Wednesday 10 February 2021

What does education produce?

I've always thought that education in a crude materialist sense produces products. These are not (crudely speaking) the people who come out of education at the end but their 'labour power'. That's to say their ability to sell what their minds and bodies can do in the 'labour market'. Education helps form that 'commodity' which we sell to whoever can or wants to buy it. Of course, nurture helps produce that labour power too through food, love, shelter etc but the home is not strictly speaking a place that produces for profit...though some small businesses eg family shops, hardly make a division between bringing up children and 'employing' them in the family shop. 

Anyway, though this model of education works there are problems with it, partly because of the overlap with nurture and partly because this 'labour power' may be a commodity that is produced but it quickly becomes something else when it's used in employment or production as it has a living quality that enables us to turn materials into finished articles or processes like shoes or deliveries etc. OK, we sell the commodity of labour power so that we transform 'stuff' which then enables owners to make profits. OK.

But what if, the real product of education are 'grades' or 'marks' or 'assessments'. These are inanimate bits of stuff or data. At the end of the day, this is what all schools and colleges and universities are now reduced to producing: a set of data. Teachers are employed to produce the data. In a real sense, it doesn't actually matter to management whether there is a great mark, a medium mark or a bad mark so long as it's a mark. And the 'bell curve' can be placed over the marks to ensure that it looks OK. When or if we teachers withdraw our labour (as I am at Goldsmiths) and this involves refusal to mark students' assessments this is a crucial stopping or boycotting of the institution's 'product'.

This reminds us that in a situation where assessment is not taking place but education carries on, that education is much more than assessment! In fact, the moment there is no centralised assessment we can look upon education in different ways: pursuit of things for which there are no marks! Or shared ways of talking about 'work' or 'projects' without marking them! I'm sure you can think of others. In fact when I did three years at the National Film School as a student (1973-76) we fought very hard to NOT be marked. We said, just doing the course was good enough, surely. I think that one of the things we can say to students in our action at Goldsmiths is that you could think up what are the advantages to not being assessed, and what ways can you think of that validate your work without 'data' being stuck on it at the end? In a way, the privatisation of education (especially universities) goes hand in glove with the privatisation of knowledge that is what an exam is! The data are amassed privatised chunks of knowledge. The 'product' of education.