More Cleaver on Students

There is room for more here, but quoting George Caffentzis helps:

‘Once you recognize the piecework character of the work of professors in universities, it is easy to see how those professors, and the administrators for whom they work, impose the same kind of logic on their students. As students progress through elementary, middle and high schools… careful supervision is increasingly complemented by unsupervised homework. While parents are often admonished to make sure they do it, some do, many don’t. At the university level, although there are a few professors who behave like schoolteachers and take attendance, for the most part students can come or not come to classes as they like. They are expected to impose the discipline of coming to class on themselves and most do. For the most part, university students’ work is unsupervised study whose arcomplishment depends totally on the student’s self-discipline… Given the large number of courses most students are expected or required to take and the associated large number of tasks set by each teacher or professor, they rarely have either time or energy left over for any autonomous study or real appropriation of knowledge.’ (Cleaver 2019: 384)

Cleaver’s word choice requires some strategic omissions, such as the word ‘shirking’ which seems pejorative to me, but he correctly laments the

‘imposition of fully specified degree plans, with pre-established sets of tasks, at the expense of self-directed study, motivated by students’ curiosity. In short, students suffer the imposition of externally imposed, alienated labor of the sort Marx analyzed in the 1844 Manuscripts… As a result, а devoted to meeting those requirements. They want to know which pieces of knowledge they will have to know for tests and don’t want to waste their time on other, useless, topics. Similarly, the first question about required papers is “How long does it have to be? How many pages? How many footnotes? How many sources?”… Associated with such structuring of schoolwork by the piece are piece-rate-like payment systems. The most universal of these is grading in which students are “paid” by the piece, a grade for each task accomplished, each quiz, each test, each paper, each research report, etc. Grades, of course, are not money payments; but the promises that school administrators, professors and future employers attach to grades – that the better grades you get, the better jobs and higher wages you will eventually obtain–makes them “IOUs” on future income. Like piece-wages, grades are handed out  according to the number of pieces accomplished and according to the “quality” of those pieces. Teachers and professors, of course, play the role of quality control inspectors… In the enlightening thermodynamic metaphor pointed out by George Caffentzis, they play the role of “Maxwell’s Daemon,” sorting students according entropy, i.e., the degree to which they available for work.  From this, we can see that whereas piece-wages in industry produces a hierarchy of better and worse paid workers, piecework in schools produces a grade hierarchy, promised to eventually translate into an income hierarchy. As with all such hierarchies, this kind of grading system encourages competition and many students strive to get higher grades than others—both for the immediate satisfaction of demonstrating their superiority and in the hope that later they may get better jobs. Hence too, the common phenomenon of students banding together in various ways to overcome this alienation.’ (Cleaver 2019: 385)

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