What Do We Value?

The topic of this post started when I read this column by Will Hutton in the Guardian:

Hutton argues that in the past decades, financial professionals and their activities have been valued to the detriment of other professions. The hedge fund risk-takers, the charismatic CEO generating huge profits for his company, the innovative CFO and their cutting edge financial schemes, etc., all get front page articles in magazines. They are our 21 century heroes.

As a result, to extend Hutton’s point, not only have financial professionals been able to claim freedom from accepted values but they can now be part of the no-fault society. When there were economic booms (dot com or real estate), they were the ones we were supposed to celebrate for their ingenuity. But when things turn sour, unaccountability prevailed. It was not their fault that things got out of control even though they contributed to the dismantling of social controls. Again, their creative energies were not to be bound by regulatory restraints.

This reminded me of Denis Colombi’s post on traders’ compensation, in which he argued the following point:

As one category is elevated and exempt from normative sanctioning and accountability. Some other category is taken down the totem pole and their activity is degraded and subjected to more intensive mechanisms of accountability. Let’s see if you can guess which category I have in mind:

In the excerpt above, Marc Bousquet is referring to the plan to provide money to community colleges for workforce training. "Workforce training", not education. Education is where a major attempt a cultural downgrading is taking place.

As I have written previously, currently, the Obama administration subscribes to a view of education as "skills acquisition"… get a certificate, then go get a job, in and out real fast. Or even better, take your entire education online at a for-profit institution where there are no faculty / teachers but rather "facilitators". In this view, the labor market, and therefore the local chambers of commerce decide what skills are needed and institutions such as community colleges are expected to deliver.

The dirty little secret though is that if community colleges relied exclusively on vocational programs, they would all be bankrupt. These programs are capital intensive and have low enrollment. Community colleges make money on the general education curriculum treated as their hidden cash cow to be made even more productive, as Marc notes, through the increased use of adjuncts and online instruction, copying the model of the for-profits, emphasizing enrollment at all costs without putting additional resources. The funding, new buildings, etc. will go to vocational programs that process students quickly but NOT cheaply. The general education curriculum subsidizes the vocational one, without recognition.

And while financial institutions got billions without accountability from the government, you’d better believe that education will get much less money but a lot more accountability. No no-fault society for teachers. See here for the evidence. This is the end point of 25 years of assault on education from the right (as part of union-busting and their deluded belief that all teachers are commies) and of public education in particular. The supposed failures of public education are supposed to be remedied by stricter straitjackets on teachers and a deskilling of the teaching as craft and profession.

2 thoughts on “What Do We Value?

  1. The situation with higher eduction is very sad (possibly worldwide, certainly in Australia and the US), with layer on layer of bureaucratic regulations and controls applied by governments, ostensibly to maintain accountability for state funding. This process has been building for decades and one of the first to blow the whistle on the process was Jacques Barzun (1907 – ). He had experience in teaching, research, publication and administration at a high level, and wrote a magesterial series of books: Teacher in America (1946, 1983), The House of Intellect (1957), Science: The Glorious Entertainment (1963) and The American University (1967). For an overview of his career,see my website.

    • See, the thing is, I don’t mind the state telling us, we fund you at a significant level, so, we need accountability. That’s fair.

      But when community colleges were created, the balanced funding formula was one third coming from the state, one third coming from local property taxes, and one third coming from tuition.

      That way, ccs remained cheap for students who can’t afford the high prices of US higher ed, and a reasonable burden on local taxes and states.

      In my state, the state’s contribution is now under 10%, that is when we actually get funds (right now, the state is behind in its funding)… that’s where I have a problem with additional bureaucratic controls. In my view, the less you fund us, the less you can demand from us.

      (BTW, somehow, your comment got stuck in my spam filter and I had to go dig it out, that’s why it showed up later than you posted it, sorry about that)

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