Education As Exploitation

Euphoric-Baseball-61 - [original thread]

Education as Exploitation

I believe the education system taken as a whole is the second most wasteful institution in the US, coming in behind only the military-industrial complex. Bryan Caplan virtually proves this in his impressive work titled The Case Against Education. I recommend that everyone check out this book if you somehow haven't already.

When arguing with educationists, I often notice a simple rhetorical trick along the lines of "don't you want educated doctors? Do you want an illiterate society? Shouldn't people know how to add?" Some good that the institution does is pointed to in an attempt to legitimize the status quo. I want to conceptualize myself out of this dark rhetorical hole, so consider the following.

A student is in school to learn. A tautology: if he is not learning something useful, he or his family is experiencing exploitation, because exploitation is the extraction of time or wealth from someone with no social or individual benefit. What we have, then, materially speaking, at any moment in school where a student is not learning something valuable, is exploitation wherein wealth is being transferred from the student or their family (depending on the age of the student) to teachers, the State, and education corporations.

Now it may be asked, in place of a naive question as to whether schooling is valuable or not, to what degree some education system is exploitative. This can be roughly quantified by considering whether an individual class is valuable or not. More precisely, each class can be assigned a degree to which it is exploitative, depending on what approximate percent of the class was useful.

Now I can personally estimate how exploitative my education was at different points in time based on my personal experience. In high school, for instance, I took one math class a year. They were all important for me, as someone pursuing a career involving a lot of math, but they were taught too slowly. I estimate a year long math class could have been reduced to a single semester, so I charitably assign those classes a 50% exploitation rate. Every other class was totally useless or repeated in college except one English class where I actually learned how to write. To make this clean, I'll assign that a 0% exploitation rate, or a 100% non-exploitation rate. I took 7 classes * 4 years = 28 classes. The degree to which high school was exploitation for me was therefore 25/28, or 89%. In other words, for me, high school was 89% exploitation.

I estimate that for roughly 80% of the population, high school is 100% exploitation since only 20% of people use algebra or high math at work. For the remaining ~80%, high school math is 100% exploitative, and I'm strongly betting that they don't use any biology factoids, literature devices, or poorly taught knowledge of historical events either.

Now, another thing. Why did I choose the word exploit? Is to exploit the intention of the system or is it mistake theory all the way down? I believe the exploitation is largely intended. First, it is historical tradition since the middle ages to exploit youth. In both medieval times and the early industrial era, this exploitation was obvious and took the form of labor exploitation. During the middle ages youth were often bound as apprentices until the age of 25 or so. Then during early industrialization, they were bound to parents for labor purposes until their early twenties. It's not a far out idea that the education system was erected only to change the mode of exploitation, not to end said exploitation.

Looking at the history of the American education system, we can see that it was largely and upper-class project. Regular people commonly opposed forced public and compulsory education. The latter were dead-letter laws from their institutions in the 1870s until the 1900s because local police didn't even want to enforce them. The more bourgeois party was always the one pushing for more education; at first the American Whigs and then the Republicans. The bourgeoisness of these parties relative to the Democrats can be demonstrated by their positions on banking and various times; major educationists were involved in the Crime of '73, for instance.

What did the educationists themselves say? Horace Mann liked education because it protected the rich from the wrath of the poor, and made the rich richer by making the relative poor spend their own money on making themselves more productive in their labor for the rich:

It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich; it prevents being poor....The spread of education, by enlarging the cultivated class or caste, will open a wider area over which the social feelings will expand; and, if this education should be universal and complete, it would do more than all things else to obliterate factitious distinctions in society.

The main idea set forth in the creeds of some political reformers, or revolutionizers, is, that some people are poor because others are rich. This idea supposes a fixed amount of property in the community, which, by fraud or force, or arbitrary law, is unequally divided among men; and the problem presented for solution is, how to transfer a portion of this property from those who are supposed to have too much, to those who feel and know that they have too little. At this point, both their theory and their expectation is of reform stop. But the beneficent power of education would not be exhausted, even though it should peaceably abolish all the miseries that spring from the coexistence, side by side, enormous wealth and squalid want. It has a higher function. Beyond the power of diffusing old wealth, it has the prerogative of creating new. It is a thousand times more lucrative than fraud; and adds a thousand fold more to a nation's resources than the most successful conquests. Knaves and robbers can obtain only what was before possessed by others. But education creates or develops new treasures,--treasures not before possessed or dreamed of by any one.

For the creation of wealth, then,--for the existence of a wealthy people and a wealthy nation,--intelligence is the grand condition.

Mann was active in the mid 19th century and was largely involved in setting up public grammar schools. Later the centralized, Rockefeller controlled General Education Board was responsible for setting up compulsory education and high schools. Here's what they wrote:

"In our dream, we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand. The present educational conventions fade from their minds; and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, editors, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply…The task we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are… So we will organize our children into a little community and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way, in the homes, in the shops and on the farm."

I think you get the picture. Education was intended as a way for the rich to force the cost of training workers onto the workers themselves. This makes perfect sense of credentialism; it was intended from the start that the system become as exploitative as possible, that the student should have to spend their whole youth in education, and then when they are of a less free-spirited age they receive a job only on the condition that they have the right piece of paper, which costed them 5 figures of interest to a bourgeois bank, but which only required of the student the aforementioned wealth and years of their time, because there is an 80% chance that the job at hand could easily be done by people with no higher education.

Education is therefore not only largely materially exploitative; it was also intended to be that way by those who set it up. What we have now, what youth and their parents face, is just the obvious consequences of that desire and historical tradition.