Re: Nate's interesting question

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Thu Mar 10 2005 - 18:14:34 PST

Been a little too busy to participate on this, and about to be so again for
a few more days ...

But I hope no one thinks I prefer child labor slavery to classroom
education! :)
Certainly the lesser of two weevils.

As I recall, in the history of the overdeveloped nations, we instituted
compulsory education to prevent child labor from undermining wages and
increasing adult unemployment to the point where there weren't enough
people to buy the goods that mass production makes. I really don't think
that the major historical impetus (at the level of the objective material
conditions, if you like) was being nice to children or investing in the
future of the community.

I certainly do believe that exploitation of child labor is always a threat,
and compulsory schooling is a proven inhibitor or diminisher.

But the situation really does seem different today in different parts of
the world, as already noted for Chile, some parts of Africa, etc. In the US
and most of the overdeveloped world, which I was talking from and about (in
reference initially to those neo-design schools, not built in or for 3rd or
4th world students), compulsory education may have outlived its usefulness.
Briefly: Youngest citizens have a (natural but not yet legal) right to
profit by their labor, and thereby gain some of the social status and
capital needed to claim their legal rights (cf. women in the last century).
As there is no evidence that schooling (at least beyond primary education)
benefits them more than it benefits the rest of us, if we want to force
them to learn what we want them to learn, in the way we want them to learn,
and clearly against their wills, we ought at least to pay them. The present
schooling system IS slave labor: we reap the benefit, they do the work, and
they don't get paid.

What the hell does it mean that students "have a right to a [compulsory]
education"?? Should I ask George Orwell? If this isn't a contradiction
hiding an unanalyzed ideology, I'd be really surprised.

Historical narrative: accumulation of wealth requires bookkeeping ...
limited diffusion literacy for scribes... larger-scale society with central
accumulation of wealth... need for more scribes ... first scribe schools
...first classroom group education .... long pause ... improvements in
technologies of control based on religion ... need for more priests and
monks ... clerical schooling enlarges distribution of literacy and few
other basics ... noblility sends surplus sons to keep up with priestly
literacy/numeracy technologies ... not quite so long pause ... merchant
class emerges, needs still wider distribution of literacy/numeracy
technologies, tries clerical schools, creates guild schools .... pause ...
mass production technologies (woolen mills, not automobiles), industrial
labor exploitation, need for more and cheaper labor, child labor ...
[parallel track: agricultural slave labor, serf labor, child slave labor --
converges with industrial child slave labor in mixed system] ... pause ...
sales of goods limits profits more than labor costs do ... need for
wage-based consumer economy [Marx passes baton to Baudrillard for late
capitalism] ... introduction of compulsory schooling to sop up surplus
child labor driving down adult consumer wages [resisted by agricultural
sector which needs the labor, solved by agri-business and technology
replacing labor-intensive family farming] ... too many kids filling a
schooling system that was never designed to accommodate or benefit them.

Present Time: 2005

Future narrative [option 1]: New literacy technologies (computers,
networks) shift value of labor from experience and strength to speed and
plasticity ... young outcompete adults for jobs ... child labor laws
amended ... compulsory schooling amended ... dichotomy between learning and
labor blurred ... youngest citizens 12 - 21 gain full legal and civil
rights ... education takes place in flexible mixed model combining online
and face-to-face communities, individual study, internships ... no
universal curriculum, common elements determined by widest usefulness of
knowledges ... no general credentials, selection decisions made based on
individual portfolios of achievements ... aptitude measures and
psychometric testing outlawed ... most secondary schools converted to
community centers .... long pause ... last classroom preserved in the
Virtual Museum of American History.

Year: 2160 [or slightly later depending on the number of morons elected to
high office in the US; developments proceed more rapidly in the EU and Asia]


At 03:40 AM 3/7/2005, you wrote:
>...just to follow-up on Jay's and Nate's provocative statements, and the
>conversations, the question, it seems to me, can be more concerned with our
>own experience,
>that if we were to deconstruct education based on our own experiences, which
>is the
>basis of most postmodern deconstruction, and we were to find it wanting...
>what then?
>If not state-sanctioned curriculum/schooling... then what?
>(the impulsive reaction, no doubt, is that "it was good enough for me, so
>why not
>for young folk following in.. my...footsteps?" The road to ruin... and so
>on. ... )
>There is, indeed, a need for the basics of reading/writing (and here I'll
>impose a wee idiosyncrasy, that
>writing ought to be both typing and script, hand-writing, legibility with
>pen/cil and so on) - and
>arithmetic... and then what? If we truly critique what is worth knowing,
>what is worth teaching?
>It seems to me this is the heart of the question... not just what are
>schools for, but
>what is really worth knowing? A critical education is not an impossible
>curriculum, and given the
>ambiguity of popular culture, a critical experience with "knowledge" would
>be valuable, ... and yet,
>if not in "schools" then where? How?
>For example, a history of one's nation-state is critical because we live
>within distinct
>nation-states, and yet, each nation has an anxious history of violence and
>persecution that is
>always disguised in realms of, what do we do? Really. How do
>we teach a history
>that is honest, when documented history is contradictory to state-sanctioned
>history? And
>is critical history possible when a nation-state is paying for an
>Content questions are useful, as they can lead to context. And while it is
>useful to understand
>how people/children learn, it is also useful to consider how what people
>learn is framed by forces
>much larger than the 'how'...
>I reviewed a Canadian book years ago that proposed a radical approach to
>education, one that
>involved apprenticing to kinds of professions and not just book-learning...
>the idea was kind of cool,
>really, that rather than classrooms one organized kinds of work-study
>programs. Not just learning a
>trade, but learning how one works in the world, how one's craft makes sense
>in the world and the community,
>and so on... stuff like that is possibly global, not just Western.
>I don't know. Really, though, these are excellent questions.
>Me thoughts.
>Diane Hodges
>La Maison Bramble House
>19 Valois Bay Avenue
>Pointe Claire, QC H9R 4B4
>Tel: (514) 630-6363
>Fax: (514) 344-2994
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <willthereallsvpleasespeakup who-is-at>
>To: "Xmca" <>
>Sent: Sunday, March 06, 2005 10:03 PM
>Subject: Re: Nate's interesting question
> > Mike Cole wrote:
> >
> > >So I take it that what you are arguing is that one of the positive
> > >benefits of compulsory
> > >education is that it reduces child labor, increases social capital,
> > >and provides future workers with skills that will be important for
> > >labor in the years to come? This will be somehow real labor, not
> > >slavery.
> > >
> > >
> > In my most optimistic moments I would say schooling is a developmentally
> > leading activity. That optimism leaves soon after early childhood.
> >
> > I am not sure I would say education increases social capital and at best
> > it only narrows the playing field. I am also not saying anything about
> > worker skills. I am not even sure what these skills would be. My
> > concerns lie mostly in the ethical position of certain predetermined
> > ends if schooling is "deconstructed". If we have any grasp of history
> > and / or current affairs we have to acknowledge certain undesireable
> > activities coming to front.
> >
> > So Mike, if we get rid of schooling in middle and late childhood, what
> > should they do in their spare time. Sadly, the unsuprvised hours of
> > 3-5:00 give me little to be optimistic about. Maybe Wal-Mart offers a
> > solution since they are already violating child labor laws left and right.
> >
> > If not schooling - then what?
> >
> >
> >

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

Tel. 734-763-9276

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