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Imperialism and the commodification of education

Imperialism and the commodification of education
by Trevor Maddock

The philosopher, Theodor Adorno described the bourgeoisie, or the middle-class, as the class that refused to die. The term ‘middle-class’ refers to that class of free tradespeople which in feudal times existed between the serfs and the landed aristocracy and not to some contemporary grouping of middle-income-earners. This middle-class became the ruling class when it was able to impose its interests through the state apparatus. So what could Adorno mean in saying that the current ruling class refused to die?

In answering this question, I am going to broadly follow the explanation given by Hannah Arendt in Volume 2 of her The Origins of Totalitarianism, much simplified to keep it brief. Capitalism, which developed organically in Britain with the imposition of a non-interventionist state, had largely worked itself out as a national venture by the eighteenth century. The economic system relied on more or less continuous development but there was nothing left to develop; it had come to its end; it was dead. To avoid death, the ruling class extended its activities overseas, which required the duplication of the economic conditions holding in Britain. In turn, this required the abandonment of the policy of state non-intervention, and thus began the age of imperialism. In a godless afterlife, the bourgeoisie persisted.

It should hardly need to be stated the strategy of exporting capital cannot be a long-term solution, that it may put off the inevitable but it cannot avoid it. If and when the aim of universal economic uniformity is achieved there will be nothing left to develop. What do we do when there is nothing left to develop? Of course, there is an increasing likelihood that the environmental consequences of the worldwide pursuit of this development economy will bring the system to an end before it achieves its goal, and without the participation of any emerging class. The best chance for the planet is if we stop now, but there is no sign of that happening.

My previous contribution on Halbbildung attracted some interesting replies. I am humbled that some people have spent time reading and considering my ideas and I thank you for your comments. The above remarks are intended to indicate my point to one reader (Pat Donnelly, April 28, 2009) in critically analysing the contemporary directions of general education: that the current restructuring of general education is part of a doomed exercise intelligible only in imperialist terms. There is one part of the discussion that I would particularly like to consider, where Paul Morrella (April 30, 2009) describes education as a product. It is precisely this idea which bedevils the current debate on education, I would argue, for this kind of conception is an essential part of the current pursuit of economic uniformity. Education is seen in this context not just as a product but as a product produced for exchange. In other words, education is reduced to a commodity.

The relations between global imperialist aspirations and contemporary general education in Australia are evident in the role played by global agreements on trade in services in the formation of education policy. The World Trade Organisation, an essentially selective private organisation, has several legally-binding agreements relating to the international liberalisation of trade. Among others, Australia is a signatory to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which in particular covers higher education. The thrust of GATS is to allow international free trade in services with as few restrictions on service providers as possible; only the social control services are excluded. The GATS recognises trade in education in a multitude of ways, including through supply across borders, via the internet, through student-exchange programmes and increasingly in international students, by developing a commercial presence, through institutional expansion, international mergers, and so on. Market access includes access to all financial benefits and legal rights. I would argue that it is this conceptualisation and its associated practices that have led to the now-evident decline in education standards, experienced not just in Australia but throughout the developed world.

The process of the commodification of education is evident in day-to-day life. A private school not far from where I live now offers adult education programs. Near the school is what was once a Catholic seminary; it now houses young Asian boarders. As trumpeted in the recent Bradley Report (Review of Australian Higher Education, December 2008), Australia, among other English-speaking countries, has shown a marked success in selling its education, particularly to China and other Asian countries, while the city in which I live, Adelaide is now home to a campus of the Carnegie-Mellon University, a private research university from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The key idea in all these developments is to shape the product in order to attract the customer.

The language of the Bradley Report typifies that of the current Labor administration. It speaks of how “Twenty years ago Australia was one of the first countries to restructure to enable wider participation in higher education. The results of those changes made it a leader internationally in the movement from elite to mass systems” (p. xii). It does not discuss how that restructuring reduced the quality of the higher education provided, both for any residual elites and for the so-called ‘masses’. The Bradley Report notes a decline in standards over the last decades but it does not note how higher education was restructured from a sound tutorship system to what is now virtually ‘teach yourself’. This is what the commodification of education has brought about.


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A capable educator

It concerns me that anyone would represent a TV channel as a capable educator. It is designed to disseminate propaganda only. Have you compared the script of a program with educational intent to the 30 or 60 minutes of reading on the web or at a library? There is no comparison in terms of content. The poor size of the TV format means that arguments are never properly developed.

Please try to reinstate the level of debate on this topic by not referring to the idiot box. We educate ourselves. We are not passive observers of what is squeezed down the tube, not if we count ourselves as cultured. The ability to read critically is crucial. Schools prevent this as teachers simply cannot field all the questions of those who start to quiz their world. School, like TV, is designed to entertain and keep in safe custody those who are victims of each.

When I did not go to school in and out of term, I went to the library to read.

Even learning the lies that we are told is useful as epiphany is often just around the corner as the economy fails or banks steal etc.

Wake up now!

Evolution of humanity

Trade is a cornerstone. So we need tradespeople. Artisans employ artists to differentiate their products, in competition. Competition is the hidden hand of Adam Smith. It is innate. For humans and all animals. It motivates the active classes into organized activity to exploit resources. Energy is the most important resource, once supplied by hand and leg, it is now more electrical and chemical. Productivity is now enormous. Hence the massive population increases. So the animal side is currently thriving.

The divine parts of humanity are petty at the moment, only exist as a by-product of leisure, organized to arrange thought into a spiritual search. This is only possible through productivity, tawdry though that might be. Culture is begun and flickers like a flame.

An analysis that imposes a view upon the reader that all will be uniform is flawed. Humans are diverse although in our present numbers, there are many commonalities. More unites us than divides us. We now have the capability to end all life, according to the mythical James Bond. Accordingly, we hasten to a NWO.

Socialism is a protection for the weakest who also deserve to live a life that is not so brutish, hence the need for standards to ensure competition has a chance to actually work and not degenerate into a race to the bottom. The almost incredible experiments in socialism, both nationalistic and soviet, show that respect for individual rights are vital in every system. Hence the Scandinavian superiority. This is all built on scarcity being in charge. Once scarcity is abolished, what then?

Party politics is a device to alter circumstances to exploit productivity to the full. The population chooses the yoke. The yoke is on us? The idea that what we can do by allowing access to "our" system, that of an elite, is a good one: we progress by increasing competition. Those who want full understanding and an excellent education may find it, but they will have to undertake it themselves for the moment.

The new world order is around the corner. This will be disappointing for many, but to get to this point, the education and information process has been damaged from what we may reminisce about. Look at newspapers if you doubt this! I have little doubt that this can be addressed in the next twist of the helix.

I am an optimist.

No joking matter

Yes it's a good answer. Think of what has happened with SBS, for an equivalent situation.

Originally an editorially independent public broadcaster, it followed the general neolib thrust in being forced by ideologically-driven funding cuts, to include advertising and other factors involving the presentation of advertising, as to independence and integrity of content. Originally advertising was rightly kept out for fear of what's occurred in the meantime, but when introduced, came with assurances that ads would be non intrusive and programming not altered to attract commercial markets at the expense of content consistent with the public broadcaster's goals of education and information .

Then financial necessity was again pleaded, precipitated along by further strategically-timed real terms funding cuts, advertising became intrusive interrupting not only entertainment, but informational TV. Furthermore and complementarily, the station's editorial and aesthetic presentation changed to allow for programming for broader, dumbed down markets for SBS merely to survive, not by accident, at the expense of content and substance-based programming!

Short of actual ads, the same has happened with ABC TV.

But if society is unable to gain access to adequate information, on which basis does it make individual and community decisions?

And if, as Dr Maddock points out, it is not adequately educated, how much worse??

There was always much excuse making about education and public broadcasting being made efficient to the revenues spent, without jeopardy to content and substance.

But, with the issue of climate change denialism for example, we see the a resulting extension of a "denial" period and postponing of action, that occurs with big picture real world issues and begin to glimpse how this actually likely on behalf of vested interests (eg fossil fuels industry, political hangers on, etc ). That this process happens in this way, is a tribute to the de-educating and dumbing down of the public, not in the interests of "productivity" or "efficiency", but because the original neoliberal thinking and processes, likely flawed from the start themselves, were then circumscribed further and "sold" by the likes of Murdoch after being captured politically by Thatcher Reagan, Howard and co, part of process of a means for the refeudalising society at the expense of its productivity and its possibilities for improving cultural and individual self actualisation.

The real Road to Serfdom is littered with financial scandals, rigged financial "reforms", subsequent recessions and the bald faced actuality of nonsenses like climate denialism, commodity fetishism gone mad and creationism.


Reality is unpleasant for those in power when they have run out of ideas. Other people's ideas usually. Bought or stolen.  So they lean on those who shout out that the emperor as no clothes.

There are many sites on the net that copy others' and some are good as a digest and a thread to pull to find out what is happening. Have fun with this one

Remember also that laws are not needed to protect a true history. But the main problem is that the rest of the people are asleep and they are not reading this and precious little else. Until they wake up, nothing changes. Good luck with the alarm bell if you choose to ring it. 

One area that concerns me is pseudoscience. It is prominent as black holes etc. And global warming. What other bull have we swallowed? Remember that Al Gore is famous as the man who conceded to G W Bush when he did not need to do so.

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