S&T Educ8n Analysis

Problematic Influences of Capitalism on Most Everything, Including Science & Technology Education


Although each of us may think of ourselves as autonomous beings, many analysts suggest that most of us are assimilatedmore or less – into a network (or dispositif, like The Borg™) composed of myriad living, non-living & symbolic entities (‘actants’) that, collectively, act to support sets of goals, perspectives, practices, etc. A recent – and apparently rapidly-expanding – related phenomenon is the Internet-of-Things, globally electronically connecting living & non-living things.

Among many influences on us in global dispositifs, it seems clear that a dominant one is capitalism (also here); i.e., elite controls of means of production of for-profit goods & services. Since about the mid-1970s, a dominant form of capitalism is neoliberalism; that is, facilitation of capitalist goals by governments, transnational entities (e.g., WTO) and others in ways that infuse capitalist ideologies across global networks of living, non-living & symbolic entities. Although contentious, as Marx suggested, it seems that (all forms of) capitalism are highly problematic – and must be reformed, if not replaced. Analyses of capitalist corporations, for instance, suggest they are pathogenic.

Pro-capitalist Education

Particularly in countries claiming to be ‘democratic,’ capitalism requires support from general populations – which appears to be facilitated by forms of entertainment & news media, for example, and by education. In terms of education, Pasi Sahlberg, suggested in Finnish Lessons (2011) that there is a Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) that – like a virus – has ‘infected’ many educational systems worldwide, leading – as he suggests in the video below – to much teacher & student alienation from education. Meanwhile, Sir Ken Robinson claimed – as in the video below – that such education is modeled after industrialism, narrowly-focused on identifying & educating a few students who may be financially-useful, while compromising education of many or most other students. He recommends, instead, more organic and holistic forms of education – creating environments to enable each different student to flourish.

Pro-capitalist Science & Technology Education

As elaborated here, school science & technology (and ‘STEM‘) educational systems appear to largely focus on identifying potential ‘knowledge producers’ (e.g., engineers, scientists, etc.) to serve capitalists and, often as by-products, generating masses of people who, to different extents, are useful to capitalists as ‘knowledge consumers,’ in terms of compliant workers and as enthusiastic & unquestioning purchasers (& disposers) of for-profit goods & services. This system seems to be contributing to extreme wealth inequalities and extreme threats to environmental viability. I elaborated on some of these seemingly-entrenched themes in the 2005 video at right/below. More recent elaborations are provided below and here.

Science Education as ‘Selection & Training Camp’

School science systems (e.g., government, textbooks, administrators, etc.) – including recent STEM education initiatives – often are like athletic ‘selection & training camps,’ aimed at identifying future scientists, engineers and other knowledge producers who are capable of developing & managing production & consumption of for-profit goods & services on behalf of capitalist owners. Selection processes often are like a survival of the ‘richest’ experience, in which survivors are more intelligent and richer in cultural & social capital – able to quickly understand or ‘discover’ (via inquiry-based learning) abstract laws & theories. Such processes are similar to being able to ‘see’ a particular image in this photograph.

Science Education as an ‘Apprenticeship for Consumership’

Although most money appears to be made in recent years through financial capitalism (e.g., market speculation), much of it continues to be made through promotion of consumerism (and rent); that is, obsessive for-profit consumption/disposal cycles – as depicted in the video at right, ‘trashed’ here, and in The Story of Stuff. School science (& STEM) education appears to contribute to such consumerism in multiple ways, including through: i) Idealization; e.g., sanitization of NoST and STSE (e.g., via compromising education about STSE Harms), making school science function as an ‘infomercial’ for professional science (& engineering); and, ii) Disempowerment; e.g., via threats to intellectual independence (e.g., A, B), such as through losses of expertise & confidence via excessive TD/CE lessons/activities and via learning challenges from IBL and rapid knowledge, skill acquisition expectations.

Problems with STEM Education & Inquiry-based Learning

STEM education & inquiry-based learning (IBL) have become normalized and, in doing so, appear to assist capitalists in identifying & educating knowledge producers and conditioning knowledge consumers. Regarding the schema at right/below, student ‘research’ tends to stratify society by sorting students according to factors like their intelligence and cultural capital; while STEM education initiatives and pro-capitalist media tend to limit knowledge to simple cause-effect relationships, systematic research & development methods and celebration of for-profit commodities (e.g., via Idealization, as above). Refer also to my summary of problems of inquiry-based learning.

Seeing The World Through Critical Lenses & Striving for Global Wellbeing

Realization that each of us is, more or less, engulfed in a pro-capitalist dispositif is like being able to see the world through ‘magical’ glasses used in the film, They Live (as at right/below). In actor-network theory terms, using such ‘lenses’ allows us to de-punctualize phenomena – to ‘see’ that they are not singularities; but, rather, actants within larger networks. As McMurtry (1999) suggested, we are intertwined in a network of living, nonliving & symbolic entities that are largely conditioned (as normalizing power) to serve capitalists – which appears linked, with much government assistance, to numerous STSE Harms. Recognition of such power relations can enlighten and invigorate us to educate students – as Vandana Shiva suggests – about our network embeddedness and prepare them for acting to increase socially-just & environmentally-thriving worlds – as discussed here.

Awareness of capitalism-influenced harms is the prime motivation behind STEPWISE pedagogy. Admittedly, while implementing STEPWISE in contexts largely affected by capitalist systems (as described above) may be difficult, the CoViD-19 pandemic may have opened ‘windows of opportunity,’ as suggested here.