Although I may have laid it on a little thick, due to the nature of the exam, I think I'll post what I wrote here. Just for fun.
In this paper, I aim to discuss the relationship between technologization and neoliberalism, particularly in light of the most recent changes to the school curriculum in British Columbia. I will also connect these ideas to some of the most influential courses I took through my Leadership program, with a special emphasis on the social effect of institutional technology use on individuals. Specifically, I chose to discuss Question #4.
When I started this Leadership program in 2012, I did not have a goal or focus for my studies. I chose generalist courses with the hope that I would latch onto a theory that I could identify with, but no single theory stuck. However, the late [professor name], in his “21st Century Education” course, first identified my passion for technology and individual growth in education. In our class of three students in summer of 2014, he suggested that my research project should highlight my passion for learning with and without information technology. With this in mind, as I partook in the gradual “rolling out” of the new BC Curriculum, I regularly reflected on the relationship between the technologization of education and neoliberal values that teachers inherently advocate for in BC schools.
Although technologization affects all of our culture and society, in the educational context my favorite definition of technologization appears in Buchanan, Holmes, Preston, and Shaw (2015), who describe how “digital technologies are no longer simply something that students learn ‘about,’ but are now something that they increasingly learn ‘with.’ It is a common expectation that digital competencies are embedded in all areas of teaching across all years of education” (p. 227). This clearly describes how schools have begun to act as agents of technological familiarization, as the nursery for the institutional normalization of digital technology. Contemporary schools are creating an environment of technology ubiquity, where students research, edit, and present their understanding through various digital mediums. Some schools have even provided individual computers for each and every student, further increasing the technologization of the classroom and the school experience.
Closely related to technologization, critics use the word ‘technocentric’ to describe our global culture’s incessant focus on technology and technological progress. Ferneding (2003), describes the technocentric educational agenda as the campaign where governments are “reconfiguring schools to address the manufactured crisis arising from the needs and demands of the Information Age [that] can only further the colonization of education, and the realm of the lifeworld in general, by the logic of instrumental rationalism” (p. 47). Ferneding makes the case that schools have been cultured to willingly adopt technology so that students leave the school experience with technology embedded in their skillset. A technocentric school produces technocentric students who choose to use technology to make solutions in their lives.
As an endgame, technologization ultimately serves the interests of global large-firm interests, either in corporate or national organizations. Technology firms benefit from this normalization as adults seek out technology for happiness, entertainment, and problem solving; governments also benefit through data collection and citizen tracking. This poses an interesting problem for educators who find themselves in a position where they do not know whether they are teaching content, critical thinking, or technology use. Ferneding succinctly summarizes this problem when she writes, “Thus, the real crisis in education may in fact be the technocentric reform policy with which it now struggles to negotiate” (p. 47). Like a religion may offer salvation from a problem the religion itself identifies, technocentricism creates an apparent solution for needs the ideology itself created.
Howard and King (2008) describe neoliberalism as an “ideology [that suggests that] all, or virtually all, economic and social problems have a market solution, or a solution in which market processes will figure prominently” (p. 1). Neoliberalism is the dominant political discourse in the world today, a theory or philosophy that infiltrates or dominates every boardroom, budget, and campaign in the modern globalized economy, even in economies that, on the surface, do not cater to capitalist ideals. Neoliberalism assumes that private groups will inevitably uncover some innovative, ingenious, profitable solution for any problem. As a result of this focus on this fetishization of market solutions, neoliberalism also caters to a ‘growth narrative’ that expects the economy to function as an agent of continuous economic growth.
Neoliberal society propagates its own neoliberal values and virtues through the consumption of goods. Howard and King (2008) claim that in neoliberal society, “Each person’s tastes (and values) depend only upon his separable consumptions of goods. That is, there must be no ‘consumption externalities’” (p. 138). They emphasize how neoliberal societies assess citizens by their consumption habits. Although a person can easily live a comfortable life without excessive capitalist trappings, the neoliberal agenda tries to encourage them to pursue happiness through consumption. As a result, neoliberal cultures keep their citizens busy through wealth accumulation, item acquisition, upgrades, and status through consumption-based social signals. Successful neoliberal citizens consume constantly.
Technologization and neoliberalism
Technologization and neoliberalism are natural bedfellows. Smith (2000) writes, “If market logic has become the new rule of governance, nothing has been more instrumental in its habilitation and entrenchment than the revolution in computer and communications technology” (p.13). Neoliberalism uses technology to spread its ideology; progressively efficient, centralized technologies create an endless drive for consumption. The Internet has created an era where we consume both medium and media on a hyper-individualized basis: a large portion of the population carries an Internet-enabled screen in their pocket that informs them of things and services they should consume. Although some content-based industries—such as the music and publishing industries—struggle to maintain themselves in this era of rapid technological change, technology industries continue to breed consumption of goods through other mediums. For example, people with a smartphone can order practically any consumable good they want through their phone; this makes the individual user the pinnacle of consumption. Technologies may come and go, but as long as individuals have access to increasingly consumable technologies, neoliberalism will maintain the technology industry as a whole.
Also, technologization acts as an agent of Howard and King’s aforementioned “market solution,” since information technology is inherently market-intensive. Nobody can create a smartphone in their backyard, so users of digital devices require multinational corporations to create these digital devices for them. Again, this complements the neoliberal agenda, for society’s thirst for the latest and greatest technologies maintains trade, production, and consumption of goods and services. The common quip, “There’s an app for that,” essentially summarizes our incessant practice of fulfilling needs through our screens. Education is far from immune to either force.
Technologization and neoliberalism in my workplace and society
Technologization has been a continuous agent of the neoliberal agenda in schools and other educational institutions. In my decade of teaching in British Columbia schools, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in the emphasis on technological literacy, most recently emphasized BC’s new curriculum. This new curriculum intends to prepare students for success in the technological society of the future, with an emphasis on collaboration, innovation, and problem solving. These traits, in general, are positive traits and worthwhile virtues to instill in children worldwide; the difference in our society, I believe, rests in the emphasis on technology as a mover of these traits.
For example, many new technologies make it much easier to collaborate with other students. For almost all of my courses in the Leadership Program here at UVic, I collaborated with other students through the Internet for at least one or two assignments. I used Prezi—an online presentation program—to collaborate with a presentation partner who lived in Ladysmith; I used Google Docs to collaborate with four other students for a presentation in my Research Methods class; in another course, all of the students used an online program to simultaneously collaborate on an assignment that was projected on a screen for all of us to see in real time, despite the fact that we all sat in the same room together. Those online tools made collaboration much easier without the need to mobilize bodies and eyes in the same location. However, at times when we could not access the Internet, experienced technical difficulties, stumbled over login information and passwords, or the webservice in question simply wasn’t available, our ability to collaborate came to a screeching halt.
In my workplace, I have had analogous experiences. In my efforts to increase the technologization of my own classroom and my own lessons, my students and I have wasted an enormous amount of time trying to work through technical difficulties and problems that are entirely technology-based and entirely extracurricular. I have brought classes down to the computer lab with the intention of collaboration, only to spend the entire block battling through problems with logging in to the intended collaboration service; I have brought the school’s set of 10 iPads up to my classroom and had students collaborate on an assignment, only to have them unable to submit the product they’ve created to me. When these technical issues occurred, student motivation invariably halted. When these disruptions occur, I look at the corner of my room and realize that none of these problems would exist if I had made the students collaborate on paper, in the same room, face to face. I find it discouraging to see how technology doesn’t necessarily help the students collaborate as much as it increases their codependence on that technology.
The subliminal goal of BC schools, in my opinion, is to prepare students for an unknown neoliberal future. In their neoliberally-defined, market-solution future, students are expected to collaborate through technology and use technology in any way possible. They are taught to use technology as a means to express their individuality. However, neoliberal individuality is inherently consumption-based, and technological individuality thrives on our codependence with that technology, a codependence with a screen in our pockets.
Technological codependence is my concern with the increased technologization of education worldwide. Although it creates the appearance of collaboration and individual success, on a deeper level it manufactures a need. Although people have always used technology to express themselves, whether using sticks and rocks or smartphones, I think it’s worthwhile for the education system to question whether they are enabling technological codependency in future populations. Do we want a population of Canadians who expect matters of the heart to flow through technocentric media? Do we want to expect the market to produce our methods of expression for us?
Of all of the literature I read through this program, I identified with one article most of all: Smith (2000) passionately and succinctly described how globalization has influenced education over the last thirty years. Smith writes,
The plethora of technical and curricular innovations and recommendations under the rhetoric of globalization has left teachers alienated from what their experience has taught them over time, which is that effective teaching depends most fundamentally on human relationships, that there indeed is a profound connection between knowing and being, and that any attempted severance can only produce a deep cynicism with respect to knowledge itself. (p. 18)
In my workplace, as a teacher, I want to do whatever I can to provide a space where relationships are paramount, where students’ most human characteristics are nourished and stimulated. I’d like to have a classroom where students’ “knowing and being” come first. At this point, however, I’m not certain that neoliberal values can achieve this for the majority of students. Values of collaboration and innovation for the market’s sake do not seem to align with the virtues of social humanity, and I struggle to be an agent of codependence in a system that aims to create independent citizens.
Neoliberal technologization has also made an indelible mark on teaching practices. When teachers and institutions use Information Technology, they hand many of their abilities to customize over to an unknown source, often in another organization in another building. When teachers create an assignment on paper or on the board, they have control over that assignment from the beginning to the end of the process; if something goes wrong with information technology, they can rarely fix it or adapt it on their own. Technology puts teachers and schools at the whim of distant, unknown programmers and engineers who do not know the ins and outs of each teacher’s respective classes. This, again, creates a codependent relationship between distant, disparate professionals. Although the teacher thinks they are making their job easier and more engaging by using technology, they are merely moving students’ relationships from one another and directed their attention to a screen. To advocates of neoliberal values, this would be a success because it would draw students’ eyes to a branded, consumable piece of technology.
When I first started this Leadership program in 2012, I took [professor name]’s course on Arts in Adult Education. Initially, I knew nothing about the themes of the course, but I walked out with a new set of glasses through which to navigate the pedagogical world. I started to notice how my society’s adult population regularly expresses alienation from their communities because a dominant neoliberal culture shuns citizens who cannot afford to consume. I noticed how people tried to give these adults a voice despite the neoliberalism’s attempted technological silencing. As I grew more familiar with different leadership texts written by both popular and academic leadership ‘gurus,’ I saw that they largely adopted the tone of the self-help industry—itself a child of neoliberalism’s incessant focus on ‘growth’ and self-identified self-improvement. Near the end of this program, I’ve started reading books on therapy and trauma, books that attempt to describe the ways to help those who have experiences where they cannot handle the world’s constant drive to produce and consume. Although I expect my perspective to continue to develop, I hope to find way to help students and co-workers handle this society that leaves little room to ‘give someone a break,’ little space and time to allow people to recover from trauma. So far, I haven’t found any books that suggest that increased technologization or consumption will help a person achieve a more integrated, ‘whole’ sense of self. I hope to further explore this sense of self over the coming years.
Although I don’t know where I’m going, I am glad that I have a clearer jumping-off point than I did when I started this program. I still do not identify with any popular leadership models—transformative, servant, etc.—but I do have a personal, meaningful goal for my daily practice in my workplace. For that I am grateful.
Buchanan, R., Holmes, K., Preston, G, and Shaw, K.. (2015). The Global and the Local: Taking Account of Context in the Push for Technologization of Education. Eds. Nicola F. Johnson; Chris Bigum; Scott Bulfin Critical Perspectives on Technology and Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp 227-244.
Ferneding, K. (2003). Chapter 2: Alternative Visions: Questioning Technocentrism. Counterpoints, 159, 41–87. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42977365
Howard, M.C., King, J.E.. (2008). The Rise of Neoliberalism in Advanced Capitalist Economies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Smith, D. (2000). The Specific Challenges of Globalization for Teaching and Vice Versa The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 46.1, 7-26.