Sunday, November 08, 2009

Disciplining Education

It has long been true that the control of educational institutions have been a principal site for the control of social, cultural and political norms within a society. Everyone, from John Dewey to Fidel Castro and John Paul II, has understood that education is less about the production and dissemination of knowledge than it is about the production of citizens fully (to the extent possible) assimilated to whatever objective is required of its "pupils." Even the disembodied "education" elaborated in the United States and other advances Western democracies grounded in pluralism and "sensitivity" are tightly drawn to particular objectives of cultural, social and political "teaching" for assimilation by rising cohorts of people expected to take their place within the social order without making a fuss. This disciplining is made more palatable, of course, by the elaboration of an ideology of education as somehow disembodied from the ideologies of society, culture, religion politics, etc. which is serves.

But this idea conflates three separate categories of activity. The first is the production of knowledge. The second is the education of pupils. The third is the operation of institutions where knowledge is produced and pupils educated. In the form of the university, the three ideas conflated has proven to be a formidable barrier to substantial control by the state sector on the one hand, or by the discipline of the market, on the other. For every effort by the state to assert control, the university asserts its role in the production of knowledge. For every effort to impose the discipline of the market with respect to education, the university asserts the paramount obligation to educate future productive citizens as tinged with public purpose. Yet it is as clear that education as institution, knowledge production, and knowledge dissemination is highly contextualized within the societies in which they are embedded and serve as a great tool of control. Educators play a key role in this contextual embedding that is hardly free of cultural, political, religious or other ideological restraints. Speaking of a special cadre of educators being inserted into the Cuban educational system, Fidel Castro noted:

Their current presence in schools and, in the not-so-distant future, in communities and workplaces, is enriching the system of attention to children, adolescents and young adults that has been drawn up in recent years within the Battle of Ideas which, for us, essentially translates into the patriotic strengthening of the people and concrete facts and realizations for the total transformation of our society.
Fidel Castro Ruz, Only Education Can Save Our Species, Greetings from Cuban President Fidel Castro to educators participating in Havana's 12th World Congress on Comparative Education, in the Year of the 45th Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution, Oct. 24, 2004. And, of course, education, as Mr. Castro suggests, is a great tool of ideological warfare and the preservation of the structures on which the structures of power and order are maintained.

But there is consensus on this point even in the developed states. It is just that the context of restraint is different. Especially in developed states, for example, universities are seen, in their institutional context, as a critical point in the production of useful labor for other economic, cultural and state sectors. In that role, both the production and dissemination of knowledge is supposed to be bent to the greater effort to produce these factors in the maintenance of those labor markets ior whose advancement and benefit university graduates are produced.

It is refreshing, then, to see the recent modest efforts of the Japanese governments to extend some of the discipline of the market to the university's mission to produce useful labor.

All universities likely will be required to provide prospective tertiary students with certain key statistics, such as dropout and employment rates, according to a draft plan for a review of university establishment standards drawn up by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry. On Thursday, the ministry submitted the draft to a university section meeting of the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, for deliberation.

The proposed changes aim to ensure students taking entrance exams receive key information about the national, public and private university of their choice. The draft lists 17 items of information across five fields that universities would be required to disclose.

The standards likely will be revised after the proposed changes are examined further this fiscal year.

The list is divided into five fields the ministry thinks universities should focus on to promote high educational standards: education, students, organization, economic framework and learning environment.

Information pertaining to students would include the dropout rate, which is an indicator of the difficulty of gaining the marks needed to proceed to the next year of study and how many students attend a university without a real intention of completing courses, such as those who failed to gain admittance to their first-choice university.

Universities May be Forced to Give Applicants Key Statistics, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 8, 2009.

Now THAT is a perversely ironic advance in the production of knowledge. . . . and control! See Larry Catá Backer, Global Panopticism: States, Corporations and the Governance Effects of Monitoring Regimes. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 15, 2007.

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