Markets, Myopia and the Devaluation of Education

There is no deeper, more intractable rift in our supposed Western democracies than that between proponents of educational policy for our more open, traditionally ‘liberal‘ society; and their more market-fixated, if oddly mis-labelled (‘neo-liberal’) competitors.

Each can, and does, often claim both moral and practical ascendency; but, since the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989, there is little doubt that the ideology of ‘markets’ has penetrated and infected both, and the aggressive ‘marketisation’ of education policy has become, in Britain and the USA at least, the prime instrument of attack on the culture of the more inclusive, ‘open society’. Across all age groups and educational sectors, from nursery to post-graduate maturity and research, our long-held ideals of education are under withering attack. High-quality analysis – by philosopher Michael J.Sandel for the USA (‘What Money Can’t Buy’); and Cambridge academic Stefan Collini (‘Speaking of Universities’) in the UK, are among those exposing the fraud; though, by no means yet, fully winning the intellectual and policy battles.

Where are the hands that made the wheel
That turned the lathe that shaped the steel,
And helped a thriving nation feel
  Proud of the House that Jack built?

Where are the arms that fished the sea,
That built the ships and kept us free,
And made the future seem to be
  There in the House that Jack built?

Where are the minds that once contrived
The spinning- wheel, the jet, the drive,
Made it feel good to be alive,
  And live in the House that Jack built?

The Bottom Line 1985

Measured by the unstoppable progression of a self-styled ‘wheeler-dealer’ of uncertain morals from Trump Tower to White House, little of substance seems to have changed for the better. His already empowered ‘market’ co-religionists had already brought our Western banks and economies to the verge of ruin in 2008, and little of substance has changed – nor will, if relegated to the already brain-dead and outdated Trumpian-cum-Maybotic prescriptions…

For he, and his conventional neo-lib commentariat, have totally missed the substance of the clear-eyed Michael Sandel diagnostics in ‘What Money Can’t Buy – the Moral Limits of Markets.’ 2012… In a devastatingly simple, but penetrating, sentence (p 10) he sets out the crucial error and the necessary path to its correction…

As a result, without quite realising it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society…

He sees the increasing use of ‘markets’ to allocate what used to be seen as ‘social goods’ – health, education, public safety – to an extent unknown a few decades ago – as a prime source of the growing inequalities in our societies. Hence the underfunding of health and skewed access to quality education are perceived as intolerable distortions of social justice and opportunity.

Where are the hearts that used to care
For sick, or old or in despair.
And say there’s room for you in there,
  Safe in the house that Jack built?

Where are the girls and where the boys,
With buoyant step and easy poise,
Our promise of all future joys,
  Here in the House that Jack built?

Ibid.

Meanwhile, the anniversary of the May 1968 student uprisings in Paris was bringing back to mind the parlous position of the UK’s own universities, now under intense ‘marketisation’ pressures a la U.S.A. and with old freedoms, independence and research integrity swept aside. Luckily, we have the massively informed and clear-eyed Stefan Collini to expose the realities of a governmental sabotage of a priceless national asset (see ‘Speaking of Universities‘ Verso 2017).

Meanwhile, the recurringly baleful influence of the Business School phenomenon has again muddied the field, with a renegade business professor of 20 year’s experience asserting their ‘intellectual fraudulence’ and ‘culture of short-termism and greed’; and proposing the bull-dozing of all 13,000 of them worldwide!

We will be working on the thesis that Collini is the better guide and there will be much more on his penetrating analysis…

Here are the arms, the minds, the hearts,
The kids, the hands, the brains, the parts,
The skills, the hopes, the needs, the arts,
  Still in the House that Jack built.

Where are the wise, the leaders who
Will call for what they crave to do,
To build the house and build it true.
  Just as that other Jack built


© Ralph Windle – ‘The Bottom Line‘ 1985

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