Education a very fine line between the forgotten

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Education provides a mechanism by which people are produced as docile subjects: the presence of self-surveillance and the ‘manipulative arena of control’. Introduction Following the argument that education is intended to produce docile subjects, I intend to analyse two of the ways in which it has been suggested that this is being implemented. In the early 20th century, policy makers were considerably more open about their reasons for centralizing the structuralizing and management of education.

In 1905, the future Dean of Education at Stanford wrote in a dissertation for the Columbia Teachers College that; ‘Schools should be factories “in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products… manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry. “‘ (Kick, 2003) I suggest that this discourse has become culturally embedded in the governance of industrialised nations to such an extent that it still forms the purpose of educational policy today.

If this purpose were not understood by those inheriting it, then perhaps it would form part of what Bottery (2000) calls the ‘forgotten arena of control’, whereby policy makers are unaware of the intentions of policies they adopt from a previous era or culture. However, as Bottery himself recalls, there is a very fine line between the forgotten and the manipulative arena’s of power and I adopt the latter as my first area of analysis. The ‘manipulative arena’, includes policies that were understood not just by their creators, such as that of the future Dean in 1905 (above), but by those inheriting them.

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They can be created, extended or refined but underlying each one is a hidden agenda which creators do not want the public to see or recognize, for a variety of reasons that I will discuss. I suggest that the second means of control; self-surveillance, has increased within developed nations largely due to the new policy ensembles developed as outcomes of legislation such as the Education Reform Act of 1988 in the UK. I will examine the National Curriculum and standardised testing, the development of OFSTED, and self-management systems encouraged by the decentralisation of control.

The removal of responsibility from government as a centralised body to the managers of these branches of power is seen by Lawson and Harrison (1999) as central to the establishment of self-surveillance. I attempt to discuss these notions with the philosophies of Plato, Marx and Foucault in mind; all for which the topics of hierarchies of power, control and knowledge of ‘truth’ were pertinent. Societies’ requirement for docile subjects Upon questioning the aims of education, Harris (In. Standish, 2006) recognises the ‘changing, contextual… historically and politically constructed’ concepts that affect ones notion of ‘what education is’.

These concepts, encapsulating centuries of war, capitalism, industrialisation and the growth of economic prosperity, scientific inventions and advances in technology have changed education over time. Education moulds to fit the society in which we live due to the policies being shaped to fit the needs of present society. Standish (2006) reason that as the state provides education that requires huge expenditure, its prosperity depends on equipping learners with the skills the modern economy needs. On this basis then, perhaps creating docile bodies is a necessity for any society that wishes to develop or retain a strong economic status.

The emergence of Capitalism around the time of the 18th century could be argued as the reason for the unprecedented level of surveillance of the individual amongst society. By creating a class-divided system, there was the potential for conflict and the need for surveillance of those that might resist this process. Capitalism also created authoritative figures, with more power and the ability to ‘punish’ those who resisted. As industrialisation developed in the West, largely through Capitalism, the use of machinery and a directed workforce, bureaucratic surveillance was a rational response, in order to control the activity of workers.

As the nation developed further, more organisations within a particular industry created competition, which also required surveillance. In relationship to education, this introduction is necessary to understand why we arguably have produced a system of docile bodies. The class system that capitalism created is similar to the hierarchy of power situated within education policy. Marxist theorists viewed the role of bureaucracy in the capitalist system as a suspicious entity. According to Marx, the functions of bureaucracy, that is, the structure in place by the government to control the activities of the country’s citizens are two-fold;

Firstly, to “impose upon society the kind of order which perpetuates its domination” concealing this domination through complicated legislation documents, ‘form-filling’ and surveillance (Bottery, 2000). Secondly and in addition, this creates a situation whereby the citizens do not understand the economic exploitation of the majority that is taking place. This Marx believed, was how industrial capitalism created the right level of consciousness in its workers; ultimately, by manipulating them. We now live in a society that has been industrialised and as such is rich and consumer-orientated.

Mass education provided by the state has for a long time been the way in which citizens are moulded. Since the Education Reform Act In England, the Education Reform Act of 1988 marked the start of the reformed education system that is being instilled in generations of children in schools today. Changes are made to policies continuously, almost always brought in by the government on a national level but more recently, a focus on Local Education Authorities and the decentralising of education has somewhat changed this trend.

In contrast, globalisation is seeing too that some policies are centralised on a much grander scale. A significant Foucauldian precept in relation to education is that there is no domain of knowledge removed from relations of power (Issitt, 2007). Today, decisions about educational policy favour and empower organisations such as that of OFSTED and the Teacher Training Agency (which could have been another of the main bodies identified as increasing the trend of self-surveillance).

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