Society And Education In America At The Turn Of The Millenium Applying The Philosophy Of Michel Foucalt Essay, Research Paper
A Critique of Society and Education in America at the Turn of the Millennium Applying the Philosophy of Michel Foucault
FUKO for Dummies
As Foucault began, so shall I:
This is not a pipe.
This is a convenient illustration for the basic tenant of Foucault s philosophy, Discourse creates truth. What this means is that there is nothing inherent about a pipe which makes it a pipe. Society as we know it creates labels for all sorts of things, and when those labels enter our common discourse, they are accepted as truth, or knowledge. If everyone stopped referring to the above as a pipe, it would stop being a pipe.
Unfortunately, the same is true for people. If Paco is labeled a jerk, when he is indeed not a jerk, and it passes into common discourse that Paco is a jerk, then this will become true. People will look at him differently now that he is a jerk, they will act differently, and most importantly he will become a jerk, because of how he acts and thinks of himself. This creation of truth which turned average Paco into a jerk is a very significant process, by which society derives its power over the individuals in the society, in this case Paco. By controlling the original discourse, therefore, one derives power.
Now that it has been established that control of discourse creates power-knowledge spheres, or relationships, then one can see how this applies to our present day society, and educational system. Our society and its most obvious expression, the government, wish to perpetuate themselves, together with their values and power. To do this, they (society and government) use the afore outlined method of achieving power.
For example, one of our society s declared values is democracy. When a member of our society thinks of democracy, favorable impressions come to mind, such as those of American revolutionaries or brave soldiers fighting the evil forces of somebody, such as Nazis or independence minded North Vietnamese. The idea that all these good things symbolize democracy has become knowledge through discourse. Therefore, why would we question our own democratic government, or feel anything but patriotism toward it? By creating this truth, it should be quite apparent how this is a form of power that our society has over the individuals. The argument here is not that democracy is necessarily bad; that is for another essay to prove or disprove; this argument is about how we come to think of democracy and our government which is a democracy as good. Also, this can be applied to almost every other value our culture holds, e.g. religious tolerance, constitutionalism, individual freedoms, capitalism, financial success, technological and industrial development, etc.
One of the most important forums of discourse, and so power-knowledge sphere creation, is our school system. Society tells us that one should not try to learn independently, i.e. outside of school. This would make you un-cool or show preoccupation with academics, or some other negative label. Thus, the primary source where we learn about most values and ideologies is school. (Of course all teachers and schools pay lip-service to independent thought or outside learning, although few seriously believe that children really will learn or more importantly inculcate themselves this way.) Control of public and private schools is relatively easy. Public school children take standardized tests, read standardized textbooks, and are often forced to take standardized values inculcation courses such as Health, which is more about why drugs, sex, racism, sexism, etc. are bad than about brushing teeth and taking vitamins. Not any less importantly, though, are the taboos and norms which all teachers are expected to observe. Teachers should be good examples, and uphold morals. These morals, though, are set by society, and those inculcating children have been inculcated themselves.a This simply creates a loop by which one generation s values and ideals are effectively transferred to the next.
One might already be asking how society s values ever change, if this infinite loop continues, and has continued all through history. Indeed, our culture is in basis the same as the Greco-Roman culture, but it has changed dramatically in the past millennia. The process by which reform occurs is no less covert or vital to our society s perpetuity (in one form or another) than the process by which most of the values are passed on: Today it is called political correctness; before it was called gentlemanly conduct, chivalry, or etiquette; Orwell called it orthodoxy; but every society has some form of classifying what is good from what is bad. For example, racism was once good; it was a form of racial consciousness, societal superiority, and/or favor from God. Even today, there are several who are racist, and who individually, or in small groups, believe in racism as good. With the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, America s dominant society, of which we are all a part, made racism bad. Almost immediately, schools and teachers began advancing this notion, even when the individuals did not fully believe in it. Slowly, the beliefs of the racist became taboo, and the same things that they could have said openly before made people classify them as not normal, bigoted, or even deviant, (all just fancy synonyms for bad ). Today, the same is being said of homophobia. Homosexuality was [and to some extent still is] considered bad, but slowly, one can see teachers first ignoring homosexuality, and starting to teach against discrimination on this basis. Even at our high school, I doubt that every individual teacher is totally acceptant of homosexuals, yet one would be very hard pressed to find a teacher that openly admitted it, or taught that orientation-based prejudice was acceptable. Most individuals do not change there own opinions, but they do realize that they are now abnormal and change they way they express their opinions.
The essence of the problem is that we do not question what society tells us enough. I will be the first to admit not being able to see the ills of society. We all say that we are open minded, yet when was the last time we actually thought about whether democracy, capitalism, or freedom of speech are really good, instead of good as defined by society? Even further, when was the last time that we questioned whether racism, Communism, or totalitarianism were bad? No individual in society is guilty of passing on society s agenda, effectively inculcating our own people into drones, yet realizing this covert inculcation is the first step to making it overt, and eventually reaching an enlightened way to allow people to truly think for themselves and create their own values.