Sunday, March 16, 2008

ZNet Commentary
The mis-education of the coordinator class March 13, 2008
By Mandisi Majavu

Chomsky (2004) points out that Harvard trains the people that rule the world, while MIT trains those who make it work. I cannot think of a more succinct way of describing the goals of an educational process that creates and maintains the coordinator class.

Chomsky argues that schools are, by and large, designed to support the interests of the dominant segment of society, those people who have wealth and power - in short the capitalists. I interpret this as saying, schools are, by and large, designed to produce a subservient coordinator class that supports and takes care of the interests of the capitalists.

As Albert (2003) argues, it is important to describe the viewpoints and behaviours of the three primary classes; i.e. capitalists, coordinators and workers. In keeping with that spirit, this article aims to analyse the socialisation of the coordinator class.

The Coordinator Class

According to Albert, within capitalism, the coordinator class is between labour and capital, and fundamentally different from both. This class relates to the capitalists as intellectual workers. The notion of a coordinator class is based on the assumption that the kind of work we do can separate us into classes.

What gave rise to this class is the change in the economic conditions required to make profits.

"Historically, reproductions of the conditions for profit-making required the capitalists to often employ the power of the state (police, courts, troops) or private armies of Pinkertons - but as monopoly capitalism has advanced, the contours of control have matured in kind (Albert & Hahnel, 1978, p. 204).

Furthermore, there has been a steady effort to erode the intellectual and coordinative abilities of the workers over their work, and to then vest these skills in an intermediary layer of expert intellectual coordinators, argue Albert and Hahnel. Consequently, this layer of expert intellectual coordinators came to constitute a coordinator class of 'workers above the workers'. "Thus we have a 'middle element' who have certain antagonistic relations with both capitalists and workers and thus certain tendencies toward oppressing, oppressed, and rebellious relations toward each of these classes (ibid)."

Because this sector of economic actors has a relatively large monopoly over empowering work, it has greater bargaining power and status than the workers below (Albert, 2003). Owing to this relative monopoly over empowering work, members of the coordinator class have much higher incomes than working class people, and more status than working class people. Albert explains that the members of the coordinator class gain considerable status, prestige and power from the positions they occupy in their respective industries; attracting and holding for themselves critically important knowledge, skills and levers of daily decision making influence.

For example, as a manager or a director of an NGO, the coordinator class member controls workers below. As an engineer he or she defines workers' working conditions. As a lawyer or doctor he or she adjudicates workers' lives or dramatically oversees the quality of their lives.

A class analysis that takes into consideration the existence of the coordinator class compels us to not only want to get rid of private ownership of the means of production, but also of the division of labor that apportions more empowering and more appealing tasks only to a narrow subset of the population while confining the rest of the population to rote and obedient labors (Albert, 2003).

The Social Construction of the Coordinator Class

A member of the coordinator class usually has educational credentials and daily economic circumstances that continually reinforce his or her status, prestige and power. Put another way, members of the coordinator class tend to be people who we normally refer to as 'professionals'. As a class, the coordinator class has its own lifestyles and behaviour patterns,

"its own places to congregate, its own music and preferences, its own preferred stores to shop at, its own ways of dressing, foods to eat, even linguistic mannerisms, all not homogenous within the class, of course, but still on average separate from capitalists above and workers below (Albert, 2003)."

Universities are, by and large, designed to produce people who subscribe to the values of this class; people, who basically can fit in with this class without problems. Schmidt (2001) points out that seclusion at the university allows time to study the field's technical details, while the social isolation there facilitates indoctrination into the field's culture. The field's culture includes knowing the 'right questions' to ask and the 'appropriate' time to raise those questions, acquiring the 'correct attitude' and obediently working within the assigned ideology. The goal of educational training is not only to teach people skills and facts, but to change people's ideological values in accordance with the system. To paraphrase Schmidt, ideological weeding out and ideological transformation are important mechanisms that the system uses in every step in its production of a coordinator class.

For example, in physics, about half of the students who enter PhD programmes in the U.S. leave without the degree, many due to outright expulsion, argues Schmidt.

"This massive elimination allows the political biases in the weeding out process to have a strong effect on the overall political nature of the graduating class. Adjustment works hand in glove with this elimination in forming the class politically: Many of those who survive the weeding do so by 'shaping up' under the threat of being culled, and in the process undergo attitudinal transformations that make them politically compatible with the others who are not weeded out (Schmidt, 2001, p. 123)."

Consequently, the students who graduate at the end of the day are students who are willing to serve the system without questioning the status quo or the assigned ideology that they must work within. The research I conducted on the University of Cape Town (UCT) psychology students last year (2007) does not contradict this claim.

For example, referring to the UCT graduate programme, one student explained that " times it felt like if one chose another theory it was not condoned, it felt like you would be punished if you chose something else. That was a bit disturbing." And another students echoed this sentiment: "the programme tends to be somewhat rigid. While we are told we can have our own psychological theory that we prefer, we are actually chastised when we use it." A student who did not have reservations with this process referred to it as being groomed to become a competent psychologist. And another student explained the entire by process by using an analogy.

" It feels like you are in a fish-bowl the whole time. Like everything you do, everything you say even if it's not in a formal context, everything feels like it's being assessed for your performance as a trainee psychologist. You feel like you are being watched all the time."

One of the black participants said of his experience:

"I felt extremely lost and the material felt alien. I felt that my actions, my deeds and my thoughts were not my own but were those of the course or what I was being fed. I felt I wanted to protest and say give me a chance to think this through, I'm not really sure I agree with this concept or that concept. Despite there being room to do that, we were in an academic setting and had to move along from certain experiences following the calendar year, leaving little time to sufficiently reflect on experiences."

Chomsky (2004) explains that educational institutions require people who are willing to adjust to the institution's power structure and accept the code of their discipline without asking too many questions.

Schmidt argues that it is no surprise that developing a critical view of the field is an extracurricular activity, one that the training institutions discourage not only through the test's exclusive focus on the technical details of specialised applications, but also through their coverage of a large number of such applications. He adds that the graduates who are hired by corporations or the government to do research or development work or by universities to do normal paradigm work do not need such critical ability, "and in fact will work more harmoniously without it."

Chomsky (1997) argues that the ultimate goal of institutions that do not appreciate independent thinking is to reward conformity and obedience; if you do not show these qualities, you either have 'behavioural problems' or a 'troublemaker', and therefore weeded out along the way. The coordinator class is created and maintained through this process.

This is why members of a coordinator class, are tolerant of distant social criticism, but have very little patience for anyone who tries to provoke a debate about the politics that guide their own work (Schmidt, 2003). This also explains why members of the coordinator class may be liberal on this or that question of the day, but tend to be very conservative on a long-standing issue of much greater importance - that is democratic and equal distribution of power in society, to paraphrase Schmidt.

The capitalists have always known this. Hence, employers have always scrutinised the attitudes and values of the people they employ, so as to protect themselves against unionists and other radicals whose 'bad attitude' would undermine workplace discipline (Schmidt, 2003).

And the universities also know that they exist to produce people who will staff and perpetuate the country's social and economic system. Schmidt adds that it is no accident that the same attitude and values that are key to success in universities, are also key to success in jobs that require a university degree. Jobs that the coordinator class tend to occupy.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Andrew said...


Wow, vindication feels GREAT. This article makes me want to read Chomsky even more now! Where did you find this.