Between the hyperventilated coverage of Anna Nicole’s autopsy today, a peculiar news story squeezed in as filler. YouTube is posting videos, taken with cell phones by students, of teachers in public school classrooms having violent, abusive outbursts. I saw this on MSNBC while I was dusting blinds, and it stopped me in my tracks.
The most remarkable thing about it, aside from the extremely brief flashes of raging teachers smashing students’ phones on the floor, was what the news personality had to say about it. She wondered aloud if this meant schools should ban cell phones.
That was it.
Setting aside the issue of cell phones, there was not even a cursory mention of the behavior of the teachers which was abusive as hell and showing students that the way to reassert control is to act like a raging asshole (links below). The physically violent teachers, by the way, were men.
So what the news personality, or her editor, or MSNBC decided to omit in its coverage of this story, established a baseline. Here are the issues this story raises, period… there are no others. That the students were being subjected to abuse was off the table.
This is the way the media pre-conforms us. They use their constructed authoritative position to establish what is axiomatic. Discourse that wiggles under the fence is automatically de-legitimated. How many times have we seen this with the war, with free trade agreements, with coverage of Venezuela, et al?
As it happens, the night prior, I had been by Internationalist Books at Chapel Hill to hear a too-brief talk by writer, cultural materialist, and intentional communitarian Alexis Zeigler. Alexis was talking about peak oil, the history of technology, ecology, and culture. One of his main points, and also a strong point in his book, Culture Change, is that the primary function of schools as a public institution – is not to teach us to be smarter, but contrariwise to teach us how to conform and be obedient, productive worker bees.
Ivan Illich, who we have featured here as our first New Canon author, says much the same thing – which runs counter to a lot of left orthodoxy that sees fighting for public schools as a key step in establishing the workers’ paradise some fine day.
There are so many issues we could raise in violating this taboo against questioning school and schooling that one hardly knows where to begin. Begin with hierarchy imposed on children because of their dependency… the infantilization of women as part of combining dependency with obedience… the institutionalization and construction of knowledge… the similarities between schools and prisons… off we could go. And there are the complexities, like the fact that schools and universities and even ruling class institutions are also places where we can act out our subversions when we are in a position of inferior social power. There are subversive teachers, subversive schools, and universities have more than once transformed themselves into platforms of resistance (the reason tenure is under attack).
At any rate, I just had to remark on the delicious irony that consumer culture has foisted on us here… kids with cell phones have begun to use them as a weapon to defend themselves against the trainers and turnkeys for late capitalism in the United Consumers of Amerika.