Monday 14 May 2012

Education and Alienation

Marx describes four forms of 'alienation':
  • the alienation of the worker from the work he/she produces.
  • alienation from working itself, where working becomes meaningless, mundane. 
  • alienation of the worker from him/herself as a producer.
  • alienation of the worker from other workers.
In the context of Marx's materialism, basically this revolves around who controls of means of production. More fundamentally, Bhaskar argues that alienation is a sign of detotalisation and split.

I've been thinking about how Marx's characterisation of alienation might apply to education, and I've also been deeply affected by arguments for the ontological priority of information (which I wrote about here: So what does a dematerialised alienation look like? And what might it mean for education?

First of all, let's think about the alienation in students. Taking Marx's template, we might say there is:
  1. the alienation of the Student from their work
  2. the alienation from study itself where study become meaningless and mundane
  3. the alienation of the student from him/herself as a social agent
  4. the alienation of the student from other students and teachers
It's not difficult to see how each of these manifests itself in reality. Inauthentic assessment regimes which require meaningless production of material which serves no other function that to keep the student in the system is a classic example of 1. Inauthentic curricula which have no relevance to the political and experiential position of the learner will produce 2. Inauthentic socio-economic circumstances which position the student as a consumer of education rather than a political actor transmitting and transforming culture will produce 3. Radical technologically-driven personalisation and atomisation of every individual within the education will produce 4.

It's all a bit scary.

But of course, the same can be applied to teachers:
  1. the alienation of the Teacher from their work
  2. the alienation from teaching itself where teaching become meaningless and mundane
  3. the alienation of the teacher from him/herself as a social agent
  4. the alienation of the teacher from other students and teachers
Teachers who are regarded merely as vehicles for the delivery of educational products will produce 1. Curricula which serve no purpose other than the opportunity for certification will produce 2. Socio-economic conditions will produce 3... and radical personalisation and the policy-driven burden of artifical risks will produce 4.

But it is not 'matter' which is at the heart of this, and it is not the control of the means of production. I think it is 'risk' presented in the guise of 'information' which lies at the heart of the alienation in education. Risks lie latent in ideas about education, the curriculum, forms of assessment, social policy, educational objectives, health and wellbeing. The means of production of those risks lie within government and the governance of individual institutions. They certainly do not lie in the hands of teachers and learners.

But the risks and alienation of education are creating a pathological self-sustaining mechanism that is driving the industrialisation of education. At some point, it will all fall apart. But not yet. The coming period of educational industrialisation is nearly upon us, with it's consequent corporatism and uncontrolled production of risks. There may be little we can do but...

listen. wait. and be ready.

It may be that what will save us will be the quality of our listening and the extent of our caring for each other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about the same thing all week. It struck me this evening that if I'm thinking about this, then plenty of other people must be thinking about it too. I spent the week tutoring kids on a practice test, and all I could think about was students alienated from work, work which is meaningless, etc. It's so grim.