Building Education for the Commons
By Maria Nikolakaki, PhD
This week’s feature story in The Economist “America’s New Aristocracy: Education and Class” brings to the fore several problematic issues that need addressing.
It is an interesting and important article for two main reasons: first it baldly acknowledges that the education system reproduces the aristocracy, and the second its diagnoses. Let’s address these.
1. America’s Aristocratic Education
Now that might seem to be a “progressive” statement, but the reality is that this has always been the case. In short, The Economist is using common knowledge (of what we already know) to open the ears of the dissidents, the ones who doubt the injustices of the system.
When mass education was introduced, it never meant that the working class would ever get more than the education needed to do its work at the lower rungs of society. Mass higher education was introduced during the recent neoliberal years (80s-2000s), which was inextricably tied to the financial debt bubble. By controlling the education apparatus both by content and funding, the oligarchs actually maintain control over the thinking and the actions of the working class. In this way, you may consider education the most important field for enacting systematic processes of oppression and its continuation.
2. Diagnosing America’s Aristocracy
The second interesting point is how it diagnoses and suggests what is needed to be done. As anyone can easily understand it is about using the same therapeutic tactics that have been used till now, to destroy public education. Busting teachers unions, per pupil funding, cutting costs to universities and funding them by what the graduates earn on their degrees (which means elite universities are receiving all the money, while humanitarian studies continues to be slaughtered).
To understand the importance of this article we need to see the power regime behind this so called “newspaper”, The Economist. This link from Wikipedia describes its ownership. “ The publication belongs to The Economist Group, half of which is owned by Pearson PLC via the Financial Times. A group of independent shareholders, including many members of the staff and the Rothschild banking family of England, owns the rest. A board of trustees formally appoints the editor, who cannot be removed without its permission.”
In this case what we see is the oligarchs are warning us against the reproduction of oligarchy through education and in response they are suggesting that we continue using the same “treatment” that being used to dismantle public education. Just like in the use of austerity measures, the more you use them, the more depravation of economy will happen and the more justification for further austerity measures they use. Thus, the new neoliberal twist of the oligarchs is by identifying the undeniable problem of education, they are using it as an excuse to further the dismantling of public education. Either they believe people are ignorant, or they have run out of excuses.
Maria Nikolakaki is a faculty member in the Department of Social and Educational Policy, at the University of the Peloponnese. She received her PhD in 2000 from the University of Athens. Her work focuses on Neoliberalism and Critical Pedagogy. In 2012 she published Critical Pedagogy in the New Dark Ages: Challenges and Possibilities, which had contributions from Henry Giroux, Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek, Paolo Freire, and Howard Zinn, among others. She has authored numerous other books and articles, such as 2014’s “Neoliberal Economic Crisis and Resistance in Critical Pedagogy” in Spyridakis’s Market vs. Society Conference. Her forthcoming book with Routledge is entitled, Revolutionary Pedagogies and Debtocracy, co-authored with Leonidas Vatikiotis.