Re: RE: Power

Sean Gonsalves:
A fantasy of domination?
Cape Cod Times
January 4, 2000

It wasn't until high school that I realized the education system I
was being put through, despite its many blessings (and my mother's
sacrifice), was more concerned with producing a certain kind of
behavior, rather than a certain kind of mind.

Although I would lead class discussions; and in spite of the fact that
even the A students would often ask me to explain concepts to them; and
never mind that I usually did pretty well on tests, I still received
average grades.

Why? Simple. I didn't do the homework. So it didn't take me long to
figure out that good grades were given for obedience; not intelligence.
(In retrospect, I should have done the homework!)

This is not about bragging. My educational experience is far from
unique. But consider this: If I were at the top of our social hierarchy
and wanted to maintain my power and privilege with no concern for just
human relationships, but was prohibited by law from abusing people's
civil freedom, I would want to devise a system that controls what
people think. "If you free your mind, your behind will follow," is how
Bobby Wright positively put it. The negative is also true.Of course,
the deluded aristocratic justification for this social order is that
most of humanity is dumb and therefore the idea that I ought to be held
accountable to the ignorant masses is absurd. In fact, it would be a
disservice to the human race! (Look at the response of thought-leaders
over the World Trade Organization protests. The "liberal" Boston Globe
called the demonstrators "senseless in Seattle." The idea of
democratizing economic life is "senseless" and thus, not to be taken

Back to my daydream of domination. In order to control, or powerfully
shape, people's mental processes, I would seek to turn America's
schools into labor training facilities that discourage the herd of
idiots who populate the classrooms from entertaining any silly notions
of self-rule and self-management. In other words, I would try to snuff
out all critical thinking.

Instead of laying out a curriculum that focused on the connections
between math, language, science and even playing, I would
compartmentalize academic life so the students failed to see the unity
of all knowledge, which is the best way to douse the embers of natural
curiosity. I would want the kids to sit in algebra class, for example,
asking the question that I and most of my classmates posed with
exasperation: "What does this have to do with real life?" And,
undoubtedly, I would want to make the most efficient use of rewards and

You can write this off as just another conspiracy theory. But it would
be wrong to say that my warped fantasy is not, in fact, a crude
thumbnail sketch of the system we now have in place. Neil Postman puts
it this way: "Kids go into schools as question marks and come out as

I can't prove it, but I believe that people are born with an instinct
for freedom. I mean, have you ever prevented an infant from moving his
or her limbs? The baby tries to break free and will become enraged if
not liberated immediately.

Now, I would wager that most people agree that human beings have this
freedom instinct. And so I find it astonishing that we spend so much
time and money trying to devise better ways to control people; rather
than channeling innate abilities!

Put aside for a moment what you think individuals "deserve." If human
beings possess a freedom instinct, then excessive attempts to
externally control individual behavior is going to provoke a rebellious
reaction like the one we see in infants, except the adult reaction is
going to be even more extreme. Period.

I side with Bertrand Russell on this matter. "It is dangerous to
produce good social behavior by means which leave the anti-social
emotions untouched. So long as these emotions, while persisting, are
denied all outlet, they will grow stronger and stronger, leading to
impulses of cruelty which will at last become irresistible. In the man
of weak will, these impulses may break out in crime, or in some form of
behavior to which social penalties are attached.

"In the man of strong will, they take even more undesirable forms. He
may be a tyrant in the home, ruthless in business, bellicose in
politics, persecuting in his social morality; for all these qualities
other men with similar defects of character will admire him; he will
die universally respected, after having spread hatred and misery over a
city, a nation, or an epoch according to his abilities and his
opportunities," Russell, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century,
wrote decades ago.

There are more illiterate people in my parent's generation than in
mine. And considering the fact that 75 percent of the workforce is
without a college degree, I would bet that most adults would have a
difficult time writing a clear and concise essay about anything.

So all this get-tough-talk about "kids today" who can't read,
"dumbing-down" and "low standards" is transparent propaganda that
generates more heat than light, as they say in the academic world.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated
columinist. He can be reached via email: sgonsalves@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

On Tue, 04 Jan 2000 22:04:34 -0800 mike king <slothrop@xxxxxxxx> wrote:

> >I was wondering if anyone could explain to me how power would be employed or
> >deployed in an attempt to increase students knowledge (aka. Increasing
> >academic achievement) and what would be the impact of such an action?
> >
> >Thanks...
> >Avi Kaufman
> you're welcome.
> Well, this year's high school debate topic is education, and there's a rather popular foucault position. people make a lot of foucault arguments, but here are some of them:
> educating a student pre-supposes a stable and rational subject. as foucault points out in "power/knowledge," subjectivity is constructed through power relations. subjects are the "effects and vehicles of power." by pre-supposing a certain mode of subjectivity and sticking to it exclusively, humanist education excludes alternate and minority subject positions and modalities. by failing these modes of subjectivity and forcing students to fit the norm through the threat of failure, education normalizes our minds. contained within the idea of the achiever and the good student is the failure and the bad student. essentially, education turns us into calculable and subjected subjects. this is bad.
> moreover, humanist pedagogy is panoptic and disciplinary. even when not directly normalizing and using norms to evaluate, the structure of classroom space situates the students in rows facing the gaze of the teacher, keeping them in line and alienating them from one another, streamlining the process of the students' normalization.
> additionally, the knowledge related to "academic achievement" is not free from power relations. it forms part of a complex nexus of power relations that are themselves not innocent.
> an alternative would be a decentered pedagogy commonly known as "critical pedagogy."
> for more information, i'd recommend these books:
> pedagogy of the oppressed, paulo freire
> the end of education: toward posthumanism, william v. spanos
> foucault's challenge: discourse, knowledge, and power in education, by popekwitz
> The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it.
> --Jean Baudrillard
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Twice the Entertainment, half the talent.
> Stick Figure Death Theatre -



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