[iDC] The Aims of Education

Anya Kamenetz anyaanya at gmail.com
Thu Sep 8 17:26:34 UTC 2011

On Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 10:40 AM, Ken Wark <warkk at newschool.edu> wrote:

> But the tendency now is to think of education not as 'the good', but as
> 'the goods.' Just another product. Its why its now called "learning." As if
> there weren't at least two parties, in a strange, gift relation to each
> other: teacher and student. Its a product to invest in to increase your own
> long-run marketability. Applecare for the soul.
> I don't think the only reason people rename education "learning" is to
commodify it, although I agree there is plenty of that going on. When I hear
"learning" the gerund means to me process rather than outcome, the doer is
the student rather than the teacher, and "learning" sounds like a lifelong,
natural, unstoppable condition of being alive rather than something
traditionally confined to particular times and places and institutions.

On a related note, I very much enjoyed your piece but I think it's a big
mistake to "leave economics to the economists." I much prefer your
formulation that education is an institution only partly external to
capitalism, and vice versa. There's no intelligent conversation about the
aims of education that ignores the economic structures that produce it, and
that it reproduces.

Economics is the vector that drew me into thinking about education. One of
the reasons mass higher education is on the rocks and on the rack is that
tuition has grown more than any other major good or service since 1978. It's
inherently more and more expensive to try and educate a higher and higher
proportion of the population each year. Mass higher education has grown
through the development of a mass bureaucracy, and institutions spend more
and more on administration while spending less (proportionately, not
absolutely) on teaching. And as public support for this expensive project is
exhausted (maybe because of creeping Philistinism, and maybe because the
coffers are bare and we have other public priorities that rightfully take
precedence like roads and ambulances and police officers) students carry
more and more of the burden, which keeps poor kids out of college in larger
and larger numbers.

Surely a major reason that students are more and more inclined to think of
their education as a product is that it's become a huge monetary investment.
Yes, teaching is in part a gift relation, but that must be a confusing
proposition to articulate to students who pay $1015 a credit at the New
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