avatar
Parecon and Society: Education


This is a draft of a possible chapter, giving a broad idea of what they might be like…again, only a draft.

Parecon and Education

Part of education is intrinsic and oriented to the individual. To think about education starting with the student, we examine the process of conveying information and skills and developing talents in students. We ask what is the best way to educate students given the exigencies of what is taught, the attributes of students, and the abilities of teachers.

But part of education is also contextual and social. To think about education starting with society, we examine the process of transferring information and skills and developing talents from the point of view of society’s needs. We ask, what is the best way to educate students consistent with accomplishing what society seeks?

Ideally we will get the same answer from either of these angles. Ideally society’s interests and those of each new generation of students will accord. If so, we will have a clear agenda. If not, we will have to choose between serving students or serving society’s dictates.

Most readers of this book live in societies that have capitalist economies with private ownership of productive assets, corporate divisions of labor, authoritarian decision-making, and market allocation.

Because of these institutions, capitalism has huge disparities in wealth and income. About two percent of the population, called capitalists, own productive property and accrue the benefits. What parecon’s advocates call the coordinator class of empowered lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, and so on, including roughly 20% of the population, largely monopolizes empowering work and the daily levers of control over their own and other people’s economic lives. The coordinators enjoy high incomes, great personal and group influence over economic outcomes, and great status. Finally, the bottom 80% do largely rote work, take orders from those above, barely influence economic outcomes, and receive low income. This is the working class.

This threefold class division is brought into being by the key institutions of capitalism. First, private ownership of productive property demarcates the dominant capitalist class. Markets structurally impose on owners a need to accumulate profits. The corporate decision-making structure gives owners their ultimate power to dispose over their property.

Second, the low number of owners and large requirements of control propel creation of an intermediate coordinator class. Owners can’t oversee their wide reaching properties without assistance. The corporate division of labor defines the coordinator class as those monopolizing empowering work and access to daily decision making levers. The requisites of legitimating the authority of managers and other coordinator class members ensure that this class will also monopolize training, skills, and knowledge – as well as the confidence that accompany these.

Third, all these features ensure that the largest portion of citizens are left with little or no individual bargaining power, having to work for low wages at rote, tedious, and overwhelmingly obedient jobs.

These features will vary in the suffering they impose as well as the options they permit, depending on the relative bargaining power of the three classes. But in every instance of capitalism, the broad scaffolding of the economy’s defining institutions will be the same. What are the implications for education?

If an economy has 2% ruling by owning, about 18-20% administering and defining, and about 80% obeying, then each year’s new recruit from the educational system must be acclimated to occupy his or her designated slot. Recruits must be prepared to exercise assigned functions, to pay attention to designated responsibilities, to ignore distractions. This is true for those who will rule, for those who will have great but less than ruling power, and for those who will overwhelmingly obey.

A useful word for all this is channeling. Each new generation is dived into segments each of which is in turn channeled into its appropriate destination. The educational system takes the incoming population and processes it so that for about 80% of its members the inclination to impact events is reduced to nearly nil, confidence is nearly obliterated, knowledge is kept minimal and narrow, and the main skills learned are to obey and to endure boredom. Another 20 percent are channeled to expect to have a say over their own lives and other people’s as well, to have confidence, to have a monopoly on various skills and insights, and so on. The elite learn at the major societal “finishing schools” such as Harvard and Oxford how to have dinner with one another, and otherwise comport themselves in accord with their lofty station.

The point is simple. If a society requires its populace to have three broad patterns of hopes, expectations, and capacities, its educational system will divide its populace and provide precisely those differentiated outcomes. In that context, any effort to look at education from the perspective of each individual maximally developing their potentials and pursuing their interests will either be mere rhetoric or limited by presuppositions that most people have no serious potentials or interests, or will try to attain outcomes against the economy’s needs. Indeed, these are precisely the attitudes regarding education we see in our societies.

Is there any alternative? Will society’s hierarchies always trump pedagogy aimed at the development of each student’s potentials and aspirations? Will significant gains for students only arrive as a result of struggle, and only persist while they are steadfastly defended, being periodically obliterated by economic dictates whenever vigilance diminishes?

When the Carnegie Commission on Education considered the state of U.S. education as part of a governmental effort to understand what “went wrong” in the 1960s, it decided that the problem was too much education. The population, the commission reported, expected to have too much say in society, too much income, too much job fulfillment, too much dignity and respect — and upon getting ready to enter the economy many members of the population had their expectations trashed and as a result they rebelled. The solution, the commission reported, was to reduce the tendency for education to induce high expectations in too large a proportion of the population. It was necessary to cut back higher education and make lower education more rote and mechanical – save for those who were destined to rule, of course.

If we look at education from the angle of the person to be educated, readers of this book may have differences or open questions about exact methodologies, but I suspect we would all agree on broad aims.

Students should be assisted to discover their capacities and potentials, to explore them, and to fulfill those they wish to elaborate while simultaneously becoming broadly confident and able to think and reason and argue and assess in the ways needed to be one among many socially equal and caring adults. Others might formulate this mandate a bit differently, but one thing is quite clear. For this type education to happen, society must need this type of incoming adult. It must not want wage slaves who are obedient and passive, for example.

So to be compatible with worthy pedagogy conceived from the angle of the student, the economy needs to call forth from each participant the fullest utilization of their capacities and inclinations. What kind of economy, in place of capitalism, could do this?

Eighty percent of us are presently taught in schools to endure boredom and to take orders because that’s what capitalism needs for its workers. The other twenty percent are made callous to the conditions of those below and ignorant about their own callousness, save for those at the very top, who are simply made cruel.

In a parecon, education also must be compatible with society’s broad defining institutions. Indeed, that will be true in every society, always. But in a society with a parecon — assuming that other spheres of social life are comparably just and equitable – society will need us to be as capable, creative, and productive as we can be, and to participate as full citizens.

Participatory economics is a solidarity economy, a diversity economy, an equity economy, and a self-managing economy. It is a classless economy. In this respect, its educational system would be based on and generate, also, solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management — as well as rich and diverse capacities of comprehension and creativity. It benefits all that each of society’s citizens be as confident, as educated, as possible.

The point is that under capitalism talk of desirable pedagogy has two possible logics. On the one hand, it may be about pedagogy that is consistent with the reproduction of the hierarchies of society. In that case, it is more about control and channeling than it is about what most of us mean by education, such as edification and fulfillment. On the other hand, it could be about edification and fulfillment, but then it is oppositional. It is trying to establish outcomes contrary to the logic of the market, private ownership, remuneration for property and power, and corporate divisions of labor.

With participatory economics, good education isn’t something we win and then perpetually defend or lose because the underlying institutions of society are at odds with it. Good education is part and parcel of the logic of economic and social life.

Are there implications for the actual structure and procedures of schooling and education that are implicit in the logic and structures of parecon? I would guess that the answer is yes, not least but not confined to the fact that of course educational institutions would be self managing, would interface with participatory planning, would incorporate balanced job complexes, and so on.

Schools, universities, training centers, would have actors who fulfill balanced jobs, not some who teach, some who administrate, and some who clean up, etc. But the specific meaning of all that regarding pedagogy and more detailed and specific matters of actual methodology of training, learning, sharing, etc., will no doubt emerge only from the actual experience of teaching and learning in a new society, and will no doubt also have a myriad of shapes and forms.

The point is, capitalism annihilates aspirations for worthy education, save for a very few and even there if we include a moral component. Parecon actualizes educational aspirations, and does so for all.

Leave a comment