Log in

No account? Create an account

Tue, Jan. 25th, 2005, 04:26 pm

Reading sociology again, as the new semester has started, I come across a passage in which C. Wright Mills argues against - yes, against - compulsory public education. His theory is that high-school educates people for white-collar jobs at the public expense, and that if the corporations want competent workers then they should pay for it their damn selves. I'm kind of boggled.

Tue, Jan. 25th, 2005 09:58 pm (UTC)

There is a certain logic to this -- if you accept the assumption that the purpose of education is to produce skilled workers to fill the needs of corporations. Given that the average industrial or service job requires little more than reading, writing, and 'rithmatic there is little need for anyone other than future white-collar workers to be educated to a high-school (and beyond) level. Corporations would best acomplish this education because they know their own needs better than anyone else, and so could select only enough future white-collar workers to fill their needs. Thus the public is saved millions in educating those who will never use their high school knowledge (the cliche of an English Major working at McDonalds, for instance).

If you start with the assumption that public education's purpose is to level the playing field in the competition for the relatively few high pay / high status jobs out there... well, then you will likely come to a different conclusion.

Personally, I come to the conclusion that C. Wright Mills is an asshat.


Tue, Jan. 25th, 2005 10:34 pm (UTC)

Yeah, the German public education system kind of works on this assumption...where students who are going into industrial or service-industry jobs go to a separate high school that emphasizes different subjects for a shorter amount of time, and students who are likely to seek more white-collar jobs get the whole nine yards. The problem being, of course, that it means kids and parents have to make that big of a decision when the kids are like 10 years old, and what if you change your mind later on? You're SOL I guess.

So yeah, sounds like an interesting article, but I agree with the declaration of asshattery. *grin*

Wed, Jan. 26th, 2005 02:27 pm (UTC)

he assumption that the purpose of education is to produce skilled workers to fill the needs of corporations

well, from my proto-education-radical viewpoint, this isn't a difficult assumption to accept. to clarify: i'm not saying that this should be the purpose of education, merely that for much of the population of the industrialized world, this is the de facto purpose. the argument can be made that the development of public education over the past century or so consisted of commercial interests scamming the government into setting up an indoctrination system to produce efficient and tractable workers (the focus being not on what the students were learning, but rather on how they were learning to think and behave) at the public expense.

for more on this, check out John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education. the entire book is available on his website, divided into chunks; i found it a good read. Gatto's scholarship is not always the best, and IMHO he suffers from a fallacious view of a romanticized past that may not have ever existed (though perhaps my incredulity is a sign of excessive cynicism), but he does have decades of experience as a NYC public school teacher to back him up, and i think he's worth reading.

John Holt is another significant author in the field; Grace Llewellyn's The Teenage Liberation Handbook is the book that got me started on this path of inquiry.


Wed, Jan. 26th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)

I think there is definatley some truth to that, but, in my view, things are more complex than that. At the very least, corporations did not entirely succeed in scamming the government, as there are still schools teaching history and trigonometry to students who are likely destined for factory and service jobs.

And I think that, viewed over the last century, there is little doubt that the American school system has vastly improved as a whole, even if the ideal of the one room school house with an attentive teacher has been lost. Consider, as only one example, Brown vs. the Board of Education (and subsequent cases). Certainly education has improved dramatically for at least one demographic.

That said, I will read the book you linked too. I think you've pointed me to it before, as the first chapter seems familiar.


Thu, Jan. 27th, 2005 03:58 pm (UTC)

So, reading further, it seems like his argument is that the EXISTING education system is basically pre-corporate training; he argues that an education in how to think for oneself and in how to learn is much more important than learning any particular facts. It seems like he's suggesting that education should, ideally, be something very different from what it actually is, and that he's arguing against the educational system as it stands, not as it should be. Of course, he doesn't actually seem to have a concrete PLAN for how to develop a better system. But that would be way too practical. Sigh.

After having read several hundred pages of him, I'm voting 10% asshat, 65% genius, 25% idealistic (and sometimes clueless) academic. Writing in the fifties, he predicted our current political and cultural situation with terrifying clarity. And then he also does things like recommend we all move back to quaint little small communities (and SPORK OUR EYES OUT) because only in small towns can people have authentic human relations. There is much "buh" in my head.

Tue, Jan. 25th, 2005 10:04 pm (UTC)

...Has this man ever been to rural areas of America where highschool rather is optional?