Friday, March 27, 2020

Business and Humanity (When People Tell You Who They Are)

It has been a central conflict in education for decades now. Should education be organized around the needs of the business world, guided by the invisible hand in service to The Economy.

We've heard it over and over again. Business is the customer for the product created by schools, so schools should be organized around cranking out the kinds of meat widgets that corporations want. And while we're at it, schools should be run more like a business, steered by visionary CEOs who don't have to answer to unions and government regulations. Data. Efficiency. Outputs. All of these things matter far more than all that fuzzy talk about whole children and, you know, education. We've been listening to it since A Nation at Risk cranked up the clarion call that the state of schooling was scary, not threatening our citizens' happiness or wisdom or humanity, but threatening our economy, our ability to compete globally. Our invisible hand is in danger of losing an arm wrestling match with their invisible hand.

We've known all along, some of us, that this is fundamentally wrong, not just anti-education, but anti-human (I've got literally several thousand posts on this blog about it).

And now we have arrived at the starkest expression of this business-over-humans attitude yet. Trump wants people to get back to work. Dan Patrick thinks that a few dead oldsters is a small price to pay for keeping The Economy humming along. The line-up of commentators arguing that, well, sure, human life is nice and all, but you have to balance that against a healthy economy-- well, it's staggering. And this is not people arguing, "It's just the flu--nothing to worry about." The argument is that lives would be lost, but The Economy is more important.

It's not new or surprising. I've argued for a while that many of the dysfunctions of our society exist because of the ways we have valued what's best for business over what's best for citizens. Yes, yes, yes, I know-- without a functioning economy of some sort, humans tend to starve. But without any functioning moral center, economies tend to rot from the center, doing a crappier and crappier job for more and more people while a handful of wealthy enjoy a nice massage from the invisible hand.

We've been trending more and more in the latter direction, which is how we arrive at the spot where alleged serious people seriously suggest that Grampa should die so that the Dow Jones can more quickly bounce back.

This is what valuing The Economy over actual human beings gets you--a ranking of human beings based on their economic value, as set by whoever is on top. It gets you the President of the country seriously suggesting that Easter, the central holiday of the Christian faith that so many of these invisible hand-lickers claim is dear to their heart-- Easter should be used as a photo op so that the Economy can pose for a glossy photo showing how healthy it is, and if some people have to die for that to happen, oh, well.

Look-- no pathology grows inside the education system. Every problem, every bad thing, every crappy dysfunction in the system, migrated there from the culture at large. Every problem schools have is a reflection of the culture at large.

So it's important to remember that these invisible hand advocates of human sacrifice are some of the same people who want to rebuild education, privatize it, inject business dna into its bones. And right now, they are telling us loud and clear what their values are--

The Economy matters more than people. The needs of business are more important than the needs of humans. If some low-value humans have to be sacrificed so that business runs more smoothly and profitably, well, that's as it should be. Every little meat widget should aspire to be a really useful widget, happily doing whatever it takes to make some deserving master of the universe more wealthy, because that's where the worth of a meat widget lies.

Yes, yes, yes-- a functioning economy is necessary, and we can't all just eat berries and toss wildflowers at each other. But an economy that does not value human beings is a shitty thing, asking people to settle for shitty treatment, demanding that they settle for shitty conditions, and, apparently, insisting that they give up their lives for shitty reasons.

So what's my answer? I don't know-- I've mulled on this for decades as I've watched capitalism turn progressively more destructive and anti-human. I believe that just as any political system can be turned into an authoritarian nightmare, any economic system can be infected with evil. I have no patience with "If we just shifted to System X, everything would be okay" arguments. And while I deeply believe that an important function of government is to protect citizens from large, powerful wealth centers and their tendency to be rapacious and oppressive, I don't believe that you can pass legislation that will force people to embrace a moral core. So, I don't know.

But I know this-- these people should be given as little say as possible over what happens in public education. They have told us, keep telling us, and are telling us right now that they are opposed to a human-centered education system, one that doesn't simply manufacture meat widgets for The Economy's consumption.

I think our highest purpose is to take care of each other, and some days I despair of finding any way to communicate that to some folks. I don't know how to explain to someone who doesn't get it that you are supposed to care about other people. There are business-tilted people who still understand it; I'm hoping one of them can pass the message up the line.

But schools should not be businesses. Schools should not be subverted to business interests, most particularly because that path leads you inevitably to a place where you decide that some students have to sacrifice their lives. No, not all at once. Not in a single pandemic or a single day. But it's not okay to demand that people sacrifice their lives a day at a time, year after year, either.

If we don't value human beings more than business, more than the economy, more than the clammy grasp of the invisible hand, then what are we even doing? And why in God's name would we want to be doing it in schools?

1 comment:

  1. If no one has applauded this yet, let me be the first. I suspect most were too busy rushing to share it with a note like, "THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN TRYING TO PUT INTO WORDS ALL ALONG!"

    Thank you for this.