This reader, a lawyer in Mine, asks important, thoughtful questions that go to the heart of the current debate over the future of education–from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. Is technology now promoting the demand for objective, measurable means and ends? Is the technological culture at odds with the humane goals of the Western intellectual tradition? Do we treasure only what can be measured? Or do we recognize that what we treasure most can seldom be quantified, unless it is money? Should we give up and let the corporate reformers place us and our children into “the market”? Or do we resist and fight for the value of every child, for the value of deep and reflective learning, and for the principles of democracy?

He writes:

I recently finished reading two books, Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society and Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, both of which are rather depressing for those of us who seek intellectual quality in education.

According to both authors, we have moved into a technological culture that is driven by the unstoppable quest “efficiency” and the unwavering belief that a technique (including both methods of action and specific devices) exists that will provide “maximum efficiency” for any task. Modern, so-called “neo-classical”, economic theory is based on this very idea. (Although I agree with Noam Chomsky that “neo-classical” is neither new nor classical.) Not surprisingly then, the dogmas of neo-classcial economists are treated like the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation. As Ellul notes, the problem is a sociological and cultural one, one that we cannot simply “correct” by modifying our attitudes or values. Only a radical change in society can really change our culture.

So, when I look at the reformers, I have begun to see that they are the champions of the technological culture (technopoly) and are applying the values and tenets of that culture to our schools. (Which, as T.S. Elliot once remarked, are the repositories of our culture.) Since neo-classcial dogma teaches the rational inerrancy of the “the market” in determining the most efficient practices, then schools must be privatized. The market needs “objective measures” of school, teacher, and student performance. Since computers can manipulate data in an “objective” way, then we must structure our schools to function in accordance with computer-based evaluations of schools, students, and teachers. To do anything else is, by definition, irrational.

To defeat this, we must start to offer a different vision. A vision that puts humans and human development ahead of “efficiency” and “rationality”. That’s a tall order. For me, it requires returning to the basic values of the Western intellectual tradition, since our current cultural monster arose from the abuses of modern thought that displaced the ideas of the Enlightenment after the Industrial Revolution. I think we can do this, but it will a long, hard road.