Big business marketing makes education its natural twin topic. That’s partly because BBM receives twice the budget of all U.S. schools combined, and also because, as the #1 devourer of the mental energies of the citizenry, it is also the #1 enemy of teachers.
Nonetheless, education is itself a major false answer to the massively harmful core purpose and product of corporate capitalism: the radical maldistribution of wealth and power.
Consider the latest findings about how that maldistribution affects human lives. According to today’s New York Times:
Nearly two decades ago, a landmark study found that by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than those of less educated parents, giving them a distinct advantage in school and suggesting the need for increased investment in prekindergarten programs. Now a follow-up study has found a language gap as early as 18 months, heightening the policy debate.
Economic bubbles are a logical by-product of an epoch in which capitalists are always right. In conventional, supply-side economics, the one and only possible explanation for any problem with the operation of the overall economy is the claim that the rich still don’t have enough money to unleash the economic boom they and their lackeys are always promising.
As they get even more money, the fact remains that, despite the constant claims to the contrary, a shortage of capital has never been the source of any economic crisis within corporate capitalism, a system that generates chronic problems of effective demand, not of too little money at the top.
As the supply of buyers for potential new products remains stagnant or shrinks, the growing over-supply of investment-seeking wealth at the top of the economic pyramid has no productive place to go. Hence, it flows into one or another scheme for making money with little or no investment in hiring new workers. Money chases money, and bubbles, our age’s cutesy term for ultimately baseless financial rackets, inflate and eventually pop.
The latest bubble? Student loans.
Yesterday’s New York Times reported:
Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so.
Two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt in 2008, compared with less than half in 1993. Last year, graduates who took out loans left college with an average of $24,000 in debt. Default rates are rising, especially among those who attended for-profit colleges.
Like all other bubbles, the whole thing is being pushed as a magical answer to “our” economy’s worsening failure to come anywhere close to decently employing everybody who wants a job, as if getting a college degree (or being trained to fix windmills or empty bedpans) in itself creates a new job. Now, that’s bubblicious.
It will be interesting to see if the next decade’s unemployed college grads pick up enough knowledge and courage along with their debt burdens to actually step up and challenge the decrepit overclass still running this stumbling, crumbling society.
Here’s a new item for those who are, like TCT, tracking the theme of the rise and decline of dominant social classes. The prevailing spin on this new result is to see it as a question of “culture.” In reality it is pure class: the aspiring hegemons are at the top, and the declining emperors are in laughable decline. And it absolutely figures: Comparatively wide-spread educational excellence is meaningful and important in societies whose ruling elites are still young and open enough to at least consider exploring unconventional, reality-based answers. In places like the United States and Britain, meanwhile, the superannuated corporate overclass nailed its windows shut 30+ years ago, and keeps adding new layers of boondoggle and cant to wall out the world. Despite its de rigueur claim to care about “catching up” again, few things would be more threatening to long-established patterns of domestic stratification than a sudden wave of actual concern for good teaching and popular educational advancement.
Diane Ravitch is an honest and thoughtful person. After decades of advocating the official bi-party line on “educational reform,” Ravitch has examined the evidence and concluded that testing, school choice, and “race to the top” are not just bogus, but harmful.
Well, of course. Who in their right mind believes that our overclass actually wants the most educated possible population? Quite the contrary, for the all-too-obvious reason.
In fact, Ravitch herself provides a useful lens for seeing exactly how screwed up our elite schooling is. At age 72, Ravitch, a Wellesley graduate, is just now thinking her way through the very first tuft of weeds stymieing acknowledgment that excessive public knowledge is seen as a grave danger by the primary beneficiaries of our market-totalitarian society. Ravitch now writes like my Sociology 101 students, or like a 6th grader would in a society that actually took these words seriously, rather than as window dressing:
Without knowledge and understanding, one tends to become a passive spectator, rather than an active participant in the great decisions of our time. A democratic society cannot long sustain itself if its citizens are uninformed and indifferent about its history, its government, and the workings of its economy.
That an Ivy-educated professional school-policy expert is, at the end of her career, just beginning to ponder what this really means speaks volumes about what passes for the top in our educational efforts.
And, despite her bravery in coming out against the status quo and its cynical trickery, Ravitch remains importantly wrong in at least one core area. She complains that the teaching of history and literature are “so frequently politicized.”
Well, once again, duh. They are politicized by structure and design, for the same all-too-obvious reason. The real history of the United States and the world radicalizes most people who learn it. Hence, it is forbidden. The best you get in K-12 is distant hints.
This systemic ban on truth-telling is why my 14-year-old son, presently a student in one of the richest and most liberal-minded of the nation’s public school districts, while studying for his 8th grade social studies final, asked me, thinking I wouldn’t know, “Who founded the NAACP?” When I told him it was W.E. B. DuBois, he said, “Oh, yeah.” When I added that DuBois was a socialist, my son was floored that that fact was absent from his lessons. This, despite the undeniable fact that DuBois himself would have insisted being a socialist was the #1 fact of his own life, the very first thing later people ought to remember about him.
The day we become serious about education (a day that will probably never arrive, given the continuing dictatorial power of our business elite and their ongoing breakneck squandering of the planet’s resources) will be the day we mandate that our spending on schools must always equal or exceed the sums corporate stockholders spend on commercial indoctrination, a.k.a. big business marketing. At present, that latter sum is probably more than $2 trillion a year in the USA alone.
Zerobama, addressing graduation at an historically black college, says:
By any number of different yardsticks, African-Americans are being outperformed by their white classmates, as are Hispanic-Americans. Students in well-off areas are outperforming students in poorer rural or urban communities, no matter what skin color.
In the real world, the second sentence completely explains the facts described in the first. Thanks to white supremacy’s long-standing centrality in the nation’s affairs, whites are disproportionately represented in the higher strata of the class pyramid. Racial outcomes are class outcomes, in things like education, for the all-too obvious reasons, cardinal among which is our system of unequal school funding.
Zerobama, of course, merely tacks on the second sentence, however, in order to divert attention from the racial mystification conveyed by his first statement.
And the answer to the supposedly racial “achievement gap”? Nationalize and equalize school funding? Radical redistribution of economic wealth? Universal public pre-school? Doubling education spending?
Nope. Turns out black people with college degrees have to be such shining examples that all social structure and history and poverty will become irrelevant:
[A]ll of you have a separate responsibility — to be role models for your brothers and sisters, to be mentors in your communities and, when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education’s value down to your children.