Economics/Class Relations

McDonaldization of Education and the Civil Religion of the Left

By Aleksey Bashtavenko


As I neared completion of my academic program in 2009, I was surrounded by professors who ascribed the economic crisis to “unfettered capitalism”. One of my instructors lamented “if only we had the state sponsor all of our classes, we ought to treat students as intellects rather than as clients”, implying that if only the universities had more influence over public policy, the disaster could have been averted.

Yet strangely, policies that led to this outcome were developed and implemented by the socio-economic elites who were educated in the most prestigious of American institutions. Most professors see no reason to defend such views on campuses because they reflect the consensus of the academic class. Yet, if they were to make an honest effort to substantiate their point of view, they would probably attribute these failures to the Philosopher King thesis gone askew.

Upon graduation, I scrambled to earn a living writing papers for college students, most of whom were much more interested in acquiring credentials than in learning. Seemingly, they and I had an unspoken agreement that our transaction was to be treated in strictly economic terms. In other words, there was nothing intrinsically valuable about education and acquisition of credentials was the sole purpose of matriculation. Once in a great while, I’d receive a hostile email from a disgruntled professor questioning the premises of our arrangement and swearing to “wage war” on myself and saboteurs of the “educational process” of my ilk. In his effusive tirade, one of such instructors urged me to wonder why I “contribute to the dumbing-down of this nation” and whether I realized that “lack of education” was the reason for the financial crisis that left me writing papers.

Such a brazen allegation laced with seemingly absurd presumptions made me wonder if he believed in anything he wrote. For that matter, I was puzzled how any reasonable person could even entertain such notions. The connection between the financial crisis and the education system seemed tenuous at best. Yet, his irate missive prompted me to think carefully about what he may have meant. Or at any rate, what argument a reasonable person of his persuasion could mount.

Contrary to the popular allegation from the right, these professors insisted that they did not want the educated elite to run the country. They further maintained that the true purpose of education is to teach students to think for themselves. Moreover, the economic crisis was nothing but a result of the educated elites abusing public trust. From this perspective, such unseemly outcomes were possible only because the citizenry is not well educated enough to take matters of policy into their own hands. That is part of the reason why America is a representative rather than a direct democracy.

In their most disingenuous vein, one of such professors asked what this country would be like if it was a direct democracy. That is, how much more just and prosperous could America be if every citizen was a critical thinker willing to fulfill his civic duty to participate in the political process? As I have explained in our foregoing discussions, nothing could be further from the true objective of American education. The ideals of egalitarianism and an educated citizenry are mutually exclusive. If they weren’t, the academe would have had no reason to continuously lower its standards as it does now.

Consistently with Keith Preston’s argument regarding identity in the rubric of American imperialism, the university acts as a secularized version of the Catholic Church. The practices of distributing degrees in exchange for woefully mediocre work is no more commendable than that of selling indulgences. In both cases, the buyer receives an intrinsically worthless service in exchange for a simple payment and a number of fool’s errands. Similarly to the modus operandi of transnational corporations, universities aim to sell a product that is predictable and efficient. The modern universities operate consistently with the McDonaldization paradigm in the following respects.

Efficiency – Just as McDonalds aspires to minimize the time expended on operations, universities tend to be more concerned with their professors submitting grades on time than in ensuring that their classes are genuinely educative.

Calculability – Similarly to how McDonalds rewards their workers for the volume they output rather than the quality they produce; universities expand the sizes of their classrooms to the maximum, often by lowering standards. The proliferation of degree mills and inclusion of online classes into the curricula of four year universities amply corroborate this point. The principle of calculability further manifests in light of the diminution of the rapid replacement of tenue track jobs with that of part-time TA positions. This further conveys an emphasis on quantity over quality.

Predictability – Resembling McDonalds’ commitment to providing customers with the same service at all locations, college students can expect routinized work from all academic institutions. Regardless of whether one attends Harvard or an online degree mill, they will receive a hefty dose of indoctrination on white privilege, social justice, environmentalism, radical feminism and LGBT activism. Admittedly, some institutions have lower admission rates and higher standards than others, very few universities maintain rigorous standards and even fewer encourage students to think autonomously. The majority of four year institutions have an admission rate in excess of 50% and their graduates average a GPA surpassing 3.3. While the most prestigious of academic institutions may expect their students to provide an accurate account of the assigned readings and implement elementary techniques of analysis, they scarcely expect their pupils to produce an inkling of original thought. As for degree mills, unrevised assignment instructions are recycled from institution to institution and instructors tend to grade papers without reading them.
Control – Oral examinations or projects customized to evaluate each student’s potential to think creatively or critically tend to be limited. Instead, the majority of academic institutions rely heavily on standardized tests that can be manipulated by dull students armed with dog-tricks. Further systemization of education manifests in light of how even math homework is now graded by machines that evaluate students based on how precisely they follow arbitrary procedures. The increased proliferation of degree mills that operate according to highly structured, predictable and recyclable curricula is yet another instance of McDonaldized control.

In essence, the university is a transnational corporation that operates consistently with the cultural narrative of American imperialism. As such, it effaces all forms of identity based on anything other than crass materialism or social standing within a group. That is partly very few academic administrators mourn the declining intellectual value of a college education and even fewer have qualms about the pervasive culture of political correctness undermining academic freedom. Reminiscently of how Amazon and Wal-Mart want customers from all demographic groups to purchase their products, the universities are looking to enroll as many students as possible, regardless of their background or academic capabilities.

In order for the universities to achieve this objective, the hyper-PC environment must define the rules of engagement on campus. What is truly important for the university administrators is not that the students learn, but only that they do not offend each other. Yet in order to procure the chattel needed for this achievement, they will need the munificent support of the government. Without the abundance of easily accessible student loans, it is impossible for universities to persuade tens of thousands of millennials to continue taking essentially worthless classes for sky-rocketing costs. Furthermore, this feat would also be impossible if such graduates had no hope of finding jobs upon graduation. This realistic fear that many college students share can be assuaged by the expansion of private and public bureaucracies ostensibly created to serve social justice, but actually produce “make-work” for hopelessly incompetent graduates who can scarcely eke out a coherent paragraph.

Given that the nation continues to move to the left despite the Obama administration’s apparent failures to revitalize the economy and promote cohesion among the citizenry, it is clear that the strategy of the academic left has been an enormous success . The Democratic party continues to applaud the recent changes in the academic milieu not despite its McDonaldization, but because of it. In effect, the university has become an extension of the government’s executive branch that indoctrinates the youth even more effectively than the liberal media. Ideas that were once seen as the musings of the Democratic Party’s most radicalized factions are now indelibly embedded into the nation’s collective consciousness. The ideology of the academic class is no longer a view of the self-secluded Ivory Tower bureaucrats, it is now emerging as the basis of the left’s civil religion.

In light of how compatible this narrative is with the agenda of American imperialism, the civil religion of the left will soon become the core premise in the nation’s worldview. The American identity is in crisis and further developments in this direction will continue to destabilize it. Just as post-modernism has been canonized in many departments of the humanities, cultural relativism will soon be the basis of the general American ideology. In such a worldview, there is no place for rugged individualism, individual rights, inner-directedness or any other ideal that the founding generation aspired to preserve. In the new American Civil Religion, weakness rather than strength will be deemed the cardinal virtue where victimhood rather than self-sufficiency will be the ultimate expression of the new American Dream.



2 replies »

  1. What can be done to de-McDonaldized education? Can that even be accomplished?

    Perhaps we need to go to the roots of Horace Mann’s system and abolish public education completely?

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