Re: Nate's interesting question

From: Bruce Robinson (
Date: Fri Mar 11 2005 - 03:46:46 PST

Jay wrote:

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

Me too. Just a few quick points.

<<...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

No, but I don't think the motivation was to prevent child labour either. In
the UK - and I suspect elsewhere - one explicit motivation was to integrate
the newly enfranchised working class into 'respectable society'. There are
arguments along the lines of 'If the propertyless are to be our masters,
they should at least be educated.' Plus the chronological coincidence of an
artisan franchise (1867) and compulsory education (1871). Still child labour
continued from age 12...

<<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.>>

I am involved in No Sweat in the UK - an anti-sweatshop movement that tries
to build links with trade unions and other social movements in 3rd world
countries. We have recently debated whether we should simply call for a ban
on child labour or for improved conditions in work and alongside work
(compulsory education alongside work with the loss of wages funded by
employers, which would deal with Jay's point aabout payment). One concern
was that a ban would simply drive many families' wage earners out of the
labour market with no replacement. Plus the development of children's
movements in some countries (Brazil, India) which make their own demands
and, for some people, a feeling that work should necessarily be a component
of all education (Marx's 'polytechnic education'). Personally, I feel that
while the question of age is crucial, we should support a legal framework
that restricts labour and gives the right to an education.

<<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.>>

What I think it means is that children have a right to develop and learn
outside the compulsion of the labour market - or the even more direct
compulsion of slavery. Arguing against compulsory education means throwing
the vast majority of children to the wolves, plus probably privatising the
whole system. By all means, let's fight for a different type of education
but compulsion is necessary, I think.

BTW, if we're talking about 'unanalysed ideologies', I think this statement
also needs deconstructing: "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

Bruce Robinson

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

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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