My main research area has morphed into thinking about how the philosophy of technology might be taught in schools. However, I often think about how philosophy of technology ideas might apply to schooling as a technological system. One of the things philosophy of technology tackles is how culture and technology interact. While this interaction is a two-way street, today I’m wondering how the technology of schooling might be different if we lived in less capitalistic society.
1) Less emphasis on utilitarian goals. Capitalism requires citizens to consider how they will make money. This filters down into schooling with claims that education must be economically advantageous. We hear this rhetoric whenever students ask, “When am I ever going to use this?”. Rather than learning to be educated, students (and parents) want an education that will be lucrative in a very narrow sense. If capitalism somehow never existed, I suspect education would be less focused on economic outcomes. That said, maybe school wouldn’t exist at all.
2) Public schools would be better funded. If we valued education for education sake, there would likely be little need for a private – public dichotomy. While some private schools might continue to exist for religious reasons, I suspect their enrollments would drop. Some parents enroll their children in private schools because of the advantages they suspect the schools provide for later economic gain. If education is valued as an end in itself (see number 1), I suspect funding would increase and not be tied to exhaustingly capitalistic programs like “race to the top”. Furthermore, because school would be about learning and not about “getting ahead” there would be universal support for more equitable funding structures rather than funding based on local property taxes (a system that perpetuates inequity).
3) Grades would not exist. We should not be surprised that a capitalistic society created a system of rewards for learning. One might argue that in a capitalistic society, something is not worth doing unless their is some reward associated with the task. So, if our society no longer valued such extrinsic rewards, perhaps grades would be replaced by narrative reporting on students’ strengths and weaknesses. Or, maybe no reporting would be made at all on students’ progress.
4) Greater diversity in all content areas. We know that there are systematic barriers erected for people of color and female students in science and technology fields. Many of these barriers are the result of an implicit (and sometimes explicit) ranking and sorting scheme that discourages non-white and non-male students from pursuing such fields. Without capitalism, these ranking and sorting systems likely would not exist and a greater diversity of students would enter the fields (this would be a good thing for science). Similarly, without the capitalistic drive to go into high-paying jobs related to science and technology, we might see more male students in fields like education (which is typically dominated by female students).
I recognize that all economic systems have strengths and flaws and that many of the points I’ve made cannot be attributed solely to capitalism. I also acknowledge that I can’t know if what I’ve noted above would actually happen in a non-capitalistic society. I suspect no one could know and I am certainly not a scholar of economics, politics, or history. Yet, I think we can see in our current economic climate – in which the separation between rich and poor continues to grow – an example of systematic injustice. If we can see how schooling might be different without capitalism, maybe we can work harder to ensure our systems of schooling do not further contribute to the injustices.