Re: general, particular; economics, education

From: Peg Griffin (
Date: Wed Oct 13 2004 - 07:43:45 PDT

About exchange:

One answer calls to mind again the importance of the content domains
involved in education:
It is a matter of mutual appropriation, the student "gets" the cultural
historical domain as a subjective object and the society "gets" the student
as an objective subject.

This may not work in schools, maybe only in education:

Peg Griffin

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jay Lemke" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 1:02 AM
Subject: 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 of
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 to
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 brought
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 and
to learn? in fact paid them enough to get them to learn as much as we think
society needs them to learn?

What would be the going rate of wages for the productive labor of learning?
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 learning
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 having
more students learn more, why are we not prepared to pay for this largely
involuntary labor?

Suppose students unionized and refused to learn anything at all, or to take
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 hiring
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 of
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 to
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 students
for their labor of learning in proportion to the value-added to society as
whole? not in deferred job opportunities, but in current-dollars for

Would the race be on for highest achievement and highest pay? Would there
be conflict over the criteria of achievement? Would we end up paying by the
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 productive

Is the humanistic model of education, that education is not about exchange
value, but about intrinsic value to our souls, partly just a mystification
to cover up the bare fact that we do not pay students for their educational
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 community,
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 be
content that the current contents of the curriculum stands entirely without
any empirical evidence whatsoever of its specific _use value_ in society?

In my own opinion most of the contents of the standard curriculum,
certainly in the US, has neither economic use value nor intellectual value,
and one that had documentable and calculable economic use value would be an
improvement. In fact, with a slightly less ideologically tainted economic
model than is now dominant, it ought to be possible to demonstrate that a
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 have
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 the
>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 view,
>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 of
>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 but
>of concrete realizations. So the upper triangle relates to the latter
>case, the individual in his/her productive situation, the lower triangle
>pertains to the society, activity in general. The ideal implies society,
>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 , Leont'ev
>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 Frenet
>schools, where students participate in everyday out of school (this is
>the adjective Marx and Holzkamp use) activities or the situations we set
>up where students contributed to environmentalism, open house events, etc.
>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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