Again, and always, its important that our language as educators accurately reflect our purpose, and that we think deeply and clearly about what our purpose is. Into the void of our lack of awareness and intention, the market will creep. All of education is in the process of being reduced to economic ends, and we see the damage of this all around us.
Why get a college degree? “I want a good job.”
Why reduce teacher pensions? “Efficiency.” (This word, by the way, represents an abstract fill in the blank answer for virtually anything. What it means in practice, no one really knows.)
Why teach to standards? “College readiness.” And why be ready for college? “To get a good job.”
What does our president have to say? “America’s prosperity has always rested on how well we educate our children – but never more so than today. This is true for our workers, when a college graduate earns over 60 percent more in a lifetime than a high school graduate. This is true for our businesses, when according to one study; six in ten say they simply can’t find qualified people to fill open positions.”
The purpose of education reduced to American Prosperity.
So when you hear the language of business creep across its borders into the context of education, which was formerly treated as a common good and therefore public, know that the market is reducing you and the students you work with to capital with a price on it. And, because it limits our humanity to its market value, know that it is dehumanizing. So either directly address it, or run like hell.
Is education to be “run like a business”? Nope. Should any head of any so-called educational institution be given the title of a CEO? Not. Should any of our superintendents be trained by a foundation that has as its tag line, “Entrepreneurship for the public good…” Hell no.
This creep of the market into everything, called neoliberalism, is reshaping all before our very eyes- our institutions, our language, our way of relating to each other, and it is crucial to understand the ways, mostly difficult to detect, that it functions.
Importantly, this reduction of all to the market, this neoliberalism, makes the mistake of confusing economic health with democratic health. It makes the mistake of confusing the market, (that is, profit) with the political (that is, a commonly determined purpose). It makes the mistake of making democracy disappear. Democracy has no market value. Or worse. Authentic democracy can be very bad for the market.
In Undoing the Demos, Wendy Brown explains this very well:
“More than merely saturating the meaning or content of democracy with market values, neoliberalism assaults the principles, practice, cultures, subjects, and institutions of democracy understood as rule by the people…
The claim that neoliberalism is profoundly destructive to the fiber and future of democracy in any form is premised on an understanding of neoliberalism as something other than a set of economic policies, an ideology, or resetting of the relation between state and economy. Rather, as a normative order of reason developed over three decades into a widely and deeply disseminated governing rationality, neoliberalism transmogrifies every human domain and endeavor, along with humans themselves, according to a specific image of the economic. All conduct is economic conduct; all spheres of existence are framed and measured by economic terms and metrics, even when those spheres are not directly monetized. In neoliberal reason and in domains governed by it, we are only and everywhere homo oeconomicus, which itself has a historically specific form. Far from Adam Smith’s creature propelled by the natural urge to ‘truck, barter, and exchange,’ today’s homo oeconomicus is an intensely constructed and governed bit of human capital tasked with improving and leveraging its competitive position and with enhance its (monetary and nonmonetary) portfolio value across all its endeavors and venues. These are also the mandates, and hence the orientations, contouring the projects of neoliberalized states, large corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, schools, consultancies, museums, countries, scholars, performers, public agencies, students, websites, athletes, sports teams, graduate programs, health providers, banks and global legal and financial institutions.” (Emphasis added)
Yes, it can be difficult to see, difficult to hear, but you will catch it in seemingly innocuous phrases, and sometimes you can catch it in your own thinking.
Why are evaluations now “competitive” with the erasure of tenure?
Why are inundated with “Value Added Measurements”?
Why do we need standards? (Again, see Obama quote above.)
This is what we’re up against.
(For an interview with Brown, see here.)