According to mainstream thought, our society needs "more education" in order to reduce inequality, eliminate poverty, speak truth to power and uplift the global south to a new age of progress and prosperity.
Hearing this phrase can't help but remind me of Christopher Walkens iconic demands for "more cowbell". Embedded in the cargo cult of educayyshunn are a series of liberal shibboleths that I will attempt to locate and refute.
The posterboy for "education" as the great remedy for our ills is none other than Deng Adut, former child soldier, Australian of the year, social justice lawyer and anti-racism campaigner.
Few other stories could capture such a singular embodiment of the liberal articles of faith. A third-world victim of a cruelty and backwardness, saved by the UN and taken into the loving embrace of a western nation, only to struggle against the odds to learn to read and become a fighter for social justice.
The University of Western Sydney spent $20m on this campaign and pocketed 12,000 additional enrolments as their reward. Being unable to compete with the "sandstone universities" for architecture and pedigree, they successfully cornered the "be inspired by a third-world refugee" segment of the virtue-conscious market.
Despite being barely lingual and possibly guilty of any manner of horrendous warcrimes as alluded to in his memoirs, Deng Adut completes the perfect transformation of violent, backwards and African to liberal, enlightened, educated and Australian.
In 2012, Julia Gillard announced that her government would uncap the maximum number of government funded university places as part of a plan to have a third of adults by 2020 hold a bachelors' degree.
The explosion in enrolments that followed is without precedent and has done serious damage to the federal budget. It has since been re-restricted for this reason, although not by much. The value of the degrees themselves has plummeted as the supply of graduates in the job market has nearly doubled. Academic standards diminish by the year, and large numbers of foreign students with a less than rudimentary command of English take remedial courses so as to be able to scrape through their degrees.
I personally recall one Chinese lecturer who had taken to writing in both English and Chinese, so as to 'save time' from having to repeat the lesson or field multiple questions after class from the 'international' students. The absurdity of the title 'international' student is not lost local students. By definition, a student cannot be 'international'. The vast majority are Chinese and Indian, and most of them are studying here as a shortcut to applying for a permanent residency visa. This is examined in further detail at Macrobusiness here, here and here.
More broadly, 'education' as it is now understood functions as both a tool of managerial finance capitalism and a mechanism of liberal brainwashing.
Education has been sold to the working-class as the way out of the crumbling blue-collar industries that once provided dignity and security. As free trade, open borders and financialisation of the economy has decimated the tradables sectors, most acutely manufacturing, getting a degree and jumping ship from skilled manual labour to managerial administration has served as a false 'proof' that education is an escape route from poverty and marginalisation.
Rather than pursuing an economic and social policy of establishing and supporting a dynamic series of national industries, as was the case in the early half of the 20th century, deregulation in the name of 'competitiveness' has disprivileged skilled labour, and like a third-world country, has limited the number of 'good jobs' to those that divide the spoils from the rest of the non-parasitic economy.
Jennifer Rayner's Blue Collar Frayed provides insight into the insecurity of the working class today
It naturally follows that 'education' is purportedly the solution to the problems of an unemployable and disenfranchised working class, since that is how the aforementioned bureaucrats became 'successful' themselves.
The one of the central conceits of the never-ending calls for 'education' is that it is primarily those who are products of the system's brainwashing who proselytise for the expansion of the franchise. By lauding the supposed benefits of 'higher education' for all, one validates their own path as high status and correct, whilst exhibiting a kind of phony generosity. Further, these liberal elites court the approval of the underclasses and minorities by promoting women and minorities' cultural products. A precious few are selected to be talking heads on SBS and the ABC or are consulted as experts in the media and academia. Only after attending university does one learn that it is more prestigious to have read Kim Scott or Alex Wright than Tolstoy or Milton.
Higher education is considered to prepare one morally to engage with the world on the correct terms. It is a marker of moral cleanliness - a cleansing of the dark elements within us that give rise to wrongthink. "Lack of education" is blamed when someone uses "racist" language. "Education" is supposed to stop Jamal and Tyrone in Tarneit from torching cars and robbing jewellery stores. "Education" is supposed to turn Aborigines from their current state of dysfunction into middle-class consumers with a funky twist of Indigenous spunk and humour. It almost seems cruel to mention the the phenotypes of the Aboriginal students in the graduating class, as did the infamous "convicted racist" Andrew Bolt.
The more students, local and foreign, that pass through the higher-education ponzi, accumulating large debts and great expectations of their value to the world, the more our youth's prospects will deteriorate. As in Europe, a large and literate young population, excluded from economic opportunity, may help to make way for a new kind of politics.