File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 229


Date: Sun, 12 Oct 1997 16:29:04 -0400
Subject: M-I: Michael Hoover on multiculturalism


MULTICULTURALISM: THE LOGIC OF LATE CAPITALIST EDUCATION

(or the purest form of learning is a business transaction)

by Michael Hoover (resident Marxism-International list contributor and bon
vivant)


Wake up and smell the mocha double latte! We already live in a
multicultural society. This does not mean, however, that we live in a
culturally plural one. Diversity is not quarantee that a person "recognizes
and appreciates differences among cultures." (1) Nor is it an indication -
as pluralists theorize - of competition and subsequent negotiation and
bargaining among multiple centers of cultural power. Indeed, the assertion
of cultural-group identity in the United States has been considered heresy
given the hegemony of both individualism and a "melting pot" ethos.

Cultural concerns are neither new nor novel. English travelers to the
colonies in the eighteenth century, for example, were astounded by the
refusal of domestic workers to address their employers as "masters" and by
their hostility to being called "servants" (Jacoby 1994). Noah Webster, in
the years following the American Revolution, set out to Americanize the
English language by dropping the "k" from words like "musick", replacing
"our" with "or" in words like "favour", and changing the order of the
letters "r" and "e" in words like "theatre" (Mencken 1962). Meanwhile,
Thomas Jefferson lamented the patrician class of his era sending their
children to Europe to be educated and he proposed a system of universal
public education with standardized textbooks. Count both men among the
generation of leaders in the new Republic who feared that a complex mix of
nationalities and religions could block the formation of a distinctly
"American" character.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, middle to upper class
Anglo-American Protestants attempted - often successfully - to impose moral
standards, language requirements, and religious conformity on European
immigrants. Horrified by accounts of prostitution, dance halls, gambling,
and public drunkenness, the reformers' agenda coincided with their fear
that America was being corrupted by "alien" influences. Immigration
contributed greatly to the cause of public school advocates who attributed
the rising incidence of crime and disease to the moral deficiencies in the
immigrants' culture. Unsurprisingly, state and local governments passed
laws establishing compulsory education, quickly increased the age of
mandatory attendance, and introduced curricula that taught immigrant
children "proper" dress, speech, manners, and discipline. School materials
were developed that resembled political indoctrination and propaganda.
George Washington, for example, was described as "immortal," "godlike," and
a "savior" (Hellinger & Judd 1991).

Nineteenth century common schools passed into history with the industrial
revolution. The Jeffersonian ideal of "education for citizenship" was
replaced by curriculum specialization and an ideology of vocationalism
promoted school as a complement to the factory system. Turn of the
twentieth century education "reformers" distrusted academic subjects and
argued - often successfully - for utilitarian training as a replacement for
classical learning. Pragmatists championing practical schooling alleged
that "by means of exclusively bookish curricula false ideals of culture are
developed" (Hofstadter 1963). Thus, secondary education expansion for the
previously excluded in the Progressive Era was - in large part - determined
by the requirements of their roles in the structural transformation of
capitalism. In other words, "schools produce workers" as they transmit
knowledge and provide opportunity (Bowles & Gintis 1976).

On one hand, post-World War II higher education expansion has followed a
similar pattern. The community college system is itself testimony to the
perceived need to satisfy corporate and state demands for technical,
clerical, and other service skills. On the other hand, acceptance of
demands for access to college and university by minorites and women has
fundamentally altered student populations. Economic realities and shifting
demographics have fostered academic change. If an associate or
baccalaureate degree is no assurance of success (and today contributes to a
growing reserve army of underemployed educated labor), the earning gap
between high school and college graduates remains strong motivation to
enter post-secondary education. And if campuses are more diverse, it
becomes increasingly difficult to remain - at best - silent about blacks,
women, Latinos & Asians, and gays and lesbians.

Contemporary proponents of critical thinking and the liberal arts complain
about their students' lack of interest in subject matter and they decry an
apparent rejection of the notion that learning is intrinsically valuable.
Culture is, for such educators, something to be studied for its own sake,
not a means toward another goal. In this sense, culture is set against "the
powerful utilitarian tendency which conceived of education as the training
of men to carry out particular tasks in a particular kind of civilization"
(Williams 1960). But education today is "illiberal" - though not in the
manner that conservatives such as Allan Bloom, Dinesh D'Souza, and Roger
Kimball contend. (2) Rather, young people receive the same message everyday
and everywhere: Go for the money. The number of English, history, and
philosophy majors has declined. Students are directed towards business even
as their school lives are characterized by "busyness." Interestingly,
historian-philosopher Henry Adams faced this dilemma more than a century
ago - before America's market economy came to monopolize culture - when one
of his students informed him that a degree from Harvard "is worth money to
me" (Jacoby 1994).

Present-day culture wars - inside and outside academia - are fought at an
historic juncture characterized by the transition from an industrial to a
post-industrial society. As a result, inner-city job markets have declined
and the number of semi-skilled positions in blue-collar industries has been
reduced. Middle classes have moved to the suburbs and employment has
followed even as downtown areas have recently experienced a "renaissance"
led by financial, real estate, and commercial-tourist sectors. Competition
among nations pursuing neo-liberal free trade policies facilitates a
globalism that leads firms to automate production and out-source work to
Third World countries. Meanwhile, family and immigration re-emerge as
political issues in a time of socio-cultural flux generated by economic
change and insecurity. Thus, a focus on material relations can help us to
avoid reducing the "problem" of multiculturalism to one of attitude,
discourse, and textual disagreement.

Multiculturalism is, in effect, a product of transnational ("late")
capitalism. Much as Frederic Jameson (1991) has suggested that
post-modernism is the "cultural logic" of this period, multiculturalism
functions similarly as "educational logic." And notwithstanding the
"cyberbole" of Third Wave futurists and McLuhanite global villagers, a
post-millenium filled with pillage and polarization is likely. In many -
not all - areas of the country, those most likely to feel the brunt of
joblessness, illiteracy, malnourishment, and ill-health are people of
African, Latino, & Asian descent. Meanwhile, middle-strata minorities have
moved out of one-time multi-class urban neighborhoods. As a cosmopolitan
professional-managerial class (PMC) lifestyle - with its luxury
automobiles, trendy dining, and upscale fashion - becomes increasingly
evident in metropolitan centers throughout the world, so does the growth of
an "under-class" and corresponding increases in alcoholism and drug
addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. In sum, we are witness to the
development of what Benjamin Barber (1995) has called "McWorld and Jihad" -
centralizing economic control and fragmenting socio-political identity. And
contrary to the claims of critics who simply place everything they dislike
under the rubric of "political correctness," inclusive multi-culturalists
are attempting to understand this milieu by drawing connections between
issues of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. (3)

An adequate explanation of the rise of multicultural curricula must begin
with recognition of the relationship between capitalism and education.
Those who detect lower standards, politics, and "tribalism" in the push for
coverage of minorities and women should keep in mind that colleges and
universities long ago adopted "cafeteria-style" programs. Course titles
such as "Business Administration," "Technical Writing" and "Managerial
Economics" reflect the corporate-instrumental character of higher
education. Moreover, even if some proponents of multiculturalism are
revanchist, current revisions in the humanities and social sciences mean
that students are studying a wider range of ideas, events and texts than
ever before. (4) In this sense, the cultural right is correct to argue that
multiculturalism conflicts with the "canon" given that new scholarship may
produce models, stories, and theories that do not fit established
pedagogical patterns. Significantly, instructors will face an expanded menu
from which to decide authors and material to cover or omit in their
courses.

Lost in the rancor of this debate, however, are the ways in which
multicultural education "fits" with multinational capital. Such studies
have become a corporate priority in an increasingly international business
environment. And as Molefi Asante maintains, there is no contradiction
between being an Afrocentrist and working for IBM. Moreover, the study of
race, gender, and sexual preference resembles "niche" consumer marketing
exemplified by the plethora of "micro-brewery" beers now available. In both
instances, the class structure of a diversified post-modern economy is
legitimized and reproduced while working class consciousness - the last
taboo in U.S. education - is displaced. Cultural diversity co-exists with
corporate commerce. The future result may well be more, not less,
homogeneity given the corrosive character of the market upon other
institutions and values. Andy Warhol once claimed that the purest form of
art is a business transaction. He might well have been referring to late
capitalist education.

NOTES

1. "Competencies of a Seminole Community College Associate Degree
Graduate". 1996-1998 CATALOGUE, Seminole Community College, p. 57.

2. See Bloom's THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, D'Souza's ILLIBERAL
EDUCATION, and Kimball's TENURED RADICALS.

3. Inclusive multiculturalists should be distinguished from separatists who
advocate what Nancy Fraser (1991) calls "subaltern counterpublics" where
members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate
counter-discourses that permit them to formulate oppositional
interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs. A discussion of
whether or not Fraser is correct in asserting that multiple separatisms are
ultimately progressive because they will result in an expanded aesthetic
and political discursive arena is beyond the scope of this brief essay.
Similarly, we cannot accord the concept "political correctness" adequate
analysis here. But to the extent that the phrase is associated with campus
speech codes, some who wish to "regulate" gender, racial, and sexual
language may be motivated by a sense that our ability to reform society is
slipping away. If that be the case, then we (or they) can at least make gay
jokes, racial slurs, and sexist comments "out of bounds."

4. For positive accounts of contemporary changes in the academy, see Gerald
Graff's BEYOND THE CULTURE WARS and Lawrence Levine's THE OPENING OF THE
AMERICAN MIND.

REFERENCES

Barber, Benjamin R. 1995. JIHAD vs McWORLD. New York: Times Books.

Bowles, Samuel & Herbert Gintis. 1976. SCHOOLING IN CAPITALIST AMERICA. New
York: Basic Books.

Fraser, Nancy. 1991. HABERMAS AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE. Cambridge: M.I.T.
Press.

Hellinger, Daniel & Dennis R. Judd. 1991. THE DEMOCRATIC FACADE. Pacific
Grove: Brooks/Cole.

Hofstadter, Richard. 1963. ANTI-INTELLECUTALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE. New York:
Vintage.

Jacoby, Russell. 1994. DOGMATIC WISDOM. New York: Anchor.

Mencken, H. L. 1962. AMERICAN LANGUAGE (4th ed.). New York: Knopf.

Williams, Raymond. 1960. CULTURE AND SOCIETY: 1780-1950. Garden City:
Anchor.








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