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1/7/09

Credentialism

Here is an excerpt from my Democratic Theory paper, discussing the notion of 'credentialism':

Education is one, if not the most important preconditions that a functioning democracy needs so it can sustain itself by teaching valuable skills for civic participation; these include basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, and social skills. However, one of the most important skills, that is not be prioritized within the educational establishment in North America is critical thinking skills. One reason is due to ‘credentialism’; education has been degraded from a means to teach civically valuable, democratically necessary skills to those geared towards individualistic, opportunistic ends such as employment leading to educational standardization, intellectual subordination, and civic resignation.
However, it was not always like this. As Jacobs argues, during the 1960s one of the reasons that students protested was that they felt they were “shortchanged in education...The students were protesting attempts to transmit culture that omitted acquaintance with personal examples and failed to place them on speaking terms with wisdom” (Jacobs 47). The problem had its origins, Jacobs claims, in the 1950s when “it dawned on university administrators...that modern economic development...depended on a population’s funds of knowledge—a resource that later came to be known as human capital” (61). The term ‘human capital’ has the effect of instrumentalizing, and commodifying education and the intellectual faculties of the individual. By subsuming the intellectual into the interest’s capital, intellectual pursuits were increasingly standardized, and uncritical; critical skills were not valuable to capital whose interest is to mass-produce standardized knowledge, much as nails and bolts are standardized for machines, because they cheaper and easily transmutable. The students recognized this and felt ‘shortchanged’ because they intuitively knew this is not what education is about, and they are not machines.
Nineteen-sixty eight would be the culmination of revolutionary fervor among students from France to Mexico, and it was this intellectual liberation movement that was seen by the elite as subversive to democracy; this is best elucidated in the Trilateral Commission’s infamous 1973 report, The Crisis of Democracy. The report warned,
The development of an "adversary culture" among intellectuals has affected students, scholars, and the media...[these] value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals...this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties (Huntingon, et al. 6-7).
The solution to this crisis lay in changing education from a liberating experience to one where authority and capitalist values dominated, enter the technocrat—as the aforementioned quote mentioned as the non-subversive element. ‘Credentialism’ is, in part, a reaction to the experiences from the 1960s. Students in the 1960s, at the height of the welfare state, had ample access to state subsidies, and universities were authentically public institutions were well funded. With the rise of neoliberalism and the retrenchment of the state from its educational responsibilities, students and universities were left with the bills. This led to a sea-change in thinking among students, “In another decade, [the 1980s] however, students dropped that cause [educational emancipation], apparently taking it for granted that credentialing is the normal primary business of institutions of higher learning and that its cost is an unavoidable initiation fee into acceptable adulthood” (Jacobs 47). To make sure that students would see their education as a means not as an ends, the increase in student debt acts as a coercive reminder to students that “the only guarantee behind the loan is the valuable credential itself” (Ibid).
Thus, the revolutionary √©lan of modern students is stunted by debt bondage. The neoliberal, individualist ‘Creative Class’ theorem seems to be a better fit for a generation of students more concerned with paying the bills and individual emancipatory pursuits that can be bought and sold than democratic social change. Instead, students, by necessity, after graduation are more likely to become technocrats than become intellectuals, and today it has become common sense to do so. The problem is that these members are part of the ‘creative class’ and the ‘Creative Class’ is anything but creative.
Jacobs introduces Thomas Kuhn’s notion of ‘paradigms’ when she discusses the credentialed, ‘Creative Class’ agent. She states,

...previously established scientific verities are themselves capable of hampering scientific advancement. He called such verities paradigms and drew attention to the fact that they shape people’s entire worldviews. Most people do not enjoy having their entire worldview discredited; it sets them uncomfortably adrift. Scientists are no exception” (70).

As eluded to before, modern education with its mass production bias, and ‘human capital’ bias does not bring about truly innovative or critical skills out of their students who later go on into the workforce. However, due to their education and status in society become part of the ‘Creative Class’, and even our civic leaders.
Therefore, with weak critical skills, a credential, higher incomes, and a paradigmatic view of the world the ‘Creative Class’ is actually an anti-democratic force for two reasons. Firstly, with their credential they are able to appeal to authority over members of the community who do not have this credential, thereby cutting off democratic discourse. Further, since their education is paradigmatic, but do not realize this, they believe they know the facts of a situation with advanced theoretical knowledge. As Kuhn states, “What were ducks in the scientist’s world before the revolution are rabbits afterwards” (111). Thereby, their problem solving can potentially cause more problems than the initial problem caused.

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



    Sarah

    http://www.thetreadmillguide.com

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