By John Crittenden
The American educational system, lagging behind international standards, has for some time been a rallying point for criticism. While a brief blog post hardly provides the space for a thorough analysis of the purported problem, it should be sufficient to succinctly share my own doubts of the basic foundations of American education. Some of my coursework, particularly a class on ‘the Classics of Political Economy’ have led me to question the efficacy of an American education.
The American educational system is like an industrial production line for employees. Geared towards the training of people to fulfill an economic function (also known as a job), it often ignores the political implications (and subsequent economic implications) of its peculiar developmental regimen. The increasingly pronounced specialization of labor under modern societies dictates that students focus on a particular discipline as they advance in their studies. The resultant branching out of scholarship into highly specific fields promotes a differentiation of value emphases between the various academic disciplines. The most important value under modern democratic capitalism, however, is a spirit of liberal individualism (as Friedrich Hayek liked to call it) or tolerance or open-mindedness.
Call it what you like, but by allowing the incorporation of the majority of society into the public discourse, a sense of liberal individualism at the heart of the country not only maximizes the availability of labor, but promotes its production of novel ideas by accepting, if not encouraging, differences of opinion. The proliferation of distinct value biases in accordance with peoples’ unique academic background risks the abandonment of tolerance as a guiding value principle of society in favor of a more particular socio-economic value structure. While their intentions may be noble, if any particular interest group is able to gain sufficient power to assert its value code over the open-mindedness underlying the democratic system, that society risks losing its democratic underpinnings and even falling apart. The preponderance of highly varied and intense value structures stemming from higher education led Joseph Schumpeter to accuse capitalism of over-producing its own social critics, who, left to their own devices, threaten to upset the delicate political balance of the system.
Here, again, the emphasis on knowledge for profit undermines the American educational system, but this time at the primary school level. To counteract the often divergent viewpoints of various academic experts, the American primary education should focus on knowledge as a venue for promoting social stability rather than individual economic gain. That may sound like Communist propaganda to some, but unless American primary schools begin training a majority of our student population to be conscientious and tolerant citizens, rather than opportunistic and greedy entrepreneurs, the creative and destructive forces unleashed by whatever interest group holds sway at the moment threaten to destroy our society.
My view doesn’t advocate the abandonment of individualism or individual liberty, it’s merely redirection towards strengthening social solidarity rather than undermining it through excessive intellectual radicalization. As long as a tolerance of diverse viewpoints remains at the center of our society, the risk of one particular value (such as equality, sustainability, or personal profit, for example) over-riding the politico-economic system and rendering it untenable is significantly reduced.