America’s hidden philosophy

John McCumber, Aeon, Jul 19, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes
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This article offers what could be an interesting explanation for the state of educational policy and while I can't say I necessarily agree with it I can't entirely dismiss it either. It tells the story of UCLA chancellor Raymond B Allen, who needed a reason to fire some Marxist professors during the McCarthy years. The argument he developed was that "members of the Communist Party have abandoned reason, the impartial search for truth." But what would 'reason' look like in this (capitalist) context? "Rational choice theory... was a plausible candidate. It holds that people make (or should make) choices rationally by ranking the alternatives presented to them."

The article doesn't extend the explanation to education policy, but I feel free to. It offers an explanation of the focus on STEM, as opposed to the non-rational theory-based disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. It explains the phenomenon of 'school choice' as an argument for privatizing schools. It explains the popularity of 'evidence-based' practice measuring concrete outcomes such as test scores. And it explains the rejection of 'social good' as an outcome in education. But as the article says, " there is much more to a good society than the affordance of maximum choice to its citizens." And indeed, offering choice (as compared to allowing people to create) is itself a mechanism of control.

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