[OPE-L:8350] Re: Education and Value

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Thu Jan 16 2003 - 08:32:53 EST

Re: [OPE-L:8338] Re: Re: Education and ValueRe Paul A's [8344]:

> The reading of Marx that I find most fruitful is one that indeed 
sees capitalism's development (in particular, of the forces of production) 
increasing the capacity of workers as full people, as social beings. < 

By my reading, Marx held that workers would only realize their
capacity to become "full people, as social beings" after capitalism. 
Marx refers, after all, to all of history prior to socialism as representing
the "pre-history" of humanity.

> At the same time this tendency coexists with two other features of the 
evolutionary path that are the effect of the persistence of capitalist relations 
of production:
* a minority of cases where quite the opposite happens (workers and even 
their productive capacity treated with utter disdain) <

Is this a minority of cases?  I would say that the "utter disdain" that capital
has for workers persists despite the presence of a minority of more progressive
managers. (I also think that enlightened management, while taught in the 
classroom, more often than not doesn't survive for long on the factory floor
or in the office.  Indeed, it is part of the 'on-the-job training' of managers by
managers that such proclivities are submerged and subverted)

> * a tendency to polarization -- the gap grows between the capabilities 
(and living conditions) of the many at the bottom and  the few at the top 
of the distribution (note: polarization does not exclude those at the bottom 
improving their lot: it just means improvement is even faster at the top) <

Polarization, I agree, does not exclude those at the bottom from improving
their lot. However, neither does it mean _necessarily_ that their lot is

> 1. it is difficult to hold the two thoughts at the same time, that capitalism 
continues to deliver on its civilizing mission but that this is no justificiation 
for its persistence: it's much easier to adopt a purely negative, critical 
posture: the message is less complex. (But if it doesn't jive with workers 
experience of changes in the workplace, we lose credibility for our general 
account. We are seen as wonderfully sensitive to the plight of the minority 
of workers deskilled by capitalist progress, but insensitive to the advantages 
experienced by the bulk of them. This was precisely the situation created 
when the CFDT union confederation adopted a version of deskilling in the 
1970s (with Braverman dutifully cited in the footnotes), and on that basis 
began organizing against the deskilling effects they expected from the 
computerization of insurance companies. The CFDT was very strong 
among the clerical workers in this industry. But with this position, it 
quickly lost credibilty with the workers, since it became apparent 
within a few years that computerization was having substantial and 
widespread upgrading effects, effects that workers in this industry 

I agree that a "purely negative, critical posture" is one-sided and that
the message should be more complex.  But -- now that you have narrowed
the time period under consideration (you asked previously about the 
last 100-200 years) to the more recent period, I seriously doubt whether
most occupations and workers have experienced 'upgrading' as a result
of the microprocessor revolution. (NB: I said 'doubt', that's all.)  And I hardly 
think that workers in the insurance industry represent a typical or average 
scenario.  More detailed questionnaires and studies are needed to determine
what the basis is for the belief that jobs have been upgraded in terms of 
skill requirements.  The concept of skill upgrading as a consequence of
computers also has an ideological component that is being pushed on 
many levels and represents a kind of 'technology-mythology', i.e. the
computer-empowering idea is a story that it is also being spread by
employers and the state.   

Since we have narrowed the time horizon, I also question whether the 
cognitive abilities of young people has indeed been increased.  How is this 
measured?  If, for instance, we look at trends in ' basic skills' (reading 
comprehension, writing ability, math ability, etc.) in primary and
secondary schools, it is unclear that skill levels have increased after
the introduction of computers in the classroom (and at home).  
E.g.  -- going back to the 1970s -- hand-held inexpensive calculators
became a way that millions of school children could come up with the 
right answers without understanding essential math skills.  Despite
"Sesame Street" and computers in the classroom and computers in 
the home which have word processors with spellcheckers and 
grammar checkers, it's unclear whether this has increased skills or
is a _substitute_ for skill acquisition (and I seriously question whether
computer games have the net effect of skill upgrading).

Solidarity, Jerry

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