a Trojan Horse?

It's no secret that William McKinley wants to "civilize and Christianize" the Phillipinnes.  I have a hunch that it has to do with stategic military positions and imperialism, but then again I'm a bit of a cynic.  In my own class, I have a decent number of immigrants who supposedly pose a threat to our nation if they do not experience quick assimilation.  While we have no official language in our country, it is absolutely essential to people that my students learn English and abandon their own language.

So what does all of that have in common?  Social engineering.

Man vs. the machine is now man is the machine turning man into the machine.  It has a real zombie quality to it. For all the talk of life-long learning, my school is designed to be a factory-meets-prison.  Some say it is a necessary evil.  If one considers evil to be necessary, then there is probably a flaw in one's world view.  Still, we have large numbers and we "have to" move them through the curriculum effeciently and so with the desire for effeciency and measurable results, the school shifts into an unspoken factory metaphor.

I mention all of this, because I am up for a grant.  My class might be receiving phonographs, a telegraph (to be used school-wide) and cameras for photographs.  Very twentieth century.  Life on the graph.  On the grid.  In the box.  On the assembly line.

It's sponsored by the robber baron Andrew Carnegie, who wants to impose his idea of education on our school.  Last time I checked, schools were social institutions belonging to the public.  The goal is to help raise critical thinkers for a thriving democracy. Carnegie's goal is increasing market share.  Don't confuse free markets with free thinkers.

My uncle died in one of Carnegie's factories.  No amount of free libraries will bring him back.

If Carnegie essentially buys my classroom, does that mean I have sold my students' minds to the highest bidder?  Is that simply a more refined form of child prostitution? Moreover, is this the beginning of education moving toward privatization?  Will corporations create a monopoly on our schools the way they have monopolized steel and petroleum?  Will we some day have large corporations creating the materials, the curriculum, the assessments and eventually the standards of what we teach? They could easily manufacture an edu-crisis and then create the snake-oil solutions every time.

So, I wrestle with this gift.  Is it simply a Trojan Horse?  Is it Pandora's box?  Is it Prometheus stealing fire from the gods only to let us lose our insides?  Is it the same "gift" of our military presence in the Phillipines?  Just another area to colonize and gain market share?

I could leave it there and it would be a great political rant.  Except it has me thinking of my own classroom.  Technology (even pencils) are never neutral.  They have layers of social and cultural meaning.  Each tool becomes not simply a means of creating, but a means of socialization and potentially indoctrinating.  If I have students follow a format, a program of binders, for example, I have imposed my own layer of social engineering and if I'm not careful, I can end up like McKinley and Carnegie.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog reflects on the way our choice of classroom technology implicates us in social engineering. As I remarked on Twitter recently, every habit calls for critical reflection. Spencer is correct. Our decisions to adopt curriculum materials, learning strategies and technology are affected by social agendas and in turn influence the learning of young people. You offer the example of assimilating immigrants as an example. Canadian educators are ever conscious of this as we tap the far greater resources available across our border. When I visit a web site with my students or distribute a learning package I weigh the material's value against its American perspective. It is a pressing problem in a classroom where my ten-year-olds are prone to ask who Canada's president is.

    Public education is social engineering. If this were not done formally it would proceed informally. You second guess your decision to accept technology into your classroom because you suspects the motives of the source of this largess. It is a valid concern, but we need to remember that social engineering experiments do not always have the intended consequences. History is full of examples where the cultural artifacts of one culture were adapted by a second for its own ends. The first nations peoples of Canada adapted western technology for their own ends. We tend to think their story ended with Wounded Knee or the Battle of Batoch, but it is an ongoing story of cultural adaptation and recovery here in Canada. Their ends will be met with our tools. Along with assimilation there is acculturation and accommodation. I'm confident that in your hands, the corporate agenda represented by the free technology will be adapted to the real needs of your young people.