Ideology and Critical Thinking in Education

The following blog was motivated by a reflection on cultural imperialism and the concern about exporting ideologies through OERs.

Ideologies don’t have be exported across borders. From a Marxist perspective of education, at least according to the French theorist Althusser, school systems are ideological state apparatuses. He distinguishes between Repressive Ideological State Apparatuses (the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc.) which function by force and violence (whether physical or not) and Ideological State Apparatuses:
• the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
• the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
• the family ISA,[8]
• the legal ISA,[9]
• the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
• the trade-union ISA,
• the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
• the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.).
About education, Althusser expands on how schools propagate state ideology:
It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most ‘vulnerable’, squeezed between the Family State Apparatus and the Educational State Apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy). Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of children are ejected ‘into production’: these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and, for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the ‘intellectuals of the collective labourer’, the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced ‘laymen’).

I think that schools reproduce social classes and structures in Canada and train students to become workers and consumers. After reading Althusser, I wondered to myself how many times I had said to my students: “What will you do in the workforce?” Of course, it is not a bad thing to prepare students for various trades and professions because students need to be equipped to survive and flourish in their respective environments and economies. However, it is not the only purpose of education. In Canada, we may propagate bourgeois values of obtaining work and increasing material wealth and we seem to also produce students who are apolitical (this might be what happens in affluent nations). That said, in non-Western countries, or the countries importing distance education materials, products, programmes, etc., there are indigenous ideologies at work as well, such as state ideologies or religious ideologies. Curricula tend to emphasise critical thinking but I wonder how different jurisdictions define critical thinking… or if critical thinking is defined at all.


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