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Bullets and Brains: The Educational Complex

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

In his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his concerns about a network of entities with the ability to self-sustain via broad outreach and inherent power. The military-industrial complex was, and continues to be, a powerful testament to “net effects” or the power that results from membership in a popular group. It is not unique though, and it is easy to recognize educational complexes that maintain power and draw significant amounts of funding by virtue of membership. Education, like the military, is seen as a social good whose dynamic levels of support (financial, social, etc…) are considered essential to the health of society.

Unlike some areas of government funding, for example parks and recreation, one would risk irreparable harm if funding for social goods was reduced. Slash funding for education or the military and a vulnerability is born. Fears of this weakness help to keep funding constant and serves as the well-spring of power for the “complexes.”

Should we fear an “educational complex”? Certainly a struggling economy and a political system interested in budget cuts will look to educational funding as an area of consideration. When this assessment takes place what will serve as the evidence of the investment? In the military-industrial complex we can see the hangers of tanks and aircraft, the boxes of ammunition and the raw data on soldiers. These are concrete examples of the investment. Education does not have these concrete examples.

The educational complex functions to create abstract items. The ideas and points of learning that the complex creates occur at variable rate and may or may not have real-world application. Who is to say when learning is applied? Without raw data we have little to offer in terms of evidence. “Where’s the proof?” the funders ask and seeking out a source of evidence turn to test scores. Herein lies the data: numbers and levels, progressions and comparisons: the food for interpretation.

Education suffers as an industry of abstract products. Unlike industries that produce “concrete” examples of efficiency, the education industry can only prove its value in data.

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