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The Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education

The great under-reported crime against education by corporate America is not the buying and selling of schools by for-profit corporations; that this is a significant threat to education is indubitable and well-documented. But the little-discussed threat to education is the deliberate “hollowing-out” of education from within—i.e. by the philosophy which views education, especially at and up through the community-college level, as preparing students to take jobs in the business world upon their graduation, rather than to learn the art of deepening their distinctly human character by engaging in learning and reflection through courses and content that cannot be bought or sold in the business world, such as philosophy, art, humanities, the history of human cultures, logic and critical thinking, ethical decision-making, etc. These are all activities the deepening of which has traditionally been seen as part of the very definition of a college-level education. These are the activities usually called “academic,” and their function was to deepen and expand the humans who engaged in them, in what, for many students, would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

There are three ways in particular in which this hollowing out is being done: emphasis on and money thrown into “basic skills” courses, used to get students to levels of reading and writing they need for jobs; emphasis on “student success,” defined as the numbers of students who pass a given course; and deliberately starving, reducing, and eliminating programs that widen student’s views and teach them to rationally reflect on and analyze their society and its trends.

The focal point of this corporate shift in educational philosophy is clearly reflected in President Obama’s so-called “community college initiative.” That Obama’s plan is not advocating academic education, but turning college-level education into job training, was put succinctly in a news story on PBS, which characterized Obama’s community college proposal as “a plan to better connect the training of students at community colleges with specific types of jobs in the marketplace.” Even more specifically, “the plan would offer $600 million in grants to support job-driven training, like apprenticeships, that will expand partnerships with industry, businesses, unions, community colleges, and training organizations to train workers in the skills they need,” said a White House statement. (April 14, 2014).

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