Today we rethink Technical and Vocational Education and Training. Instead of looking at it from a human capital approach, my guest, Leesa Wheelahan, looks at it from a productive capabilities perspective.

Together with Gavin Moodie and Eric Lavigne, Leesa Wheelahan has recently co-written a new report for Education International entitled Technical and vocational education and training as a framework for social justice: Analysis and evidence from World Case Studies.

Leesa Wheelahan is Professor and William G. Davis chair in Community College Leadership at the Ontario Institute for Education Studies at the University of Toronto.

Citation: Wheelahan, Leesa, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 174, podcast audio, September 30, 2019.

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The World Bank hasn’t always made loans to education. Post-World War II, the Bank focused mainly on infrastructure. Even when it did start lending to education in the 1960s, it used the idea of manpower planning, the process of estimating the number of people with specific skills required for completing a project. Only in the 1970s did the World Bank begin to think of education in terms of rates of return: the cost-benefit calculation that uses expected future earning from one’s educational attainment.

The introduction of rates of return inside the World Bank was no easy process. The internal fights by larger-than-life personalities were the stuff legends are made from. Yet, these disputes often go unnoticed, hidden behind glossy reports and confidence.

Today Stephen Heyneman takes us back in time when he introduced rates of return to the World Bank. He discusses how he used them to his advantage and how he ultimately lost his job because of them.

Stephen Heyneman is Professor Emeritus of international education policy at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. He served the World Bank for 22 years between 1976 and 1998.

Citation: Heyneman, Stephen, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 155, podcast audio, May 20, 2019.

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American students are in debt. Some forty-four million Americans collectively hold over $1.4 trillion worth of debt. Those numbers have increased since the Global Financial Crisis from 10 years ago.

Today I speak with Ben Miller, a senior director for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress. Ben specializes in higher-education accountability, affordability, and financial aid, as well as for-profit colleges. His most recent op-ed – “The Student Debt Problem is Worse than we Imagined” – appeared in the New York Times in August.

Citation: Miller, Ben, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 126, podcast audio, September 17, 2018.

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What are Americans’ views of higher education?

The common story is that people see higher education as an investment in the future of an individual. More education from the best university will result in high salaries in the future. In this story, the public doesn’t appear. It’s all about the private good of higher education.

But what if this story is wrong? Or at least biased by the very questions being asked? Instead of asking if higher education is an investment in one’s future job prospects, what if we asked about higher education’s public value?

Well, my guests today did just that.

Noah Drezner and Oren Pizmony-Levy, together with Aaron Pallas, conducted a nationally representative survey in America on views of higher education. Their findings tell a new and powerful story.

Noah Drezner is an Associate Professor of Higher Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where Oren Pizmony-Levy is an Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education.

Citation: Drezner, Noah D. & Pizmony-Levy, Oren, interview with WillBrehm, FreshEd, 124, podcast audio, August 19, 2018.

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Today we dive into the nightmare that is the growing tide of fascism worldwide and the prospects and perils this nightmare holds for public education.

My guest today is the renowned scholar, Henry Giroux.  He has a new book entitled American Nightmare: Facing the challenge of Fascism, which will be published in May.

Henry Giroux is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy.  He has written over 60 books and is considered one of the top educational thinkers today.

Citation: Giroux, Henry, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 106, podcast audio, March 5, 2018.

Will Brehm 1:38
Henry Giroux, welcome to FreshEd.

Henry Giroux 1:41
Nice, Will. Wonderful to be on.

Will Brehm 1:43
You’ve written a new book called American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism. Before getting into that book and America and what’s going on currently in America vis-a-vis public education, I just want to ask you, what went through your mind in November 2016 when you realized that Donald Trump won the presidency?

Henry Giroux 2:08
Well, I think what went through my mind was that there’s been a long series of assaults on American democracy and the United States, back especially to the 1970s, when the social contract was under siege and was appearing to collapse. And a discourse of demonization, racism, Islamophobia and objectification and commodification and privatization seemed to take over the country. I thought that Trump was the endpoint of this; he’s sort of the Frankenstein monster that was let out of the room. And I thought it was an incredible tragedy for democracy. And I thought that, unlike some other leftists, I thought that the consequences would be drastic once he assumed office. And I think in many ways, that’s proven to be right.

Will Brehm 2:57
In what ways has it proven to be right over the last year?

Henry Giroux 3:00
Well, I think all you have to do is look at the policies that he’s attempted to implement and the language that he’s used to define his mode of governance. I mean, this is a guy who basically has embraced neo-Nazis, ultra-nationalism. He’s a serial liar. He’s obviously done everything he can to promote an anti-immigration logic. He’s threatened to expel the whole range of young people – 800,000 young people – called dreamers from the United States. He’s lowered taxes for the ultra-rich to the point where that will take an enormous toll on public services and public goods. He’s putting into place a series of people who are basically either inept, or utterly anti-democratic, to run institutions such as the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency – or a whole range of other institutions, in which they are diametrically opposed to the interest that those institutions represent. Because they’re institutions that suggest that government has a responsibility to basically work for the people. They don’t believe that; they believe that government should only basically serve the financial elite and the financial and economic interest, and that freedom is basically about deregulating business and allowing the corporate elite to run wild. So that’s just a series, among other things, of things that he’s done. But I think that he’s put into place a notion of governance that suggests that the United States is no longer a democracy; that we’re on the road to a kind of neofascism dressed up in the American flag, and it’s very frightening.

Will Brehm 4:43
And so, this is this fascism that you talk about in your new book?

Henry Giroux 4:47
This is the fascism that I talk about, whether we’re talking about the ultra-nationalism that he promotes. Whether we’re talking about the racism, the xenophobia. Whether we’re talking about the logic of disposability, the racial cleansing that is behind many of his policies. The embrace of a corporate elite that replaces the political state with a corporate state. All of these things have echoes of this glorification of national greatness. The claim that he’s the only one who can save America. And we’ve heard this language before. And we heard it in the 1930s. And we heard it in the 1940s. And we heard it later in the 1970s in Latin America. This is a language that suggests that the enemy of politics is democracy. And I think that Trump embodies that language and is basically at work again, in promoting it.

Will Brehm 5:39
And do you see some of what Trump embodies being found in other parts of the world? Just recently, Xi Jinping has … it looks like he’s going to be in power indefinitely in China. And Duterte in the Philippines. And I just read an article about a new ultraright party in Italy that is glorifying Mussolini. So, is this fascist tendency, this ultraright, pronational tendency being found worldwide? And if so, what’s causing it? Why do we see this resurgence of right wing, ultranationalist parties emerging worldwide?

Henry Giroux 6:21
I think there are a couple of things at work. I think that, first of all, what we’re seeing is the emergence of what is called illiberal democracy, the term coined, of course, in Hungary. And I think in many ways, Trump is enabling this, because he’s aligned himself, and actually has celebrated many of these fascists, in ways to suggest that this kind of politics in the 21st century is totally acceptable. So I think in some ways, the most powerful country in the world, in sort of, in many ways, reached out and began to legitimate an anti-immigration and Islamophobic, a racist kind of discourse that is linked to questions of racial purity, and racial cleansing, that has opened up the possibility for many of these countries to basically embrace this logic. And I think there are other issues. Each country has its own issue, but I think the inability of these countries to deal with questions of compassion and justice, these are countries that in many ways have been governed by a neoliberal logic that really has no respect whatsoever for notions of community. No respect whatsoever for notions of compassion. No respect whatsoever for what it means to embrace in a kind of loving way, the possibility of the other. This is a logic that elevates self-interest, nationalism, violence, and the spectacle of consumption to the highest level of acceptance. And I think that what flows out of this in the face of particular kinds of crises that serve as a thread running through all of these countries, is a basic fear of what we might call “the other”, “the stranger”. Couple that with the fact that you have a global capitalism at work that in many ways has taken power away from these countries, so that the only thing that they have left is an appeal to cultural sovereignty. Is that appeal to cultural nationalism. Because basically, you have a ruling elite now that is global. It’s not rooted in nation states. It flows. Politics is based in nation states, and power is global. So, you have an enormous paradigm change in the redefinition of politics itself. And I think that one of the things that happens when you see this is that the states, as the social state collapses, as social goods and social provisions dry up, you have the rise of the punishing state. Because the only thing left for the states to really be able to do this is basically to criminalize social problems and do what they can basically become repressive states. Generally, they can exercise power. That way they can survive. So, I think all of these threads are really common for many of these states, many of these countries.

Will Brehm 9:09
So, you call Trump the endpoint, in a way, in this nightmare that is American fascism. And of course, it has these roots in racism and neoliberalism. It would make sense that the roots here also go through the Democratic Party, that this is not simply a Republican issue in the American context. Would you agree with that?

Henry Giroux 9:33
Yes, I do. I think there are two issues to really understand here. I think that both parties are basically wedded to the financial elite, as we well know. I mean, both parties are funded by the financial elite. On one level, you’ve got a Democratic Party that takes on a sort of liberal discourse, but never challenges in any fundamental way, the massive inequality, or the financialization of the economy, or the rule by bankers and hedge fund managers. They don’t challenge that; they’re in bed with that stuff. On the other hand, you have a Republican Party that now is filled with people who also are wedded to the financial elite. But this is a party that’s been taken over by extremists. They’re not just wedded to the financial elite; they’re wedded to something more than that. They’re wedded to an ultra-nationalism, a sort of notion that white Christianity is the official religion of the United States. They’re wedded to the notion of racial cleansing. They basically have accelerated all of the great tragedies and crimes of the past in ways in which they’re no longer coated. They’ve given them a new visibility. So, they’re not apologetic about their racism. They’re not apologetic about Islamophobia. They’re not apologetic about attacking young people. They’re not apologetic about making short term investments rather than long term investments. And they’re not apologetic about it anyway, about destroying the welfare state and the social contract. But what both parties share is they really believe that capitalism and democracy are the same thing, and that capitalism and democracy is basically something run by the financial elite, by the ruling elite, the 1%. Neither party has any trouble with that argument. There are factions within the Democratic Party that will challenge that – Bernie Sanders and so forth and so on – but they’re marginal and they don’t belong in the Democratic Party. The biggest mistake Sanders ever made was not starting a third party.

Will Brehm 11:29
So, in your opinion, how are capitalism and democracy separate?

Henry Giroux 11:33
They’re separate in the sense that you can’t have democracy when you have a system that promotes massive inequalities in wealth and power; it just doesn’t work. It seems to me to have that degree of inequality, and to support it in every way, to allow all the commanding institutions of a country to be controlled by a handful of elites and corporations, is the antithesis of democracy. Democracy means people have power. They have power to shape the conditions under which they live their lives. They have some power over the economy. They have access, they have social provisions, they have political rights, personal rights, social rights. That doesn’t happen under capitalism. Capitalism is a ruinous system that basically is organized around the production of profit at the expense of human need. That’s not a formula for democracy.

Will Brehm 12:25
And so, what would a social contract look like in your opinion, within this?

Henry Giroux 12:29
At the very least, a social contract would guarantee political rights. But it would guarantee political rights and individual rights along with social rights, meaning that you would have economic rights, you would have a social wage. You would massively limit massive degrees of inequality. It would mean that people would have access to higher education, to health care. All the things that become central to how we live out our sense of agency and make it possible would be part of the social contract and the public good. When you don’t have that, you don’t have a democracy. And it seems to be the degree to which you want to call it socialism as a form of social democracy, or you want to call it socialism in ways that simply allow the most important structures, infrastructures, resources, of a society to be a government-controlled phenomena, that’s a mix that we have to figure out. But I think the bottom line is, you have to realize that in a democracy, the first question you have to raise is, “What does it mean to provide the conditions for people to have a sense of agency, and not merely to be able to survive?” So that their capacities can be developed in a way in which they have access to do other things simply than struggle to eat, simply to struggle in the midst of poverty, simply to struggle for meaningful work, simply to struggle to find a way to pay massive loans in order to get a decent education, simply not to struggle to have decent health care. These are central questions that are not just simply about power, they’re about the capacity to live. To live with dignity.

Will Brehm 14:10
And so, let’s shift to education here. In your last book, called ‘The Public in Peril’, you use the term … you said, you wanted to see “the political more pedagogical”. What did you mean by this?

Henry Giroux 14:23
What I mean by that is that one of the things that has disturbed me, and one of the things I’ve written about for many years, and I’m not the first, although I think probably I’ve developed it more repeatedly than most people, is that education is central to politics. I mean, you can’t talk about politics if you can’t talk about consciousness. If you can’t talk about changing the way people think, if you can’t talk about engaging them in a dialogue with a vocabulary in which they can invest themselves, identify with, and be able to recognize the conditions under which they find themselves so that they can either learn how to change those conditions, or to understand what those conditions mean in terms of their own sense of oppression. And I think that all too often, we equate domination with simply institutions, and we say that the only way you can talk about power is to talk about economic structures. But I’m sorry, as important as economics is and economic structures are, you also have to talk about what it means to create the conditions for people to be able to think, to be self-reflective, to be able to identify with certain kinds of narratives, to have information available in which they can become self-reflective individually and collectively. And I think the tool is what I would call pedagogy. The ability to intervene in people’s lives with vocabularies, and social relationships, and values, the moral and political scripts in which people can all of a sudden be moved by the power of persuasion and logic and reason and truth has to be central to any politics.

Will Brehm 15:59
And so, what’s the role of schools, like the institutions run by the government, the public schools, in this pedagogical effort to make politics more pedagogical?

Henry Giroux 16:10
I think that schools are probably one of the few places left we’re not controlled by corporations entirely. Where actually, this kind of teaching can take place, where people can have debates, where people can be exposed to positions that are historical, scientific, that offer up the possibility for engaging in modes, and creating modes of civic literacy and social responsibility. Schools, basically, at their best, should be democratic, public spheres. They should be actively involved in not only teaching young people about the great traditions, whatever they might be, that offer the best in human learning, and what it means to be civilized, from a whole range of traditions, but also what it means to take on a sense of social and political and ethical responsibility. So that one recognizes that one lives in a society with others. And that one has to struggle over democracy, struggle over justice, to learn that no society is ever just enough, and that that’s as central to learning as learning whatever it is that’s of value in terms of the kinds of human resources that are out there and available to be appropriated, engaged and discussed.

Will Brehm 17:26
Is it possible to accomplish some of those things inside, say, charter schools, in America?

Henry Giroux 17:33
Charter schools basically have a long tradition, particularly in the United States, of simply segregating students. And at the same time, sort of displacing with the possibility of unions, ruining unions, undermining unions, and operating off the assumption that schools are basically a private venture rather than a public good. So, I don’t have a lot of faith in charter schools. Is it possible that some charter schools, when they’re pumped up with enormous amounts of money on the part of hedge fund managers simply so they can become a model for destroying public schools can work? Yes, maybe. But all the research seems to suggest that, at best, they’re no better, if not worse, than public schools. I don’t believe that public schools should be privatized. I think that they’re a public good, they’re not a private right. And I think as soon as we start talking about schooling as a private right and we started talking about schools as for-profit institutions, we destroy their possibilities as democratic public spheres.

Will Brehm 18:38
I’m not so hopeful then Betsy DeVos would agree with you there.

Henry Giroux 18:41
Betsy DeVos is probably one of the most hated people in America, because people realize what she’s about. She’s a billionaire who hates public schools and has claimed that her mission in life is to bring God’s kingdom to students. She’s a religious fanatic. She’s an ideological fundamentalist and a religious fanatic. And now she’s the Secretary of Education of the United States. What does that say about education? What does that say about this administration? I mean, Donald Trump has made it clear: he loves the uneducated. He’s said that many times. He’s a guy who doesn’t read books. He basically eats McDonald’s hamburgers and watches Fox News. This is not exactly a guy that’s going to embrace any institution that offers the possibility of educating students or adults to think critically. He finds those institutions enormously dreadful and challenging. And actually, more than that, he’s used them as a pathology. That’s why he invented the notion of fake news. And that’s why he’s a serial liar and continues to believe that he can say anything because he believes that he doesn’t have to be held accountable. In a democracy, people are held accountable. But he’s not a guy who believes you should be held accountable. That’s the mark of any fascist dictator.

Will Brehm 19:55
So, what is to be done here? So, for people who agree with you, like myself, what can we do to protect public education as a democratic social contract or a democratic social good?

Henry Giroux 20:13
I think some questions have to be raised that all of a sudden bring to the forefront what education really is about and why it’s so vitally important. And I think that one of the questions has to be is “What role does education play in a democracy?” And the second question has to be, “How does democracy function, and continue to function, in ways that make certain demands upon education?” I think that what we have to recognize is that education is probably one of the most powerful educational forces in the world, certainly in terms of formal schooling, that offers the possibility for creating a formative culture that allows people to think critically and be informed. I mean, Dewey, Arendt, a whole range of philosophers, Castoriadis, have been telling us for years – and they’re right – you can’t have a democracy without informed citizens. And I think that when we realize how crucial higher education, public education is to the creating the formative culture that makes a democracy possible, then we’ll stop talking about it in terms of simply training workers. Education is not training; they’re different things. And we’ve lost sight of that in the United States. The script has been flipped. And all of a sudden education now is simply an adjunct of corporate life, of corporate demands, of corporate needs. And I think that in many ways, what we see in Parkland, and what we see among young people all over the country, whether we’re talking about, you know, a whole range of movement, of BlackLivesMatter movement, a whole range of movements, people are saying, “Hey, look. There’s a certain violence that’s going on in this country that in part is linked to education, both within and outside of the schools, that makes people vulnerable to systemic terror, to systemic violence, and it’s got to stop.” And it’s got to stop because we have to restructure and rethink the relationship between democracy and capitalism, and probably begin to say capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. The second thing is we’ve got to invert and fight some of the most pernicious and poisonous elements of neoliberalism. And the most poisonous in my mind, is the one that suggests that the only responsibility that matters is individual responsibility. That’s it. That you’re responsible for everything that goes on in the world, and you have no right to believe that there are social problems out there over which you individually have no control. And that you do not have to assume that burden. And by assuming that burden, you completely dismantle the link or the ability to translate private issues into larger social considerations. That’s depoliticizing. That means you become depoliticized. That means you become cynical. That means you blame yourself for all the problems in which you find yourself. And it means that basically, you’re out of the loop politically. That there’s nothing that can be done except to basically become part of the opioid crisis, collapse into cynicism, or just retreat into the worst kinds of despair.

Will Brehm 23:17
So, would it be correct to say that you think the sort of civic courage that is needed is to repoliticize a lot of the spaces that have been depoliticized?

Henry Giroux 23:29
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that what we need to do is we need to talk about public spheres that engage and raise the possibility of civic literacy and civic courage and social responsibility to the point where we can reclaim the language of democracy. We can once again talk about compassion. We can once again talk about social relationships that are not simply based on exchange relations, commodified relations. We can talk about the notion of community and what it means. We can assume that dependency is not a pathology, that community is not something that you hate, and that shared responsibilities are a lot more important than shared fears.

Will Brehm 24:11
Are there any examples of such systems or even just schools where this happens, where this politicization happens?

Henry Giroux 24:22
There are schools all over the country in the United States that basically err on the side of these kinds of progressive ideas. And there are countries that are on the side of these progress. The social democratic countries, whether you’re talking about Finland, or Sweden, or Germany. I mean, some places where higher education is free. Public education is free. Even in Canada, not the most pronounced social democracy in the world. But look, I get sick, I don’t pay anything. I just walk into a hospital, I make appointments with doctors, I get free medical care. In the United States, half the debts that people have, bankruptcies, are due to health care expenses. So, I mean, there are there examples all over the world of countries that have basically put into place social provisions and social safety nets that allow people to live with a certain degree of dignity. And I think we need to learn from them. And I think we need to look very carefully at what that means, in terms of what it means to invest in the future of young people rather than disinvest in young people and operate off the assumption that making money is far more important than, for instance, the lives of young people. For instance, the gun manufacturers, many of the gun rights people, they truly believe that we live in a country where killing children is less important, actually, than basically making money off the selling of guns.

Will Brehm 25:54
Are you hopeful that America will get out of this nightmare, will return to a social democratic society where the public good of education exists?

Henry Giroux 26:06
Intellectually, I’m pessimistic. In terms of the future, I’m hopeful. I think that these are very dark times. All over the world, I think the rise of fascism is emerging once again. I think there are signs that people are mobilizing. I think that the contradictions are becoming so great that people all of a sudden who wouldn’t be political are becoming more political and getting actively involved. I think that young people represent a paradigm shift for the most part, from what we’ve seen in the past, in that they’re more tolerant, they’re more savvy technologically, they’re more politically astute. And I want to hope that young people all of a sudden will recognize that being written out of the future, and being written out of the script of democracy is enough of a challenge to be faced that they will not only create moments and demonstrations, but actually create movements that will be broad-based enough to be able to really challenge the power structures that are in place in many of these countries today, including the United States.

Will Brehm 27:09
Well, Henry Giroux, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and thank you so much for all the writing you’ve done over the years. I’m a huge fan.

Henry Giroux 27:17
Well, I’m delighted to be on, and thank you so much for having me.

Will Brehm 1:38
Henry Giroux, bienvenue à FreshEd.

Henry Giroux 1:41
C’est bien, Will. Merveilleux d’être sur.

Will Brehm 1:43
Vous avez écrit un nouveau livre nommé American Nightmare : Faire face au défi du fascisme. Avant d’aborder ce livre et l’Amérique et ce qui se passe actuellement en Amérique en matière d’éducation publique, je voudrais vous demander ce qui vous est passé par la tête en novembre 2016 quand vous avez réalisé que Donald Trump avait gagné la présidence ?

Henry Giroux 2:08
Eh bien, je crois que ce qui m’a traversé l’esprit, c’est qu’il y a eu une longue série d’attaques contre la démocratie américaine et les États-Unis, surtout dans les années 1970, quand le contrat social était assiégé et qu’il semblait s’effondrer. Et un discours de diabolisation, de racisme, d’islamophobie et d’objectivation, de marchandisation et de privatisation semblait prendre le dessus sur le pays. Je croyais que Trump était le point final de tout cela ; il est en quelque sorte le monstre Frankenstein qu’on a laissé sortir de la pièce. Et j’ai cru que c’était une incroyable tragédie pour la démocratie. Et j’ai pensé que, contrairement à certains autres gauchistes, je pensais que les conséquences seraient dramatiques une fois qu’il aurait pris ses fonctions. Et je crois qu’à bien des égards, cela s’est avéré être vrai.

Will Brehm 2:57
De quelle façon a-t-il prouvé qu’il avait raison au cours de l’année dernière ?

Henry Giroux 3:00
Eh bien, je crois qu’il suffit de regarder les politiques qu’il a tenté de mettre en œuvre et le langage qu’il a employé pour définir son mode de gouvernance. Je veux dire, c’est un type qui a essentiellement embrassé les néo-nazis, l’ultra-nationalisme. C’est un menteur en série. Il a manifestement fait tout ce qu’il pouvait pour promouvoir une logique anti-immigration. Il a menacé d’expulser des États-Unis toute une série de jeunes – 800 000 jeunes – appelés “rêveurs”. Il a baissé les impôts pour les ultra-riches au point que cela aura un effet énorme sur les services publics et les biens publics. Il met en place une série de personnes qui sont soit inaptes, soit totalement antidémocratiques, pour diriger des institutions telles que l’EPA – l’Agence de protection de l’environnement – ou toute une série d’autres institutions, dans lesquelles elles sont diamétralement opposées à l’intérêt que ces institutions représentent. Parce que ce sont des institutions qui suggèrent que le gouvernement a la responsabilité de travailler essentiellement pour le peuple. Elles ne croient pas cela ; elles croient que le gouvernement ne doit servir que l’élite financière et les intérêts financiers et économiques, et que la liberté consiste essentiellement à déréglementer les affaires et à permettre à l’élite des entreprises de faire des folies. Ce n’est donc qu’une série, entre autres, de choses qu’il a faites. Mais je pense qu’il a mis en place une notion de gouvernance qui suggère que les États-Unis ne sont plus une démocratie ; que nous sommes sur la voie d’une sorte de néofascisme déguisé en drapeau américain, et c’est très effrayant.

Will Brehm 4:43
Et donc, c’est de ce fascisme dont vous parlez dans votre nouveau livre ?

Henry Giroux 4:47
C’est de ce fascisme que je parle, qu’il s’agisse de l’ultra-nationalisme qu’il prône. Qu’on parle du racisme, de la xénophobie. Qu’il s’agisse de la logique de la disposition, du nettoyage racial qui est derrière beaucoup de ses politiques. L’adhésion d’une élite d’entreprises qui substitue à l’État politique un État d’entreprises. Toutes ces choses ont des échos de cette glorification de la grandeur nationale. L’affirmation qu’il est le seul à pouvoir délivrer l’Amérique. Et nous avons déjà entendu ce langage. Et nous l’avons entendu dans les années 1930. Et nous l’avons entendue dans les années 40. Et nous l’avons entendue plus tard dans les années 1970 en Amérique latine. C’est une langue qui suggère que l’ennemi de la politique est la démocratie. Et je crois que Trump représente cette langue et qu’il est à nouveau à l’œuvre pour la promouvoir.

Will Brehm 5:39
Et voyez-vous ce que Trump incarne dans d’autres parties du monde ? Tout récemment, Xi Jinping a … il paraît qu’il va être au pouvoir indéfiniment en Chine. Et Duterte aux Philippines. Et je viens de lire un article sur un nouveau parti d’extrême-droite en Italie qui glorifie Mussolini. Alors, cette tendance fasciste, cette tendance ultralégislative et pronationnelle se retrouve-t-elle dans le monde entier ? Et si oui, quelle en est la cause ? Pourquoi voyons-nous cette résurgence des partis de droite, ultranationalistes, émerger dans le monde entier ?

Henry Giroux 6:21
Je crois qu’il y a plusieurs choses à l’œuvre. Je pense que, tout d’abord, ce que nous voyons est la naissance de ce que l’on appelle la démocratie illibérale, le terme inventé, bien sûr, en Hongrie. Et je pense qu’à bien des égards, Trump permet cela, parce qu’il s’est aligné, et qu’il a en fait célébré nombre de ces fascistes, de manière à suggérer que ce genre de politique au 21e siècle est tout à fait acceptable. Je pense donc qu’à certains égards, le pays le plus puissant du monde a, en quelque sorte, à bien des égards, tendu la main et commencé à légitimer un discours anti-immigration et islamophobe, un discours de type raciste lié aux questions de pureté raciale et de nettoyage racial, qui a ouvert la possibilité pour beaucoup de ces pays d’embrasser fondamentalement cette logique. Et je crois qu’il y a d’autres problèmes. Chaque pays a son propre problème, mais je crois que l’incapacité de ces pays à traiter des questions de compassion et de justice, ce sont des pays qui, à bien des égards, ont été régis par une logique néolibérale qui n’a vraiment aucun respect pour les notions de communauté. Aucun respect pour les notions de compassion. Aucun respect pour ce que cela signifie d’embrasser avec amour la possibilité de l’autre. C’est une logique qui élève l’intérêt personnel, le nationalisme, la violence et le spectacle de la consommation au plus haut niveau d’acceptation. Et je crois que ce qui en résulte, face à des types particuliers de crises qui servent de fil conducteur à tous ces pays, c’est une peur élémentaire de ce que nous pourrions appeler “l’autre”, “l’étranger”. Ajoutez à cela le fait que vous avez un capitalisme mondial à l’œuvre qui, à bien des égards, a enlevé le pouvoir à ces pays, de sorte que la seule chose qui leur reste est un appel à la souveraineté culturelle. C’est un appel au nationalisme culturel. Parce qu’au fond, vous avez maintenant une élite dirigeante qui est mondiale. Elle n’est pas enracinée dans les États-nations. Elle coule. La politique est fondée sur les États-nations, et le pouvoir est mondial. Il y a donc un énorme changement de paradigme dans la redéfinition de la politique elle-même. Et je crois que l’une des choses qui se passe quand vous voyez cela, c’est que les États, à mesure que l’État social s’effondre, que les biens sociaux et les dispositions sociales se tarissent, vous avez la montée de l’État qui punit. Parce que la seule chose qui reste aux États pour pouvoir vraiment faire cela, c’est essentiellement de pénaliser les problèmes sociaux et de faire ce qu’ils peuvent faire pour devenir des États répressifs. En général, ils peuvent exercer le pouvoir. De cette façon, ils peuvent survivre. Donc, je pense que tous ces fils sont vraiment communs à beaucoup de ces États, beaucoup de ces pays.

Will Brehm 9:09
Donc, vous appelez Trump le point final, d’une certaine façon, dans ce cauchemar qu’est le fascisme américain. Et bien sûr, il a ces racines dans le racisme et le néolibéralisme. Il serait sensé que les racines ici passent aussi par le parti démocrate, que ce n’est pas simplement une question républicaine dans le contexte américain. Êtes-vous d’accord avec cela ?

Henry Giroux 9:33
Oui, je suis d’accord. Je crois qu’il y a deux questions à comprendre ici. Je pense que les deux partis sont fondamentalement mariés à l’élite financière, comme nous le savons bien. Je veux dire que les deux parties sont financées par l’élite financière. D’un côté, vous avez un parti démocrate qui tient une sorte de discours libéral, mais qui ne remet jamais en cause de manière fondamentale l’inégalité massive, ou la financiarisation de l’économie, ou la domination des banquiers et des gestionnaires de fonds spéculatifs. Ils ne remettent pas cela en question ; ils sont au lit avec ces choses. D’un autre côté, vous avez un parti républicain qui est maintenant composé de personnes qui sont également mariées à l’élite financière. Mais c’est un parti qui a été repris par les extrémistes. Ils ne sont pas seulement mariés à l’élite financière, ils sont mariés à quelque chose de plus que cela. Ils sont mariés à un ultra-nationalisme, une sorte de notion selon laquelle le christianisme blanc est la religion officielle des États-Unis. Ils sont mariés à la notion de nettoyage racial. Ils ont en fait accéléré toutes les grandes tragédies et tous les crimes du passé de telle sorte qu’ils n’en sont plus recouverts. Ils leur ont donné une nouvelle visibilité. Donc, ils ne s’excusent pas de leur racisme. Ils ne s’excusent pas de leur islamophobie. Ils ne s’excusent pas d’avoir attaqué des jeunes. Ils ne s’excusent pas d’avoir fait des investissements à court terme plutôt qu’à long terme. Et ils ne s’excusent pas non plus d’avoir détruit l’État-providence et le contrat social. Mais ce que les deux parties partagent, c’est qu’elles croient vraiment que le capitalisme et la démocratie sont la même chose, et que le capitalisme et la démocratie sont fondamentalement quelque chose de dirigé par l’élite financière, par l’élite au pouvoir, le 1%. Aucun des deux partis n’a de problème avec cet argument. Il y a des factions au sein du Parti démocrate qui contesteront cela – Bernie Sanders et ainsi de suite – mais elles sont marginales et n’ont pas leur place au sein du Parti démocrate. La plus grosse erreur que Sanders n’ait jamais faite a été de ne pas créer un troisième parti.

Will Brehm 11:29
Alors, à votre avis, comment le capitalisme et la démocratie sont-ils séparés?

Henry Giroux 11:33
Ils sont distincts dans le sens où vous ne pouvez pas avoir de démocratie quand vous avez un système qui promeut des inégalités massives de richesse et de pouvoir ; cela ne marche tout simplement pas. Il me paraît qu’avoir ce degré d’inégalité, et le soutenir de toutes les manières, permettre que toutes les institutions dirigeantes d’un pays soient contrôlées par une poignée d’élites et de sociétés, est l’antithèse de la démocratie. La démocratie implique que les gens ont le pouvoir. Ils ont le pouvoir de façonner les conditions dans lesquelles ils vivent leur vie. Ils ont un certain pouvoir sur l’économie. Ils y ont accès, ils ont des dispositions sociales, ils ont des droits politiques, des droits personnels, des droits sociaux. Cela n’arrive pas sous le capitalisme. Le capitalisme est un système ruineux qui s’organise essentiellement autour de la production de profits au détriment des besoins humains. Ce n’est pas une formule pour la démocratie.

Will Brehm 12:25
Et donc, à quoi ressemblerait un contrat social à votre avis, dans ce cadre ?

Henry Giroux 12:29
Au minimum, un contrat social garantirait les droits politiques. Mais il garantirait les droits politiques et les droits personnels en même temps que les droits sociaux, c’est-à-dire que vous auriez des droits économiques, vous auriez un salaire social. Vous restreindriez massivement les degrés d’inégalité. Cela impliquerait que les gens auraient accès à l’enseignement supérieur, aux soins de santé. Toutes les choses qui deviennent centrales dans la façon dont nous vivons notre sens de l’action et la rendent possible feraient partie du contrat social et du bien public. Sans cela, il n’y a pas de démocratie. Et il me semble que c’est la mesure dans laquelle vous voulez l’appeler socialisme en tant que forme de social-démocratie, ou vous voulez l’appeler socialisme d’une manière qui permet simplement aux structures, infrastructures, ressources les plus importantes d’une société d’être un phénomène contrôlé par le gouvernement, c’est un mélange qu’il nous faut trouver. Mais je pense qu’en fin de compte, vous devez réaliser que dans une démocratie, la première question que vous devez vous poser est la suivante : “Qu’est-ce que cela signifie de fournir les conditions permettant aux gens d’avoir un sens de l’action, et pas seulement de pouvoir survivre ? Pour que leurs capacités puissent être développées de manière à ce qu’ils aient accès à d’autres choses que de lutter pour manger, de lutter au milieu de la pauvreté, de lutter pour un travail digne de ce nom, de lutter pour trouver un moyen de payer des emprunts massifs afin d’obtenir une éducation décente, de ne pas lutter pour avoir des soins de santé décents. Ce sont des questions centrales qui ne concernent pas seulement le pouvoir, mais aussi la capacité à vivre. De vivre dans la dignité.

Will Brehm 14:10
Et donc, passons à l’éducation ici. Dans votre dernier livre, intitulé “Le public en péril”, vous employez le terme … vous avez dit que vous vouliez voir “le politique plus pédagogique”. Que vouliez-vous dire par là?

Henry Giroux 14:23
Ce que je veux dire par là, c’est que l’une des choses qui me perturbe, et l’une des choses sur lesquelles j’ai écrit pendant de nombreuses années, et je ne suis pas le premier, bien que je pense l’avoir probablement élaborée plus souvent que la plupart des gens, c’est que l’éducation est au cœur de la politique. On ne peut pas parler de politique si on ne peut pas parler de conscience. Si vous ne pouvez pas parler de changer la façon dont les gens croient, si vous ne pouvez pas parler de les engager dans un dialogue avec un vocabulaire dans lequel ils peuvent s’investir, s’identifier et être capables de reconnaître les conditions dans lesquelles ils se trouvent, de sorte qu’ils puissent soit apprendre à modifier ces conditions, soit comprendre ce que ces conditions signifient en termes de leur propre sentiment d’oppression. Et je crois que trop souvent, nous assimilons la domination à de simples institutions, et nous disons que la seule façon de parler de pouvoir est de parler de structures économiques. Mais je suis navré, aussi importantes que soient l’économie et les structures économiques, vous devez aussi parler de ce que signifie créer les conditions pour que les gens puissent penser, réfléchir sur eux-mêmes, s’identifier à certains types de récits, disposer d’informations leur permettant de réfléchir sur eux-mêmes individuellement et collectivement. Et je pense que l’outil est ce que j’appellerais de la pédagogie. La capacité d’intervenir dans la vie des gens avec des vocabulaires, des relations sociales, des valeurs, des scénarios moraux et politiques dans lesquels les gens peuvent tout à coup être mus par le pouvoir de la persuasion et de la logique, de la raison et de la vérité, doit être au centre de toute politique.

Will Brehm 15:59
Et donc, quel est le rôle des écoles, comme les institutions gérées par le gouvernement, les écoles publiques, dans cet effort pédagogique pour rendre la politique plus pédagogique ?

Henry Giroux 16:10
Je crois que les écoles sont probablement l’un des rares endroits où nous ne sommes pas entièrement contrôlés par les entreprises. Où, en fait, ce genre d’enseignement peut avoir lieu, où les gens peuvent avoir des débats, où les gens peuvent être confrontés à des positions qui sont historiques, scientifiques, qui offrent la possibilité de s’engager dans des modes, et de créer des modes d’alphabétisation civique et de responsabilité sociale. Les écoles, au fond, dans le meilleur des cas, devraient être des sphères démocratiques et publiques. Elles devraient participer activement non seulement à l’enseignement aux jeunes des grandes traditions, quelles qu’elles soient, qui proposent le meilleur de l’apprentissage humain, et de ce que signifie être civilisé, à partir de toute une série de traditions, mais aussi de ce que signifie assumer un sens de la responsabilité sociale, politique et éthique. Pour que l’on reconnaisse que l’on vit dans une société avec d’autres. Et que l’on doit se battre pour la démocratie, se battre pour la justice, pour apprendre qu’aucune société n’est jamais juste assez, et que c’est aussi essentiel pour apprendre que d’apprendre tout ce qui a de la valeur en termes de types de ressources humaines qui sont disponibles et qui peuvent être appropriées, engagées et discutées.

Will Brehm 17:26
Est-il envisageable d’accomplir certaines de ces choses dans des écoles à charte, par exemple, en Amérique ?

Henry Giroux 17:33
Les Charter Schools ont une longue tradition, surtout aux États-Unis, de ségrégation des élèves. Et en même temps, elles se déplacent avec la possibilité de constituer des syndicats, de les ruiner, de les saper et de fonctionner en partant du principe que les écoles sont essentiellement une entreprise privée plutôt qu’un bien public. Je n’ai donc pas beaucoup de foi dans les écoles à charte. Est-il possible que certaines écoles à charte, quand elles sont gonflées par d’énormes sommes d’argent de la part des gestionnaires de fonds spéculatifs simplement pour qu’elles deviennent un modèle de destruction des écoles publiques, puissent marcher ? Oui, c’est possible. Mais toutes les recherches semblent indiquer que, au mieux, elles ne sont pas meilleures, sinon pires, que les écoles publiques. Je ne crois pas que les écoles publiques devraient être privatisées. Je pense qu’elles sont un bien public, elles ne sont pas un droit privé. Et je pense que dès que nous commençons à parler de l’école comme d’un droit privé et que nous commençons à parler des écoles comme d’institutions à but lucratif, nous détruisons leurs possibilités en tant que sphères publiques démocratiques.

Will Brehm 18:38
J’ai moins d’espoir que Betsy DeVos soit d’accord avec vous sur ce point.

Henry Giroux 18:41
Betsy DeVos est probablement l’une des personnes les plus haïes en Amérique, parce que les gens se rendent compte de ce qu’elle est. C’est une milliardaire qui déteste les écoles publiques et qui prétend que sa mission dans la vie est d’apporter le royaume de Dieu aux étudiants. C’est une fanatique religieuse. C’est une fondamentaliste idéologique et une fanatique religieuse. Et à présent, elle est la secrétaire à l’éducation des États-Unis. Qu’est-ce que cela signifie pour l’éducation ? Qu’est-ce que cela dit de cette administration ? Je veux dire que Donald Trump a été clair : il aime les personnes sans éducation. Il l’a dit à plusieurs reprises. C’est un type qui ne lit pas de livres. Il mange essentiellement des hamburgers McDonald’s et regarde Fox News. Ce n’est pas exactement un type qui va embrasser n’importe quelle institution qui offre la possibilité d’éduquer les étudiants ou les adultes à la réflexion critique. Il trouve ces institutions énormément horribles et difficiles. Et en fait, plus que cela, il les utilise comme une pathologie. C’est pourquoi il a inventé la notion de fausses nouvelles. Et c’est pourquoi il est un menteur en série et continue à croire qu’il peut dire n’importe quoi parce qu’il croit qu’il n’a pas à être tenu responsable. Dans une démocratie, les gens sont tenus responsables. Mais ce n’est pas un type qui croit qu’on doit être tenu responsable. C’est la marque de tout dictateur fasciste.

Will Brehm 19:55
Alors, qu’est-ce qu’il faut faire ici ? Alors, pour les gens qui sont d’accord avec vous, comme moi, que pouvons-nous faire pour préserver l’éducation publique comme un contrat social démocratique ou un bien social démocratique?

Henry Giroux 20:13
Je crois qu’il faut se poser certaines questions qui placent soudain au premier plan ce qu’est vraiment l’éducation et pourquoi elle est si essentielle. Et je crois que l’une de ces questions doit être : “Quel rôle l’éducation joue-t-elle dans une démocratie ? Et la deuxième question doit être : “Comment la démocratie fonctionne-t-elle, et continue-t-elle de fonctionner, d’une manière qui impose certaines exigences à l’éducation ? Je pense que nous devons reconnaître que l’éducation est probablement l’une des forces éducatives les plus influentes au monde, certainement en termes de scolarisation formelle, qui offre la possibilité de générer une culture formatrice qui permet aux gens de penser de manière critique et d’être informés. Je veux dire, Dewey, Arendt, toute une série de philosophes, Castoriadis, nous disent depuis des années – et ils ont raison – qu’on ne peut pas avoir de démocratie sans citoyens informés. Et je crois que quand nous réaliserons à quel point l’enseignement supérieur, l’éducation publique est cruciale pour la création de la culture formatrice qui rend une démocratie possible, alors nous cesserons d’en parler en termes de simple formation des travailleurs. L’éducation n’est pas une formation, ce sont des choses différentes. Et nous avons perdu cela de vue aux États-Unis. Le scénario a été inversé. Et tout d’un coup, l’éducation n’est plus qu’un complément de la vie des entreprises, de leurs exigences, de leurs besoins. Et je pense qu’à bien des égards, ce que nous voyons dans Parkland, et ce que nous voyons chez les jeunes de tout le pays, que nous parlions, vous savez, de toute une série de mouvements, du mouvement BlackLivesMatter, de toute une série de mouvements, les gens disent : “Hé, regardez. Il y a une certaine violence dans ce pays qui est en partie liée à l’éducation, tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur des écoles, qui rend les gens vulnérables à la terreur systémique, à la violence systémique, et il faut que cela cesse”. Et cela doit arrêter parce que nous devons restructurer et repenser la relation entre la démocratie et le capitalisme, et probablement commencer à dire que le capitalisme et la démocratie ne sont pas la même chose. La deuxième chose est que nous devons renverser et combattre certains des éléments les plus pernicieux et les plus toxiques du néolibéralisme. Et le plus toxique à mon avis, est celui qui suggère que la seule responsabilité qui compte est la responsabilité individuelle. C’est cela. Que vous êtes responsable de tout ce qui se passe dans le monde, et que vous n’avez pas le droit de croire qu’il existe des problèmes sociaux sur lesquels vous n’avez aucun contrôle individuel. Et que vous n’avez pas à supporter ce fardeau. Et qu’en assumant ce fardeau, vous démantelez complètement le lien ou la capacité de traduire des problèmes privés en considérations sociales plus larges. C’est dépolitiser. Cela signifie que vous devenez dépolitisé. Cela signifie que vous devenez cynique. Cela signifie que vous vous blâmez pour tous les problèmes dans lesquels vous vous trouvez. Et cela implique qu’au fond, vous êtes politiquement hors du coup. Qu’il n’y a rien à faire, si ce n’est participer à la crise des opiacés, sombrer dans le cynisme, ou simplement se replier sur les pires formes de désespoir.

Will Brehm 23:17
Donc, serait-il correct de dire que vous croyez que le type de courage civique requis est de repolitiser beaucoup d’espaces qui ont été dépolitisés ?

Henry Giroux 23:29
Absolument. Absolument. Je pense que ce que nous devons faire, c’est parler de sphères publiques qui engagent et soulèvent la possibilité d’une alphabétisation civique, d’un courage civique et d’une responsabilité sociale au point de pouvoir reconquérir le langage de la démocratie. Nous pouvons à nouveau parler de compassion. Nous pouvons à nouveau parler de relations sociales qui ne sont pas simplement basées sur des relations d’échange, des relations marchandes. Nous pouvons discuter de la notion de communauté et de ce qu’elle signifie. Nous pouvons supposer que la dépendance n’est pas une pathologie, que la communauté n’est pas quelque chose que l’on déteste et que les responsabilités partagées sont beaucoup plus essentielles que les craintes partagées.

Will Brehm 24:11
Y a-t-il des exemples de tels systèmes ou même seulement des écoles où cela se produit, où cette politisation se produit ?

Henry Giroux 24:22
Il y a des écoles dans tout le pays aux États-Unis qui se trompent fondamentalement du côté de ce genre d’idées progressistes. Et il y a des pays qui sont du côté de ces progrès. Les pays sociaux-démocrates, qu’il s’agisse de la Finlande, de la Suède ou de l’Allemagne. Je veux dire, certains endroits où l’enseignement supérieur est gratuit. L’enseignement public est gratuit. Même au Canada, ce n’est pas la social-démocratie la plus prononcée au monde. Mais écoutez, je tombe malade, je ne paie rien. J’entre à l’hôpital, je prends des rendez-vous avec des médecins, je reçois des soins médicaux gratuits. Aux États-Unis, la moitié des dettes des gens, les faillites, sont dues aux dépenses de santé. Il existe donc dans le monde entier des exemples de pays qui ont essentiellement mis en place des dispositions sociales et des filets de sûreté sociale qui permettent aux gens de vivre avec un certain degré de dignité. Et je pense que nous devons en tirer les leçons. Et je crois que nous devons examiner très attentivement ce que cela signifie, en termes de ce que cela signifie d’investir dans l’avenir des jeunes plutôt que de désinvestir dans les jeunes et de partir du principe que gagner de l’argent est bien plus essentiel que, par exemple, la vie des jeunes. Par exemple, les fabricants d’armes, de nombreux défenseurs des droits des armes, pensent vraiment que nous vivons dans un pays où tuer des enfants est moins essentiel, en fait, que de gagner de l’argent en vendant des armes.

Will Brehm 25:54
Avez-vous l’espoir que l’Amérique sortira de ce cauchemar, qu’elle reviendra à une société sociale-démocrate où le bien public de l’éducation existe?

Henry Giroux 26:06
Intellectuellement, je suis sceptique. En ce qui concerne l’avenir, je suis plein d’espoir. Je crois que nous vivons des temps très sombres. Partout dans le monde, je pense que la montée du fascisme émerge à nouveau. Je pense qu’il y a des signes que les gens se mobilisent. Je pense que les contradictions deviennent si grandes que des gens qui ne seraient pas politiques deviennent soudainement plus politiques et s’impliquent activement. Je pense que les jeunes représentent un changement de paradigme pour la plupart, par rapport à ce que nous avons vu dans le passé, en ce sens qu’ils sont plus tangibles, ils sont plus avertis sur le plan technologique, ils sont plus astucieux sur le plan politique. Et je veux souhaiter que les jeunes reconnaissent tout d’un coup que le fait d’être écrit du futur, et d’être écrit du scénario de la démocratie est un défi suffisant à relever pour qu’ils ne se contentent pas de créer des moments et des manifestations, mais qu’ils créent en fait des mouvements qui seront suffisamment larges pour pouvoir réellement contester les structures de pouvoir qui sont en place dans beaucoup de ces pays aujourd’hui, y inclus les États-Unis.

Will Brehm 27:09
Eh bien, Henry Giroux, merci beaucoup d’avoir rejoint FreshEd, et merci beaucoup pour tous les écrits que vous avez faits au fil des ans. Je suis un grand fan.

Henry Giroux 27:17
Je suis ravi d’être à l’antenne, et merci beaucoup de m’avoir.

Translation sponsored by NORRAG.

Coming soon!


For over two years, this podcast has aimed to disseminate academic ideas through the medium of audio. This year FreshEd will continue to air interviews with scholars from around the world, but we are also going to experiment. Over the holidays, I got to thinking about new ways I could use audio.

Listeners are now familiar with me in the role of interviewer where the focus is on other people’s ideas. I thought maybe you would also interested in hearing about some of my ideas and how they have been influenced by some of the interviews I’ve conducted.

But it’s not as if I’m going to interview myself.

Instead, today’s show captures what it sounds like inside my head as I piece together different ideas and attempt to form a coherent academic argument. It’s like an academic article for your ears.

But not exactly.

Through the soundscape, I’ve tried to convey how seemingly random ideas come together, the moments of synchronicity, and the thesis that comes out of the mix.

This episode is the first installment of The Idea, and is about the indebted student in American higher education.

One of the primary goals of education is to prepare youth for the labor market. This task is infinitely difficult because economies are constantly changing. What will the global labor market look like in 30 years and how will it impact specific countries? It’s impossible to know for sure, which therefore makes deciding which skills to teach inside national school systems difficult to pinpoint. It’s a major public policy question facing many governments.

But there are some skills that employers want right now that they feel schools are not teaching. Plus, with the labor movement in decline worldwide, jobs have become precarious for many people. This reality requires laborers to have the grit and tenacity to be flexible in their job choices as economies change. Can schools teach these soft-skills to students?

My guests today have recently co-edited a book that dives into the subject, looking at the skills deemed necessary by employers but lacking in students. The book is entitled “Bridging the Skills Gap: Innovations in Africa and Asia, which was published by Springer earlier this year.

With me today are two of the co-editors, Wambui Munge and Shubha Jayaram. Wambui is a Communications Officer at Results For Development where Shubha is a Senior Program Officer.

Rwanda is perhaps most well-known for the genocide it experienced in the 1990s. In its post-conflict development, the country has had to balance colonial legacies, state centralizing tendencies, and the zeitgeist of neoliberalism. This has made for a careful balancing — one that has left the government regulating the society and economy while simultaneously reducing its responsibility to citizens.

In education, this balancing act manifests in the government’s three aims: credentials, controls, and creativity. The education system is based on credentials awarded through examinations, a colonial hangover, and controls students as part of the state’s centralization efforts; yet, somehow, the system promotes creativity so students can pursue a learner-centered education tailored to their own needs, preparing them for the 21st century labor market of precarious work.

My guest today, Catherine Honeyman, has a new book that explores Rwanda’s opportunities, challenges, and paradoxes in post-conflict development through the policy of mandatory entrepreneurship education, which is believed to be the country’s beacon for economic growth. Catherine Honeyman is a visiting scholar at the Duke Center for International Development and Managing Director of Ishya Consulting. Her new book, The Orderly Entrepreneur, takes us inside both policy making circles and classrooms to understand part of Rwanda’s social transformation. The Orderly Entrepreneur received an honorable mention from the Globalization and Education SIG’s 2016 Book Award.

Citation: Honeyman, Catherine, A., interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 64, podcast audio, March 13, 2017.

Transcript, translation, and resources:

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As we near the end of 2016, I want to take stock of the field of globalization and education. What were the big ideas this year? And where are we going in 2017?

For the final show of the year, I’ve invited Susan Robertson and Roger Dale, co-editors of the journal Globalisation, Societies, and Education, to reflect on the year in research and point to future directions.

In our conversation, we discuss a range of issues facing education, including: the limitations of mobility studies, the increase of migration worldwide, the rise of populism and anti-globalization movements, the role of trade deals in education, and the Hayekian world in which we find ourselves where individuals — not societies or governments — are at the center of social imaginaries and how this relates to educational privatization, private debt, and the discourse of choice.

Susan Robertson is a Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, and Roger Dale, is a Professor of Education in the Centre for Globalisation, Education and Society, at the University of Bristol.


What is the connection between education and the economy? For many neoclassical economists, the connection is found in Human Capital theory.

My guest today, Professor Steve Klees, thinks human capital theory and rates of return analyses are very problematic.

In our conversation, Steve talks about his new article, “Human Capital and Rates of Return: Brilliant Ideas or ideological dead ends?”, which can be found in the latest issue of the Comparative Education Review. He takes us through human capital theory, its internal logical fallacies, and proposes a set of alternatives.

Steve Klees is a professor of International Education Policy in the College of Education, University of Maryland.

Citation: Klees, Steve, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 54, podcast audio, December 5, 2016.

Will Brehm  1:45
Steve Klees, welcome to FreshEd.,

Steve Klees  1:52
I’m very glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

Will Brehm  1:55
You are an economist by training. But you have spent most of your career in the comparative and international education field. How do economists typically think about, or look at education?

Steve Klees  2:12
That’s a huge question, but the answer really depends on what kind of economist you’re talking about; they’re different schools of thought. But the the main dominant school of thought is called neoclassical economics. And neoclassical economics is really about competitive capitalist market systems. And within that education is a very important piece of understanding education, economics and development. In particular, neoclassical economists have developed something they call “human capital theory” that is a framework for understanding education’s role in the economy and in society.

Will Brehm  3:10
And how is human capital theory measured? How do economists see human capital?

Steve Klees  3:22
Well, human capital is a latecomer to economics, to neoclassical economics. Neoclassical economics goes back to Adam Smith, and the Wealth of Nations in the 1700s and the term “neoclassical” actually was coined at the end of the 1800s, and it’s about how a competitive market system operates. Human capital theory wasn’t developed till the late 1950s, early 1960s. Prior to human capital theory, economists understood the economy in terms of supply and demand, you’d always see economists talking about supply and demand – of small companies, small firms, small households competing with each other – and trying to understand how that competition worked, what you got out of it, how a market system worked.

Prior to human capital theory, economists had a lot of difficulty understanding labor and work. Labor prior to human capital theory was an anomaly. It wasn’t something you could talk about in terms of supply and demand. The economists in those days, in the 50s, look more like sociologists; it was a whole field of labor economics where they studied real world labor, they studied strikes, they studied unions, they studied how large firms operated. But education didn’t really fit into that structure at all – that way of thinking. And there were odd people out in neoclassical economics because they were more like sociologists, and they weren’t talking about competitive market structures and supply and demand, and human capital changed all that

Will Brehm  5:28
How so?

Steve Klees  5:29
Well, it really made economists able to talk and think about education and labor. Labor, especially, as a commodity like any other commodity that’s bought and sold on a marketplace, that has a price, that’s determined by supply and demand in the marketplace. Human Capital theory developed because it was explaining puzzles. People were trying to understand how economies grew. And they understood that there were more workers, and there was more capital investment, but they didn’t really have any idea about quality of work. And the whole idea of human capital, was it explained better, to neoclassical economists anyway, why some countries grew faster versus slower. They called it a revolution in thought, and the idea behind it was essentially simple – that education wasn’t just a consumer good, it was an investment. It was an investment in individuals, and it was an investment by society and societal development.

Will Brehm  6:48
So in a sense, it would be that if an individual were to receive education, or more education than another, they or he or she would be more productive in an economy, and maybe measured through income? Is this the way the neoclassical economists were seeing this?

Steve Klees  7:12
Yes. They looked at two outcomes of education in particular They looked at earnings, and they weren’t interested in private benefits as much; earnings were a benefit to you, income is a benefit to you. But they were interested in, within their framework earnings as a proxy for people’s productivity, like you said. And so, they were trying to get a handle on education’s connection to individual productivity. And secondly, education’s direct influence on economic growth, its effect on gross national product. So you saw starting in the 60s, lots of studies of the “rate of return”, they called it, the return on investment. So education in terms of earnings as a proxy for productivity, and in terms of economic growth measured by gross national product.

Will Brehm  8:15
So based on the rate of return methodology is is some education better than other education for foreign economy or for foreign individuals’ productivity?

Steve Klees  8:27
Yes. I should explain a little bit about rates of return. Rates of return are a measure of benefits and costs. In neoclassical economics, the private sector is motivated by profit. Profit is a signal that this endeavor is valuable. Adam Smith talked about the invisible hand of supply and demand working in the public interest. That’s the profits supposedly representing where peoples’ benefits exceed their costs; where the outcome of whatever you’re making, tables or software or whatever, the benefits exceed the costs. And so economists were looking for something as analogous to that in the public sector. So the idea was to explicitly study the benefits and costs of public sector activities, whatever field, education, health care, environment, transportation, and rate of return is a summary measure, after you figure out what are all the benefits to an education investment, what are all the costs of that investment, and it’s a summary measure to try and get at  – gosh, you know, you’re making 20% on your investment, the benefits exceed costs by 20%. And so that’s applied to lots of different types of educational activities, and other sector activities, to study the returns to education, of various types of vocational education versus academic education; of higher different levels of education, higher education versus early childhood, or primary education; different programs of education. Anything where you can find reasonable monetary measures of outcomes. Sometimes you can’t do that, you’re just looking at test score differences between different programs. And then economists do a more limited array of what they call “cost effectiveness” analysis. But mostly economists really like to go after cost-benefit analysis, because that gives them a metric that they can compare with returns in the private sector: Is this a better investment to take your money out of the private sector, tax it and put in an education or health care or environmental protection?

Will Brehm  11:13
This sort of thinking of cost-benefit analysis of education to an economy, do you see this is problematic in anyway?

Steve Klees  11:24
Yes, the paper you mentioned that I did, and actually much of my work over the last – I hesitate to say it – 40 years (I’ve been working in this field for a while) has been with the problems of neoclassical economics, generally. And more specifically, with the internal dynamic, the internal problems with that field that gives you measures like benefit-cost studies of rates of return. My work has been recently basically saying that even not taking in a critical outside neoclassical economics look, which we can talk about in a little bit, of political economy perspective, for example. But even if you take the neoclassical economics perspective, there are so many problems within that framework, that for me, the benefit-cost analysis/rate of return type measures just fall apart; that they become almost meaningless.

Will Brehm  12:41
How, so? Let’s dig into it, human capital theory, rates of return analyses. If you’re saying that there are problems of the internal logic of neoclassical economics for human capital theory, and for rates of return analysis, can you can you dig more into that? Like how, so? What are some examples of this?

Steve Klees  13:05
I don’t know whether to start with the details or the broader picture. Let me just start with the broader picture, because I think, then the problems with the details become clearer. And the broader picture really revolves around one central idea of neoclassical economics, and that’s the idea of economic efficiency or societal efficiency. They sometimes called it Pareto efficiency after an Italian economist a century ago called Pareto, and it’s a complex idea that I find completely unsound and unreal. And I’ll try and explain the idea briefly, explain why I think it’s unsound, and then give you how it manifests itself in this cost-benefit/rate of return type studies. So efficiency is something, you know, it’s a common sense concept. So to us, people talk about efficiency of this or that; it’s an engineering concept, it’s a physics concept of, you know, you can do more with less somehow. But in education, you can talk about it sensibly, right? Limited ideas of efficiency, like you can talk about an educational system as inefficient because it has a lot of dropouts, or a lot of people repeating grades, or a lot of people who aren’t learning much. So there’s a common sense idea of efficiency that makes sense to all of us. And I have no objections to that. It’s the economist concept of efficiency that’s problematic. And that’s not about an individual sector or individual project, as much as it’s the overall society is deemed economically efficient if it operates according to the assumptions of a very highly competitive market framework that in abstract neoclassical economics discussion is called “perfect competition”. Perfect competition is a competitive system that is so highly competitive that you’ve got many buyers and many sellers of identical products: that nobody’s big, nobody can influence prices, they’re all taking prices in the market, they’re all small potatoes. Consumers and producers are the two major motivators and movers of the economy. Consumers are just out there maximizing their happiness, and producers are just out there maximizing their profits. And if everything functions according to, and information is perfect, you know everything about everything. If you operate according to these simple assumptions, the whole economy is deemed efficient. And what they mean by that is that somehow, not only is there no waste, you’re you’re doing everything as cheaply as you possibly can. But you’ve got the right balance of everything, the correct balance of everything. So you’re producing the right amount of chairs and tables, and movies and hamburgers, and software. There’s something called “correct balance”. And that’s what’s efficient in this. And it’s completely separable from their other major concept, which is equity or fairness or the distribution of these things. So the distribution is sort of irrelevant to efficiency. You can have an efficient society in which half the people in the world are starving. That’s that can be efficient, because efficiency is just about those people who have effective demand, meaning they have money. And they can wave that money in the marketplace and demand goods and services. And so efficiency is really to economists about forgetting equity, forgetting distribution. Are we producing as much as possible with the inputs of land/labor/capital/technology that we have? In the theory, and in practice, this is just simply absurd.

There’s actually in theory neoclassical economists have something called “second best theory”. And second best theory says that if you don’t live in the first best world of perfect competition with all those tight assumptions – unreal, impossible assumptions – but let’s say have one monopoly in one sector in which everything else is highly competitive, second best says in the second best world with just one imperfection, you have no idea if the economy’s efficient at all, there’s no idea if it’s close to efficient at all. Because this framework is so tight that you only get this overall efficiency of the correct balance of things if prices are the accurate signal sending benefit and costs signals to producers that act in the public interest. With one price off, all of the prices are affected. So in practice, efficiency demands, for example, that you have the correct balance, the correct inputs balance of producing yachts for rich people and rice and beans for poor people. Well, that’s just a distributional issue to me. That’s an equity issue to me. There’s no right balance of yachts and rice and beans; there’s no right balance of computer software, higher education, early childhood education, nutritional programs, roads building. There’s no correct balance of that. And in practice, there’s just no vantage point in the sky. That’s what this efficiency idea is. Where you could separate what we produce from who gets it. They’re all integrally tied in practice. And this is what in practice they’re trying to do with cost-benefit analysis of rate of return: get an idea of whether something in particular is efficient or not.

Will Brehm  20:06
Just hearing that, it just makes me think that the theory of the world in neoclassical economics doesn’t match the reality that I live in. I mean, certainly people do not have perfect information when it comes to to buying anything. But at the same time, I also think that this separation of equity and distribution from efficiency seems to have actually happened. The world I see today, there seems to be a huge gap between the rich and the poor, that those eating rice and beans and those on their yachts.

Steve Klees  20:48
Yes, absolutely. The real world today is very problematic in terms of distribution, as we all know. In terms of equity.

Will Brehm  21:04
How is this embodied in rates of return?

Steve Klees  21:08
The whole efficiency framework is translated into guidelines for the public sector through cost-benefit analysis. And not costs and benefits to private individuals they’re after, they’re after costs and benefits to society as a whole. Because they want to correct the market, to account for all the costs and benefits to society as a whole. And so if you’re thinking about education, you think about the benefits of education. They buy benefits in terms of earnings to an individual. That’s a benefit to society if earnings reflect productivity. That’s problematic because earnings are a price, and prices are distorted in real world economies. So there’s no reason to believe that earnings reflect productivity at all. Earnings are determined by market power, by the vagaries of who’s got skills and who doesn’t have skills, on where firms do their business. So the idea of earnings as a proxy for productivity is a problem.

A second problem is that even if you wanted earnings as a proxy for productivity, that’s just one individual benefit. That is a social benefit, because it measures productivity, but there are what they call externalities. There are benefits to other people who were not included in the market transaction, you decide how much education you’re getting, some supplier gives it to you, a public school or private school, a training program, the benefits to education go way beyond you. And those are not taken into account in the market. So when there are benefits beyond the individual, they’re called externalities, because the market doesn’t take them into account. And therefore, the market is making inefficient decisions, because it’s not counting all the benefits. So in education, you can think of lots of benefits that aren’t just to you, your education benefits other people through your coworker productivity, through your family, through household health decisions, through helping your children, through lowering crime rates, through lowering welfare rates. It’s got lots of these external effects. And the second problem with rates of return is measuring those all are very problematic.

And the third problem with rates of return is that even if we were trusting earnings as a good measure, it’s very hard, I would say impossible, to figure out the effect of education on earnings. This goes to our problems, not neoclassical economics, but our problems with research methods generally. Separating our causes from effect, impact evaluation is extremely difficult to the point where I think it can’t be done quantitatively. If, for example, you took 1000 people and you ask them what’s their income, and then you try to figure out what are the dozens of factors that make those incomes different. And then you’ve actually tried to build a mathematical model that would separate those dozens of factors, so that you could say, “Well, their income went up, because they were a union this much, because they had another year of education this much, because they were in a high demand field this much, because they were healthy that much.” I mean, it boggles the mind. I’ve done another paper on the economist statistical procedure called regression analysis that tries to do that – it tries to take the dozens of factors affecting some outcome and separate them out. And my view is that we just can’t do that. So that even the minimal idea of looking at the impact of education on individual earnings is problematic. Taking them all together, I find rates of return and cost-benefit analysis, generally not a good basis for decision-making.

Will Brehm  25:48
But yet, it has been. These methods and this particular theory have been dominant and have been used to make decisions in education systems, among other sectors. So what’s the scholarly track record of those using rates of return and human capital theory? All of the critiques that you put forward seem very plausible to me, but yet rates of return and human capital theory has had quite the long longevity in academic research.

Steve Klees  26:23
Yes, it’s certainly has. And just two things to say in response to that. One is you asked about their track record, and in terms of track record, there’s no testing this. This isn’t something you can predict and then find out was a true. Because, I say the rate of return to expanding higher education is 12% in your country at this time. Is that a good investment, if you decide 12% is a good return, and you put your money in. But there’s no validation of whether you got 12% or not, so there’s no track record in terms of these predictions. They’re making predictions now, for example, about education and GNP. And I just find those scary and absurd. There’s some very interesting economists, very competent economists doing this. Eric Hanushek and [Ludger] Woessmann, and they tried to do regression analysis to say if your PISA scores go up (the PISA being that international test that people take as a proxy for cognitive achievement), how much will your GNP go up? And they come to these conclusions like a 10% increase in cognitive skills gives you a 2% boost on GDP and if everybody moved a standard deviation on PISA, your GNP would grow seven times in the next 30 years. I mean, this is carrying this framework to an absurdity to me. They can’t separate out the impact of education from the dozens and dozens of other factors that influence GDP or GNP, and then to take that out as its influence now and project that 30 or 40 years in the future is just the height of irrational use of a framework of this kind. And I understand why they do it. These are reasonable people, you want good information for decision-making, and to economists, this idea of efficiency, separable from equity is the touchstone.

But the real question for me is the second question you asked: basically, why has this framework been dominant for so long? And neoclassical economists would say at the very simple answer – it’s because of its explanatory power. It explains differences in investments in health and differences in individual behavior. And it’s true, I mean, in differences in individual behavior, this is useful framework because your decisions are affected by the returns to you, and you make decisions about your educational investment versus your investment in health care, versus your decision to go to a movie or your decision to buy a house, about returns to you. And that’s fine. So there is some use for this framework in terms of understanding people’s motivations. But in terms of societal’s efficiency and investment preferences, this framework is bankrupt and it’s empty. So to me, and to many critics, it’s not the dominant framework because of its explanatory power, it’s the dominant framework because it fits. Human capital theory is embedded in neoclassical economics, and that’s embedded in capital market – it fits with a capitalist market economy. The critics would argue the reason there’s so much attention to efficiency and rates of return and technical views of whether you invest in this thing, or that and how much do you do is because it makes sense in terms of efficiency. If you lose that efficiency framework, you realize that this is just a way to support a market system. This is neoclassical economics is an ideological justification for capitalist market systems to be efficient. To act in everybody’s interests aside from equity. If you question that, then you can see neoclassical economics generally, and human capital theory, as basically an ideological framework and ideological bulwark.

The whole skills discourse today comes from human capital theory and a skills discourse seems like common sense. It says if people only had better skills, they would be better off, and their countries and societies would be better off. That skills discourse based as it is on human capital theory and neoclassical economics is very problematic. People today have talked about the “triple economic challenge” that we face, and they talk about the three things: job creation; poverty elimination; and inequality reduction. Human capital theory and neoclassical economics generally gives one simplistic answer to all three challenges: lack of skills or equivalently, the mismatch between what education is producing and what businesses in the economy need. For the critics, lack of skills is not why people are poor, are not why jobs are scarce, and not why societies are so unequal. The culprit for the critics is that the very structure of the world system in which we are living, capitalism most particularly, but patriarchy, racism and other structures. Those very structures are problematic. While capitalism has increased our ability to produce material goods tremendously, so it looks very productive in that way, in another sense, it’s one of the most inefficient and destructive structures that you can imagine. Why? Because almost half the world – the World Bank says 3 billion people – are relegated to the margins of society. Capitalism has not created jobs for them, livelihoods for them. For the vast majority of our global population, if capitalism was an efficient system, we would be taking advantage of the skills and develop the skills of the 7 billion people on the planet and produced a lot more. Capitalism in its 200, 300 years hasn’t done that, and isn’t doing that. You know, some people talk about we live in a meritocracy. What nonsense! These 3 billion people are relegated to the margins of society because they’re not meritorious? It’s not that at all. It’s poverty, unemployment and inequality, not to mention environmental destruction and other problems, are not failures of capitalism, as they’re sometimes seen, but the logical outcome of its inherent structure. So that that in many ways, contrary to prevailing economic views, human capital has been a very destructive discourse. This is contrary to what the majority of economists think as it’s been brilliant, but it’s been a destructive discourse, because it’s really blamed individuals for their lack of skills, their lack of investment in the right skills, the lack of good choices. And so instead of understanding problematic structures that we need to do something about, we’ve been directing attention towards the supply of individuals and how to fix that. And we’ve been fixing it for decades. And the payoff with poor countries is abysmal. And the payoff even within rich countries is abysmal. The inequalities within the US, the level of hunger in the United States, the level of marginalization, the level of poor dead end jobs, the level of insecurity, the level of environmental destruction, this is not an efficient system.

Will Brehm  36:04
Turning to alternatives. I mean, is it even possible, or can we even have an education system in a capitalist economy without human capital theory? It almost seems like many of these problems that we see in education in terms of equity that you were just mentioning stem from the capitalist economic systems that that are pervasive in most countries. So how can we envision and create education systems in alternative ways that account for equity while still being in capitalist economies?

Steve Klees  36:48
Yes. All you’re asking today’s tough questions.

Will Brehm  36:55
I apologize.

Steve Klees  36:57
That’s okay. Let me preface my response to education with a little bit on how these alternatives are viewed to the very structures in which we live. Because education can only be successful if it’s a part of a challenge to those structures in fundamental ways. And there’s a lot of alternatives. Everything is contested terrain in this world; everything is up for grabs, up for debates with different views. So I view the alternative to neoclassical economics as what I call “political economy”. Political economy is a contested term and people on the right use it as well as people on the left. I’m using it more from the left of center point of view of critics of capitalism, critics of other world system structures. And for me, a political economy perspective today raises questions about the structures of the world system in which we live.

It’s the intersection of feminist perspectives, of post- perspectives, postcolonial, post structural, neo-Marxist perspectives, queer theories about heterosexism in society, disability theories, critical race theories. Not that these theories are identical, not that these approaches are identical, but all of them see marginalization as central, and all of them see marginalization not as failures of the world system -they’re failures for sure – but more is a logical consequence of the structures of patriarchy and racism and capitalism in which we live. And while there’s agreement that reproduction is pervasive, that is this marginalization is not an aberration, systems are out there that reproduce and legitimate marginalization and inequality. And the education system is part of that, as are all of the systems in which we live.

But the critics, the political economists, as I label them agree that while reproduction is pervasive, there are lots of spaces for progressive action. Through exercising individual and collective agency. You have the ability, and especially collectively, we have the ability to challenge these structures. And collective challenge is perhaps the watchword of political economists. Social movements like the women’s movement, like the civil rights movement. These are worldwide now. Like the landless movement in Brazil and now other countries. The poorest people in the world are organized and having an influence on policy. The untouchable movement in India, not anti-globalization, but the alter-globalization movement and in human rights movements and the children rights movement. And so there’s lots of examples of contestation at the systemic level and in education.

There’s lots of examples in every education in every city, in every country, and in every school system of what political economists call more progressive approaches to education. The legacy of people at Paolo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator who founded a field that we call today “critical pedagogy”. Critical pedagogy is a political economy approach to education, arguing that while reproduction is pervasive in schools, there’s lots of ways to challenge that. And so people, individual teachers challenge that all the time. They close their doors to their classroom, they use different learning materials, they teach their students differently about fairness, about equity, about the structures in which they live, they raise questions on that. And it’s not just individual teachers, there are systems of it. In Brazil, the landless movement which I just mentioned, have their own schools that are Freirean, that are participatory, that are so different from the technicist technical approach to education that we have today throughout the world. In Brazil, something called the citizen school movement that, again, is very participatory, that involves the community. We say “community involvement” all the time, but this is serious community involvement. This is serious democracy for students, for teachers, for administrators, participating and directing curriculum, directing grading, making decisions at a local level together, and sometimes very explicitly challenging the types of feeding education into work and into the labor market that dominates so strongly. On the alternative, for most political economists, when you reject the sort of functionalist view of sociologists, of society, of efficiency of markets, and say, “This is not something in which everybody is benefiting, there’s conflict here, there’s different interests, and the only way that’s going to change is through struggle, through individual and collective struggle.”

What that means in terms of alternative system-wide is difficult to say. At a minimum, where we’re not a neoliberal form of capitalism. Capitalism in the 60s, and 70s was a much more liberal capitalism in which government intervention was recognized as necessary to correct the ills that were essentially built into the structure of capitalism. Neoliberalism starting in the 80s with Reagan and Thatcher and Kohl in Germany said: Government is the problem, the market is the solution. We need to get away from that. We need to restore the legitimacy of government action, we’ve got the sustainable development goals of the United Nations on the table. Goals that are very ambitious about improving the world, we’re not going to get there under neoliberal capitalism. We’re not going to get there when we think it’s illegitimate for government to direct action. We’re not going to get there if everything is a public-private partnership and depends on corporate profitability in order to direct that system.

And maybe we have to move beyond capitalism. At the local level there’s lots of alternatives. And  broadly speaking, it’s the subject to a whole another conversation. And I have a paper coming out next year on capitalism in education that talks about alternatives, so maybe we’ll do another podcast there. But the broad answer is, you need to build towards a more participatory democracy and more towards a workplace democracy. The problem with capitalism is that our workplace is authoritarian. We teach democracy in the political sphere; we don’t have a lot of that at a very participatory level either. But we need democracy in the workplace as well.

Will Brehm  45:28
It seems like a lot of what you’re saying is that we have to think beyond the connection of education as being for the development of human capital, and having a different value of education. And there can be many it sounds like, and many different ways of achieving those values or putting those values into action. But it seems like that’s the first step: decoupling, or de-linking the connection between education and human capital development.

Steve Klees  46:05
No, I would agree. And to be fair to human capital theorists, some of them recognize that broad connection. It’s got narrowed in practice so much that all we’re looking at as the connection to education to the workplace. But citizenship can be subsumed in that human capital framework. The problem is its basis in efficiency. You want to talk about the many things education does, the many more things we want it to do. We don’t want to just make education about workplace. We don’t want to make education just about literacy and numeracy. We need education for peacebuilding, for people to not be aggressive, for people to be fair with each other, for people to have resilience, and people to be creative. So there’s lots of purposes of education, and human capital theory and practices just narrow the field too much. And more broadly speaking about this political economy framework versus a more mainstream dominant human capital neoclassical framework, the political economy framework doesn’t offer the technical policy guidance that rates of return give. For neoclassical economists, policies are a dime a dozen. You just do your cost-benefit analysis and this year, vocational education is better than academic education, higher education is better than primary education.

If you reject that framework, what you have is human capital theory, neoclassical economics – our ideologies masking as science. It’s absurd to think that there’s some way to assess technically, the tradeoff between higher education and primary education, between education and health and the environment. All we have is a messy, participatory democratic struggle of individuals and groups with some common interests and some different interests. And for me, what we have to do is find ways to facilitate that struggle and in doing so, economics and the dominant scientific perspective says you need to stay neutral and objective. For me, I’ve learned that you always take sides. That when I write a paper, when I teach a class, when I’m doing research, when I engage in policy, when I engage in my life, I always have to take a side. And if you don’t think you’re taking a side, you are because this is a struggle. This is contestation. And I guess my concluding point is that for me, this is what I said in the paper you cited, neoclassical economics and human capital theory are ideological dead ends. But fortunately for all of us, there are lots of alternatives.

Will Brehm  49:29
Well, Steve, Klees, you gave us a lot to think about in this conversation. Thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and you’re definitely welcome back when that new paper comes out on capitalism in education.

Steve Klees  49:41
Thank you very much for having me.

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