Education – Our 21st Century Murder Machine

Yet again, this time in an RTE Prime Time discussion on third-level education, the question of catering for the needs of Foreign Direct Investment has arisen.

In 1968, armed with a Leaving Certificate, and not a great one at that, I was hired as a trainee field engineer by Burroughs Machines, a huge US multinational competitor with IBM in the budding area of computers, but mainly still marketing electro-mechanical accounting machines. Apart from some experience of working with cars in my father’s garage, and the mechanical knowledge learned from that, I knew nothing about that field.

And so, Burroughs Machines booked me into their own training school in London, flew me there at an exorbitant price, paid for good digs with a local landlady for eight weeks and flew me home to start work. Six months later, they did the same, this time for the advanced course for a period of six weeks.

In other words, when Burroughs Machines wanted a new employee to be up to speed, Burroughs carried all of the cost. Every penny!

Now, the most profitable corporations in the world demand of governments such as ours that virtually all of the cost of training new staff will be borne by the State – in other words, by us. Not alone do they demand graduate level, but increasingly demand post-graduate degree level as a condition of employment. Not content with that, they now want these new workers to be ‘job-ready’, to have served an internship, at no cost to the corporation, so that the worker can sit at the desk or in the lab ‘ready-to-go’ on the first day of employment without any investment required by the corporation in any aspect of their training.

What a scam!

Worse still, programmes at third-level institutions are being changed, manipulated, distorted, prioritised, added-on, or else diminished or dropped to make space for specific corporate-friendly programmes with little apparent concern beyond the short-term requirements of transitory FDI corporations.

Third-level institutions have warped from being seats of higher learning into being ‘partners’ with FDI corporations, tailoring research programmes to suit the needs, not of the students or of the State, but of the corporations, usually here today and gone tomorrow and paying as little tax to the State as possible while here.

And even worse, at second level, students are now being shoe-horned into taking an ever diminishing range of subjects so as to provide raw material for third-level programmes that lead to those qualifications adjudged to be attractive to FDI corporations. Maths and science are the big buzz now, and the Humanities, for example, is the stuff of losers.

Never mind the different preferences, intelligences, interests, talents or capabilities of a broad range of students. Never mind the notion of the whole person, or the happy person, or the fulfilled person. Never mind the wider needs of a society of humans in all of its complexity.

Maths and science (and of course mandatory religion) are, it seems, far more important in Ireland today than history, or geography, or the various forms of art and design, or language(s), or the broader study of culture(s), or philosophy, or anthropology, or sociology, or the study of political ideologies, systems and practices. We are producing cogs for corporations at the expence of building a fully functional society fueled by knowledge, creativity and a little wisdom.

We are building our 21st century version of The Murder Machine, as Patrick Pearse described the British system of ‘education’ in Ireland, designed to build not a love of learning and the exploitation of each child’s particular intelligences and capabilities and interests for the benefit of the child and society at large, but to create functioning workers for the benefit of FDI corporations and local ‘entrepreneurs’ (another buzz-word) and obedient subjects for the State.

Nowhere in his seminal essay, The Murder Machine, published in 1912, did Patrick Pearse prioritise Logical-Mathematical intelligence over all others, nor did Howard Gardner in his theory of multiple intelligences (1983).

Gardner, like Pearse, was interested in the empowerment of the learner. His categorisations of intelligences were: musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic, and he later suggested that existential and moral intelligence could be added to that list. We don’t possess just one form of intelligence, but each has her/his own unique combination at various levels from that list, and nobody, therefore, is unintelligent.

But our posse of senior civil servants in the Department of Education behaves like idiots, as does our Minister for Education, and most of his predecessors in that job. For them, the exigencies of the moment as they relate to the ‘market-place’ matter far more than the creation and maintenance of a properly-functioning society of by-and-large happy and fulfilled citizens, or the promotion of a sustainable indigenous multi-faceted economy serving the needs of the people instead of a temporary FDI low-tax low-cost (to them) economy.

Bad enough to be ruled by self-serving idiots, but worse still to allow ourselves to be turned into willing idiots by accepting slogans, buzz-words and carefully-spun built-on-quicksand concepts that serve only the wealthy and exploitative foreign corporations and local capitalists, and to do that at great cost to our children and young adults.

It really is long past time to wise-up and to put in place systems of learning that prioritise the long-term enhancement of the lives of children as they grow to adulthood and full participation in a happy and prosperous society. We are well capable of achieving that.

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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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