Workshop Talks: Making teachers redundant

From the new January-February 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Workshop Talks

Making teachers redundant

by Htun Lin

Over a billion dollars has been spent in the last decade to comprehensively computerize the workplace at the nation’s largest HMO, where I work. For the executives, it’s as if the line between the virtual and the real has finally been eliminated. Not so for us rank-and-file workers, trying to provide real healthcare.

The contrast in the way we and management see reality has never been more stark. This opposition has made our work day more miserable, not more convenient. We have become less respected and more indignant. Our jobs are made more and more meaningless, as doctors, nurses, and technicians alike have to constantly enter vast amounts of data. This accumulation of data was sold as a way to enhance healthcare, but the data is used to cut costs, imperiling our ability to improve healthcare delivery.

CAPITALIST TECHNOLOGY WORSENS WORK

Now teachers like Ann Rosenbaum, in Post Falls, Idaho, are fighting a similar battle. Last year, the Idaho state legislature overwhelmingly passed a new law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and requires students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets, after heavy lobbying from Apple and Intel. How will this program be paid for? By cutting tens of millions of dollars from the teachers’ budget.

As the governor bragged, the beauty of the plan is, “the teacher doesn’t have to be in the classroom.” They will merely “assist” by remote in delivering to students lessons predetermined by the computer. As there are no lectures, curriculum is seen strictly as information delivery to be regurgitated by students to earn credits.

Like healthcare workers, Rosenbaum insists teachers are not against this technology but want to have a say in how it is used. While politicians and pundits keep saying that youth need to be educated for the technology jobs of the future, teachers keep getting handed pink slips and technology promises even more pink slips. Replacing teachers as a cost-saving device is the real motivation for introducing computers in Idaho. Those teachers and healthcare providers who remain working complain that rampant computerization severely diminishes critical thinking, which is only possible through dialog and human interaction.

THE DEHUMANIZATION OF EDUCATION

I learned more about the shocking dehumanization of education when I asked my 15-year-old niece in North Carolina why she hadn’t come outside her house for weeks on end and she told me it was “unnecessary.” She said she is being “home schooled” by a commercial internet-schooling website approved by the state department of education. When I asked, “Who keeps track of your progress?” she replied, “The computer.” There are no lectures, no adult supervision. The computer has become the sole teacher, mentor, and companion. There is no physical education, no field trips, no art or music.

I saw an indication of what the future holds for the teachers missing from my niece’s life when Donna, a retired Oakland teacher, had to be admitted to the hospital because she recently developed a disabling condition since becoming homeless after a foreclosure. She told me, “I used to think that working all my life teaching kids was all I needed to do to feel I was contributing something valuable to society, and society would take care of me in return. I thought it was a profession everyone respected. I don’t feel that respect anymore.”

BRAVE NEW WORLD OF WAGE LABORERS

Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto anticipated our brave new world when he saw that, through constantly revolutionizing instruments of production, the capitalists keep adding to the proletarian class. “The bourgeoisie,” he wrote, “has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.”

The Occupy movement is demonstrating what Marx wrote over 160 years ago in the Manifesto. “We are the 99%” highlights that nearly everyone now has been drawn into the vortex of proletarianization, that is, dehumanization by capital.

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