical evidence whatsoever of its specific _use value_ in

In my own opinion most of the contents of the standard curriculum,
certainly in the US, has neither economic use value nor intellectual
and one that had documentable and calculable economic use value would be
improvement. In fact, with a slightly less ideologically tainted
model than is now dominant, it ought to be possible to demonstrate that
curriculum with genuine intellectual value would have more economic use
value than the current curriculum. Such an analysis might also force
comparisons of the different types of economies which would maximize the

use value of different kinds of curriculum, e.g. deskilled workers in
standardized mass production economies vs. critically thoughtful and
innovative workers in small-scale niche-production economies.

There was a time when economics aimed to be a general theory of human
social value. There was never a time when education could be said to
rationally aimed at maximizing human social value.


At 06:55 PM 10/12/2004, you wrote:
>Hi all,
>I am in the middle of "Das Kapital," and have had many thoughts about
>recent exchanges concerning Engeström/Holzkamp, Il'enkov/Dubrovsky etc.

>Two things in particular to be mentioned here:
>1. I don't think that Yrjö attends to Marx's emphasis on the
>particular/general (concrete/abstract) distinctions. This is clear, in
>part, of Y's use of "community" rather than "society", which, in my
>also leads to the problem Mike once stated to me that some in our
>community don't distinguish activity and action. Within communities (if

>interpreted in Lave's sense), there is no commodity exchange; division
>labor happens at the level of the society, to which work IN GENERAL
>contributes so that it continues to exist. The analyses YE provides are

>always of concrete situations, that is, not of activities in general
>of concrete realizations. So the upper triangle relates to the latter
>case, the individual in his/her productive situation, the lower
>pertains to the society, activity in general. The ideal implies
>lower part of the big triangle, activity in general; but the individual

>always concretely realizes it thereby makes it actually possible.
>2. This is where my second point comes in, activity in school? Marx
>clearly says that all activity implies the exchange situation ,
>talks about the vision of the outcome. I was thinking that anyone
>analyzing school situations without attending to the exchange situation

>(grades) students are involved in, does not do an activity theoretic
>analysis in the dialectical materialist sense. Perhaps the French
>schools, where students participate in everyday out of school (this is

>the adjective Marx and Holzkamp use) activities or the situations we
>up where students contributed to environmentalism, open house events,
>in a free and open exchange with other parts of the town are better
>examples than most of the ones we read about.

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276

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