Schools: “They’re really creepy.”

I’m studying education, so bear with me and watch this amazing video based on the writings of Ivan Illich:

First off, I’m going to thank a faithful reader of this blog (and personal friend of mine) for bringing this video to my attention.

Second, I want to talk about that quote from the beginning — that process and substance are confused. One of the things Illich complains about in “Deschooling Society” (and he does complain a lot, regardless of one’s opinion of him) is the absurdity of our economy. Rather than focus on what we actually need, we focus on making MORE.  He calls it the Myth of Unending Consumption — that people will buy things or buy into things even if it is stupid. You can think of this as Milo Minderbinder’s chocolate-covered cotton or preposterous 80’s hair-metal. Both are ridiculous, but both worked because we buy into them! Why do we buy into schools? Because you need a high school diploma to get a job. How exactly does this work — diploma = job?

The process of getting a diploma does not necessary mean that anything has been learned. It means that a “student” has jumped through all the hoops required by upper echelons of government and the like. I’m not so sure learning can be measured. What school actually does, really, is evaluate how we perform specific tasks. Grades don’t measure learning, they merely measure performance.

But back to process vs. substance. These two things don’t really seem like opposites as substance requires some process and all processes lead to some substance (material or not). However; their difference is that one is the creating and one is the creation. At face value, we like process because that seems to be the fun part — creating and doing stuff. But what if that stuff is shit? Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:  1) We could have the perfect process for growing wheat, but if none grows we’re screwed. 2) Do we really care how a toilet works or do we care thatit works? 3) What if, to paraphrase someone (and remember that he passed a lot of schooling), our children isn’t learning? What if they’re just passing the exams and getting diplomas? 4) Our “Theory Toolbox” has this to say about postmodernism, “… all this suggests a postmodern insistence on process rather than product” (127). I think this fits the description of postmodernism being plastic. It’s not what you make, but how you make it that counts in postmodernism. At least that seems to be the case.

Now I’m not saying that postmodernism, if it exists, is bad. What I am saying is that it has a huge capacity to utterly fail us. We probably don’t care if a piece of artwork sucks. We probably care if our education system sucks. And if the problem with our education system is a postmodern approach… Granted, Ivan Illich put the blame on the institutional portion of education. For me, the solution is that students must be treated as people, not products to be engineered. There must be a balance between process and product to have any real success — creativity and utility.

And deconstruction? I think I did some above regarding process and substance. But maybe I’m just crazy.

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    • megz
    • March 18th, 2009

    You definitely used some deconstruction while discussing process and substance. The binary oppostion between process and substance, just as you said, is that “one is creating and the other is the creation.” The process is the act of creating something and the substance is the thing created; you cannot have one without the other. Process seems to be the “privilaged” part because you have to go through a process to create the substance. If you deconstruct this, however, you could argue that a substance that needs replication must first exist before the process needed to reproduce it is discovered. You also used deconstruction when you explained how the process of getting a diploma (substance) does not necessarily mean that someone received an education.

    • higgybear
    • March 19th, 2009

    I can definitly put myself as just passing the exams and getting diplomas without learning.In many of my classes today I am still playing the what my teacher told me was “the school game”, getting the grades but not learning what I am trying to performe. My personal beleief is that the process of education is not to learn this or that so much as it is to develop skills such as literacy, critical thinking, reasoning skills exc. I believe those to be the products that graduates come out with, and jobs after our education comes from the process of social expectations.
    But what i find very interesting is the argument that Megz presented, “…you could argue that a substance that needs replication must first exist before the process needed to reproduce it is discovered.” Reflecting on the kitty video, it bears in mind what is creating and what the creation is. Does the process of institutions create the idea that it tries to serve or does the idea create the institution. Does an Army create the sense of national security or does national security create an Army? The substance may need to be known to create the process, but also the substance may change during the process creating something unexpected. What is great about that video and your blog that from this more questions arise from them.

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