Education, citizenship, knowledge economies and ‘The Disappearance of Adulthood’

I quite enjoyed this article… there were parts of it I wanted to question him further on, but lots of it that just made a pile of sense… these are those bits:

Lawrence Quill writes: “In 1982, Neil Postman wrote The Disappearance of Childhood. In that work, Postman recounted the invention of childhood in the modern world and its demise at the hands of, among other things, the electronic media (principally television). In Postman’s view, television had transformed education into ‘edutainment.’ The implications of this loss were devastating. Postman’s thesis was part of a broader critique of society that lamented the demise of a more literate, engaged polity. At work behind the scenes was a commitment to a substantive conception of citizenship something to which the purpose of education was intimately linked. For a variety of reasons, some of which I will address in this paper, I suggest that no such conception is currently available; which is only another way of saying that a certain kind of individualism is no longer available.” (p.328)

“If substantive notions of autonomy and citizenship hold relatively little sway in contemporary debates, an additional area where contemporary liberal theorists are almost wholly silent concerns the relation between education and work. The exclusion of the fundamental connection between education and employment can no longer be ignored at the theoretical level especially at a time when government is attempting to redefine the purpose of education, especially higher education.
For policy experts, the answer to ‘what is education for?’ has already been supplied. Amidst discussion of ‘the new global economy’ there is a clear and present need to create a more technologically literate society, a high-skilled society of ‘knowledge workers.’ Whether such a process is possible or desirable is something I have explored elsewhere (Uluorta and Quill 2009). Yet, for my present purposes, I want to suggest that even if the ‘knowledge worker’ is the new telos of education it still leaves the question of adulthood unanswered simply because it is such a terribly reductive and unimaginative answer to the question ‘what is education for?’
Hence, taking up where Postman left off, in this paper I wish to reexamine his claim and
amend and update his thesis by suggesting that, after the latest electronic turn, we now live in societies where adulthood is disappearing. It is disappearing because our conception of citizenship, thanks in part to the pluralist thesis and the poverty of discourse surrounding political liberalism. Yet it is additionally undermined because, claims to the ascendancy of the ‘knowledge worker’ notwithstanding, the fundamental connection between education and employment is unraveling. To put it crudely, the defining concepts of ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘the knowledge worker’ have arisen, ironically, at precisely the same moment when people no longer [-p.329] believe that at the end of their school career they will be able to find employment in the way that, a generation ago, their parents did. This is an all too obvious dilemma. And it is in the context of this ‘crisis’ that a discussion of adulthood is especially pertinent. It provides an opportunity, in the words of Hannah Arendt, ‘to think what we are doing.’
The present discussion is, therefore, a speculative attempt, to turn discussion away from an exclusive concern with the requirements of a ‘knowledge economy’ and towards those of a ‘knowledge democracy.’ While the former measures educational success by striving towards the ever cheaper creation of an army of technically literate workers that increasingly find themselves unprepared and overwhelmed by the demands of the market, the latter view conceives a technologically advanced society, and the education within that society, as one that empowers and liberates individuals. To recover adulthood will require us, therefore, to consider the purpose not only of education, but of technology and employment as well. This paper is an attempt to open that discussion.” (pp.328-329)

How schools and universities adapt to the changing circumstance wrought by the new technology and its impact upon our politics, economics and society is, in some ways, the key issue of our times. But it is a complicated one.” (p.330)

“As The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out in a recent report, student life and university structure are likely to be transformed over the next 10 years by technology. Increasingly, students will attend classes online, study part-time, take courses from multiple universities, and jump in and out of colleges. Lectures, and classroom discussion, office hours with a professor, study groups, and papers will all be online. This must be embraced as a new reality, the Chronicle argued. ‘‘There is very little,’’ they noted, ‘‘that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so. And many of them will be surfing the Net in class’’ (Chronicle 2009). Interestingly, they also note that most jobs will not require a college degree.
The absence of a coherent conception of adulthood makes it impossible to determine whether these advances are beneficial or, indeed, how they might be guided. As a consequence, education finds itself buffeted by the latest trends and unable to withstand the zealous application of technical novelty and market discipline albeit in the name of consumer choice.” (p.332)

Richard Sennett (2000, 2007) has examined the effects of changing employment practices on the lives of citizens, characterizing the change in hiring practices by corporations as ‘the end of the career.’ There are several reasons for this phenomenon. The first is simply that there are more efficient ways of doing business, particularly the kind of business that used to rely on human interactions. Increased automation saves companies the revenue that they might otherwise spend on employment or on-the-job training, replacing those costs with maintenance costs.
The second reason is the migration of jobs to different parts of the world where labor is cheaper. While this used to be the case for low-skilled jobs, increasingly high-skilled jobs have migrated to places like India, a country that, largely by accident, has found itself ideally placed for an international business environment that persists in using English and has a growing IT sector.
This has a particular bearing on how we understand the notion of the ‘high-skills’ economy, the creation of ‘knowledge workers,’ and the role of technology in education and employment. For many policy-makers both here and in other countries, education is regarded as the central platform of a strategy that links economic regeneration with the creation of large numbers of technology intensive occupations. As the Spellings Report on US Higher Education noted, ‘‘[n]inety percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the new knowledge-driven economy will require some postsecondary education’’ (2006, p. 1). Yet, over half of all jobs (55.4%) or 80.7 million occupations in 2004 required only short or medium term training (Uluorta and Quill 2009).” (p.335)

“…some senior officials and policymakers have begun to think the unthinkable, recommending the rationing of higher education alongside lowering expectations within a ‘culture of entitlement’ (Shirvani 2009). For those who are convinced that the only conversation to be had about education today is how to transform young people into human capital, the corporate model is likely to be the one that impresses most in the current crisis. This is hardly novel. Indeed, a conflict between those who see the university in crudely ‘utilitarian’ terms and those who regard it as a separate institution from commerce, but a no less important one for that, has been raging for some time.” (p.339)

Education, whatever the rhetoric of politicians, is unlikely to be the solution to society’s ills. It is a reflection and a symptom of them. More than ever before, education is under scrutiny by ‘market forces’ in a way that is unprecedented. This is understandable and some reforms are obviously necessary. But there is an important distinction between an educational sector supported by and feeding into an economy and one that is governed by the same ideals as the economy.
What this means in its simplest form is that education must aim at more than the creation of future workers. I don’t think we should lose sight of that. Reclaiming adulthood as a meaningful concept is a step towards an alternative, and more humane, vision for both education and for society.” (p.339)

(Actually, there’s more I’d like to quote… but I don’t want to overquote – it’s an article worth reading and discussing!)

Ref: Lawrence Quill (2011) The Disappearance of Adulthood. Studies in Philosophy and Education 30(4)July:327–341

Abstract: “In 1982, Neil Postman wrote The Disappearance of Childhood. In that work, Postman recounted the invention of childhood in the modern world and its demise at the hands of, among other things, the electronic media (principally television). In Postman’s view, television had transformed education into ‘edutainment.’ The implications of this loss were devastating. Taking up where Postman left off I wish to reexamine his claim and amend and update his thesis by suggesting that, after the latest electronic turn, we now live in societies where a meaningful conception of adulthood is disappearing. It is disappearing, in part, because of an impoverished conception of citizenship. Yet it is additionally undermined because, claims to the ascendancy of the ‘knowledge worker’ notwithstanding, the fundamental connection between education and employment is unraveling. In this climate, the purposes of education are constantly queried and scrutinized as its telos is redefined by criteria external to the practice of education: cost-effectiveness, value-for money, and so on. I suggest that only be reclaiming a meaningful conception of adulthood can education be defended and only by so doing can individuals hope to understand the world around them.” (p.327)

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, social and political contexts, The effect of multimedia on children/childhood and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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