Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Time for education reform

By Daniel Masden

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We all have interests and needs, intellectual and otherwise, that we are compelled to ignore or censor every day we attend the University of Massachusetts. Can’t the difference between getting a B and D+, be the difference between doing your homework and engaging in something relevant to one’s own life? How about deciding whether to make a practice of reading the newspaper?

To give you an example from my life, I’d like to allocate more time to preventing a big box store from moving into my community. Implicitly, our educational system discourages this type of activity. After all, shouldn’t you be studying?

When you’re told as a student that you must take some irrelevant class as part of your education, the medium becomes the message. In other words, you the student, for the next four years, are to unquestioningly subordinate yourself to an institution.

Imagine how much more productive learning becomes when you discover, free from domination, how much you want to be engaged in classroom material, rather than a teacher telling you how you will (meaning how and how often) be engaged.

Don’t you love it when teachers proclaim how surprised they are when students don’t hand in assignments: “Oh my gosh, surely the material was as interesting to you as it was me. We’re the same people, right?”

As U.S. citizens, we are compelled to accept – in the educational arena as in the political one – that we simply don’t know what is good for ourselves. This is the moral justification for the discrepancy between public opinion polls and government action (the war in Afghanistan, single-payer healthcare).

How is this thinking implied in the educational arena?

We don’t know what to know, so we must be told. We are told what an education is, what a subject is, what classes teach that subject, how we will learn and when we have “learned” enough, enter the diploma.

For anyone interested in politicizing the U.S. public, I think it is logical we examine the educational system which reaffirms daily, the masses are asses.

The message that the educational establishment is sending students is truly sickening and can help to explain the amount of alcohol abuse, depression and suicides among college students. It should be considered a spit in the face when the answer to these institution woes is increased counseling services and police action.

Another institutional policy more specific to UMass – and indicative of this democracy deficit of which I have been writing – is the new reactionary turn-it-in technology that automatically checks for plagiarism. This technology doesn’t just imply that an increasing number of people are plagiarizing. It implies that people don’t care about what’s being assigned. UMass is again deciding to fight the alienating nature of the education establishment with disciplinary action.

We all know that a democratic society is impossible without education. But when education becomes so far removed from citizenship, that is, student engagement in decision-making (democracy), one is moving from a program of education to indoctrination.

Neil Postman, in his book “Technopoly” refered to “grades” as a technology to judge behavior. Like every technology in a democratic society, one must ask whether it serves everyone equitably or is wielded by the establishment as a form of oppression.

How do grades serve students when they are told that the quality of their learning is poor (D+)? Grades then are a tool of the institution, an ideological weapon that presupposes a quantitative value should be assigned to human thought, and that thoughts, once quantified, should be arranged.

Do students desire this degree of objectification?

If the reader is still unsure of the ideological implications of grades, consider for a moment the justification for the Holocaust, the eugenics movement, the belief that numbers and statistics could prove the superiority of the Arian race.

I’m not saying that, in the future, D students will get the gas chamber. I’m only saying numbers that claim to measure intelligence and superiority are the enemy of anyone wanting to live in a free society.

We will all be receiving our final grades soon and some of our teachers are kind enough to convey via a histogram how our grades relate to everyone else’s.

It seems an appropriate time to ask the question, what’s needed more, education reform or de-nazification?

Daniel Madsen is a UMass student and works with the University of Massachusetts Amherst chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He can be reached at [email protected]

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