A Post Modern View
Politics and Power
Education in America - Charting a Course through Choppy Water
Every government, regardless of its political bent, understands that the means to controlling its population is through the education of its' youth, regardless of whether the stated desired outcome is peace, happiness, and equality, or domination, subjugation, and filial obedience.
In fact, Marx was one of the first to bring up the perceived need for public education as an indoctrination mechanism, mentioning that "free education for all children in public schools" was an important and basic underpinning of the communist movement in his book The Communist Manifesto (1848). Hitler, in another move to control the developing minds of youth stated that "this New Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing" (Shirer 1960 249). These examples of education-as-power are clearly designed to control the population being educated for overt political purposes.
In a less volatile, though no less political manner, John Dewey, whom many view as the father of the American "progressive" educational system said that public schools should "take an active part in determining the social order of the future as the teachers align themselves with the forces making for social control of economic forces" (Dewey 1896 in Allen 1971 4). This statement is in alignment with one issued by the United States Commission of Mental Health and Children, which said "the school as the major socializing agency in the community must assume a direct responsibility for the attitudes and values of child development" (Allen 1981 45). Bringing us up to current day policy in Washington state, the brochure entitled Improving Student Performance: A Comprehensive, Integrated Proposal issued by the Governor's Council on Educational Reform clearly states that:
The mission of Washington's K-12 education system is to enable people to be responsible citizens, to contribute to their own economic well-being, and to that of their families and communities and to enjoy productive lives. To these ends, schools, together with parents and communities will ensure that all students develop the knowledge, skills and attributes essential to function effectively, and lead successful lives. (GCERFF 1992 6)
And a document issued by the Puget Sound Educational Consortium, a group dedicated to progressive educational reform makes the point that:
The third of the Trust's strategic objectives is to provide such persuasive evidence of what radical change could effect in terms of pupil outcomes that any increased expenditure involved would be seen as a desirable political objective to be achieved. (PSEC 1993 9)
This series of quotes illustrates the potential for the use of education as a means to reach a variety of political ends. It is a practice that is engaged not only in the provision of information, but in the molding of the individual, so that that individual then can fit within the society that created him or her.
The liberal agenda has been in control of education since the beginning of the Industrial Age. With the push for continued economic growth and progress, schools have become the logical stepping stone from childhood to productive worker. Though conservatives gain a toe-hold in communities every now and then, the policies, practices, and rhetoric surrounding education in America is primarily liberal.
This is consistent with the level of governmental involvement in the process of education: today's public schools are entirely controlled by the government, from the national Department of Education, the National Education Association, and from within each state's educational agency. It is these groups that determine content, duration, and delivery of curriculum offerings (Epperson 1990). This management system is intended to provide the checks and balances necessary to ensure that all students are educated in "the American way", but leaves little room for intra-cultural variation, an issue addressed in the postmodern paradigm. Kerr (1989) points out that the reduction of instruction to a set of procedures for the transmission of knowledge ignores the cultural aspects of teaching and training.
In the past 10 years or so, it has become apparent that thought the liberal agenda to work on the environment as a means for educational change has had some effect, there are those who have been left out of the conversation entirely. Marginalized populations, which include women, people of color, and individuals with varying cultural and social backgrounds from all walks of life have been essentially voiceless. Governmentally mandated content and delivery mechanisms have proven to be inadequate to the task of effectively educating all of our youth. Yeaman says:
The legitimacy of knowledge as a token of shared principles has become questionable. (15)
Even as we preach humanism, which is dedicated to the notions of democracy, equal justice, and sensitivity to individual needs and differences, we still fall short of the mark. John Dewey, Karl Marx, and Jean Piaget all considered themselves Humanists. The American Humanist Association (Epperson 1985) defines their ideology as:
A constructive philosophy, a non-theistic religion, a way of life. It is the belief that man shapes his own destiny. (376)
Based on this constructive philosophy, some of the underlying assumptions are mirrored, not surprisingly, in the constructivist learning paradigm (Duffy & Jonassen 1992). Specifically:
[[dotaccent]] There are no enduring, unchanging truths to which we as a society can cling-- it is all a subjective matter of perspective and opinion.
[[dotaccent]] We need to be concerned with worldly things, such as we perceive them, because there can be no agreement on that which is not worldly (i.e. spiritual).
[[dotaccent]] Man is in control of his or her own destiny; therefore we must be taught to consider ethical and moral choices in terms of "situational context", rather than on some immutable sense of right or wrong.
In other words, each of our individual worlds is a construction created by the individual and his or her set of experiences and perceptions. It is just recently that the needs of the individual surrounding that constructive process have been addressed, or at least discussed. In addition, the needs of the individual must be balanced with the needs of the larger community, but the goal is to develop effective solutions to meet both ends of the individual-within-community spectrum.
Our society encourages selfishness. Through role models, consumerism, competitiveness, our views of 'achievement' and 'success', and the level of attention paid on development of self, it is not surprising that many individuals, both youths and adults, lack the sensitivity to consider the needs or desires of others in concert with their own. And as we continue to support this "selfishness" through our parenting, our schooling, and our work environments, we can expect a continued draught in developing strong interactive, interrelated community-based systems; a desired outcome of the postmodern perspective.
The role of educational technology in such a shift can be a strong one, but only if we are willing to let go some of the currently held views of the American successful self.
In viewing the self as a collaborative participant in learning-through-dialogue, there is opportunity in the classroom for both student and teacher to 'give' more to each other, in both an interpersonal and an educational sense. Noddings (1984) argues that:
We cannot separate means and ends in education, because the desired result is part of the process, and the process carries with it the notion of the persons undergoing it becoming somehow "better." If what we do instructionally achieves the instructional end--A learns X, the we will have succeeded instructionally but, if A hates X and his teacher as a result, we will have failed educationally. (174)
In short, this becomes an issue of ethics: the primary system of values and beliefs through which our individual and collective behavior is mediated. This will be addressed in more detail in Section IV. Beforehand, it is important to look at the concept of intelligence as a source of power, as a legitimizer for the application of certain educational techniques and processes.
From a particular perspective, as alluded to in the quotes from Hilter and Marx, there is a certain component of control in maintaining a centrally managed and delivered educational message. In fact, one could go as far as to ask whether the "intelligence" of a nation can be controlled through such mechanisms.
Much research has been conducted on the nature of intelligence; whether it is a "capacity" with which we are born, or whether it can be improved through training and education. Or perhaps it is a process, as described by the Information Processing Theory model (Newell & Simon 1972), (Gagne' 1974) Later schools of thought include those that view intelligence as a skill that is culturally and/or socially mediated, (Sternberg 1990), or that perhaps individuals have multiple intelligences, some of which are stronger than others. (Gardner 1983 1985 1993). Another perspective is that intelligence is actually distributive in nature; that we learn in community through and with each other, similar to Vygotsky and Feurstein's socially mediated view (Salomon 1993).
The most prevalent paradigm in use in schools today is the Information Processing model. Similar in nature to the Shannon-Weaver Communication model, it illustrates a clear path between an individual's perceptive senses (input), processing and storage of that information into a 'knowledge base' (processing), and later retrieval for use or modification to the knowledge base through additional perceptual or cognitive activity (output). The model is very neat and tidy, but doesn't leave room whatsoever for individual differences.
Later theorists have incorporated social and culturally mediated activities into their intelligence models. It is this sensitivity to social and cultural differences in people that forms the backbone of postmodernism.
The American government has taken it upon themselves to insist that certain nations purchase and use computer systems in government, industry and education. This is being done for "convenience", and to "westernize" these environments. It is also being done, I submit, as a power-play that is "re-inventing the face of American across the world" (Bowers 1988) regardless of whether this is best for the culture on the receiving end. Progress is not necessarily "more, better, faster", in fact this notion of progress as the logical outcome of our ongoing drive for scientific and technological "advances" can be quite insidious. As Yeaman et al (1994) state:
Logical empiricism claims objectivity but fails any test of neutrality because science-in-action is a sociopolitical business with sociopolitical aims. (5)
Furthermore, to use what MAY work as a solution in certain educational situations for certain "desired" educational outcomes as the end-all solution, out of the context of culture is the rudest form of domination. They go on to say that:
Many social problems have not been solved and cannot be solved by the empirical, experimental, statistical, positivist approach, and its critics should be valued. (5)
The ineffective use of educational technology in our own country is offensive; when we as nation force-feed its use on others who may not need or want 'our' solution, it is abhorrent. But it happens, and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. The next section deals with the ethics of education and educational technology, which is followed by a discussion of social responsibility in our application of same.