This past Wednesday I suggested that the future of the Internet may be jeopardized by the widening gulf of irreconcilable differences between "rampant capitalism" and the interests of scholarship. While my personal view of scholarship may best be characterized as that of an unashamed intellectual, I think it is important to recognize that the "basics" of education are in as much (if not) more jeopardy as the more elite pursuits that lead to doctoral dissertations and publication by university presses. Consider the current state of education in California, reported in today's San Francisco Chronicle by Tom Abate:
The next generation of Californians could enter the workforce lacking basic skills as the two state institutions that help adults improve in reading, writing and arithmetic suffer from a lack of funding and coordination, a new report says.
The study being issued today by the California Budget Project looks at the Adult Education Program and community colleges, two separate systems that offer remedial classes to 1.5 million adults who need help to prepare for jobs or additional education.
"We're talking about basic English literacy, basic math and English as a second language," said project analyst Vicky Lovell. "These are skills you need to get entry- level work right away, and they're also the skills you need to succeed in higher education to get a better job."
Poor K-12 education, a high school dropout rate of about 19 percent and a large population of people for whom English is a second language are among the reasons why so many Californians are entering the workforce unprepared for simple tasks such as making change or reading an instruction manual.
Economist Sean Randolph with the Bay Area Economic Forum said this lack of basic skills will not only make it harder for affected individuals to find good jobs but hurt California in competition on a national and global scale.
One would think that capitalist interests would recognize the need to make sure that there will be an adequate supply of skilled labor from both present and future generations; but, in the world the Internet has made, things no longer work that way. This is a world that has reverted to the same pipe dream that fueled the rise of automation: that it would only be a matter of time before the machines that were displacing unskilled labor would secure the domain of the skilled. There were good reasons why this did not come to pass, but these same visions now occupy the minds of executives and shareholders addled by the Kool-Aid of technology evangelism. The result is that those with the "power of the purse" see education has having little value when compared with the need for better quarterly growth figures; and California has now become a poster child for the consequences of such narrow-minded thinking.
For better or worse I am not yet ready to consider the alternative that fuels the conspiracy theorists. This would be the proposition that the undermining of educational institutions is part of a long-range plan. The result of that plan would be a generation too stupid to recognize the mess that the previous generation has made. Such a generation will be sufficiently malleable to become the slave class of a ruling class that has always been present in our culture but has been gradually securing its position through those mechanisms of a "consciousness industry" that I first addressed last week. This is, admittedly, an extreme view of the current situation; but we might do well to keep it in view while considering more sober strategies for getting out of the mess.